How to Hire a Software Developer

By Robert Half on May 21, 2020 at 3:15pm

Hiring a software developer? You should know the role has evolved in recent years, but the qualities of a great software developer remain the same. They should have top-notch programming skills, laser focus — and that dash of ingenuity that enables them to find elegant solutions to knotty problems.

But today’s software developer is also a team player. Moving on from the lone wolf coder personas of legend, the dev world has switched to methodologies like Agile and DevOps, which emphasize teamwork, communication and collaboration.

This can still be a tough position to staff: Competition for software developers may not be as intense as it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the demand for top talent is still strong. And in this challenging business environment we now all operate in, you can’t afford to pass up on the best — because, let’s face it, your competitors won’t.   

Here’s what you need to know about hiring software developers today:

Decide what kind of developer you need

Software developers come in many varieties, but most fall into one of three broad categories:

  • Front-end developers — The front end is the part that the user interacts with, whether it’s a website, an app or another type of interface. Developing the front end usually requires knowledge of scripting languages like JavaScript, as well as a talent for design.
  • Back-end developers — If the front end is the software’s chassis, the back end is the engine. Back-end developers typically work in a compiled language like Java, C++ or C#. In addition, these developers generally have a good understanding of database technologies, such as SQL.
  • Full-stack developers — Full-stack developers do all of the above. In an enterprise setting, full-stack developers might help with application design, project coordination and more.

There are other kinds of software developers, including those who specialize in middleware, security and big data. To define the role you want to recruit for, think about the type of software you’re building and the additional skills you need on your development team.

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Craft a winning software developer job description

When advertising your open position, you need to give potential candidates a clear sense of what your ideal software developer looks like. Things to consider include:

  • Essential technical skills — These are the main programming languages software developer candidates need to know on day one. Working these into the job description title is a good way to catch the eye of developers who might skip over a more generic headline. If you know that your developer will be working mostly in Java, a posting titled “Java Developer” makes more sense than one labeled “Software Developer.”
  • Nice-to-have skills — You may choose to list some additional skills that are useful but not essential: working with Docker or Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example. No candidate is all-knowing, however, so make sure the nice-to-have skills don’t come off as must-haves.
  • Your team environment — Development is team-based these days, so you want candidates whose work style fits your company culture (and vice versa). Is your team Agile? Planning to pivot to DevOps? Do you work nine-to-five, no exceptions, or do you often go into crunch mode, with everyone putting in extra hours to meet a project deadline?
  • Soft skills — These can be as important as programming skills, especially in a collaborative environment. Outline the nontechnical skills that are essential in this position, especially those relating to communication, empathy and teamwork. And in this age of social distancing, your new hire has to be as effective and comfortable working from home as they would be in the office.

Make the most of interviews

Because software developers need to be well-rounded team players as well as coding wizards, it’s common to evaluate a diverse set of skills over two interviews:

  • Technical interview — Ideally, this should be a face-to-face or video interview with an experienced developer on your team. If that’s not possible, provide the candidate with written questions to test their programming chops.
  • Personal interview — Personal interviews can be conducted by any manager or HR professional. If the interviewer has zero coding skills, you can test the developer’s ability to explain difficult concepts to a layperson. And like any other interview, you’ll look at personality, soft skills and employment history while sizing up the candidate for corporate culture fit.

Try not to leave much time between the first and second interviews. Keep the candidate interested — and keep your hiring team on track. You want to assess each candidate’s attributes while still fresh in the mind. A week or two delay between interviews can muddy the waters and you risk losing out on a great hire (or making a bad one).    

Offer a competitive salary

Even in an uncertain economy, candidates for software development roles expect to be offered an attractive salary. The Robert Half Technology 2020 Salary Guide reports that the median starting salary for a software developer is $120,750. (Location of the role can push that figure up or down. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what candidates might expect in your market.)

Team up with a recruitment specialist

Hiring software developers can be a laborious, time-consuming process. Writing a thoughtful job posting that hits all the right notes, sorting through the stacks of resumes that’ll likely yield, vetting the candidates and calling references can all take weeks — this at a time when you have to focus on your business like never before.

The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. Robert Half Technology can not only find you highly skilled candidates fast, but we can help with the initial interviews, job descriptions, determining the right salary range and much more. And long before the COVID-19 pandemic, our recruiters have been helping firms across the country staff a remote workforce. In these hectic times, that means we can bring in the talent while you keep your eye on the ball.

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