15 Surefire Ways on How to Hire Great Engineers

Learning how to hire great engineers is an essential skill. Because the alternative is a weak engineering team, that’ll crush your business.

I’m talking about hiring a 10x engineer. An engineer who is ultra-productive, and who is amazing in every way possible.

They can do the work of 10 average engineers. Sounds like a far stretch, but in every engineering team, there’s one leading engineer. This engineer drives forward all the progress, and everyone else follows suit. Remove this engineer, and progress begins to crawl.

Now, what are the qualities of a 10x engineer?

  • Leadership
  • Hard worker
  • Creative
  • Independent
  • Persistent and relentless
  • Lifelong learner
  • Great communication skills
  • Deep technical understanding of a given subject
  • Highly analytical with great problem-solving abilities

Sounds like a unicorn!

Clearly, these engineers don’t grow on trees. Also, unlike the medical profession, engineers aren’t stringently weeded out of the profession. I’m talking about cutthroat acceptance rates at various levels in your licensure pursuit.

That said, let’s go over how you can attract and discover 10x engineers for your team.

#1 Broaden your candidate pool

Don’t search for candidates only in your backyard. Because statistically, the chance of landing the best quality candidates will go low.

Rather, increase the size of your candidate pool. You’ll have a much greater chance of finding 10x engineers this way.

To pull this off, don’t limit your search to just your city or state. Include all 50 U.S. states and even search globally.

All top companies search for talent in every country around the world. So, you need to leverage globalization. Especially when people can efficiently work remotely.

What’s more, never stop going after talent. It’s an endless process.

I’m not saying to constantly hire new engineers. That’s not practical or necessary. But engage with the talent pool and you may come across an awesome engineer when you least expect it.

#2 Highlight your company’s mission

spacex falcon heavy landing
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Landing (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

If your company’s mission is to send humans into space, make this a big part of your brand.

Traveling into space is a pretty big deal you don’t want to hide.

Even more, add your company’s mission in your job ad.

You want people with a passion for your mission to apply. Passion alone can help discover hidden talent in engineers.

Because at a regular perceived job an engineer may just be average. They hate their work and could care less about going the extra mile and flexing their skillset.

But, doing work they’re deeply passionate about is a different story. Their deeply rooted passion will bring out all their talents.

Now, what if you find a 10x engineer, what then?

In the interview, show the candidate where they’ll fit in with your mission. Talk about the impact they’ll have. Because you’re selling candidates on a big part of their future they want to feel good about.

This is how Elon Musk attracted some of the brightest minds when he founded SpaceX. He hired a lot of top talent from the rocket and spacecraft industry.

Elon’s mission to make humans multi-planetary species resonated with many people.

Even despite SpaceX being an unknown private company in the aerospace industry. Especially when compared to the behemoths like NASA and Lockheed Martin.

#3 Understand and deliver what 10x engineers want

To attract top engineering talent, you need to know what they want. I’m going to go over 6 items you should communicate to a 10x engineer in an interview.

Respect: engineers want the people they work with to respect them. They don’t want to be the third fiddle when it comes to engineering.

Especially when the engineering department is the heart and soul of the company.

Challenge: every great engineer likes challenges. You don’t become a top engineer by doing work any fresh graduate can do.

So, be sure your work is stimulating and challenging. A 10x engineer doesn’t want to do repetitive work he or she can do in their sleep.

Opportunity: engineers want to know what a position holds for them 1-year down the line. In other words, how will your position help their career?

So, outline a roadmap with career milestones identified.

Community and peers: even top talent need help from time to time. No one knows everything. Especially these days, where building anything worthwhile requires engineers with varying specialty skills.

So, build a team of amazing and generous minds in your company. This will foster team collaboration, which touches an innate social yearn of people.

Pay and benefits: every high in demand professional wants to get paid. Simple as that.

So be sure you have the funds available to afford incredible talent. Or, you need an amazing mission or work culture that’ll make people take less pay.

Work scope: clearly outline the work the engineer will do. Also, talk about the type of environment they’ll work in.

Undiscussed surprises in the work scope will only create future resentment.

Imagine you’re told the work scope is local office and factory work. Then you find out you need to travel weekly. You’ll quit the job in a heartbeat.

#4 Use referrals

Tap into your personal network. A great way to discover vetted candidates is through personal connections.

You can trust a friend much more than any other source. Plus, it saves you a boatload of time. A win-win!

The only thing to be careful of, a lot of the time, people only refer their friends and colleagues. So these referrers may have biased views.

For this reason, don’t skip out on the interview process for a referral. Still do your due diligence.

