Now Recruiting: The Branded Engineer

by Andy Raskin


Two months ago, the CMO of a red hot Silicon Vally startup with A-list investors engaged me to craft strategic messaging — for her engineering team.

More recently, a technical recruiting firm’s CEO approached me about offering my storytelling workshops — to engineering teams that are his clients.

Then, just a few days ago, I came across this recruiting advertisement above the platform in San Francisco’s Montgomery Street MUNI station:

Onelogin’s recruiting advertisement in San Francisco’s Montgomery Street MUNI station

The Age of the Branded Engineering Team is Upon Us — But You Don’t Have to Buy Billboards

Unless you work at Airbnb or Uber, the toughest challenge facing your team right now— tougher than raising money or signing customers — is landing top-notch technical talent.

As in any competitive market, the only way to win is by differentiating. But salaries, stock option packages, and benefits (read: free lunches, massages, yoga classes) are already so rich that competing on price is nearly impossible. So all that’s left — and it’s incredible how many companies are waking up to this — is to lure engineers with a better story.

The good news is that you don’t have to blow a major chunk of your capital on billboard advertisements to shape and disseminate your engineering team’s brand. Here are five cost-effective ways to tell your team’s story for long-term recruiting success:

#1. Train engineers to tell strategic stories during interviews

When a candidate asks your team to describe your culture, you can either (a) reply, “We’re totally empowered,” or (b) tell a story about a time when you were totally empowered. As any salesperson will tell you, the latter is far more credible and more memorable. Pinpoint what makes your team special, then arm everyone with stories that demonstrate that specialness.

#2. Give engineers a public outlet for their stories

Asana’s engineering team page, with profiles and blog post excerpts

Even if you have the money to plaster ads on subway platforms, engineers tend not to trust those. They do, however, trust other engineers. That’s why many companies have launched engineering team pages and/or blogs that publicly share achievements, thought leadership, and culture (not to be confused with ping pong tables). The snippet pictured here is from Asana’s engineering team page.

#3. Share team members’ testimonials

Testimonials from engineers at Box

Buyers feel reassured by the smiling faces of others who have bought. Similarly, engineering candidates react well to the words and positive images of engineers who have made the decision to join your team. Of course, candidates will probe for evidence that the testimonials are true.

#4. Promote open-sourcing of your code

Remind’s announcement about open-sourcing a project called Empire

One of the first things engineering candidates will look at to evaluate your team is your code. In that light, open source code is possibly the most powerful medium through which your team’s story can be told. This post, by Eric Holmes of Remind, shares in great detail the thinking that went into his team’s development of Empire, a self-hosted PaaS — as well as his team’s motivation behind open-sourcing the project.

#5. Connect your engineering story to your company story

Etsy’s “Code as Craft” engineering blog

Engineers care deeply about what they’ll get to build if they join you. They want to know not only that they’ll be challenged and supported, but also that they’ll be making a difference. To that end, train your engineers on your high-level strategic messaging. That could require sitting them down with your marketing team so they understand how to explain the transformation your company is bringing to the world. Your engineers may ultimately choose their own way to express your vision — as Etsy’s did (pictured here) — but they’ll be so much more effective as recruiters if they understand it.

Shared stories build stronger teams, and stronger teams recruit more successfully

Whether I’m working with engineers, marketers, salespeople, or executive teams, I find that when people start sharing personal and work stories — whether through public posts or private workshops — bonds between teammates grow stronger. In the end, that may be the most important way that storytelling benefits recruiting, since happy, cohesive teams are nearly always more attractive to outsiders.

* * *

About Andy Raskin:
I help CEOs, marketers, sales teams, and recruiters tell clearer, more effective stories. My strategic messaging and positioning clients are funded by Andreesen Horowitz, True Ventures, First Round Capital and other top venture investors. I also lead strategic storytelling workshops for corporate teams. To learn more, visit http://andyraskin.com.