How to hire tech talent… and hang on to it!

DataSift's Nick Halstead reveals how he’s hired and kept the talent to build a 150-person global technology company with offices in the UK, US and Canada

Given the UK is such a hotbed of technology talent it can be surprisingly hard to find great people to work for you. People around the world acknowledge the rise of London as a tech hub, yet finding a good developer can sometimes feel like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

But not only is finding and hiring the best tech talent a challenge – keeping it can be an even greater one. The best people are always in high demand so there’s a constant risk that another firm will come along and poach them. Whether it’s offering the chance to take ownership of their own projects, providing the right culture or simply making it an enjoyable place to work, companies must do all they can to keep the bright sparks that they hired. This is how our talent acquisition team has gone about it:

Cast your net wide

The ideal people for roles at your company could be hiding anywhere, so you have to cast your net wide and recruit from numerous sources to draw a large pool of candidates. To get DataSift in front of as many great candidates as possible, our talent acquisition team heads to universities, graduate fairs and events nationwide. As well as attending industry events such as Silicon Milkroundabout, the team organises Open House events, hackathons and more at our Reading office. It’s all about giving people an insight into who we are, what we do and how we work. You should also never underestimate the value of recommendations from current employees and your wider community!

Getting to know you

Making a career move is a big decision and no one wants to be hit with the hard sell – it’s all about getting to know the company before you make the leap. As well as getting out and about at events, our talent acquisition team organises technical projects for short-listed candidates so that they can get to know us – and our technology – better. This also gives our team more insight into candidates’ skillsets and increases the chance of picking someone who’s a good fit for the company. Making sure people feel they’ve had a good experience throughout the process – regardless of whether they get the role or not – is also important. People may end up being a better fit for a role that crops up in the future and are more likely to speak highly of you to their network if they’ve had a positive experience.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything comes to a halt when the offer’s signed – there’s always a chance that another company could come in and scoop a candidate up. Our team continues to stay in contact and keeps people engaged right through to the on-boarding process and beyond at DataSift.

Money – it’s important, but not the be all and end all

Figures from Experis’ latest Tech Cities Job Watch survey showed how demand for candidates in technology is increasing. Demand for cloud specialists was revealed to be particularly high, increasing by 23% in Q1 2015 compared with Q4 2014. What was most revealing, is that the average salary for permanent IT roles increased by just 3%. This suggests that many companies are out of sync with what the going rate is to secure the best talent and it’s important you’re aware of how competitive the market is. That said, people work at start-ups for many reasons – the chance to be part of a company on the rise, a better culture than some large corporates, the opportunity to be agile and innovative, and the ability to have a real impact on the product. It’s important that you balance salary expectations with other demands candidates’ may have such as project ownership, career growth and on-going training.

Keep employees engaged and incentivised

It’s no secret that a happy and engaged workforce is far more likely to be a workforce that sticks around. The on-going incentivisation of staff is hugely important in engagement and whilst you certainly shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Friday beers or away days (more of that below), there are other ways of doing this.


Action point: Search shared workspaces and assess if it could be worth co-working with other start-ups (external site, opens in new tab)

An incentive doesn’t have to be based around cash or bonuses (although it can be). Many start-ups have a flatter, less hierarchical structure than bigger businesses, and empowering your employees is a really effective way of increasing their engagement. This can be achieved by giving people the chance to truly ‘own’ what they do, and in doing so know that they’re trusted

Providing people with an operational area of responsibility can also be highly effective. You don’t want to overload busy people with too much extra work but, for example, giving one of the development team a role on a marketing project will make people feel valued and like they are contributing to other areas of the business.

Engagement is mostly about open communication across the company. The boss should update regularly on company progress and acknowledge individual contributions where appropriate. Employees should also have a platform to get their views across, so everyone feels like they’re part of the team and moving in the same direction.

Keep it fun

Finally, no organisation should ever underestimate the value placed on having fun in the workplace. When you work so hard together it’s important to play hard on occasion too. This can be bigger team days out – at the races, go-karting, or whatever floats your boat – or something smaller like bringing a few beers round on a Friday afternoon, shouting everyone a round of bacon sandwiches or even the odd Nerf gun fight (a big favourite at DataSift!).

Hiring and retaining talent is about establishing a working culture that challenges people, empowers them and allows them to have fun along the way. If you can get that right, then the technology talent search won’t seem quite so challenging.

Nick Halstead is CEO and founder of DataSift, the leader in Human Data Intelligence. He will be speaking at The Scaleups Sessions event next month.

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