Four-stage sourcing process to find the best tech talent

You know the story. It’s a hyper competitive hiring market and the best technical people are hard to find, let alone hire.

So. Where do you look for them? 

Finding technical rockstars might feel impossible but it’s certainly not. If it were, we wouldn’t have built a highly successful recruitment business helping high-growth businesses like yours hire them. At scale, too. We generally work in multiples of two, five or ten for any one company, at any one time. 

Here’s our four-stage sourcing process, from the moment a client calls us with an opening. (Active recruitment comes later than you might think). 

1 – Qualify the opening  

First things first – who are we looking for? There’s no point going to market unless you know precisely who you’re going to market for. Equally, there’s no point going to market with an impossible list of requirements. 

As we’ve said before, it’s about compromise. 

If you want someone yesterday, you can’t also demand niche, senior technical skills and a niche industry background. If you want local Dutch speakers, you might have to wait, or pay above the odds. And so on.

If you’re working with Arrows, we’ll help you refine your brief so you know the person you’re looking for is actually out there. And we’ll tell you if your requirements are impossible – there’s no point wasting your time, or ours. 

2 – Approach your active hotlist  

We spend all day, every day, immersed in technical recruitment. So our network is our biggest asset – and something our consultants have spent years building. 

A typical consultant with three years’ bedding into the market should always have an active hotlist of three to five technical candidates who are actively looking for a new role. So that’s the first step – we see if they could be a fit and ask for referrals if they’re not. 

There’s not a like-for-like equivalent to this if you’re recruiting solo, but asking your employee network for referrals is a good idea. 

3 – Approach your passive hotlist   

In recruitment, a huge bulk of the role isn’t actually about recruiting. It’s about mapping the market – identifying every single player (only possible when you specialise, as we do) and building relationships with them.

As a result of that activity, a typical Arrows consultant also has a passive hotlist of around 150 to 200 technical candidates. As a business, we’ve got a global database of 250,000 technical candidates. 

These are people we’ve built a relationship with – often chatting or meeting for coffee every few months. Sometimes we’ve worked with them before; sometimes we’ve even placed them in every new role throughout their career. 

So that’s the second step. Calling your passive candidate hotlist and seeing if anyone’s situation has changed, and asking for referrals. 

The two hotlist stages are generally so successful that 75% of our hires might come from this source. It’s rare we’d ever ‘go to market’ in an active sense. 

But again, this stage is hard to replicate unless recruitment is your day job (building relationships like this takes a phenomenal amount of time). What you could do is call through your ATS and speak to anyone you’ve spoken to before, and ask them for referrals.

4 – Active recruitment (job applications; boards; social media)

The smaller your network, the more you’ll rely on active candidate sources like job applications, job boards and social media.

The issue is, candidates who are actively looking for a role will likely be interviewing in a huge number of places. Possibly ten or more. Which dampens your chances of a successful hire considerably. 

Not least because it means you don’t have the level of candidate management you’d like – which comes from having strong relationships. 

Also, the best technical people often never make it onto the open market. Top techies generally have strong relationships with recruiters – if they’re looking for a new role, they call the recruiter and ask for one, and that’s that. 

Don’t lose hope though. Probably 25% of candidates we send to clients are actively looking for a role, and of those, maybe one in four offers are successful. 

Having a great job advert is important here – you never know who’s eye you can catch; someone who never thought they were looking. 

That’s why it’s important your advert really sells your opportunity (standing out from the crowd is hard) and doesn’t unintentionally alienate anyone (unconscious bias can be a secret talent deterrent). 

To recruit better technical people, network is everything 

If you’re only recruiting a couple of technical people a year, you can go to market ad-hoc and you’ll probably be fine. It might take longer than you’d like and you might have a few drop-outs along the way. But you’ll get there.

If, on the other hand, you have ambitious growth plans, you need to view recruitment differently. At that point, recruitment needs to be less about reacting to a need and more about creating a pipeline. So you’ve got the technical talent waiting in the wings when you need to move. 

That’s not impossible to do yourself – not at all. But it does take time. And experience. And deep knowledge of the market. 

Long-term you can invest in building those capabilities in-house – or you could scale now, by working with strategic growth partners who’ve spent 16 years learning the technical recruitment space inside-out.

Your call. Call us if it’s the latter – we’d love to chat.

Three ways to increase diversity in your tech teams 

Diversity matters, you know that. 

You’ve heard the well-worn McKinsey stat, that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to financially outperform their peers. A figure that leaps to 35% for those in the top quartile for racial or ethnic diversity.

You know diverse teams are happier, more productive, higher performing teams. Diverse teams are more innovative teams – and nowhere does innovation matter more than high-tech.

And yet, look at your tech teams. 

Your company is rare indeed if you’ve found a true diversity balance. The Women in Technology Leadership report 2019 found nearly half of tech start-ups have no women on their leadership team, for example. 

