How Google, Pinterest, and Facebook Hire the Best Developers

4 tips to try at your startup, plus which parts of their process you shouldn’t copy.

Tracy Phillips
Aug 4, 2020 · 8 min read

inding a great developer for your startup can feel like a daunting task. Just ask the 86% of technology leaders who say it’s challenging to find tech talent.

At the same time, a good developer can make a huge difference for your company. According to research, top performers are 400% more productive than average team members.

Leading tech companies like Google, Pinterest, and Facebook attract some of the best talent on the market.

These companies have deep pockets and plenty of inbound candidates. As a startup or scaleup, you probably can’t hire in exactly in the same way as Big Tech. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of their best strategies to create your own developer hiring process.

At CodeSubmit, we see a lot of data on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to technical talent assessment and hiring. So we’ve distilled some of our best findings into the four steps that we share here below.

Read on to learn how to hire developers like Google, Pinterest, and Facebook, as a startup.

1. Know who you’re looking for

First (and it’s something that’s easy to overlook): Define your hiring criteria.

Here's how Pinterest defines who the company is looking for:

“Our team is made up of people who are excited about the product, technical challenges, and the values important for living well-rounded lives. Ultimately we’re looking for people who will stay and be happy at Pinterest.”

Position your own hiring process so that it speaks to people you want to attract to your team.

Feel free to be specific. If specific technical knowledge (like experience in a specific coding language or framework) is a prerequisite at your startup, then say so — write it in the job description or on your careers page.

Motivation and passion often go hand-in-hand, so to hire motivated developers, you’ll want to attract candidates who are passionate about what your startup is all about.

Pinterest asks for people who are excited about the values important for living well-rounded lives. As a discovery platform, that’s Pinterest’s product.

They also bring up the topic of retention: they want to hire folks who will stick around for a while. Saying so may seem like a small change, but it also gives candidates who prefer to jump around every few years the sense that maybe they shouldn’t apply to Pinterest. Which is actually a good thing: better that an unfit candidate self-select out of your pool than spend recruiter time on a bad culture fit. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Have a transparent hiring process in place

And while you’re at it: make it easy to apply for a role at your company.

The cost of hiring the wrong person for a job (any job) can be up to 30% of that person’s first-year salary. Software engineers are relatively expensive hires, so the cost could be quite high if you happen to hire someone who isn’t a great fit for the job.

That’s why it’s worth it to set up a career page. And even better: create a career page for developers.

On this page, let applicants know what you’re looking for and what they can expect from your hiring process. Explicitly. Lay out the entire process. Make it visual, even.

KONUX lays out each step of their process, from application to the candidate’s first day.

Plenty of people perform worse when faced with social pressure.

By letting candidates know exactly what your process looks like and how they can prepare, you remove that pressure.

The result: You get better-performing candidates, clearer and more insightful indication of both talent and culture fit (allowing you to make a more objective decision) and you provide a much much better candidate experience.

You know who does a good job of this? Google. Their careers page outlines the strengths Google is looking for in candidates (general cognitive ability, leadership, role-related knowledge, and “Googleyness”) very explicitly:

“For software engineering candidates, we want to understand your coding skills and technical areas of expertise, including tools or programming languages and general knowledge on topics like data structures and algorithms. There’s generally some back and forth in these discussions, just like there is on the job, because we like to push each other’s thinking and learn about different approaches.”

Google also shares the areas candidates should practice before the interview (coding, algorithms, and so forth).

So, take this strategy and replicate it in your own careers page. Share what your hiring criteria are so that candidates understand what they’re getting into. As a bonus, you’ll stand out as a startup with an unusually transparent hiring process (and that's a GOOD thing!)

If you still need some Big Tech inspiration to replicate on your own page, check these out:

3. Communicate your mission and vision clearly

Image by kaboompics

reat developers can pick and choose their employers. It’s your job to make your startup an attractive workplace for them.

It starts in the hiring process.

You need to stand out in the sea of similar companies. And you need to show developers why they should work with you over Big Tech companies like Google.

Google can offer a lot of perks you probably can’t, like the prestige of working at Google (and endless free food!).

But by creating a hiring process that connects with people who share your values and mission, you’ll stand out.

Again, we can learn something from Big Tech companies’ own hiring practices:

Facebook includes testimonials from employees who share why they love their work. One of the software engineers who is featured by Facebook on their career page for developers says:

“Our team is growing fast, and I’m proud to work with kind and supportive people who care about our community as much as I do.”

