Hiring a developer for your startup: seven steps to success
By Jamie Mercer
Everyone wants to have the best development talent in their corner, but if you’re a startup business, hiring great developers is especially important.
Whether they’re working on your websites, back-end software, or applications, developers have a significant role to play in helping optimise your processes and build your brand—something that no new businesses can afford to get wrong.
Startups need to choose their development teams wisely, but luckily for them, there’s no shortage of programmers looking to make their mark on both a contract and permanent basis.
To help you set yourself up for success before you kickstart your developer recruitment process, we’ve spoken to some of the most exciting startups in the marketplace to find out what they prioritise when hiring a developer.
Find a developer who matches your business culture
While skillset and technical expertise still rank highly in the minds of businesses hiring new developers, other attributes should also be considered before they sign on the dotted line.
Hiring managers rank soft skills and cultural fit as the biggest telling point in whether someone can work effectively within the rest of your team and your overall organisation.
Teamwork is a big part of getting your business off the ground; you won’t want a person with an attitude problem or someone who doesn’t play well in a team causing upheaval as soon as they walk through the door.
Most likely you’ll still be finding your feet in terms of branding and the direction you’re looking to take, and the last thing your business will need is a developer who believes they know better calling all the shots and altering the course of your productivity and growth.
Finding reliable people you can trust should go some way to discovering whether a developer relates well with what your business is trying to achieve, but you’ll also need that spark to indicate if they’re compatible.
Setting out your core vision and values from the inception of your business can help you pinpoint people who share those goals and can help you grow.
Using your core values as a guiding light during the hiring process is a move that Tom Charman, CEO of Kompas App, would advise. “Generally speaking, there are lots of different personalities, skillsets, and expectations that come with hiring developers. It’s of utmost importance before you hire anyone, you clearly outline the visions of what you’re doing,” says Charman. “Doing this immediately will remove developers from the recruitment process who don’t fit the ‘ethos’ or style of your company.”
Your core values will also offer alternative criteria by which to judge candidates during the recruitment process, looking beyond the traditional technical skill and theoretical knowledge.
By following this process, you’ll be able to hire a developer who you may have previously dismissed due to inexperience, but who can be moulded to fit the exact needs of your organisation.
Going down this path is something Charman also champions because “it’s easier to train someone to meet the needs of the company than to have an antagonist in the business that causes more internal problems than someone with a more basic skillset initially.”
Remember to look beyond a developer’s CV
Like any other job seeker, it’s sometimes the case that not everything included on a developer’s CV is true. Almost 85% of applicants bend the truth to make themselves more attractive to businesses, so you’ll need to look beyond one sheet of paper to make your final decision.
Most CVs will only list the major talking points of a developer’s career so far: their biggest projects, where they attended university, and their programming language skills. None of these show how a programmer has actually performed on the development floor, and by rushing the interview process, you could bring in someone who doesn’t have proven experience to match their theoretical skills.
To ensure you find your perfect hire, go beyond that initial screening process, and be completely aware that many of the developers may not have the right practical expertise to perform the tasks you need.
Going one step further in the recruitment process is a move Simon Edwards, Co-Founder of Lightstart App, promotes to help your business remain on track and to assist with the growth of digital productivity.
“We’ve hired many developers with great CVs. But when it came to delivery, they couldn’t do the job,” says Edwards. “They were much more inexperienced and junior than they claimed to be, which resulted in delayed projects that were no longer profitable.”
Research from Startup Xplorer shows 88% of CEOs feel candidates don’t have the technical expertise to fulfil their role requirements, so you’ll need a fool-proof way to verify a developers skill set.
Your business could have a developer take a live app test during the interview where you ask them to create a small application and, after a specific time period, have the developer explain their programming choices. By going down this route, you can also get a look at a developer’s mindset.
A further way to test a developer’s technical experience is to send them a good old-fashioned technical test. But remember not all developers will come up with the same solution, so if you’re a non-technical founder, have someone with the right experience take a look over the answers.
If the technical results are to your liking, be prepared to delve deeper in a developer’s experience and get in touch with their previous employers to get a feel for their work. This will also help you discover whether or not they’ll work well in a small startup environment.
Add an extra pair of eyes to the interview process
Deciphering whether a developer can meet your requirements is an important part of any interview. If you’re new to the tech sector or you’re going it alone, getting a list of prepared questions or having someone with a technical background sit in on interviews with you can help you to pinpoint the perfect programmer.
Having this extra pair of eyes can be beneficial, as they may notice a developer trait that turns out to exactly what you’re looking for, or pick up on an answer that indicates a high-level of experience that you might have missed.
However, if you’re brand new to IT recruitment and your contact books don’t include the numbers of people who can help you out, you could turn to expert recruiters who can offer guidance on not only the interview but the candidate screening process and the negotiation phase.
Take a look at their portfolio
When recruiting for a developer, this should be self-explanatory; even if you don’t understand the code or how it comes to together to build an application, you should always ask to look through their portfolio.
You’ll want someone willing to go out of their comfort zone to create the best product possible. For this to happen, you’ll require a developer who takes pride in what they build and the best way to discover that is through their portfolio.
