Jacob Kaplan-Moss discusses how you can make a compelling job offer in a competitive tech market. Jacob is a software developer, co-creator of Django, and engineering leader. He works as a security consultant at Latacora and is the co-owner of Revsys. Jacob previous ran engineering and security teams at Hangar, 18F and Heroku, and he writes about engineering management at jacobian.org.

Jacob Kaplan-Moss
Jacob Kaplan-Moss
Hi Jacob, welcome to the CTO Craft Spotlight Q & A. You’re a keynote speaker at the May 2022 CTO Craft MiniCon, Engineering Leader at Latacora and Co-Creator of Django. You’re going to talk about making a compelling offer in a competitive hiring economy. Firstly, what current hiring challenges are you seeing in the tech industry?

It’s a job seeker’s market. Especially at more senior levels, hiring managers can expect candidates to have multiple competing offers. Salaries have absolutely exploded over the last couple of years — it’s not uncommon for engineers to have doubled their salary between 2020 and 2022. And with many more companies going more remote, the talent market is increasingly global. All this adds up to a very challenging environment for anyone trying to hire.

Thank you. And what specific trends are you seeing in compensation in hiring?

As I said above, compensation is exploding — up at least 30% over the last couple of years, and often more like 50% or even 100%. This has mostly been driven by the big Bay Area tech firms (FAANG and adjacent companies like Airbnb, Stripe, etc.) who can offer huge numbers in stock grants, but it’s pushing comp up across the board.

Do you think many of these hiring issues for employers are due to the pandemic, or were they happening before?

I think the trend had started beforehand, but yes, I think it’s related. In my eyes, what happened was, as the pandemic started, people hunkered down — nobody was looking to switch jobs in May 2020; we were all just hoping not to get laid off. But after about a year, as we moved into early 2021, it became clear that tech was doing better than ever. 

Meanwhile, the transition to remote wasn’t going smoothly everywhere; lots of people were unhappy at their jobs. So we had a bunch of churn in 2021 as people left for better jobs, and this drove salaries up as companies competed for talent that’s usually not on the market.

We’re excited that you’re our keynote speaker at our May 2022 MiniCon. Can you give us a teaser about what you might share with our audience about making a compelling job offer?

Well, the spoiler is that it’s not money. If you can afford to compete with Netflix at the top of the market, you absolutely should, and paying more will make hiring easier. But I’m guessing the vast majority of hiring managers can’t spend their way out of the problem. 

So it’s all about figuring what you can offer. I’ll cover some of those things: company culture, flexible schedules, flexible working locations, benefits you might not have thought about, etc. I’ll also cover some logistics: the brass tacks of making an offer and negotiating in a way that continues to ‘sell’ your company and team.

On that note, how important do you think the candidate experience is throughout the hiring process?

It’s important. Remember that most candidates will have multiple companies quite interested in them. If you make them jump through a bunch of hoops, annoy them, or ask for too much time, well, your competition won’t. On the other hand, a great hiring process that makes a candidate feel comfortable and desired says good things about your team culture.

What impact do you think it has if employers are upfront about the hiring process? For example, should they tell candidates how many interviews there will be etc., or could this potentially put candidates off applying?

Of course, you should be upfront. Can you imagine going to a restaurant, asking for a table, and being told, ‘well, you’ll have to wait, but we won’t tell you how long‘? You’d go somewhere else, right? I don’t understand why hiring managers are cagey. Just tell candidates what to expect.

In the past, long interview processes were quite normal. In your opinion, how can employees ensure that recruitment is fast but thorough and leads to the right hiring decisions?

I’ve never seen any data that correlates the length of a hiring process to positive outcomes. Companies have long hiring processes because (a) they haven’t put the work in to streamline or strip it down, or (b) they’re scared and timid and want as many people involved as possible so that nobody has to own making tough decisions. Both are silly reasons to put candidates through a bunch of hoops. 

You should be able to run an entire hiring funnel with no more than about 8 hours of a candidate’s time. I wrote a bit about this here

You have over a decade of experience in engineering leadership. So, do you think that candidates are just focused on salary or other factors too?

I mean, at a certain point, cash is king. Would you quit your job if someone offered you $10 million to work somewhere else? Probably, right?

But with the levels of comp we’re often talking about in tech jobs, sometimes the additional money isn’t all that meaningful to someone comparing multiple offers that all pay extremely well. As long as the offer is somewhat competitive, there will always be candidates who’ll be willing to give up some cash for other perks.  

In your opinion, how can organisations that can’t compete with some of the bigger salary offers from competitors attract talent?

As I mentioned above: company culture, flexible schedules, flexible working locations, benefits, etc., I’ll talk more about this in the talk.

A huge one these days is a commitment to remote work. There’s a difference between ‘we’ll let you work from home … for now’ and ‘we’ll let you work from home, permanently’.

What common mistakes do you think organisations make during the hiring process or at the offer stage?

A common mistake I see at the offer stage is a complete lack of communication between an offer being accepted and someone’s first day. Sometimes that can be weeks — or even months — and it’s in your best interest to keep the lines warm during that time. It’s not unheard of for candidates to get better offers in between when they’ve accepted yours and when they start. If you’re not working to build trust from the moment they accept the offer — and even before — you’ll miss a chance to get ahead of a competing offer and counter it.

Can you tell us about your current role at Latacora?

Sure! Latacora is a security consultancy that works with startups. We’re an alternative to a first security hire: instead of trying to hire a single person who can do all the things, clients retain us. We’re a team of about 50 with collective centuries of security experience, so we really can do all the things. Within Latacora, I focus on security architecture, which is a fancy way of saying ‘designing systems that are less prone to getting hacked‘.

Finally, can you recommend a book or a podcast that every technology leader should read or listen to either in the space of hiring in tech or leadership in general? 

I have a list of books I recommend to engineering managers here. If I had to pick just one, it’d be Andy Grove’s High Output Management. It’s not the most tactical book, there isn’t as much specific advice as some of my other picks, but it’s by far the best guide to thinking like a leader I’ve ever read.

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