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Talent How to hire a tech employee when you don’t know tech

Job interview illustrative photo.

Adam Gregor/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Finding employees is a fairly standard process. Unfortunately, when seeking tech talent with specialized training – such as back-end and front-end development skills for websites, mobile apps and other technical products and services – the process becomes anything but standard.

For starters, many entrepreneurs may lack the tech expertise necessary to properly describe the job needed or to vet and qualify candidates.

Most talented developers have either been consumed by large, well-paying companies with free buffets, valet service and unlimited vacation days, or they themselves have ventured out to start their own companies.

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So how do non-tech entrepreneurs find great tech talent?

Mike Schroll, founder of Startup.SC, a South Carolina business incubator that focuses on technology startups with the ability to scale to $10-million (U.S.) in five years, has a great deal of experience from both ends of the hiring process: both as a skilled and experienced information security expert and as a startup founder who has hired teams.

After working with and assisting many non-tech entrepreneurs who have sought tech expertise (disclosure: I am one of those entrepreneurs with my startup, Naked Cask), Schroll has developed a great set of tips for seeking the technical help you need.

Before you start, however, remember:

Hire slow, fire fast

Schroll points out that entrepreneurs need to be patient with the hiring selection, as finding the right qualifications and fit with your company can take time. This is especially true if you seek a technical co-founder. Just as you would not likely rush from dating through engagement to marriage with a spouse, so too should the co-founder search be given as much attention and consideration.

He also emphasizes the importance of quickly eliminating the wrong candidates, because a bad hire can cause a great deal of headache (and expense) in the future.

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Understand their needs

Developers are cut from a different cloth, so take time to get to know and understand your candidates. Schroll points out that many may be seeking experience, a better quality of life, stock options or just the intrinsic satisfaction of being able to work on a complicated project more so than a hefty paycheck.

Remember that teams are everything

Given the impact that your developers have on the business as a whole, finding talent that can provide intelligible input is invaluable for the business. Also, if you anticipate seeking investor money in the future, having and demonstrating a cohesive team is one of the most important considerations for investors.

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Now that you have the proper expectations set, here are tips to get you started:

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Write a job description

Because front-end and back-end developers have such a wide range of training and experience, it is important to be extremely clear about the skills you seek and the responsibilities the new hires will have.

Schroll suggests writing a detailed job description outlining what you need. If you have never written a job description, most government business organizations have a number of general and useful templates to start.

Your job description should detail specific skills and expertise needed, though most non-tech entrepreneurs don't know or speak the tech language.

For these reasons, Schroll suggests:

Get help

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Don't waste your time faking it. Consult with a knowledgeable and experienced tech expert who can listen to your goals and recommend the right technical language and platform. If available, consider working with collaborators by joining a local co-working space or business incubator, where you can network and leverage tech resources to help you get a better understanding of the industry.

Use a clear job title

Use the proper job title that will convey best what the employee will be doing. Having the incorrect job title – IT specialists when you are looking for back-end software developers – will lead to a great deal of frustration for both parties involved.

Be concise with the job requirements

List only what is required and expected, and avoid unimportant information such as detail about who reports to whom or unimportant administrative policies. Most developers are very independent, so their focus will primarily be on finding job descriptions that match their area of expertise.

Emphasize your company story

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Telling your story in a compelling way speaks to your company's goals, vision and culture. This will help attract candidates with shared interests.

Make the process easy

Do not make it complicated to submit interest or to find information about you and your company. Consider leveraging the same platforms that tech talent use every day, such as allowing contact through GitHub or LinkedIn.

Respond to everyone

Even an auto-response e-mail notifying the candidates that their information was received is better than no response at all. Just be courteous.

Determine rate of pay

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Tech talent is not cheap, and justifiably so. To get an understanding of the level of compensation you need to provide, research similar tech jobs in your area.

Keep in mind that while some tech talent seeks and can demand significant salaries, many will consider other forms of compensation, such as health benefits, flexible time or the ability to work remotely.

Schroll points out that some aggressive startups use equity as a tool to attract talent, though equity is always structured in a vesting schedule, or the idea that ownership is granted over an agreed amount of time rather than all up front. Most vesting schedules are four years with a minimum service of one year before anything is granted, but there are many ways to creatively structure them.

A few popular approaches are as follows:

Lump sum

Your company agrees to grant equity to the employee after the employee has worked and performed for a set period of time. If an employee leaves or is terminated (with just cause) before this time has passed, all ownership is forfeited.

Gradual

Your company agrees to grant equity to the employee gradually over a set period of time, such as 25 per cent at the conclusion of each full year for four years. You may also consider a schedule that grants bi-annually or even each month.

Alternative methods

If your company has plans to sell or be acquired, you might consider granting 50 per cent of granted shares after an agreed upon period of time, then the final 50 per cent upon sale of the company.

Again, vesting schedules can get creative, and the most important thing to keep in mind is that both parties are satisfied and comfortable with the arrangement. Of course, granting equity to an employee is complicated and if not set up properly can cause problems in future rounds of fundraising, so you should seek legal advice before you endeavour to do so.

Schroll also encourages employees that have received granted stock through a vesting schedule (as opposed to stock options) during the startup stages to consult their accountants.

With an understanding of your needs and the expectation of experienced tech talent, you can more effectively target your candidates and avoid wasting too much of your (and their) time, energy and resources.

Copyright © 2015 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Peter Gasca is an entrepreneur, small-business consultant, author and business adjunct lecturer. He is co-founder and CEO of Wild Creations, a specialty toy and game developer and manufacturer. He is co-author of One Million Frogs.

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