By Abby Sorensen, executive editor
When I talk to executives at software companies about their biggest business challenges, hiring is almost always on that list. But it’s usually in the context of struggling to find quality talent. Natalie Nagele, co-founder and CEO of Wildbit, is one of the first to frame hiring as a struggle because her company gets too many quality applicants.
Wildbit has been building development workflow, email delivery, and code deployment software for more than 16 years. The company was recently flooded with 575 applicants for a content strategist position. That’s right: 575 applications that didn’t require hiring a staffing firm or even heavily investing in promoting the job posting.
The flurry of applicants has at least some correlation to Wildbit’s innovative work week policy. Beginning in June 2017, Wildbit’s full-time employees started taking off Fridays and only working 32 hours per week (more coverage on the company’s four-day work week is available here and here). The takeaway isn’t that your software company can boost its applicant pool by closing the office on all Fridays. Nagele’s account of the hiring process for this content strategist position is instructive for other bootstrapped, profitable, small-to-medium sized software companies who struggle to compete with other tech companies and enterprises for top talent.
1. Know Your Type
Nagele isn’t the first person I’ve talked to in the software world who senses a sea change is coming: some people just aren’t attracted to the stereotypical startup culture with kegs and ping-pong tables and “unlimited” vacation days. Companies like Wildbit shouldn’t try to compete with these flashy startups, they should hone their message about why they are different.
“We are seeing a lot of applicants who just want to leave the big startup culture,” she says. “These are people who still want to work on fun and interesting products, but in a way that feels better to them. There is a type of person who wants to do really good work on great products, but with rational expectations of the results, and a healthy perspective of why we work. These types of people understand work is not an end; rather it’s a means towards a better life. That’s becoming more of a trend especially over the last two years.”
2. Stick To Your Guns
As Wildbit’s company profile has grown, its unique and attractive perks attract candidates who are passionate about joining its team. Nagele admits it can be hard to turn down so many applicants who have clearly done their homework. She says, “I always give people props when they’re really thoughtful, and researched the company, and went above and beyond to do an incredible cover letter. But in this scenario hiring a content strategist, I really needed an expert to come in and teach us things, not just somebody who really wants to work for Wildbit.”
Nagele still reviews every application, and everyone gets a personal email reply. At one point she sent an email to the pool to let people know it was taking longer than usual because of the high volume of applicants. Ultimately, it was a true test to stay focused and narrow down 575 applicants to just 15 who would move to the next phase with a test project. “I really had to commit to the original description of what we were seeking so that we didn’t let somebody’s incredible desire to work for us sway us from the fact that, right now, what the company really needs is an expert who’s done this before,” Nagele says.
3. Make Applicants Work For It
Nagele speculates Wildbit’s four-day work week wasn’t the only reason for the flood of content strategist applicants. Another reason is that Wildbit didn’t ask for a lot upfront. The downside of trying to be respectful of applicants’ time is that unqualified/underqualified candidates aren’t weeded out.
“What I learned is that it’s okay to ask people to work for it a little bit, and show us that you care,” she says. “If you want this job, I need you to show me that you can do it. We’ve had to work really hard internally to accept that it’s okay to be a little more demanding in the hiring process. We can’t just hire somebody who really wants to work at Wildbit but who can’t do the work, because those two things have to go together.”
Nagele worked in the non-tech world right out of college, where she had typical job hunting experiences of taking off work, interviewing in person, spending multiple hours getting to know a company, going in for follow up interviews, etc. While that is standard in many industries, she sees the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction in the software world.
“I think the software industry has maybe gotten a little bit lazy,” she says. “Some applicants won’t want to spend a lot of time on test projects. I don’t even believe in coding on a whiteboard during the application process, but those extremes have caused the opposite of not asking for anything. But ultimately, it’s the people seeking jobs who have to show me they’re good because I don’t have a lot to go on. I think we as an industry have started walking away from this. Now we need to get back to asking candidates work a little bit more. As we become more popular, and as people see our 32 work hour week, they might say they are willing to take a pay cut to work for us, but they also need to be willing to do the hard work when applying.”
4. Remote Work Can Combat The Tech Talent Shortage
While we were chatting about Wildbit’s content strategist hiring process, Nagele and I got to talking about the differences in hiring technical versus non-technical roles. The Philadelphia-based company is home to just under 30 employees, more than half of whom are remote. Wildbit embraced a remote work mentality long before it was popular to do so, which means it isn’t feeling the pain of the tech talent shortage as much as some of its local peers are. Wildbit’s openness to hiring remote developers means the company isn’t competing for one of the 1,800 plus open software developer positions listed within 25 miles of Philadelphia listed on Indeed.com.
“I know that the demand for developers is really high, but for us personally, it’s never been a challenge because we can hire from anywhere,” Nagele says. For more on Wildbit’s remote culture, check out the company’s blog, or our past coverage on how the company applies a remote mentality even to its on-site employees.