Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Exercises to craft an employer brand that makes engineers want to work for you (interviewing.io)
45 points by leeny on May 14, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

Seeing a pattern here on Engineers just calling it as it is, and wanting employers to do so too.

It ain't gonna happen - its the same thing as in PR-speak where a company will deny wrongdoing, speak in platitudes, etc, even when everyone and their dog knows what the real story is.

Engineers will just need to do their own due dilligence and find out through other avenues what the culture and working conditions are really like - I think this is just the reality of corporate culture. There are very real and tangible benefits of being employed and having a stable month-to-month paycheck, instead of striking out on your own, and the sooner everyone just accepts these annoyances and moves on with life, the sooner they can concentrate on the things that really matter.

Basically, don't hate the players, hate the game.

From an employer's perspective:

We already understand our own value. We probably overlook our faults. We don't trust potential employees to be as good as we want. We'll make it hard for you to work for us, and try not to pay you more than the value you provide. You need a job - try to prove your worth to us, and we'll consider letting you work for us.

From an employee's perspective:

We know we're one of the worthwhile employees. (We probably overlook our faults.) We don't trust potential employers to be a place we'll actually enjoy working. We don't want to work hard to prove ourselves - we expect you to win us over. We expect you to pay us a little above market value (since we're above average.) You need employees to exist and get work done - try to prove we'll enjoy working for you, and we'll consider giving you our expertise and time.

Both parties will withhold information in an attempt to appear better than the other so that initial negotiations go in their favor. The interview process will fail to disclose all relevant and interesting information about how well the two parties are suited to each other.

Beyond the general negotiation/trust problem, what are problems unique to engineers and their prospective employers, and how do we improve upon them in mutually beneficial ways?

> Both parties will withhold information in an attempt to appear better than the other so that initial negotiations go in their favor.

I try very hard not to do this. When I'm interviewing for a position, I'm trying to determine honestly whether or not I'm a good fit for that employer, and that employer's assessment of how good a fit I may be is an important part of that.

Fit is important to me because when I'm on board, I'm on board 100%. It's a large commitment for me, and I want to minimize error.

So I try to be honest about my weaknesses as well as my strengths, to allow the employer to make a better assessment about fit. That greatly benefits me in the end.

No employee (or employer) is perfect, and a large part of what makes a good fit is if the imperfections are things that are tolerable by the other.

Sure, most companies won't tell it like it is because their management is so wrapped up in their own fiction that the cognitive dissonance would be too great. But if a newer company is legitimately thinking about "crafting an employer brand" that appeals to engineers, and you've got lots of engineers who want this, isn't there an opportunity for disruption here? There must be a few shops that haven't contracted the MBA virus yet.

> Basically, don't hate the players, hate the game.

What's wrong with hating both?

Honestly, I just want to work for a company that is honest, it does not have to be the most exciting work, as long as hours are flexible and at least some remote work is offered.

I'm tired of recruiters try to hype up the company. If employer said, "Our product is not exciting but we offer great benefits, you just have to put in 30-35 hours a week, come to few meetings and meet reasonable deadlines that we agreed upon" I'm sold. I don't need ping pong table. I want decent salary, decent benefits and kind/honest coworkers.

I agree. This whole article reminds me of the "pick-up artist" content I used to read when I was younger, which was all about techniques to fake being a well-rounded, decent person with an interesting, exciting life, instead of putting in the actual work to be that person.

Im sorry but 30 to 35 hours a week, especially at a startup is just not tenable for any company except a small lifestyle company

Also i have to laugh at the fact that you "just" want to work at a company thats honest and then you throw in the 30 to 35 hour work week requirement

My former company had a couple billion dollars in revenue and offered 30-35 hour work week option, the pay was proportional to the 40 hour option. So if your 40 hour salary was $100,000/year then your 35 hour salary would be 87,500/year. The same benefits.

A lot of people took that option, especially parents.

(it was actually 30-39 hour/week option)

I work at an enterprise less than 40 hours a week. I hear from recruiters 3-4 times a week. I don't care about your mission or your culture, just pay me, I do the work, and then go home.

If someone is of the opinion these sorts of orgs don't exist, I put forth that they might not have looked hard enough, and would encourage further exploration to better understand the employment landscape. If you're a startup and expecting workaholics for under market rate with a trivial amount of equity, I can imagine you would be upset your hiring pipeline isn't as robust as you would hope.

No not under market rate, if your goal is to work 30 to 35 hours a week under market rate all power to you but if you expect to be getting paid $400k total compensation or more you better be giving me at least 40 hours of work that i expect from a senior engineer. 5 to 10 hours is a full day of work.

