The market for technical professionals in Boston has been highly competitive over the last year, forcing hiring managers to become creative in sourcing candidates. Here are 5 tips that have consistently worked for me.

#5: The Person You Want Isn’t Looking

Every week I get at least one inbound call from a recruiter who has a “rock star” candidate that is interviewing at all the “top startups in Boston” and “won’t be on the market long.” I answer these calls the same way: I pass. In addition to a healthy skepticism of transaction-driven recruiters, I’m not looking for a candidate who is looking to make a decision on the next several years of their professional career in 2-3 weeks. If you limit your candidate pipeline to actively looking candidates, you constrain yourself to seeing only a fraction of the available talent (and sometimes not always the best fraction). It’s critical you spend time finding candidates who are not looking, but are open to a discussion when approached by the right company, person and/or opportunity.

#4: Be Flexible on Requirements

The list of technical requirements in some job descriptions can seem like the ingredient list for dinner at No. 9 Park. Requirements in job descriptions have the downside of optimizing for skills (e.g. Ruby on Rails, AngularJS) but not abilities (e.g. analytics, software design). They also ignore the basic truth of hiring: talented engineers are talented irrespective of the technologies they know.

#3: Transparency Rules

There are lots of companies peddling snake oil to lure candidates (e.g. we’ll give you a 100K shares of options, but don’t ask us how many shares we have outstanding). You can differentiate yourself just by being one of the few to be open and honest with potential hires. I’ve counseled a few candidates this year that the best fit for their career goals is with another company. No opportunity is perfect, so transparency about what you offer and don’t offer can not only ensure you find the right candidates, but also build credibility that will help your hiring in the long run.

#2: Never Turn the Spigot Off

It takes time to warm your network, build a pipeline, and get the candidate flow required to find the right people for your positions. As a result it is important to never stop hiring, even when you do not have an open position. Hiring cannot be turned on and off like a water spigot. Always have a goal for the number of new people to talk to per week, adjusting it based on whether or not you have open opportunities. Sometimes the right candidate comes along at a less than ideal time, so build in some flexibility in your hiring.

#1: The References You Want Are Not the Ones You Have

Every hiring manager checks references before extending an offer, and I am no exception. I always dutifully call the references I have been provided, and then proceed to call the ones I have not been provided. In a technical community as small as Boston, there is a pretty good chance with a few emails, you can be on the phone with just about anyone who worked with a candidate. I passed on one candidate whose references provided him glowing reviews, but the founders of his two previous companies told me his abilities fall short of his resume. Sometimes these back-channel references only reinforce my commitment to a candidate; other times they make me pass; and in a few cases, they just make me better tuned to help a candidate be successful in their new opportunity.

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