What You Need To Do To Get The Best Unicorns

Is your company a great place to work? Do you have a brilliant product idea that makes people’s lives easier? If so, then you’re probably looking for the best of the best to join your business and help you further your goals, right? Of course you are!

You need people who can start immediately, bring an ideal skill set, have a wealth of experience and command the ability to truly contribute to your company's vision. In short, you want a unicorn.

Now you might be expecting me to say that unicorns are mythical creatures and don’t exist; if we’re talking about actual horses with pointy bits on their head then you’d be right (sorry). But if we’re talking about tech talent, then it’s not that unicorns don’t exist – it’s just that they’re incredibly rare and highly prized!

So, when it comes to recruiting unicorns, unless your company is also a sexy tech unicorn itself (a unicorn stable, if you will), you’ll probably struggle to attract or retain the talent you want in today’s highly competitive IT market.


What Can You Do?

Well, you can post adverts to various job boards, send some inMails, sit back and, well... wait! Congratulations, you’re now in the hiring manager’s “Goldilocks Zone”. All you can do next is hope and pray that, at some point, someone who is just right will apply, then hope and pray some more that they pick you.

Because you have to remember that you are competing with every other company on the market, all of whom are also looking for an excellent engineer with a full, relevant and modern skillset.

The problem is, they might be able to offer more money. They might have an amazing perks scheme, or let people pick whatever hours they want. They might just be a couple of tube stops closer to your perfect applicant’s home, letting them catch that extra, blissful, 15 minutes of sleep each morning.

Let’s say you are looking for an experienced mid-level Ruby Engineer on a permanent basis. Or you want a Python Engineer, but you don’t have bags of money and you don’t offer part-remote working.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard the words “I really like company ABC, but XYZ have just offered me £15k more” then I might be able to make up that budget shortfall for you! After all, in the end, we’ve all got bills to pay.

Now, here’s where you say that your company is so amazing (which, come on, of course it is!) that Mr Ruby Engineer won’t actually care about the money and will want to join you regardless, right? Amazing! Brilliant! Perfect!

But... what happens if you are building a team. One lucky hire does NOT equal a sustainable hiring strategy. You may have roped yourself a single unicorn, but you don’t have a blessing (which is the collective noun for unicorns, FYI).


How to Build a Team of Unicorns

From my experience, there are three things that you can do:

  1. Have an unlimited budget

  2. Have unlimited time

  3. Don’t look for a unicorn

If you have either 1 or 2, then you’ll probably be alright.

But if you don’t have unlimited time or money, then you need to consider option 3. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just sit there and do nothing. What it means is that you must come up with an alternative way to fill the position.

A great starting point is to ask yourself: why has your role turned into a unicorn? At a Data Science event I recently attended, a presenter kicked off their talk by breaking down the skills a Data Scientist needed, which in turn provides a way to reframe the role:

“There’s all these companies advertising for a mythical creature called ‘Data Scientist’, but in reality, very few companies actually want (or need) a real Data Scientist. Most times, it’s a Data Engineer [they want] to build the tools [they] need, combined with an experienced Data Analyst with a good strategic mind.”

I couldn’t agree more! Over the last 12 months, of all the many data science placements we’ve worked, only one role has been filled by an actual Data Scientist. Once we’d drilled into the company’s needs a little further, all the other roles were better suited for a Data Engineer or Data Analyst, sometimes working in tandem and sometimes with the plan to be up-skilled to fit the team’s needs on the job.

After all, you can always hire a pony and train them to be a unicorn. It’s very much a win-win situation. There are a lot more ponies out there in the paddocks to choose from, and it provides a fantastic incentive to attract would-be unicorns early in their careers. Not only does it make the role more available, it makes it more desirable too.


Turning Ponies into Unicorns

At Talent Point, we have one simple goal – to help your business scale consistently. We build a long-term, sustainable strategy for tech hiring; one that can be reliably repeated over and over again. By ensuring that your talent pool is as deep as possible we can help you save time, money and a heap of stress.

Take a start-up who want to hire Python engineers to build out their platform and start scaling-up the business; a very common scenario we experience. The problem is, as a small company, they likely don’t have the budget to repeatedly offer top-end salaries so, it becomes a struggle to attract the best talent within the competitive London environment.

But if we take a step back and break down what they actually need, the storm clouds start to float away. A common strategy we advise our customers to adopt is to cross-train solid PHP engineers to Python.

These applicants already have a solid understanding of good software engineering principles, web architecture and frameworks; all they need is a crash-course in Python syntax. It has proven to be a very successful method in multiple campaigns, creating a smoother and more cost-effective process for everyone involved and making sure that positions are filled consistently.

Just ask our Open Source Specialist, Peter Rowe, who routinely uses this strategy:

Headshot of Peter Rowe from Talent Point.

"With a bit of Python under your belt, you have options to work in data science, DevOps, API integration, app development – you get the idea! By sourcing experienced PHP developers interested in gaining new skills, you open up the market whilst lowering salary expectations.

We’ve been going this route since 2016 when a campaign for an Adtech company gave impressive results. It took three months to cross-train a PHP dev to be as efficient as their current senior devs, a much faster lead-in than a green developer would have had, even with previous Python experience.

On a more recent campaign, core requirements all focused on API integration with a new front-end build. I sourced a PHP dev with a decade of experience integrating APIs and building microservices that was keen for a new challenge. Again, company feedback was brilliant, with both parties super happy with the placement."

But that’s just one job market; we’ve proven that similar strategies can be used for every vertical we work with. After all, that’s our job at Talent Point – we’ll work with you to create the best hiring strategy for your business needs, and that means that we can help you to breed your own unicorns, transforming your engineers from this:

Donkey-like pudgy pony with unkempt hair and startled exxxxpression

into THIS:

A noble and majestic unicorn with flowing mane and athletic build

So, you’re ready to start breeding unicorns, but how do you get the right people through the door in the first place? How about checking out our previous post on Why Technology Leaders Must Learn to Grow Horns. Or pick up the phone and give us a call – it’s our speciality, after all.

Illustration credit: www.vecteezy.com

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