How do you recruit enough 'top talent' for your company?


For many organizations that have achieved some level of success, effectively growing the staff, without compromising the overall quality of who you bring on board, is a critical challenge. What do you recommend for a small business that is having trouble finding and recruiting enough qualified individuals?

In my experience, traditional hiring/recruiting channels (i.e. posting a job listing on a job board/web site) is not nearly effective enough (signal to noise ratio is way too low). This makes a ton of sense, given that most rockstars are not actively looking for a new job.

On the other side, relying on referrals from current employees, while amazingly valuable, has not met current needs.

Ideas? Web sites? Services? Books? Philosophies, strategies, whatever... I'd love to hear what has worked for other growing organizations.

Thanks for your help.

Recruiting Hiring

asked Feb 16 '10 at 07:09
Chris Hagner
881 points

9 Answers


I LOVE this subject. I am an operation guy, so human capital issues are on top of my mind every day.

Here is what I have learned in 15+ years in startups:

  1. It all starts with culture. Go past the culture of tchotchke "benefits" like in office Guitar Hero setups, foosball tables, and other stuff that makes your culture fit for only one very narrow demographic group. (see my last article called "How a foosball table can kill your startup – part two "
  2. Build diverse team from day one, not when you are 20+ person company. We have done it in one of the software development companies I was in. I joined them as #20 and by the time I left (2 years later) we were 120 strong with zero retention problems. We attracted and developed some cream of the crop people and white, single, 20-somethings were not even 25% of our company. I have two articles on the subject: "How to build your startup core team " and "5 ways to build diversity into teams"
  3. Fish where others don't. E.g. you can find some amazing UI/UX people who are graduating as psychology majors (too many "fish" in graphic departments), great developers could be found in music schools (I've met some great devs who came out of Juilliard and Berklee)
  4. Stop depending on "rock stars". They usually are exactly like rock stars - needy, overpaid, moody, unreliable, and will hop to the next place for couple of bucks more. Much better strategy is to look for people with absolute passion for their craft, insaciable hunger to learn, and humility. You can mold a humble smart person into a true treasure. You can't mold and asshole into anything but an asshole.

At the end of the day it will take your people raving about your company to attract really smart people. Smart people love working with other smart people.

UPDATE: 7/3/12. I keep on seeing folks coming to my blog from this answer and just wanted to add one more post you may find helpful: How To Hire Top Talent Without Paying Recruiters

answered Feb 16 '10 at 17:24
Apollo Sinkevicius
3,323 points
  • +1 all around. Can't stand the endless banter on finding "rock stars" when true artists in their field are much more capable and don't need grandiose terms like rock star to attract them. – Jim Galley 14 years ago
  • Sorry for the broken links. I sold that brand with the domain, so I had to redo the links to point to my new domain. – Apollo Sinkevicius 13 years ago


What works for me is to build a network of potential hires before I need them. I have found that this is the single best way to attract quality talent. This serves two other valuable purposes:

  1. You get a sense of what other smart people are working on.
  2. Sometimes if you are not hiring, someone you know is and you can refer them to your network.

Referrals are also good but it seems that is not working out for you.

One other thing to think about is what part of the business you grow and what part you might outsource. I know that can sometimes be challenging to sort out but it is an effective method to get you through a tough hiring crunch or at least allow you to focus on the right type of hiring.

answered Feb 16 '10 at 10:39
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points


I would look for:

answered Feb 16 '10 at 10:38
Olivier Lalonde
2,753 points


Good answers already; I especially like Jarie's suggestion to consider the in-house / out-house split carefully.