And although the problem is global, both the Netherlands and the UK fare especially badly. The 2018 Women in Tech index finds only 16% of the tech workforce is female in NL and the UK, for instance, compared to 25% plus in countries like Australia, Romania, Bulgaria, Canada and the US. 

Increasing diversity in your tech teams is an even bigger issue when you’re a high-growth company. If you prioritise pace, you risk exacerbating your diversity problem further. You don’t want to double in size only to half in diversity.  

But scaling fast is crucial. You don’t want the business’ growth to stall because you can’t hire the engineers to support your plans. 

Here’s our perspective on increasing diversity in your tech teams, so you can scale fast – but also scale right. 

1 – Reinvest into the tech community

It would be an oversimplification to say tech’s diversity problem is all about education. But education does matter. 

PwC say only 3% of women choose a career in tech as their first choice. Nearly 80% of female students can’t name a famous female working in tech. Only 16% of female students have had a career in tech suggested (as opposed to 33% of men; that’s a difference of 106%). 

Which all adds up – only 5% of senior tech leaders are women. 

We’re talking long-term here, but you can play your part by investing into charities, projects and programs that address the accessibility of tech. 

A good example could be an apprenticeship program. Instead of hiring for ready-made senior tech people – look at bringing diverse technical talent into your business earlier, and training for success. (That’s what our FutureScaleTM program is all about). 

That way, you’d increase your long-term talent pipeline – and build-in diversity to your tech teams as you scale. Plus gain loyal employees who’ll be a more valuable asset to your business for longer. 

2 – Uncover hidden bias

Nobody likes to think they’ve got bias hiding in their people processes. But you probably do. Unconscious bias is a major and insidious issue. It stems from what the FT call “the brain’s tendency to fall back on the known and familiar when making choices”. 

Root out bias hiding in your processes, to make sure you’re attracting technical candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds and situations. 

For example:

  • Are you using gendered or implied-gendered language in your job adverts?
  • Did you unintentionally filter CVs that had certain names or backgrounds?
  • Are you filtering CVs who don’t match the implicit picture you’re imagining? 
  • Are you being too specific about candidates’ required background?
  • Are you unfairly assessing ability at interview because you like the candidate? 
  • Are you unfairly assessing ability because of candidates’ accent/appearance? 

Uncovering unconscious bias is a slow process that comes with empathetic examination of your weak spots. It helps to involve multiple people with recruitment but sometimes bias can become entrenched in your organisational culture.

In that case, working with a strategic recruitment partner can be invaluable, to help spot and solve your diversity bottlenecks as your team scales. 


3 – Assess your structures and culture

Building more diverse tech teams isn’t just about hiring more women or more people from ethnically diverse backgrounds. It’s about empowering those people to thrive, once you have hired them. 

Things like pay equality matter. The tech gender pay gap is often huge. 

(As in, the UK arms of Civica, Huawei and Siemens all paid women about 40% less than men in 2018-19. Citrix R&D paid women 77% less in bonuses). 

Value your female techies by paying them fairly, and you’ll find it easier to attract and retain those hires. 

Also think about policies like maternity leave and flexible working. If you’re an all-male leadership team you mightn’t have thought about things from the perspective of, say, a working mum.  

Or maybe you’re hiring internationally for the first time. You want new hires who settle into, not unsettle, your culture – of course. But you should still look to celebrate (not homogenise) diversity. Like, maybe new hires would appreciate days off around a different religious celebration. 

Think about how your culture manifests for diversity hires. Do people from diverse backgrounds have any visible role models? Could you build a mentor programme, to sensitively partner people from across your business? Do your managers understand cultural nuance, so they can sensitively manage performance? 

Build diversity into your culture as you scale

With diversity in tech, the industry is still miles from where we should be. That’s not about lecturing or patronising – and it’s not about discrete initiatives to hire more women or people of colour.  

It’s about building a culture of diversity into your business as you scale. Not losing what makes you unique, of course. But ensuring those values translate for diversity hires as much as they do your bulk workforce.  

That’s how you set yourself up for long-term balanced growth. 

That’s what Arrows Group help with. We help high-growth businesses find the top tech talent to help them scale – for today and for tomorrow. 

How high-growth teams can find tech talent that ticks all the boxes

Every business, every team, has slightly different hiring needs. But all the same, we’re all familiar with the ‘technical rockstar’. 

That dream technical candidate that slots seamlessly into your team, integrates effortlessly into complex projects, energizes and engages colleagues, and becomes an evangelist for your culture and values.

Read on to understand what separates those dream candidates from the pack. And then keep reading to discover why you can’t always get what you want (but what you should do instead). 

What sets a dream tech candidate apart? 