Facebook also shares how developers work on making its mission come to life:

“The Facebook company’s software engineering teams create the infrastructure, systems, and products that drive our apps and services, connecting billions of people and bringing the world closer together.”

On your own career page and in your job ads, share your mission and why developers are important for that mission. How are they contributing in their day to day work to achieve your mission and vision?

Maybe your mission is to create happier workplaces. Developers who share your passion for improving people’s lives will be attracted to that mission, so long as they see how their work directly contributes toward it.

Also, social proof helps people see the benefits of your startup.

So share testimonials by your employees. Why do they like working at your startup? And how can that be communicated to attract new talent? As a bonus, you may learn something you weren’t expecting about your company in the process!

4. Ask the right interview questions

Our final tip from Big Tech started with a question: how do you ensure that your interview helps you choose the right developer for your team?

Research shows that a great job interview consists of:

  1. A structured interview process (asking each candidate the same questions in the same order); and
  2. Behavioral questions (“Describe a situation where you did well on…”)

Google often talks about the benefits of behavioral questions.

What’s more, back in 2013, Google admitted that brainteasers (typically a short math challenge that candidates have to resolve on the spot) are a waste of time.

So, skip questions like this:

“If the probability of observing a car in 30 minutes on a highway is 0.95, what is the probability of observing a car in 10 minutes (assuming constant default probability)?”

And instead, ask questions that reveal how candidates think about and respond to challenges and goals.

Avoid this developer recruiting mistake

Not the reaction you want from a candidate. Image by Andrea Piacquadio

Companies like Google, Pinterest, and Facebook have great hiring processes for attracting the right people.

They have the money and the talent to optimize these hiring processes every step of the way, so there's a lot that can (and should!) be replicated at smaller startups and scaleups.

But Big Tech has an incredibly unique problem which you most likely do not have at your startup:

They have too many applicants. And many of those applicants are extremely good developers.

In the worst case, when they make a wrong hiring decision, it’s not the end of the world. They can afford it.

But your startup might have the opposite problem.

Maybe you have a hard time finding enough great developers who fit all your other hiring criteria.

As a result, you can’t afford to overlook any talent.

When hiring developers, companies like Google, Pinterest, and Facebook all use some sort of technical assessment. Many times, those tests are whiteboarding tasks where developers “write code” on a whiteboard or the trendy virtual equivalent: live video calls where candidates write code in an online editor while interviewers watch.

The problem?

Developers hate these types of tests.

And even worse, new research shows that they’re terrible for hiring developers.

A recent study by North Carolina State University and Microsoft showed that developers who were asked to do a whiteboarding test performed half as well as those who interviewed in private.

These types of coding tests show how well someone performs in a high-pressure situation, rather than what their actual technical skills are.

And while developers by and large hate these tests, they often suck it up and do them because, well — it’s Google. And the prestige alone (not to mention high salaries, seemingly unlimited free food, and other perks) is enough to convince many talented developers to prep for and participate in these interviews.

But if you’re not Google, then you need to be more strategic about how you assess developer talent. A whiteboarding challenge is definitely not it — but there are some great options to consider instead.

One better alternative is to use take-home coding challenges where developers work independently on a short-but-relevant task to showcase their technical abilities.

The idea with these challenges is that developers work on them at their own pace. The challenges are preferably time-limited (3–4 hours) and designed around a task that the candidate would have to perform on the job, providing real insight into the developer’s skill set.

After being involved in hundreds of developer recruitment processes, we’ve learned that having a defined and transparent hiring process with clear goals is key to optimizing your technical recruitment processes.

Big Tech companies like Google, Pinterest, and Facebook can teach us a lot about what these processes should and shouldn’t look like.

Ultimately, your startup or scaleup can become an extremely attractive workplace for top developer talent through clear communication on the things that matter most: what you are looking for, what it’s like to work for your company, where you’re headed, and how they can be a part of it.

Bring potential candidates into your vision and show them why they don’t want to miss out on the journey.

Thanks for reading. If you’re looking for a tool to make your tech assessment process better, then check out CodeSubmit.

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Tracy Phillips

Written by

Co-founder @ | Maker, writer, hobby illustrator | Connecting talented devs with mission-driven tech companies brings me joy!

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

Tracy Phillips

Written by

Co-founder @ | Maker, writer, hobby illustrator | Connecting talented devs with mission-driven tech companies brings me joy!

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

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