How to Hire an App Developer

By Robert Half February 4, 2020 at 11:00am

In most industries, if your company doesn’t have an app, you’re already behind the competition. If users can’t access your products or services with a simple tap on their phone (or another device), they’re likely to gravitate toward a brand that does.

First things first, note the difference between applications and apps: Applications are large, multipurpose software like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop, and are programmed by software developers. Apps are smaller, have a narrower set of functions and are created by mobile applications developers.

Think, for example, of the smartphone apps for Twitter and Instagram, designed to be navigated with a flick of your thumb. Smaller doesn’t mean simpler, however — and easy-to-use isn’t the same as easy-to-design.

A great app developer’s programming skills may be similar to those of a software developer, though the former often focuses more closely on aspects like design and user experience (UX) in addition to functionality.

No matter what type of app your business requires, you need a talented app developer to deliver it. And considering the strong demand for this role, competition can be fierce. But a compelling job post, a persuasive interview and the right job offer can go a long way to attract top candidates and land your first choice for the role.

Step 1: Build up a profile of your ideal developer

Most people associate apps with mobile platforms, but they’re in everything from cars to TVs. So before you start hiring, talk with all of your internal stakeholders to precisely define what you’re building, who your users are and what those users need in your app.

Once you have the blueprint for the kind of app you need, you can define your app developer’s must-have skills. These developers have a wide range of proficiencies and backgrounds, so this isn’t a one-size-fits-all job. Knowing what you can't live without helps you identify the candidates that best suit your project.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What platforms will your app run on? The consensus in the developer community is that it’s quicker and easier to build an iOS app than an Android version. Android is an open-source platform, offering limitless flexibility — along with limitless compatibility headaches — whereas iOS is a closed ecosystem with a tight set of rules. If your app will ship as iOS-only, you can consider developers with less all-around experience.
  • What kind of users is your app targeting? Know your audience — then look for a developer who understands what makes them happy. For example, if your app is a virtual wallet aimed at affluent iPhone users aged 18-34, you’re unlikely to get any traction without a slick user interface (UI). But if you’re building a trivia game for tweens, a colorful, artfully messy interface could be just what gets your app into the top 100.
  • Are you starting from scratch or rebuilding an existing app? If the former, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking for an all-rounder — someone who can write clean, readable code to deadline and understands what can make or break the UX. If the latter, you might be more in the market for a specialist — a social media guru, for example, if you’re looking to expand your app’s reach across networks and virtual communities.

Step 2: Write a tight and appealing job description

The key requirements your job posting should cover include:

  • Primary tech skills — Regardless of the app, candidates should be fluent in languages such as Java, C# and Swift. 
  • Additional tech skills — Skills such as database configuration, security protocols and working with particular APIs may be needed. It’s also worth asking yourself: What skills are missing within our current development team? This could be a chance to fill those gaps (though this should be a nice-to-have, not a must).
  • Education — A bachelor’s degree in a computing-related field is generally a minimum in this position.
  • Experience — Most app developer jobs require 2-5 years of professional experience, though it’s worth considering less-experienced candidates who submit a strong portfolio.
  • Soft skills — Most app developers work as part of a team. They may also need to coordinate with other departments, such as sales and marketing. Candidates with strong communication and collaboration skills are therefore in high demand.

Step 3: Do your homework for the interview

Even experienced interviewers can trip themselves up with technical questions, so it’s a good idea to prepare in advance. And note that questions like “Are you a C# ninja?” won’t tell you much you don’t already know from a candidate’s resume. Instead, consider open-ended questions like these:

  • What are your strongest and weakest programming languages and why?
  • What development tools have you used?
  • What are the pros and cons of working in an agile environment?
  • What are the most significant security issues in iOS and Android?
  • What are the ethical issues surrounding data gathering and analytics?

More general questions can help tease out a candidate’s soft skills:

  • Do you feel like you always get the credit you deserve for the projects you’ve worked on?
  • Do you prefer to work in a team or by yourself?
  • What’s the most important element in a great user experience?
  • What do you do when a project is going off track?
  • What are your long-term ambitions and expectations for professional development?

Answers to this last set of questions also help you judge whether a candidate is a good fit for your organizational culture. Almost all IT leaders polled in a Robert Half Technology survey admitted to making a bad hire in their time — and of those, 28% said the problem was that the candidate didn’t fit the corporate culture.

Step 4: Make an offer they can’t refuse

First-rate app developers command high salaries and aren’t afraid to walk away from subpar offers. The 2020 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide shows that the median starting salary for mobile app developers is $146,500.

This is the national figure, and actual salaries vary according to location. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what app developers can expect in your city and state.

Naturally, pay is important, but it isn’t everything. If you’re unable to match your competitors’ offers, try to sway candidates by touting your company’s perks and benefits. Many workers are dedicated to finding work-life balance, so telecommuting, flexible schedules or open vacation policies could convince them to take a lower salary.

Get hiring help

Specialized staffing agencies like Robert Half Technology can help you find great candidates fast. Tech recruiters typically have an expansive network and know which talented app developers are available in their market. In addition, it’s their job to spot industry and salary trends before anyone else, which can help you close the deal quickly.

Don’t let a great candidate slip through your fingers

Found your ideal candidate? Remember, they’ve probably applied for other positions, and chances are they’ll go with the first employer that comes back with a solid offer. If you wait too long, they’ll be gone. Be sure you don’t let a slow hiring process get in your way.

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