Learning how to hire great engineers is essential to building a successful business. Because the alternative is possible bankruptcy.
Now to be clear, I’m talking about hiring 10x engineers or at the very least top of the line engineers. Engineers who will transform your entire business the day they step inside your office. Sounds like a unicorn, right? Somewhat…
These levels of engineers don’t grow on trees. And unlike the medical profession, poor-performing engineers aren’t weeded out of the profession. I’m talking about cutthroat acceptance rates throughout the pursuit of licensure. So it’s a mixed bag, of what level of engineer you’ll hire.
This is exactly why it’s important you know how to attract and hire amazing engineers.
#1 Broaden your candidate pool
Don’t search for candidates only in your backyard. Because statistically, the chance of landing great engineers in your city alone is low. Especially, if your city is small
Instead, broaden your search to your entire state and even all 50 states. One step higher is to leverage globalization and remote working. You can now find awesome engineers in all corners of the globe. In fact, this is the approach many small businesses take today.
What’s more, for medium to large-size companies, the pursuit of talent is never-ending. I’m not saying to constantly hire new engineers as this isn’t practical. 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
If your company’s mission is to send humans to Mars, then loudly broadcast it. Highlight it in your job ads, on your website, and at job fairs. Because it’s a mission many engineers would love to be a part of.
In return, you’ll attract engineers who are deeply passionate about Mars. And passion will bring out the full spectrum of talent in an engineer.
Now, what if you find a 10x engineer, then what?…
In the interview, show the candidate where they’ll fit in with your mission. Talk about the impact they’ll have on your company. Because you’re selling candidates on a big part of their future.
This is how Elon Musk attracted some of the brightest minds when he founded SpaceX. Engineers wanted to be a part of making humans a multi-planetary species. This was despite SpaceX being an unknown in the uber-competitive aerospace industry.
#3 Understand and deliver what 10x engineers want
Top engineering talent, expects the following:
- Respect: engineers and their work receive the utmost respect
- Challenges: engineers can work on cutting-edge world-changing designs
- Opportunities: engineer career progression is transparent
- Community and peers: engineers have a team of equally brilliant minds to work with
- Pay and benefits: engineers will receive market-competitive compensation packages
- Work scope: engineer’s work scope will be transparent
In your interview process, communicate the above 6 items, to pique the interest of top engineers.
#4 Use personal referrals
Tap into your personal network. A great way to discover vetted candidates is through personal connections. Because you can trust a friend much more than any other source. Plus, it saves you a boatload of time.
Just be careful, as sometimes people only refer their friends and colleagues. So you may get biased views. This is why you should never skip over the interview process, even for top-notch referrals.
I compare it to the early days of PayPal. You had to have a personal connection with the founders to get an interview. This was a great filter to weed out potential poor fits.
#5 List your specific job requirements
Many times, engineers will overlook basic job requirements they don’t meet. Because they assume they’ll learn the necessary skills on the job. The problem is, sometimes these candidates never learn.
To prevent this from happening, add extra details to your job requirements. Drill into detailed skillsets with listed examples. I find this helps make potential candidates think twice before they lie about their skillset. As an example, look at the following job description:
“Experience with scientific computing libraries such as numpy, pandas, or scikit-learn for autonomous car AI data infrastructure work.”
This level of detailed language will scare people away who know they don’t meet the job requirements. But if you simply write, “experience with AI,” you’ll get many unqualified submissions.
#6 Build a structured pipeline for the interview process
Create a structured interview process for each candidate.
The following stepped example will gain you valuable information on each candidate:
- Written home test/questionnaire
- Phone interview
- In-person interview
We’ll discuss each step below.
Step #1: written home test/questionnaire
Ask the candidate questions about their work habits. Also, throw in a technical question or two.
The technical questions should be from the job’s work scope. The questions shouldn’t be overly complex though, taking endless hours to complete. But, the candidate will need to show their work.
Now sure, someone can cheat to answer the technical questions and it’s expected. But their answer later becomes a part of the weeding process. In one of the next steps of the interview, you’ll revisit their answers. You’ll instantly then know who’s bullshitting.
Step #2: home interview
Here, you’ll get a feel for a candidate by gauging their personality. You can try to figure out if they’ll be a good fit for your team.
Also, you can drill into the technical questions from Step #1. Ask why they made certain choices in their problem-solving. Just as effective, ask about any shortcomings of their solution.
Now keep in mind, I listed only one phone interview. But sometimes, a second phone interview may be necessary. Because you don’t want to waste time on a bad candidate in an in-person interview.
Step #3: an in-person interview
An in-person interview is always important. Because a lot of missed hidden qualities from over the phone, now become transparent.
For example, say someone says they’d make a great leader. But in an in-person interview, they’re shy and quiet.
What’s more, you can now fully test their technical abilities. Remember the submitted technical questions from the first interview step? You now slightly change one of the questions and ask the candidate to solve it.
And there’s no excuse for the candidate to not solve the problem. Because they solved the original problem. This takes a page from the Elon Musk interview question, which can make or break you.
#7 Create a structured setup for assessing candidates in interviews
Create a scorecard to grade each candidate, especially at the phone interview stage. This allows you to uniformly evaluate candidates in real time.
