5 mistakes to avoid when hiring developers for your team

Peter Simic

Hiring developers is often an ongoing activity in software companies. Still, even experienced HR professionals can limit their employers’ potential by unwittingly committing some typical mistakes when hiring new developers.

To help you make the recruitment process more enjoyable for employers and candidates alike, we’ve compiled a list of five frequent mistakes with advice on how to overcome them.

Once you know where recruitment practices can be improved, you’ll be able to form a stellar team of developers.

Let’s dive in!

Disregarding the hiring experience

Software developers are currently in high demand, so you should ensure that your candidates go through a smooth hiring experience, starting with the job ad.

After all, if your job advertisement doesn’t prove worth reading, someone else’s will. 

When developers were asked how easy it was to find a new job in 2021 on a scale from one to ten, they gave an average answer of seven

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In light of this, it’s clear that if a hiring experience is unpleasant in any way, there are chances a developer will back out and try with a different company because there are plenty of career opportunities for tech talent.

Since the job advertisement is the start of the hiring process, make sure yours looks spotless. There’s no room for mistakes because even the smallest ones can cost you a good developer.

Some common mistakes found in job ads are:

  • A convoluted title
  • Vague descriptions
  • Overuse of buzzwords
  • Generic duties
  • Unclear requirements
  • A poor closing statement

We’ve found a well-written posting for a senior frontend developer at Stream to show you what a good job ad looks like. Here’s an excerpt from it: 

Source: Stream

The title is straightforward about conveying the nature of the role, and the job description covers the exact responsibilities it entails.

The rest of the ad lists the tech stack Stream uses, so there’s no guessing about the scope or methods of work. Finally, the ad ends with an uplifting closing statement.

Stream has also avoided another frequent mistake—not listing the salary. They have stated the range for the position and posted the factors that help determine the exact amount.

Once you ace the advertisement and competent candidates apply, you have to make sure the subsequent stages of the hiring process contain equal levels of attention to detail.

Bear in mind that even if you already follow established interview and onboarding processes in place, it’s never too late to upgrade them further.

For instance, Slack rebuilt their interviewing practices in 2016, after relying on the same process for years.

They substituted the whiteboard interview with a fairer blind code review where candidates solve a coding problem at home. 

With that change, candidates were under less stress, as they could work on the task anonymously, in a familiar environment. The process also became more impartial and transparent.

So, instead of treating your hiring process as a test for the most resilient candidates, try to think of it as your chance to impress skilled developers with a straightforward employment mechanism.

Failing to conduct a proper tryout

Tryouts are an essential element of hiring new developers; forgoing them altogether would be a mistake on its own. After all, you can’t hire a software engineer solely based on credentials.

However, not all companies conduct tryouts the same way. A frequent developer hiring mistake is rendering theirs irrelevant.

Letting developers demonstrate their knowledge and coding skills will help you find the most competent one.

For instance, Google’s interview process consists of several stages and usually takes about eight weeks to complete. When it comes to the coding and algorithm section, the questions involve:

  • Graphs / Trees
  • Arrays / Strings
  • Dynamic programming
  • Recursion
  • Geometry / Math

While this practice works for a tech giant such as Google, implementing a hiring process as lengthy and complicated could be a mistake for smaller companies because they usually need to hire new employees faster and have a more limited HR budget.

So, if you want to make sure you’re hiring the cream of the crop, you could take inspiration from Google’s tryout questions, but it’s probably more efficient to cut down the length of the process to less than two months.

It’s also worth remembering that high-quality developers are never desperate for a job, so they’ll refuse to do the tests they find irrelevant or too drawn-out. 

If that’s what yours are like, you’ll lose the best ones immediately.

Here’s how Sarah Gregory, director of research at a Chicago-based mobile and web development company, sees the problem:

“Good candidates know their time is important and they have plenty of opportunities in the job market. Their tolerance for jumping through hoops is much lower than many employers think.”

Even if demanding, high-level coding tasks could crystalize who the most competent candidate is, it’s more likely they’ll frustrate the candidates and downgrade the hiring experience.

To be on the safe side, exclude the following from the developer tryouts:

  • Brain-teasers
  • Take-home tests that take days
  • Whiteboard code irrelevant for the position
  • Code for an actual project at your company

Instead, let your recruitment team and top developers join forces and come up with tryout questions relevant to the position.

If you show you respect developers’ time, candidates will find your company even more appealing.

Hiring a candidate for the wrong reasons

Information presented on the resume can be a good pointer, but it’s better to base the hiring decision on a developer’s actual abilities.

Many companies struggle with the issue of whether to only hire developers with a degree or to rely on skilled developers with no formal education. Since the world of programming is constantly changing, there isn’t a clear-cut answer.

While developers with a degree used to have an advantage over those with little to no formal qualifications, the chances of landing a job have become more comparable over the years for the latter.

Employers have realized that a diploma is not synonymous with skill, so now developers coming from all backgrounds stand a chance for a job interview.

In fact, according to a CodinGame 2021 survey, 80% of HR professionals recruit developers with non-academic backgrounds.

Moreover, the survey has also revealed that one in three surveyed developers employed at the time were self-taught using free resources such as Youtube, tutorials, and books.

