Winning Tech Candidates from Google, Facebook

From centuries old financial institutions, to the world’s largest retailers, talented recruiters are hiring candidates away from tech companies like Facebook and Google everyday.

With the right recruiting strategy and tactics, building a world class team, like that of brand name companies, is no longer out of reach. How do you get people excited to work for you if you’re not Facebook, Google, Apple, Salesforce, or Amazon?

“Big companies like Google like to hire people who are entrepreneurial, so often these are the people already interested in trying something new,” said Gayle Laakmann McDowell, tech hiring consultant and Founder of CareerCup. “If you’ve got something to offer, it’s not actually that hard to recruit people away from these big companies.”

To dig deeper, we talked to several top recruiters and HR leaders who have previously worked at Google, Facebook and the like, on how to compete with the usual tech talent magnets:

1. It’s the Vision, Not Just the Product

If you thought attracting talent to your company was hard, what if your company was called Cockroach Labs?

It’s not a problem for the Head of People Operations at Cockroach Labs, Lindsay Grenawalt (pictured left), who has previously scaled teams at Google and then Yext.  Cockroach Labs strives to be the best, most survivable, scalable open source SQL database around (hence the name).

When she first started in People Ops there a year and a half ago, she sat down in one-on-one interviews with every single teammate.

Ultimately, “I needed to understand what led people to the company, and what was keeping them here,” Grenawalt says. When you strip down the surface layers, what did people really think about the direction of the product and leadership team?

Themes start bubbling.

More often than not, the enticing points are not the perks like free food or foosball during lunch. It’s the unique intangibles, like the founders’ vision of the product and its larger contribution.

Grenawalt also regularly digs into: What compels inbound candidates to interview? The same themes started surfacing consistently. It’s the grand vision, the leaders and mark they’re making as the first viable consistent database in a world that depends on data. And she glazed her operation with the right nectar that’s helped her grow her team 3X in about one year.

2. It’s All About Impact

While it’s generally considered prestigious to work at brands like Google or Facebook, most seasoned recruiters know that not all roles or even teams are the same. This comes from Nitu Gulati-Pauly, the number one technical recruiter at staffing agency CyberCoders for 11 consecutive years. Gulati-Pauly’s secret to navigating difficult conversations with reluctant candidates by pointing to the path of career acceleration.

“Be aware that you may not be able compete on compensation as Silicon Valley tech companies; but you can offer a flexible work environment and the ability to work on different things that they may not encounter at other organizations,” Gulati-Pauly says. “You can also provide a work environment where everything they do will have an impact.”

It’s about more ownership, a seat at the decision-making tables and reassurance that their code will make a rapid impact.

In fact, the latter is precisely what’s been helping WalmartLabs win talent. Headquartered right across the street from YouTube in San Bruno, the company’s CTO Jeremy King talked to Forbes about how WalmartLabs’ impact on thousands of people has been among the strongest sell for talent.

“When we pilot something, we can just go to 50 stores,” WalmartLabs CTO Jeremy King (pictured right) says. “It’s almost so fast that people are confused right now, and it takes two or three times to get used to it.”

 

 

3. The Proven, Underutilized Tool: Agility

Speaking of speed, with a massive volume of applicants, the most attractive tech companies typically have a long, arduous process in place for every candidate. Through no fault of their own, the sheer volume of applicants requires protocol for how they interview and interact with candidates. Advantageous to you, this can slow down the process and make it less personal.

“Your number one advantage over a tier one company is speed,” Gulati-Pauly says. “Get to the star candidates fast, and set up interviews and make offers even faster.”

Grenawalt echoed the sentiment. “You can really win with agility,” she said. “Instead of taking one of our candidates to lunch, we had them sit in on our company lunch and learn, which showed them it was a learning environment.”

Speed is also the reason why Pure Storage won the coveted talents of senior software engineer Phil Hord. At a time when there are roughly only one senior software engineer for every two job postings, the fight was on to win Mr. Hord. In a whirlwind of offers, he was debating between Pure and a larger NYC company with a recognizable brand.

By the time he flew back from NYC (in the midst of a discovery process), Hord already passed Pure Storage’s coding challege online and spoke with the candidate success manager. Pure offered a phone screening the next morning, flight to SV on Friday and an offer by Monday.

Hord was hired. The NYC company was still processing paperwork.

4. Pedigree as a Pitfall

The strategies thus far can help you get a legup on the competition. But in this fight for candidates from Google or Facebook, one perpetual pitfall is being blinded by brand names. The very existence of anti-poaching agreements are an indication that the biggest sources of talent for top-tiered tech companies are, well, each other.

But perhaps the most effective strategy to win candidates from Google and Facebook is to rethink why you’re focused on usurping talent from their pool.

At the heart of the talent war, brand names on a resume are simply another proxy. When companies regularly weather a storm of applicants, knowing that a talent competitor already wants him or her helps speed up the vetting process.

McDowell says it best:

“It’s always going to be hard for large enterprises, such as insurance companies in the Midwest, to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world,” said McDowell. “Instead of going after those star candidates, you should look for candidates that those companies don’t see.”

One of the biggest priorities for the head  of university recruiting at one of the world’s largest social network companies is to boost diversity. She told us she’d rather talk to the top computer science majors from Top 100 schools than the Top 100 students from whatever we think is the top comp science program is. By rethinking pedigree, and focusing on skill, she’s able to cast a wider net and diversify the company’s pipeline.

The same goes for talent from brand names. A focus on skill as the proxy will blast open the talent pool and help you find top performers.

Tying it All Together

The stiff competition for talent from the Google and Facebooks of the recruiting world surface an opportunity for talent acquisition leaders to rethink both who to reach and which messages to send.

Tactics, like:

  • Selling the larger mission
  • Providing a career springboard
  • Working faster than anyone else

…can give you a legup. But a more scalable way to win candidates from Googles and Facebooks is to perfect your proxies. Double down on the skills that matter to you, not just a particular name on a resume.


This is the first article in the Tech Recruiting Confidential series. Each month, Dr. Rhonda Larson, who leads people and business ops at HackerRank, unpacks challenges that come from building world-class tech teams.


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