Like in the early days of PayPal. You had to have a personal connection with the founders to get an interview.

So don’t leave your personal network resource untapped!

#5 List your specific job requirements

Many times, engineers will look over basic job requirements they don’t meet. They assume they’ll learn the necessary skills on the job.

Then sometimes, these candidates never learn.

To help avoid this from happening, add extra detail to your job requirements. Drill into detailed skillsets with examples. This will help prevent less qualified people from applying.

For example, “experience with scientific computing libraries such as numpy, pandas, or scikit-learn for autonomous car AI data infrastructure work.”

This type of language will scare away people who know they don’t meet the job requirements.

But if you simply write, “experience with AI,” you’ll get many candidate submissions.

At the same, infuse company mission-specific language into your job ad. Sell your story, and list what a candidate can expect and achieve in the position.

This will attract top talent who have a passion for your mission. A 10x engineer isn’t going to work at a bank unless they pay boatloads of money.

Because why work at a bank, when you can work on sending people into space?…

#6 Build a structured pipeline for the  interview process

engineering job interview

Create a structured interview pipeline for all your selected candidates to go through.

I find the following to be effective, in the order listed:

  1. Written test/questionnaire to do at home
  2. Phone interview
  3. In-person interview

Each step will gain you extra information on the candidate.

Written test/questionnaire to do at home

Ask the candidate questions on their work habits and what they like. Also, throw in a technical question or two.

The technical questions should relate back to the type of work the engineer would do. The questions shouldn’t be overly complex though, taking endless hours to complete.

Also, request the candidate to show all their work in their answer.

Sure, someone can bullshit their way through the technical questions. But you’d expect that. What’s great is this question secretly becomes a part of the weeding process.

You’ll later use their response for the possible phone and in-person interviews. So you’ll instantly know who’s bullshitting. Thus, you can weed out dishonest people.

Phone interview

Here, you’ll get a feel for the candidate. This includes their personality. Also, you can begin drilling into technical questions.

Also, ask questions about the technical response they submitted earlier. Ask why they made certain choices in their problem-solving.

Keep in mind, I listed only one phone interview. But sometimes after an in-house follow-up discussion, you may need a second.

This way, you’re certain you’ve selected a qualified candidate for the next stage. The in-person interview.

In-person interview

An in-person interview is important. Because a lot of bad qualities someone may have will quickly float to the surface.

For example, verifying leadership in someone who states they’re a leader. You can easily check how truthful they are.

For example, in-person, are they shy, quiet, and only speak a few words?

What’s more, you can now fully test their technical abilities.

Remember the submitted technical questions from the first interview stage? You now slightly modify the original questions and ask the candidate to solve the problems.

At this point, there’s no excuse for the candidate to butcher the problems. I say this if they properly solved the original problems at home.

This then defaults to the Elon Musk interview question that can make or break you.

Finally, what if you come across a 10x engineer in an interview? You need to sell yourself. Talk about your company’s mission as we discussed earlier.

#7 Create a structured setup for assessing candidates in interviews

Create a scorecard to grade candidates, especially for the phone interview stage. This way, you can uniformly grade candidates in real-time.

Otherwise, if you wait and grade later, you’ll forget the fine details. In engineering interviews, it’s the fine details that best define a candidate.

I find it best to create the qualities you want a candidate to have. Then have a ranking from 1 through 5 for each.

So find a system that works for you, to properly and fairly grade candidates. Just be sure you use your grading system uniformly across the board.

#8 What to look out for in the interview grading process

We discussed creating a structured setup for assessing interviews in Tip #7.

But what do you include in this grading system? Remember, your goal is to find 10x engineers.

From a technical stance, look for the following:

  • How detailed are the technical responses? Do they include theory and real-world elements?
  • When discussing solutions, do they discuss the original problem in detail too? This shows they led the engineering effort for the problem-solving.
  • Do they analyze the undiscussed factors in design? I’m talking about future design outlook, cost, timeline, construction feasibility, and so on.
  • Do they show a level of creativity in their answers? As creativity is an essential component in engineering.

Also, look for the other qualities that often go missed in engineering interviews. These include the following:

  • Independence: remains focused and solves problems without constant handholding.
  • Communication: speaks, writes, and reads well. This is especially important for jobs that are heavy in team effort work.
  • Ownership: owns up to mistakes and then learns from them.
  • Curiosity: a creative mind that wanders to find solutions. Everything sparks an idea to help in the problem-solving process.
  • Detail-oriented: engineering is about the fine details.
  • Persistence: engineering isn’t a cakewalk.
  • Empathy: understands every person has different skillsets. Thus, the engineer can work with everyone in a respectable manner.