You realize that a vanishingly tiny slice of developers make $400K a year, yes? Yeah, sure, a few companies pay that kind of money to a subset of their people. Nobody else does.

And that's fine. I'd have a hard time not sawing off a hand before working at three and maybe four of the "FAANG" group. And I like having a life, so I'll leave money on the table all day long.

> if you expect to be getting paid $400k total compensation or more

I may be weird, but getting that level of compensation is honestly not something that would be that compelling to me. I mean, all else being equal, more money is better -- but all else is rarely equal.

What I want from a job is to engage in fulfilling work at a company I can be proud to be a part of, while making enough money that I don't have to worry about money very often. For me, where I live, that amount is around $80k (although I currently make a good deal more than that).

If I don't wake up in the morning happy to be going to work, then I'm in the wrong job, regardless of what it pays.

I take it you're in the US? Is there a marked difference between engineer productivity in the US vs countries within the EU?

> Im sorry but 30 to 35 hours a week, especially at a startup is just not tenable for any company except a small lifestyle company

You're right, its still too much. If you want the best engineers to do their best work, I'd put 30 hours as the upper limit.

And im sure that when they work 30 hours they are cutting 30 minutes off of their lunch break and spending less time in the bathroom and on reddit.

You feel you're paying X for 40 hours a week, when a lot of engineers are of the opinion you should only be getting 30 hours for X. Some companies will offer you X for 30 hours, and the rest of companies will have to compete against that (for now) or deal with it when regulation enforces it through labor law (eventually), similar to how unions brought us the weekend [1].

[1] https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/sep...

I have never been paid by the hour. I get paid for producing acceptable code by the deadline.

So, when you produce the acceptable code faster you can go home earlier? No more work in a week? If not, you are paid by the hour, you just wish you would be paid for producing acceptable code by the deadline (me too btw).

Yes, technically I could. But in reality, I have more than one task on my plate and a well-managed company will have figured out how to set the deadlines to maximize the amount of work they get for their money.

However, this is one of the things I ask about when I'm interviewing for a position -- if the company keeps track of hours rather than paying for work product, then it's not likely to be a good fit for me. So, my experience is not random chance and may not be representative of the industry as a whole.

Maybe not, but if you offer better than the competitors, then you get people who are a lot, lot better and, in my experience, one of these people is worth much more than the average person working much longer hours. If you want the BEST people, you have to offer better than the alternatives.

“Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?” – Albert Einstein

It's quite a bit more tenable when you admit to yourself that anyone who is nominally putting in 60-hour weeks as a knowledge worker is only actually working for 35 of those hours anyway. Studies show reduced productivity after that point, so you're just going to burn out engineers, and all you'll have to show for it is a butt in a seat.

You go from 30 to 35 straight to 60 when im thinking 40 hours a week. I dont know about you all but if i work 5 to 10 fewer hours a week i would get a lot less done

Have you tried it? I am definitely tired and have generally hit a wall after about 6 hours or so. If I call it and stop, I’m fresh for the next day.

If I instead stay at my desk consistently, my week is over by Friday morning.

60 hours is a joke, I have done 60 hours handful of times. When I was young and when our all systems got hit with ransomware and I was helping out the IT dept.

I agree and think 5-6 hours is the magic number. Then, I start making errors, taking shortcuts and producing shit code. However, if someone is a super human and can code for 60 hours every week, breath code and make $400k at some unicorn all power to them.

In reality, after $75k your happiness will generally not increase very much if you increase your income.

I find that my productivity, when I am specifically constrained to 30 or 35 hours a week, doesn't really change--because it puts a clear value on my time to other people.

Or, put more simply: I end up in way fewer meetings.

Tech companies aren't willing provide any of that, so they try to sell you on the shit you don't care about instead because it's cheaper.

> we found that brand strength didn’t matter at all when it came to either whether the candidate wanted to move forward or how excited the candidate was to work at the company

This quote came as a surprise.

I think their follow-up thesis this is accurate:

Maybe the most realistic thing we can say is that while brand likely matters a lot for getting candidates in the door, once they’re in, no matter how well-branded you are, they’re yours to lose.

When I was interviewing, that was entirely true. Visibility and branding matters for initial contact. After that, I turned down interviews for all sorts of reasons. Interviewers that lacked social skills, interviews that asked for too much work, interviews where once I met the team I decided it wasn't a good product, and in one particularly egregious case a recruiter who initially asked for a resume then didn't respond until a month later with a two sentence message that the position got filled but was there another one I wanted to apply for?*

Based on my experiences job searching, if it weren't for all sorts of perverse incentives and bad actors who would mess up a name-and-shame blacklist, I'd wholly support such a list.

