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 offer easy mobile engagement.

Some of those brands have not only survived but thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hunkered down at home for weeks on end, millions of people have grown more attached than ever to their mobile devices. Both the number of apps downloaded and the average amount of time people spend on them have spiked.

Clearly, developing killer apps could help your business. On the flipside, rushing a shoddy one to market might damage your reputation. For the execution to match your vision, you’ll need a first-rate app developer.

Even in the current economy, this can be a challenging position to hire for. But a compelling job post, a careful vetting and the right salary can go a long way to attract top candidates and land your first choice for the role. Here are tips on how to hire an app developer today:

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 in their 20s and 30s, you’re unlikely to get any traction without a slick user interface (UI). But if you’re building a video-sharing app for teens, 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 — someone who can overhaul those features of the app you’ve identified as weak links. For example, if users love the UI but complain about the app’s load time, it makes sense to hire a programmer with a track record in optimizing and streamlining unwieldy code.


Step 2: Write a tight and appealing job description

To attract the right app developer for your project, the job description needs to be more than just a laundry list of technical skills. This person will be working closely with you and colleagues across departments, so you want someone who shares your excitement for the product and will mesh well with you and your team.

A good job description for an app developer should do the following:

  • Define the product and timeframe — Even if your app is top secret, try to give developers a sense of what they’ll be building and how long they’ll be building it. This gives you the best chance of attracting someone who will be passionate about the project, and it helps filter out under- or over-qualified candidates. Just because someone has the coding chops to build a complex photo-sharing app doesn’t mean they have the temperament and experience to shepherd it through a year-long development process.
  • Identify essential and nice-to-have tech skills — Regardless of the app, you’ll be looking for candidates fluent in languages such as Java, C# and Swift. 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 (but be clear in the posting which are a nice-to-haves, and which are required skills).
  • Emphasize soft skills — Some of the smartest people struggle to explain their thought and working processes. That’s fine in some contexts, but if you want your app developer to collaborate with social media managers, the marketing team and so on, you’ll need someone with excellent communication skills in both technical and non-technical discussions. 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. A successful history of teamwork, self-motivation, time management and communication skills are a few of the personal attributes to consider adding to the job posting.
  • Ask for a portfolio — A resume will show the candidate’s work history, tech stack and education. The resume, along with the cover letter, can also give a sense of the candidate’s writing skills and attention to detail. But nothing demonstrates technical skills and output like a strong portfolio. Ask the tech and design experts on your hiring team to review your leading candidates’ work examples before you schedule interviews.

Step 3: Dig deep when assessing candidates

When interviewing app developers, the most important questions are the ones you ask yourself. Does this candidate have the necessary technical skills? Will they be a good fit for the organization? And, more specifically, are they right for this job?

Because technical skills are the easiest to assess objectively, you should cover them first. Ideally, one of your experienced developers will conduct video interviews with candidates, putting them through their coding paces — often by using an online coding editor that lets people collaborate on problems and solutions in real-time. For insight into the candidate’s workstyle, the interviewer might ask them to talk through a project in their portfolio.

Assessing whether candidates are a good organizational fit and have the necessary soft skills is trickier, and best covered in an interview separate from the skills test. Prepare thoughtfully and thoroughly. You’ve already included desired soft skills in the job posting, so yes-or-no questions such as “Are you a good team player?” will tell you very little. Much better to come up with a set of questions that will both draw out a candidate’s professional knowledge and personality. “Tell me what you love most about building apps,” for example, or “What are your favorite and least favorite kinds of app (and why)?”

Finally, you need to know that a candidate shares your vision and enthusiasm for the app. You can do this in the interview by expanding on some of your ideas for the product and asking for the developer’s creative input. This will test not only how thoroughly the candidate prepped for the interview but also how comfortable they are with offering constructive criticism.

Step 4: Make a competitive offer

If you want to hire an app developer and keep them, then you’ll have to offer a fair and competitive salary. We’re in a tough economy right now, but in time things will pick up. You want an app developer who’ll be as excited to join the team as they will be to stay on should competitors come calling.

The Robert Half Technology Salary Guide shows that the median starting salary for mobile app developers is $86,500. (The guide and our Salary Calculator show how to adjust this national figure for markets across the country.) Whether you’re making a full-time hire or bringing on a project professional, make clear what perks and benefits are also included in the compensation package. A positive message about the workplace culture can also carry weight with app developers who might be considering another opportunity.

A final tip: Seek expert help when hiring app developers

There's a lot to do, and a lot to think about, packed into those four steps. If you’re strapped for time, specialized staffing agencies like Robert Half Technology can help you find top talent fast. Beyond access to the skilled candidates who’ve registered with our firm, our recruiters have an expansive network and know which app developers are open to new opportunities. In addition, it’s the recruiter’s job to spot industry and salary trends before anyone else, which can help you close the deal quickly.

In this challenging business environment, there’s no need to get bogged down with writing job descriptions, vetting resumes, conducting interviews and reference checks, and benchmarking salaries. Bring in the staffing professionals who do that for a living, so you can get back to the business of running your business.

Learn from Robert Half’s expert recruiters so you can build a talented team of employees or advance your career. Operating in over 300 locations worldwide, we are one of the most trusted staffing agencies in Vancouver. Robert Half can provide you with assistance where and when you need it.