What’s more, be sure the person isn’t an asshole!

No one wants to work with an asshole. It’ll destroy a company’s culture and bring everyone else down.

#9 Build an amazing company culture

Your work environment is healthy and it’s just an awesome place to work.

Great company cultures will make a talented engineer take a pay cut. Because the engineer wants to enjoy their work and feel comfortable.

There’s a lot to be said about a healthy work-life balance too. Especially considering most of your waking hours you’re at work.

I’ve gone over 15 good culture items backed by Elon Musk too. Try using some of them in your workplace.

#10 Look for cultural fit in candidates

Make sure the candidate is a good cultural fit. This is even more important for smaller companies.

Because each of your employees will more greatly define your business.

So first, assess the candidate’s qualities to be sure they’ll be a good fit. For example, they’re not an asshole, and they can work great with others.

Also, tell them about your company culture and what’s expected of them. For example, how people work at your company.

Just be honest!

Again, you don’t want there to be any surprises. So from the get-go, show who you and your company really are.

Then gauge the candidate’s response. You can tell if someone likes or doesn’t like what they hear.

At Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk doesn’t hide the fact that people work a lot. And I mean a lot!

So people know exactly what they’re getting into.

For obvious reasons, you want to do your cultural fit assessment preferably in person.

#11 Build an awesome company reputation

simple apple iphone design

If your company reputation sucks, you’ll never attract top talent.

Top talent doesn’t want to work for a company that’ll taint their reputation. Especially when they can easily find a job elsewhere at a top brand company.

For example, there’s a reason why many engineers gravitate to working at Apple. Apple has an impeccable reputation in the tech community.

Apple devices are synonymous with high quality.

So ensure your company has the values and ethics, that’ll attract awesome people.

#12 Consistently hire great engineers

Top talent likes to be around top talent. Because you can learn more, and problem-solving becomes even more efficient.

You want everyone in your company to be a great talent. What’s more, you want everyone to be a great person.

Once one person cuts a corner or becomes an asshole, others will follow suit.

So make it a habit to hire great engineers across the board.

In return, you’ll build an A team of engineers, who other engineers want to be around.

#13 Money talks 

At the end of the day, the cost of living is rising.

Money makes the world go around if you want to enjoy modern-day living. So a sweet compensation package will go a long way to capture 10x engineers.

I’m talking about the following:

  • Competitive salary
  • Health benefits
  • Fully vested 401(k) plan
  • Stock options
  • Bonuses

If you’re a small business, you won’t be able to compete with larger companies on all these items. So, in these instances, you’ll need to leverage yourself in other ways.

For example, selling your amazing company mission to candidates, and how they’ll fit in. Or offer an amazing company culture.

Also with smaller companies, typically engineers specialize less. Thus, they get their hands dirty in many more lines of work. Plus, they have greater autonomy with less bullshit bureaucracy.

What I just described is heaven for some engineers.

#14 Awesome perks

google campus mountain view california
Google campus in Mountain View (Photo Credit: Noah_Loverbear)

Money is great, but job perks go a long way as well. For example, here are some perks that people love:

  • Flexible hours
  • Option to work remotely when possible
  • Free food
  • On-site gym
  • Pre-paid legal services
  • Daycare

Having some of these options will go a long way in winning someone over. They help you feel you’re at home and give you a better work-life balance.

This is one big reason people love working at Google so much. Google really helps you feel at home.

#15 Hire fast

Once you find a 10x engineer, hire them fast. Don’t fumble around waiting around for weeks on end.

These talented engineers don’t grow on trees. So naturally, they’ll be in high demand.

For this reason alone, you need to hire fast. Plus, this shows them your high level of interest in them.

At the same time, be transparent with your offered salary and benefits. Don’t play around trying to win a tug and wore in negotiating pay and benefits.

To point out, I’m not saying to rush the interview screening process. Not at all. Rather, once you interview all qualified candidates, then quickly pull the trigger.

“How to hire great engineers?” wrap up

Learning how to hire great engineers can make or break your business. Yes, it’s that important!

Because you may only have several million dollars of available cash. So you have a limited budget to allocate towards engineers.

If you hire the wrong engineers, your product or design may never get completed. Plus, you’ll have burned A LOT of money and time you’ll never get back.

So, learn how to hire great engineers to skyrocket your business. Most all successful companies today stand on the shoulders of 10x engineers.

What strategies do you use on how to hire great engineers? What should a company avoid on how to hire great engineers?

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