If you want to hire and retain good engineering talent, try communicating (honestly) that you provide them private or semi-private work space, state of the art tools, their choice of editor/OS where applicable, and don't railroad them constantly with rigid adherence to this or that process methodology nor expect them to work crunch hours (except maybe in very rare circumstances). That'll get you more payoff per unit effort than tailoring your marketing pitch.

A company that worries about "how to craft a brand" that appeals to engineers automatically falls a few notches in my estimation.

I want to work for a company that does interesting things, provides good support for engineers, behaves in a responsible fashion, and treats their employees well. Branding is irrelevant.

Alright come on. If you want your engineers to pour their souls into your dumb startup, you need to align their incentives with yours.

There's a very simple way to do that: give them ownership

Otherwise, why should I care? I don't get paid a single cent more for coming in and kicking ass everyday vs. just showing up and phoning it in.

Aline says good things here - as always - but I want to note that an overly groomed company or one where many of the employees are pushing the company's job openings starts to feel really bogus.

In other words, if you take this too far, it becomes obviously painted on and, to use an old word, the recruiters become "posers".

But if you earnestly take her advice, I think that it's a good write up. Honestly talk about your unique point as a company. Who you are. Why you are. What you uniquely do. No BS. I maximize my corporate BS sensor when I'm job hunting.

Pay good money. Moreover, provide meaningful raises as experience and expertise increases, and in line with the external job market. Don't hire in new hires above the salaries of your experienced employees that have to then train and babysit the new folks for six months to a year and clean up their messes.

Provide a private workspace (ideally private offices) where your knowledge workers can do their job without distraction. Don't cheap out on equipment and tooling and learning materials - it's moronic to quibble about buying an SSD or a monitor or a piece of software or a book that costs a couple of hours of your employee's hourly rate.

Provide clear direction, without micromanagement or silly infantile circle-time processes. Don't engage in ad-hoc walking-around status checks, don't demand immediate responses to asynchronous communications. Don't waste time in superfluous meetings.

Don't vacillate or chase after every customer request. When one of your employees says that something is unwise, and provides solid reasons, listen, and don't go around them to find a stooge who will obey your whims and slag in a big pile of technical debt.

Don't try to push any culty workplace culture stuff. Treat your employees like the highly paid professionals they are. Respect their time and other obligations.

If somebody wants to work for me and really, honestly, cares if our tech stack is new and fancy (as opposed to practical/easy to maintain/easy to hire for), that is a HUGE red flag that they are going to leave after a few years or suggest major technology changes that are not in the best interest of the company.

1) Remote.

2) Money.

3) Demonstrate that you have half a clue how to run a project.

4) BONUS ROUND: No hours-long puzzle-question-memorization interview bullshit if you're not paying FAANG money and providing FAANG levels of résumé prestige.

Does F still have resume prestige? I predicted more than 10 years ago that someday having worked at Facebook would be the resume stain that you wear for life. Has it not yet come to pass that having worked at Facebook is a red flag? Sure, you are probably smart. But anybody that lists Facebook on their resume is going to find a lot of their interview time with me going to probing their ethics.

I would agree the resume prestige has diminished from what it once was, but I think it's a little far to suggest that any rank and file ENGINEER would have compromised ethics just from choosing to work there. Facebook uses cutting edge tech and pays really well, I would never hold it against an engineer young or old for accepting a position that very likely offered more compensation than they've ever had before.

If you are interviewing Facebook execs or management it would seem reasonable to question their ethics.

Quote fragment that can be interpreted as opposite of what you intended:

> I think it's a little far to suggest that any rank and file ENGINEER would have compromised ethics just from choosing to work there. Facebook uses cutting edge tech and pays really well,

I give people benefit of the doubt, recognize that sometimes we have to compromise, etc., but let's not hand out ethical freebies in advance.

In fact we can tell from Googlers commenting here on HN that individual engineers often disagree with some of the practices of their (huge) employer.

Then they should quit. Stand up for what's right.

If the engineers quit, the company can't do it anymore.

They are all accomplices. For whatever reason they don't stop and thus their ethics are compromised.

> I think it's a little far to suggest that any rank and file ENGINEER would have compromised ethics

They should have the ability to think about the ethical impact of their work, or have awoken to the necessity.

“never thought about it” is a worse answer than “I’m OK with it.” I may not hire someone who answers the later, but I can respect them for having a thoughtful answer.