Well, the question is one of those evergreen issues; I don't think there is an easy way to get great hires. Here are my ideas for this (some of which I have not had an opportunity to test in real life yet) :

  • Have a a great "Working Here" section on your website, where "great" means accurate, plainspoken, detailed and honest; strictly no BS. Write extensively about how you work, with which technologies you work, what methodologies (Scrum, XP, etc) you follow (if any). Be so honest to have markers and anti-markers for cultural fit.
  • Have a great working environment, and talk about it. Do you have 20%-time; does your company sponsor any worthy causes, do you contribute to open source? Can developers at your company order any book or PC accessory that they need without manager approval? Talk about this.
  • Do phone screening, it really has a good ROI. Even small companies can manage 10+ phone screens per position; and it really helps cut out bad applicants. Consider including "wild cards" into the phone screen even if they more or less failed the resume step, i.e. if someone "sticks" to your mind as interesting, then phone screen him even if he didn't really match the objective criteria. Maybe he's the gem in the rough.
  • Call or email all thought leaders in your technology / business domain, and let them know you're hiring. Maybe a well-known blogger on the other side of the planet knows someone who lives right next door to you.
  • Consider using (good) headhunters. I have worked with 2 good headhunters, and they are really worth their (outrageous) salaries. Headhunters have a very wide network, and they do get attention when they call -- it is flattering when a well known headhunting company calls you. To some extent headhunters can get away with things I cant. For example if I invited a key employee of a direct competitor out for lunch it would be seen as very confrontational; but a headhunter could get away with it.
  • Consider building an internal mentoring pipeline. From business literature it seems that the only long-term solution is to get get people with great potential while they're young (fresh out of university or close), and then form them to your needs. I believe talent for programming is something you can screen for; and most patterns and project methodologies can be taught within a few weeks.

I don't think there is a 'silver bullet', something that gives a 10x improvement for the hiring process. Or at least I don't know of one. It's mostly the same old venues everyone uses; past colleagues, networking, job boards (general & specialized), adverts.

answered Feb 16 '10 at 13:03
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points


  • Start an internship program. If there is a lot of competition in your area, do something different like a summer program for 2nd year students instead of waiting for graduates.
  • Join or start a developer's group in your area (
  • Market your company towards developers as well as your customer base.

I know you're not trying to make a pitch for your company on this site, but you haven't given any reason(s) why a top developer would want to work for you.

answered Feb 17 '10 at 02:07
Jeff O
6,169 points


I would think twice before go in a quest to fill my company with Rock Stars. Not only its going to be quite a pain to manage them later (there's a strange correlation between skill and social disorder), as its probably going to be a waste of resources.

Unless you're building a quantum virtual machine, you'll hardly need a team full of rock stars. A plain, hard-work fella with some experience and skill is good enough most of the time. So, don't spend time or money to search and contract a Paul McCartney if a Norah Jones is just what you need.

Generally, a team good enough for you needs has 60-70% of experienced dudes, 40-30% of beginners (for more simple, not-creative tasks) and only 10-0% of rock stars.

answered Jun 7 '11 at 05:23
Brunno Silva
320 points
  • +1 I prefer a star team instead of a team of stars – James 12 years ago


Allow (and give then incentive to do so) your most charismatic collaborators to give lectures in some very well targeted universities/diplomas.

I am managing a dual education engineering degree and a MsC in complex systems architecture, and trust me, the most clever students have firm job offers way before leaving the university, thanks to some of our (external) lecturers. As a teacher, you can see the best potentials, and you can mentor them in order to make sure they will acquire the skills needed for being a good collaborator in your team.

answered Jun 7 '11 at 07:26
Sylvain Peyronnet
371 points


A company I worked with had an interesting solution. As well as developing software they ran a recruiting business on the side, placing people into contract jobs. If a contractor proved to be very good they hired them in-house.

answered Jul 5 '12 at 03:15
1,231 points


It is unclear whether the nature of your business requires on-site presence. If it does not, go global. I know a successful software company that has no office altogether - all employees and contractors are working from their homes using virtual desktop technology. Need I mention that they are geographically distributed all over the world?

answered Feb 16 '10 at 19:51
Dmitry Leskov
606 points

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