Source: CodinGame

These numbers tell us that employer companies usually look for skilled developers regardless of education; the ability to write clean code outweighs a university diploma. 

Not even Google finds a computer science degree necessary for most of their software engineer roles.

Source: Google

In fact, some employers go as far as prioritizing self-taught developers because they think such individuals demonstrate more motivation and drive. 

Robert Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of the software development company Appstem, is one of them.

“… It shows that they have initiative, they’re smart and can pick things up on their own. They can walk through problems and teach themselves… I’d take these qualities over a CS degree any day.”

Similarly, another developer hiring mistake would be to fixate on previous experience listed on the resume. Previous roles are not always indicative of all the skills and expertise a developer can provide.

All in all, while degrees and credentials can help you narrow down the selection, you should strive to make the skills that the candidates can apply to projects in your company the main point of reference when it comes to hiring.

Ignoring cultural fit

When hiring, keep in mind that you are looking for a person to work in your company, not a machine that produces perfect code. In other words, your new developer has to fit in with the rest of the people on the team.

There are many contrasting opinions between employers and employees regarding a perfect work environment.

The stances on working hours, remote work, or project selection are just some of the examples where you can often see discrepant opinions.

However, there is an element where the two sides share common ground: cultural fit.

According to a Robert Walters Group survey on workplace culture, 98% of employers and 97% of employees agree that cultural fit between all positions in a company is important.

Source: Shake

But what does that term convey, exactly?

Cultural fit is a parameter that determines the likelihood that a job candidate will be able to adapt to the core values and collective behaviors of an organization.

It helps you hire a candidate who shares similar attitudes and priorities, contributing to a harmonious team. 

Some of the benefits of a good cultural fit, according to hiring managers from the Robert Walters survey, are:

  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Improved job performance
  • Lower probability of leaving
  • Increased respect for the company

In the software development context, these can be just as important as technical skills—a good developer on your team may not mean much if their work methods disrupt the rest of the team.

To test for culture fit, you have to take a look into your company and determine its principal values. This will help you create a base for candidate assessment.

After the usual questions, such as why do you want to work for us, you could go for questions that can help you gain insight into a candidate’s way of thinking. 

For instance, you could ask them to explain if they’ve ever disagreed with their team lead and how they handled the situation.

Such a question can help you see how the candidate approaches problems and authority. It can also reveal a lot about their confidence in their own ideas, as well as about the ability to reach a compromise.

You can find more cultural fit interview questions for developers here.

Finally, remember to approach the subject of cultural fit with some caution.

By hiring only like-minded individuals, you’re putting the diversity of your teams at risk.

Also, it isn’t easy to make progress without fresh ideas or perspectives.

While you shouldn’t ignore the issue of cultural fit, you should make sure the idea of company culture doesn’t trick you into perpetuating bias towards any particular type of candidate.

Limiting your talent pool

A great thing about hiring in a software development company is that you get to cast your net wide. Instead of focusing on local talent only, you should take advantage of the era of remote work and start hiring regionally or globally. 

Even though remote work started gaining traction before COVID-19, the pandemic has undoubtedly boosted its popularity.

As of 2021, eighty-six percent of software developers from Canada and the Americas work fully remotely.

When it comes to post-pandemic plans, only 2% of developers say they don’t want to continue with remote work in any capacity.

For employers, these bits of data represent the opportunity to remove the restrictions of a small local candidate pool and adopt borderless hiring.

You can hire remote developers regardless of your company’s size. Software companies with smaller teams can thrive by hiring remotely just as much as those with thousands of employees.

For instance, Spotify is a remote-first business.

Source: Spotify

Due to the challenges that come with different time zones, Spotify doesn’t accommodate work across the globe, but they do offer jobs throughout the regions.

If a candidate applies for a role based in Stockholm, they can work from anywhere in Europe.

Your company could apply a similar approach, with your specific needs in mind. Even if you don’t want to hire developers from distant continents, there’s no need to limit yourself to your city.

Considering candidates from a wider area is a more efficient approach. This will help you reach more developers and find the most skilled one.

Also, don’t worry if you can’t offer fully remote work: almost half of the developers are willing to relocate for an excellent job opportunity.

Source: CodinGame

Expanding the talent pool can also be helpful in case you need a developer with a specific skillset.

For example, if a client requests a function that requires deep learning, hiring an AI engineer is probably more time-efficient than training one of the existing developers.

However, there might not be many AI engineers in your area looking for a new job, so this is where you’d have to look beyond the local talent.

To sum up, the recruitment processes in IT have recently undergone far-reaching changes. If remote hiring is now standard practice, why wouldn’t you reap its benefits?

Conclusion

As you can see, the hiring process is not as straightforward as it may seem from the outside.

There are many developers constantly looking for new opportunities, so you’ll always be able to find someone to fill in the spot. However, if you want top talent on your team, you may have to upgrade your hiring practices.

From the job advertisement to tryouts and finally signing the contract, each step can consolidate the opinion of a new hire about your company, so make sure to remove any redundancies from the process.

But before you get to that part, you have to ensure you’re selecting the right candidates.

Keep in mind that your aim is to hire the most skilled developer who can work with the others, not the one with the most polished resume. That way, you’re on your way to building a perfect team.