Most programmers will be happy to show off their favourite projects, so ask to take a look at their GitHub code repository or Stack Overflow profile.
If what’s placed in front seems like a foreign language, ask to see the finished product. This should also give you a detailed look at their application development skills including user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) programming.
Remember, for your business to grow efficiently, you’ll want to work with a developer who has experience within a similar sector or with a similar product to yours. By examining their portfolio, you’ll be able to check whether they have the competence to fulfil your build requirements.
However, if you encounter a prospective hire who is hesitant to discuss their portfolio or show examples of code, view this as a red flag and press them to find out why.
There could be a simple explanation, but if they still refuse, have them take an onsite technical test, or solve a problem that will relate directly to the application to test their practical expertise.
Developers to match your specific expectations
A strong digital presence can be the catalyst that allows your business to outperform competitors, but with hiring top tech talent one of the biggest challenges faced by startups, you may need to change your tact.
Most startups will have a product or application ready to offer the public, so you’ll need to be clear with the requirements you have for a developer. Otherwise, it can put you on the backfoot.
To continue growing your application, you’ll need to scope out exactly what it is your looking for in a developer, and factor in technologies, languages, APIs and all the other tools you’re likely to need.
Although this sounds challenging, especially for a non-tech business, it’s a process you’ll need to undertake, as it’ll also help you to be clear about what you need from candidates during recruitment, which Jo-Anne Godden, CEO of Rubymoon, believes every startup should make a priority to help avoid any hiring mistakes.
“The key is to be really specific about what you like, and also what you don’t want on your site,” says Godden. “If you fail to express this, then you’ll run into immediate issues with requirements traveling back and forth, which can lead to added costs.”
The perfect developer should also be able to implement the UX and UI aspects of your product. A vital step in the building process to get right, leading with UX developer or UI expert on the job specification will draw in people who have that expertise alongside the other skills.
By taking this approach and sticking to the plan, you’re more likely to find a developer who’ll be motivated by the work you’re asking them to do, and who’ll want to stay in their current role to help your business grow rather than moving on after the project is complete.
Take your time to make the final hiring decision
When building a new business from scratch, you may feel like there are never enough hours in the day to make decisions.
But no matter how quickly you believe you need to decide on hiring a developer, choosing the wrong person can be disastrous, which means the more time you invest, the better class of candidate you’re likely to discover.
Taking a punt on the first CV that lands in your inbox can cause more lasting damage than you have the funding to fix. So during the hiring process, take a step back and look beyond the initial information you’ve been given.
Remember, your overall success will come from building the right team to help your startup grow, and this includes developers. But by slowing down the recruitment process, you can help focus on the job specifications and the needs of your business.
Get value for money when hiring a developer
In the early stages of business growth, keeping a close eye on your finances will be top of your priorities list. So when hiring any new team members, you’ll need to stick as close to your recruitment budget as possible.
One problem startups face is the rising cost of developers, something fuelled by the growing skills gap in the sector and the increasing demand for people with the right skills to join a business.
Startups can struggle with cash injections, and to retain capital while also getting your project off the ground, look for a developer who brings more than technical competence to your business.
If you’re a non-technical founder, deciphering whether you’re actually getting value for money can be difficult, and Dileepa Ranawake, Community Manager at C4DI-Hull, advises you keep a close eye on your finances.
“Software projects are complex. Especially for startups,” says Ranawake. “Make sure you pick a developer or company who can implement an agile build methodology, as it will give you a linear project plan and provide a more cost-effective approach to achieving goals.”
Choosing a permanent or contract developer
The developer who offers your business the most value can come from either the permanent or contract market.
Before you start the recruitment process, you’ll need a concrete idea in place of what you’re trying to achieve; developers from both signs of the coin will be less likely to consider your business if you don’t have a clear idea of what the job you want them to do.
Taking the plunge and hiring a permanent developer is a big commitment. Choosing a full stack developer will mean you’ll only need one developer, as a full stack professional will be able to complete backend and frontend tasks.
Another positive of hiring a permanent full stack developer is that they can grow with your organisation, sharing your final vision and the goals you’re looking to achieve by creating an application.
But if you choose to go down the permanent hiring path, you’ll also have to weigh up the cost of keeping a developer within your business who could be sitting idle if there isn’t a constant stream of work for them to complete.
You’ll also face the issue of the ever-expanding talent shortage in the tech sector. With fewer developers available on the market, the ability of your startup to compete with larger organisations in terms of benefits and salaries can set you at a disadvantage.
It can also be a debilitating blow to your business if the permanent hire doesn’t work and you’ve laid out a large amount of time and capital to secure their services.
If your startup is cash-strapped in the early stages of business, it could be worth looking into the ever-evolving freelancing and contracting world as a more viable place to find a developer in the short-term.
Hiring a developer on a contract basis can be more cost-effective, as you’ll only be billed for the hours they work; something that can be easily calculated if your development project remains on plan
On the other hand, hiring a contractor who’ll match your brand vision and company culture can be more difficult. In the end, selecting the right developer will come down to your individual business requirements and circumstances, but if you carefully outline your goals and specifications you should be able to secure the perfect hire.