Keep Your IT Rock Star from Getting Poached

Hiring new people isn’t cheap, especially if you’re looking to connect with the best.

And I’m not just talking about salary. The upfront costs, from HR involvement to third-party recruiters to job posting can run a high price tag. On average, the recruiting process itself rings in at around $7,000, and that’s before you’ve even interviewed any candidates, conducted background checks and factored in onboarding costs.

By the time you find a rock-star hire, your expenses can go through the roof, so it only makes sense that you want to keep them around.

However, this task is easier said than done. In the fast-paced tech space, talented individuals like to bounce around, looking for the next big gig. And because most industries require tech development experts, they have a lot of options to choose from. Plus, if your killer tech hire does decide to leave, it’s going to cost you — one-fifth of his annual salary in terms of time, training, and replacing, to be exact. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

How to Spot a Flight Risk

Finding and grooming the perfect tech talent can be a rewarding challenge if you know how to approach it. Your work starts way before the interviews. Thankfully, there are a few signs you can look for that might indicate that an applicant isn’t in it for the long haul.

  • Past job loyalty: Take a look at the last two or three organizations your candidate worked for. If he was there for less than two years, you need to figure out why he left. If he had external reasons for leaving, you might not have anything to worry about. But if he left on his own accord, it might indicate a commitment issue.
  • Motivation to stay, not just innovate and move on: Developers are often driven by innovation. Once a product is completed, they really don’t care to stick around to maintain it. Try to understand a candidate’s motivation for joining your company. If you suspect that he’ll build a foundation project, then leave, consider building his exit strategy into your business plan.

Selling the Stay

After you’ve whittled your applicants down to a few final candidates, you need to focus your attention on approaching hiring in a meaningful, valuable way. When you’re interviewing potential candidates, there are a number of things you can do to position the job as a valuable career option rather than a short-term opportunity:

  1. Stress the mission. Clarify your company’s mission and how the candidate fits into it. It’s not just “Here’s a job; now get to work,” rather, “Here’s the journey, here’s our end goal, and here’s what you can do to help carry us there.” Talk about it on a higher level, and he’ll want to be part of the success. Get him to buy into the company, not just the role.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. Talk in terms of solving a problem and describe how it will impact your customers’ lives. Detail the timeline for not only going to market but also for the future progression of the position — whether that means eventually leading teams, divisions, etc. Make sure that the candidate understands that there’s a step-by-step process to his career if he grows with your company.
  3. Discuss the role. Talk in terms of management and ownership of the company. Make sure he knows that it’s not about a mere role; it’s a lifecycle that can bring him future responsibilities with management. This instills a sense of ownership.
  4. Be upfront. Be honest, and let him know that you understand that people often leave a position after one or two years for more money or better opportunities. Ask what his sense of long-term commitment is. You might not get a direct answer, but you can read between the lines to get a feel for his integrity.
  5. Ask the right questions. There are a few things you can offer at an interview to drive a candidate’s willingness to commit, but asking the right questions will uncover his internal drive:
    • Why did you leave your last job? Perhaps he’ll say that a terrible manager or limited autonomy turned him off. Whatever the case, his answer will give you a sense of what motivates him, which will help you support him in the best way possible.
    • Is it about learning or earning? If you stop learning, you stop believing in your job. Developers want room for growth and knowledge expansion. If a candidate wants to learn, trying to hook him with a big paycheck won’t work. Instead, let him know that you’ll provide learning opportunities.

Hiring and retaining the best developers requires three things. First, you need to understand and articulate a clear mission. Candidates need to feel confident about your company. Second, you need to think long term. If their résumés show that they jump ship regularly, don’t assume you’ll be an exception. Finally, don’t stop interviewing. You will lose great people, and if you have to jump-start the interviewing process each time that happens, you’re wasting time and money.

In the end, you have to keep the talent pipeline churning. After all, you never know when your next IT rock star will emerge.

Jake Villarreal is the co-founder and president of Match Relevant, an IT-staffing entity that utilizes social media and innovative recruiting practices to deliver award-winning talent for funded tech startups, SMBs, and Fortune 500 organizations.