Having trouble hiring or retaining engineers for your scaleup? Here’s what to do.

Having trouble hiring or retaining engineers for your scaleup? Here’s what to do.


Ever compared your difficulties of building your Engineering team with doing groceries? Well, just keep on reading. 🙂

The attraction retention problem

Successfully building your Engineering team. It’s one of those challenges causing sleepless nights for founders, CTOs, and People Professionals. The war for talent is real, and if we may believe the predictions for the labour market, this war is only getting more and more intense. 

I mentioned the word ‘successfully’ in my first sentence for a reason. It namely is doable to hire Engineers – yes, it’s difficult, but it’s also doable. However, that is not a guarantee of success. We speak with dozens of scaleups every week, and although the hiring part is often already a problem, it’s actually in most cases the retention part that is causing issues. And I can tell you one thing for sure: It’s not the engineers’ fault.

Here’s why we are making it ourselves so difficult, and how you can solve both your hiring and retention problems at once.


The consequence of scarcity: A supermarket story

Although I know you shouldn’t compare people with goods, I am going to do this for once – just because I hope that his metaphor helps us all understand the actual struggle we’re facing and maintaining ourselves. 

We all need to eat. Now, let’s imagine that you always need to go to a specific supermarket for your food. The problem, however, is that lots of people need to go to that one supermarket for their food. As a result of that, it often happens that, by the time you arrive at the supermarket, all vegetables are sold out. And as an alternative to vegetables, you therefore decide to buy for example a lot of dairy products. 

What we also need is variation in our food and taking into account allergies – because without sufficient nutrients or eating food you’re allergic to, our health can be endangered. And if that happens, we will come to the conclusion that going to that supermarket and buying altnernative groceries might not have been the best idea. And while you might have this with vegetables, someone else can have that with the diary product that you’re buying. Ultimately, everyone ends up with imbalanced nutrients. 


The alternative

Now, you might go to a supermarket for your food. After all, it’s close by, organized, and easy. However, what you could also do is growing your vegetables yourself, assuming you have a big garden. Yes, it requires an investment. And yes, it’s not ready on day one. But when putting some love, effort, and patience into this, you will be eating a perfectly balanced diet, contributing to your long-term health within a couple of months. And we all know that long-term focus is better than quick wins, right?


This is what happens with hiring engineers

Let’s emphasise one component of my metaphore before moving on. The fact that your health decreases in this story is not the fault of the groceries you buy. That’s yours.

And so, this is exactly what happens with engineers. There just aren’t enough of engineers, when looking at the number of companies hunting for them. Or at least, there aren’t enough experienced engineers. And most of us desperately look for experienced engineers only, as we want our new team members to be up and running ASAP. 

Something similar that happened in my supermarket example is happening here. Just like you tend to buy other products than the ones you need, you also tend to hire those experienced engineers that might not fit. In fact, we see that most cultural mishires are made in Engineering teams. And again, that’s not the fault of those engineers. It’s your fault.

You rely so much on engineers, as engineers for tech companies are the same as food for human beings, that one positive aspect of an engineer makes you feel positive about all other aspects also. This is called the Hallo Effect, a very common bias in recruitment.


Experience potential as a secret key

Experience doesn’t make someone a well-performing engineer in your company. (Soft) skills, behaviours, and personality traits do so. The fact that someone can program well in React, PHP, or Elixir is not because they were born with React, PHP or Elixir skills. It’s because they master the skills your need in order to learn and eventually master a programing language – skills such as learning ability, critical thinking, flexibility, and so on. 

The thing, however, is that (i) looking at experience instead of potential, (ii) letting someone work independently from day one instead of coaching them, (iii) or only assessing on job fit instead of culture fit, seems like the easiest road to take. But just like insufficient nutrients lead to health issues, only focusing on an engineer’s experience won’t contribute to company sustainability. Because there’s a big chance that a lack of focus on culture or potential will ultimately bite you, and this will also make your talent pool become extremely small.


How we grow our own vegetables at Equalture

We are an IT-Science company, so our Engineering team is at the heart of our organisation. Without these amazing people, we wouldn’t be alive as a business. 

However, we do actually like to grow our own vegetables. And so, we do like to hire for potential over experience. In fact, we program in a very new language called Elixir, so we can’t even search for engineers with this specific experience.

So instead, we look at someone’s skills and behaviours. We focus on the skills that we know are needed to become a successful Elixir Engineer, and we focus on the behaviours that fit our company culture. We decide on what to foccus on by making use of our own neuroscientific games, which we not only use to assess candidates, but also our current team, in order to reveal which skills and behaviours we should actually be looking for. And guess what: That has really payed off so far. We have an amazing team with even more amazing talents. 

Here you can try out a game yourself, in case you’re curious:

Are you curious to find out how our hiring software can help you start hiring for potential? Then you know where to find us.  

Now, one last thing before I wrap up this blog.. I remember my grandparents having their vegetable garden. They grew their own tomatoes and made tomato soup from it. Without a doubt the best soup I have ever eaten – there’s no supermarket in the world that can combat that. After all, everything gets better when investing some time and effort into it, right? 😉

Charlotte Melkert Co-Founder and CEO of Equalture in Portrait picture

Cheers, Charlotte
Founder & CEO

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