Ethical behavior is immune to "more compensation than they've ever had before."

that's the point. If they are continuing in any way to benefit the operation of a business that does those things then they are morally corrupt.

Big tech companies still use very valuable process, usually high amounts of tech (some in house but there is a lot to learn from even that).

The prestige is that they are hard to get into so if you made it you passed their bar and you probably had some impact there and learned good process that you can bring to a usually less disciplined startup.

Probing their ethics? Have you worked for any large corporations? They all do unethical stuff. It all depends on your views specifically.

I find copyright and patents to be unethical. Probably not many people I could hire if I employed a similar tactic.

I suggest that the "coding test" Bonus Round has a few secret side purposes, especially when used on experienced candidates:

* The candidate focuses on hoop-jumping for the frat hazing, rather than on how skilled the people giving the one-way interviewing are, and what they'd be like to work with. (In any other context, this one-way behavior would be an oblivious and kinda jerky move, and also suggest a dysfunctional organizational culture -- something you wouldn't want to work with, but we don't make that connection.)

* Tries to estabish the power dynamic of the company as the cool kids and the authority, and the candidate is the one applying for acceptance. (The terminology is already loaded: "candidate", "applicant".)

* Related Jedi mind trick on the candidate: the fact that the candidate is investing in submitting to employer games makes them think that this must be something they want, or they wouldn't have invested.

I often feel the interviewee role is backwards for senior level positions. It should be more like a college recruiting a star athlete.

My body of work is on the public internet, it's all about what you can offer me, not the other way around.

I see what you mean, and I'd suggest looking for a halfway between the extremes...

I look for collegial peer interactions, in which we have a mutual interest in finding the right mutual match for everyone.

And I think demonstrating that from the start, during interviewing, bodes well for a good working environment/relationship in practice. (An employer not demonstrating this from the start constitutes a failure of a behavioral test for the employer, if we're talking about "tests".)

I agree, but for actually senior people, not people who’ve survived the SF tech scene for 3-5 years.

It is that way.

One thing that needs to be added:

Job descriptions need to state where the job is, and/or if they allow telecommuting.

That's the first thing I look for. Now that I have a two-income family, I will not move under any circumstances.

I can add a few things here. (I'm a cofounder at Job Portraits[1], an employer branding studio in SF.)

In our experience, successful employer brands turn on a startup's willingness to be transparent. Everyone in the Bay Area (not just engineers) has a bloodhound's nose for bullshit. I can't overemphasize this—the norm is vicious, laugh-in-your-face skepticism.

Our best projects are with startups who get this, and the solution isn't rocket science: you have to address your struggles.

Marketing teams are most likely to balk at revealing their company's flaws, but what's surprised us is how often technical leaders also refuse to address their team's shortcomings. In part this is because technical folks are deeply skeptical of anything their recruiting teams want (that's another story), but it's also a function of embarrassment...or even outright shame.

The classic case is the eng leader at a small startup who was previously at a FAANG company. They've spent the last few years as part of a well-oiled machine—but now everything is broken! Processes aren't just inefficient—they don't exist! The mobile app doesn't just suck—nobody knows how to fix it because that one guy who built it ditched for a FAANG job! (Oops.)

A huge part of our job, as an agency, is coaching leaders to see transparency as a competitive advantage. We say something like, "This isn't about confessing your sins. It's about revealing challenges that the right engineers will be THRILLED to solve." It's not that [thing] is broken; instead tell candidates that "this is an opportunity to implement [thing] the way you've always wanted." It's not that your failure to build [blah] is hurting the business; instead tell candidates to "come build mission-critical infrastructure." And the more specific you are, the better.

This is a mindset shift more than anything, and when we're able to pull it off it opens the door to an employer brand that candidates will trust.

Oh, and a quick note for any product marketing people who are reading this: Jobs are not products. You can't return them to the store or ask for a refund. Every person your company hires is taking a huge gamble on you. If you only 'put your best face forward' with an employer branding project, you risk emotional apocalypse if, during the person's first 30 days, they realize they were misled by a rosy employer brand. Tread carefully!

As we like to say, assume your audience (candidates) is as smart, or smarter, than you are. Even if they don't trust you, you need to trust them to self-select in—or self-select out—and the only way they can do that is with the truth.

[1] https://www.jobportraits.com/


I won't work for a company I don't care about. If it's not doing something good and especially if it is doing something bad, I just cannot work there. I feel ill. Psychologically overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance. That can only go on for a week or two before I just stop working for them.

I guess you're one of those passionate techies that founders love, rather than a mercenary.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact