Recruiting for software engineering teams can be tricky; there are over 2 million Google results on “how to” recruit great engineers or agencies offering to do it for you. There are as many different views on interview questions, telephone screens, technical tests and on site assessment days as there are engineers (probably). An important part of being a Development Manager is recruitment, and I may well add to the Google results total in a later post. I have spent a lot of time finding people that have the technical and communication skills to be members of a great engineering team. I’ve mostly used traditional routes to market e.g. direct advertising, recruitment agents, LinkedIn, etc., but never recruitment fairs. So I wasn’t sure what to expect at Silicon Milkroundabout #SMR11.
Silicon Milk Roundabout (SMR) has been an established event on the tech recruitment calendar since 2011. SMR is a 2 day event and takes place in London (other cities too) in May and November, and brings together 175+ companies offering job opportunities across the tech spectrum. This year there were some big players from across the industry like Amazon Development Centre, BBC Technology, ASOS, etc. and some really innovative start-ups. So there was intense competition for the best recruits.
Thankfully Which? Digital attended last year so there were already some lessons learned about stand placement and design, and generally about organisation running up to and after the event. Even so, I wondered how successful we would be, and what the % split might be between experience levels i.e. junior/mid/senior. We advertised at least one junior role but also had mid and senior level engineering and two tech lead roles. It is true that we took the details of a lot of talented grads and juniors, however, we also attracted attendees interested in the senior roles which have resulted in interviews. It was a welcome and pleasant surprise!
The following are our top five observations for getting noticed (and hopefully recruited), and for recruiting the best software engineers at recruitment fairs.
- Do your homework
Draw up a short list of who you want to speak to and why. It gets busy and this will make sure you hit your favourite companies first while they’re still fresh. Learn about what they do and what they have in the wild as far as their tech is concerned. Most companies publish their vacancies well ahead of the event. How might you meet their criteria, or how do you stand out? What could you talk about to show them that you do? If you are new to the job market, how can you demonstrate that you should be on our “A” list (see below)?? We spoke to 100s of potentials applicants but those that made our shortlist had clearly done their homework.They were engaged and happy to tell us about their experiences. They didn’t simply tell us they “quick learners” they demonstrated this with examples.
- Prepare your online footprint
We are going to do our homework! It can be a considerable investment attending a recruitment fair and we want to recruit the best. If there is a GitHub account listed on your CV make sure there are public repos or contributions demonstrating your ability. If you’ve included your LinkedIn profile please complete as much as possible. In fact, we’re going to look at “A/B” listers LinkedIn profiles even if it isn’t included on your CV. If we visit your portfolio site we don’t want to see the default Apache server home page…we really don’t want to see that! Just as we’re in competition with the cream of tech companies you are in competition too…with lots of very enthusiastic applicants that will make sure they’ve meticulously prepared their footprint. Don’t miss out!
- Use social media to get noticed
Companies will use Twitter and LinkedIn well ahead of the event to generate interest. Show you’re interested. Follow them and let them know you’ll drop by. We looked at the LinkedIn profiles and GitHub accounts of everyone that tweeted before the event. Again, you are getting noticed and we’ve already started a conversation. We probably have questions ready just for you!
When you arrive the friendly SMR crew will issue you with lots of stickers to attach to your event pass. This lets us know what kind of tech roles you are after. Please don’t attach them all (even if you are “full stack”)! Concentrate on your core skills. We can spot you more easily in the crowd.
- Don’t drink too much too soon
There’s a free bar at SMR. Great, eh?! I’m not being Victorian about this…well maybe I am, but it’s about being practical. Our sole reason for being at SMR is to speak to as many talented people as possible. We want to recruit the best and to do this we want to get the best out of you, and see if you could be part of our team. We can’t do this if you are incoherent or can’t demonstrate it. Chill out and have drink in one of the breakout areas after you’ve spoken to your top choice companies.
Recruiting the best software engineers
- Hold a briefing session
Make sure that everyone on the stand knows about the roles, what makes for a great applicant, and the key points that someone might ask about your company. Remember when you were fresh to the job market? It can be difficult for some people to approach a potential employer. Make a list of questions and answers that potential applicants could ask (maybe from previous interviews?), and think about open ended questions that are conversation starters and that will build a rapport. This is your chance to stand-out from other companies at the event and – although quality swag might impress short-term – an applicant is far likely to remember if they have had a meaningful conversation.
- Follow up quickly and maximise marketing
If you’re taking details agree and record a code for candidates that should be contacted immediately following the event. Ensure that your Human Resources department have blocked out their time to do the leg work, and there is capacity in the engineering team to assess GitHub accounts and portfolio sites. Make the marketing impact last after the event and think of engaging ways to keep in touch with attendees via Twitter and/or email. Do take advantage of the social media opportunities that SMR offer; they will re-tweet and publicise your team video.
- Display your tech stack visibly
Silicon Milk Roundabout do include a short paragraph about your tech in the attendees guide and on their website but, in our experience, a lot of the conversation was taken up by initial questions about tech. Although it’s a good ice breaker, we think next year it would be good to display our tech on the stand in a visual format. Maybe larger versions of the stickers handed to attendees to add to their passes?
- Make an effort with your stand
The Which? stand in 2015 was little more than a table. This year we commissioned a stand from Event Concept which definitely made a difference, and the position of the stand meant that there was a lot of footfall. But it is possible to have a great stand without using a third party company. A lot of other stands were home designed and dressed, and there is a coveted Golden Pineapple prize for the best stand. Note well, whatever you take up has to come down! Fussball tables, faux fireplaces, beer fridges, large fake sarnies (M&S), coffee tables, were all being carted down flights of stairs. Event Concept took care of some of this for us but we still transported some heavy weight swag back to the office.
- Enlist enough people to help on the day
We reserved a 3m2 stand and really we probably needed 5 people at all times. We had 3 for most of the day and it was busy! Thanks to everyone that waited and returned later in the day. Ideally, we should have had breaks to stay fresh, and visited other stands to steal ideas for swag and just generally to network with companies using a similar stack. Also, it is handy to have more people at the beginning and end of the event to grab keen attendees and help with carrying.