Because if you wait and grade later, you’ll forget the important details of each candidate. And these fine details are typically the decision-makers in your candidate pool.
I suggest listing all the qualities you want a perfect candidate to have. Then, create a ranking system from 1 through 5 for each of the qualities. Just be sure you use your grading system uniformly with everyone.
#8 What to look out for in the interview grading process
We discussed creating a structured setup for assessing candidates in Tip #7. But what do you include in this grading system to find 10x engineers?
From a technical stance, you want to answer the following questions:
- How detailed are the candidate’s technical responses? Do they include both theory and real-world execution?
- When discussing solutions, do candidates discuss the original problem in detail too? This shows they’ve led engineering projects doing the same work.
- Do candidates analyze all factors in a design? This includes future design outlook, cost, timeline, construction feasibility, and so on.
- Do candidates show a level of creativity in their answers? Creativity is an essential component in engineering.
Also, look for the following other qualities you want a great engineer to have:
- Independence: has focus and solves problems without handholding.
- Communication: speaks, writes, and reads well. This is especially important for jobs requiring direct customer work.
- Ownership: owns up to mistakes and learns from failures.
- Curiosity: curious to always learn more. Because engineering requires a curious mind, to formulate creative solutions.
- Detail-oriented: engineering is about details. Looking over details can lead to engineering failures.
- Persistence: engineers need to be able to push through thick and thin.
- Empathy: Understanding every person has different skill sets. Engineers need to be able to work with everyone in a respectable manner. Avoid assholes!
#9 Build an amazing company culture
Build a healthy and awesome work culture. You’ll attract top engineers, and talented engineers may even take pay cuts to join your team.
I’ve found company culture is a huge consideration for almost all engineers. Especially, since you spend most of your waking hours at work.
For more information on work culture, check out the 15 good culture qualities backed by Elon Musk. Use them in your workplace and then talk about them to candidates.
#10 Look for cultural fit in candidates
Make sure candidates are a good cultural fit with your company. This is even more important for smaller companies. Because each employee will more heavily define your business.
So first, assess candidate qualities, to see if they’re a good fit. For example, they’re not an asshole, and they can work great with others. Next, tell them about your company culture and what’s expected of them. Just be honest!
Again, you don’t want there to be any future surprises for candidates. From the get-go, show who you and your company are. Then, gauge candidate responses. You can tell if someone likes or doesn’t like what they hear.
For instance, at Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk doesn’t hide how people work long hours. Candidates then know exactly what they’re signing up for.
#11 Build an awesome company reputation
If your company’s reputation sucks, you’ll never attract top talent. Because no one wants to taint their reputation by working for a bad company. Especially, when you can easily find a job elsewhere at a top-brand company.
For example, many engineers would love to work at Apple. Apple has an impeccable reputation in the tech community. Plus, their devices are synonymous with high quality.
So, build your company to have high values and ethics, to attract awesome engineers.
#12 Consistently hire great engineers
Top talent wants to be around top talent. Because you can learn more, and problem-solving becomes easier.
Everyone in your company should be great in a given domain, or they have the potential to become great.
Equally important, hire people with great personalities. You’ll then build an ‘A’ team of engineers, who other engineers want to be around.
#13 Money talks
The cost of living is rising. And to no one’s surprise, money makes the world go around if you want to enjoy modern-day living. So a sweet compensation package will always go a long way to attract 10x engineers.
In a compensation package, offer the following:
- Competitive salary
- Health benefits
- Fully vested 401(k) plan
- Stock options
- Annual bonuses
If you’re a small business, you can’t compete with larger companies in compensation. Instead, you’ll need to leverage yourself in other ways.
For example, with smaller companies, engineers typically specialize less. Thus, their work is more diverse with increased autonomy and less bullshit bureaucracy. Many engineers would find this to be heaven. So, make this your selling point.
#14 Awesome perks
Money is great, but job perks go a long way as well. For example, the following are some perks people love, which improve work-life balance:
- Flexible hours
- Option to work remotely
- Free food
- On-site gym
- Pre-paid legal services
Not surprisingly, Google attracts amazing talent, for their following offered perks alone:
- Volunteer time off at $10 per hour
- On-site car wash and detailing
- On-site free laundry
- Phone bill reimbursement at $70 per month
- Campus bikes
- On-site clinic
- On-site gym
- Free lunch 5 days per week
- On-site massage
#15 Hire fast and don’t play games
Once you find a 10x engineer, hire them fast. Don’t fumble around waiting weeks on end.
Because talented engineers don’t grow on trees. And if you don’t hire them, your competitor will. Plus, hiring fast shows the candidate your high level of interest in them.
Equally important, be transparent with your offered salary and benefits. Don’t play around trying to win a tug and wore game in negotiating pay and benefits.
To point out, I’m not advocating rushing the interview screening process. Not at all. Rather, once you interview all candidates and you find someone you like, quickly hire them.
“How to hire great engineers?” wrap up
Learning how to hire great engineers can make or break your business. No exaggeration!
Because your business may only have several million dollars of available cash. So you have a limited budget to allocate towards engineers. And if you hire the wrong engineers, your product may never launch. While all successful engineering companies stand on the shoulders of amazing engineers.
What strategies do you use, to hire great engineers? What should a company avoid in hiring great engineers?
SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER
Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.