The Truth About Tech Hiring Outside Our Capital

For anyone who has gone through the experience of tech hiring or is considering tech hiring outside of London – Hiring Managers, fellow professionals, CTO’s, Curious Java houses -  this one’s for you! In this blog I will share my first hand experiences of hiring Java Developers outside of London, the trials and tribulations I have encountered and how I successfully overcame them.

Why establish a Java Engineering function outside London?

Why even ask the question at all? Anyone who knows UK tech will know that it – and those who work in it – are clustered into London, so establishing a team outside the capital is always going to be challenging from a people perspective. Having said this, evidence suggests that starts-ups are beginning to sprout up all over the UK, not just within London – an article from Business Insider from earlier this year where Tech City UK placed 7 start ups based outside of London in the top 33 British Start-Ups indicates that Software companies can thrive and prosper outside the of our capital city. From the 7 companies listed 5 were utilising Java based technologies along with Big Data, AI, and Cloud.

I asked some of the business I work with outside the capital and in the main the answer is, “our founders lived here and wanted to work locally” or “we didn’t intend to build an engineering team when we started!". One response was particularly telling – “ we located outside London because there is lower competition for the best talent. The people we hire are at a later stage of their career and want a long term role – it’s a bit more like hiring used to be when a job was for half your working life!”. So while locating outside London is usually about circumstances, for the right business, there can be real strategic advantages.

The issues faced with tech hiring outside London

The key issue is volume. When hiring for roles in London, Engineers living outside the city can usually commute in to just about anywhere. When I’m hiring in Surrey not Spitalfields; Cambs, Essex, Bucks and Herts-based Talent are taken out of the equation, so the pool of talent to choose from is far smaller.

While commuting may cost about £5k yearly (probably wiping £8k off the average salary once you take tax into account) the sheer volume of options in London mean Engineers can pick and choose the best place to either gain the tech that will progress their career or chase a salary that more than compensates them for money spent on trains.

So, salaries are higher in London, options are far broader and – often – better, and commuting means far more applicants exist who are able and willing to work in London. Obvious, really! But there’s one other consideration – broader options mean broader skills. Targeting very specific technology outside London is extremely challenging as local workers have few options to gain exposure to such tech, so volume isn’t just reduced in terms of physical numbers of applicants available, it also effects the breadth of skills applicants possess.

Which leads on to the final issue. Those professionals who do have a broad range of skills typically end up contracting. Most experienced Java professionals working outside London have enough knowledge of which local businesses use which tech and which recruiters hire for them to significantly increase their earnings via contracting. And if they have to dip into London once every few years to keep in work, it’s no major hardship.

How to market non-London roles effectively

My job at Talent Point isn’t just to find applicants for roles. I’m not going to put a role into the employment market until I know it will have broad appeal, something I help build into it by showing our customers what they can and can’t hire for then helping them design a role that appeals to their target audience.

First step is understanding why anyone would want to work outside London and the potential obstacles to them doing so. The biggest driver is to eliminate time and money spent on trains, the biggest obstacles are losing more than £8k in salary and becoming limited in terms of career options, either due to a lack of new tech, new projects or employer growth. There can also be a social element – London is fun, there is a lot to do, a lot of meets up to go to, restaurants to eat in and pubs to visit.

Theirs is a simple way to deal with all these issues in one fell swoop. Change screening from a litany of specific tech someone must have worked with, to their general competence as an engineer and their potential to quickly transfer knowledge to work with this tech. Multi-threading isn’t child’s play, but nor is it insurmountable rocket science – everyone capable of coding within it had to learn to do so, and by offering the right person that opportunity, we turn something that pushes up salary and makes hiring from a tiny pool of applicants virtually impossible into a big selling point for the career-minded coder.

I applied this approach recently to building a new Java team in Sommerset. With senior-level knowledge of coding already present thanks to experienced founders, rather than try to pull contractors back into permanent work we targeted the brightest recent graduates, tapping into their drive and motivation to learn which we measured via coding exercises and involvement in out of work activity that showed a passion for tech.

Engineers want projects. Where we have them, we need to make it clear we have them and that they’re not going to run out any time soon. Cool factor? Not a problem - my Guildford based customer recently made the move into bigger purpose built offices a stone’s throw from their previous office – they have invested heavily in their core platform and therefore have an impressive pipeline of engineering projects taking place over the next few months and well into the next three years given their likely growth.

Finally, why do engineers want to decrease their commute time? The most common reason is spending time at home with their family or – via school runs and keeping kids entertained – actually managing their family! Flexi-hours go agood way to achieving this and it’s actually a big concern for many engineers that local businesses don’t have the same progressive outlook that starting at 10 vs 9 then leaving at 6 vs 5 can only be good for output.

All the people I have introduced to these businesses as new employees were able to reduce their commute or avoid moving to London while continuing to “skill up” and see an absolutely clear career trajectory and pipeline of interesting work. Any business not showing off what they can offer to a specific, target, applicant can expect long lead times for that applicant to make the connection themselves.

How to attract top talent to companies outside of London 

No amount of role-shaping and smart marketing can get away from one thing: in a small talent pool spread over a huge number of channels only good old fashioned hard work is going ti turn up the right hire. In Guildford I must have messaged over 1000 people through a two week campaign, lots of late nights/weekend calls and copious amounts of coffee later it was Linkedin Recruiter that delivered our eventual hire. This package costs a good £2000 per-annum as far as I know and – even with it – isn’t going to work without volume messaging.

In Bracknell I trawled ten separate job boards, going back over ten years in some cases, eventually finding an experienced engineer who worked in Hammersmith and lived in Farnborough, he recently got married and wanted a better work/life balance close to home. He hadn’t so much as thought about job seeking in four years, so my contact was completely random and it was only with a very strong message in my email contact that he ever engaged. Spray and pray doesn’t work –think, show care, and speak directly to each person you want to engage with actually does.

The graduate campaign I built in Bath actually attracted applicants from all over the country via advertising across those same ten boards. When I looked at the six people who interviewed and two who were hired, each one of them had come from a different source – if I’d used just one board we’d have delivered almost nothing.

One thing I couldn’t do – being based in Reading – was exploit local channels. One of our long standing customers in Portsmouth has made four hires by running their own tech meet up (sponsored by Talent Point of course!) in a town where tech meetups don’t exist. A simple linkedin group has seen membership increase to 50 people with a rotating 20 attending monthly and often bringing friends. Tapping into the local tech community is a unique chanel best exploited by businesses over recruiters.

Everything else, I’m afraid, really requires the broad channels, high spend and high volume contact that only a recruiter can provide. Of course they won’t give you the marketing with it, so probably best to contact Talent Point – I’m up for a coffee and a cake if you’d like to hear about how we can develop a unique  strategy help your business hire outside London!

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