Here’s what our consultants say:

    • Specialists not generalists. Less is more. Mostly we want tech candidates who’re real subject matter experts. They know their language inside-out; they’re not jacks of all trades.  
    • Understanding of wider context. The best tech talent knows they don’t work in a silo. They can clearly articulate what they’ve done within teams, and how those projects related to broader business strategy. 
    • Longevity. Tech candidates move jobs more often than they used to. That’s an unavoidable fact. But too-early turnover throws projects into turmoil and your team into workload overdrive while you re-recruit. So ideally we hunt for tech people with two to four years tenure in past roles.      
    • Exceptional communication skills. IT has changed, and the tech professionals you need have changed too. We look for tech people who play well with others. It’s crucial they can clearly articulate what they do and what they need to non-techie people. 
    • Cultural fit. The types of companies we work with generally have a bold, vibrant culture, so need technical professionals who can hold their own. The days of back-office cost-centre IT is over, at least in the worlds we work in. 
    • Track record in high-growth companies. We work with high-tech, high-growth businesses, so tech candidates need to be intimately familiar with that environment. It’s fast and furious – and there’s no room to hide.
    • Agile experience. By the same token, many of our clients specifically look for project managers and developers who’ve worked the agile methodology, with paired or extreme programming. Tech candidate with that experience who embrace that mentality are always in high-demand. 
    • Ability to learn fast. The demands of evolving technology like cyber security means businesses often cross-train, so we look for tech people who learn fast. If your business is set-up to effectively upskill, we’ll find you fast learners. 
    • They live and breathe tech. The best techies don’t see tech as a job. It’s a passion. Maybe they’re actively engaged in communities and forums, or maybe they contribute to open source, for example. The point is, they live their subject matter.

So that’s the unicorn. The dream tech hire. And they are out there. Probably two in five of the candidates we work with match that profile, for example. 

But let’s talk about compromise for a moment.

Find YOUR perfect technical hire (not THE perfect technical hire)

In reality, both the Netherlands and the UK are competitive, candidate-driven hiring markets. There are more open roles than technical professionals to fill them. Which means a comparatively small number of businesses will find THE tech rockstar that ticks every box.

Everyone else has to compromise. Recruitment isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every business has unique needs – and faces unique challenges.

Defining those needs and challenges helps you decide what your recruitment strategy should be – today and for future growth.

For example, maybe your interview-to-offer ratio is poor because your interview process takes too long. You want the unicorn technical candidate that ticks every box – but you simply won’t compete until you address your processes.

Maybe right now, you compromise and decide to hire someone with three years’ Java experience instead of five, because you’ve got a great in-house training set-up. And then longer-term, you start adapting your recruitment processes.  

Or maybe you’re absolutely certain you need a best-in-class developer and you need them yesterday. But you’ve been looking for weeks and nobody local fits. So you compromise, and decide to hire a Canadian developer who’s the absolute top of her game. 

And then long-term, you start fleshing out an apprentice programme to cultivate future skills locally. Or you invest into boosting your local employer brand, to help your business stand out from the pack. 

For example, we often help high-growth Dutch tech teams expand their search into international talent. Sacrificing Dutch-language skills – which often aren’t really needed, since code is universal and most high-growth businesses have international expansion plans anyway – unlocks incredible developers from elsewhere, who can add real value to your business.  

The point is, hiring ad hoc for top-tier tech talent is becoming nearly impossible, in both the UK and the Netherlands. You might get lucky a few times but ultimately a scattergun approach will hamstring your future growth. 

What’s needed is a long-term talent strategy that addresses your unique challenges, to build a future-proof recruitment mechanism that helps your business scale.  

That’s what Arrows Group help with. We partner with some of the world’s fastest-growth businesses to create talent strategies that help them stay ahead of the competition. 

Our approach to giving and charitable activities has been a key element of Arrows Group’s growth.

I may be miles behind the big firms who have been doing this for years, but my experience has been that most SME’s are not benefitting properly from the ultimate win-wins that committing to a cause can give you. So, I thought I would share our story on this and back up the opening statement above!

We recently ran a campaign called ‘Donate Your Day’ – a partnership between the Arrows Group Foundation and War Child – and whilst putting this together I go to meet lots of SME’s and they all had one thing in common: they had the appetite for CSR and making a difference but struggled with execution – basically too busy, didn’t know where to start/ who to support or lacked a focal point to drive it internally. Sound familiar?

We were in a similar place for quite a while – there was a definite appetite at Arrows Group to support a charity and this came both from a sense of responsibility but also from pressure from our staff to answer questions around how we make a positive impact as a business. We flicked from one charity event to another and I seemed to be constantly running/ cycling / climbing and constantly hitting-up my patient friends and family for £50 / £100 to support causes I was not familiar with. Whilst this is a great start it didn’t enable us to make a lasting impact and at times wore a bit thin with my mates! Equally as important was the fact that it didn’t unlock any of the commercial benefits that having a strategic approach to giving can …well…give you!

With all of this in mind we set up the Arrows Group Foundation in 2015 which is charity focussed in supporting, protecting and educating disadvantaged children around the world. So far we have been involved in a number of projects from funding girls orphanages in inner city Delhi to helping local kids coming into the London workplace and most lately partnering with War Child to protect children caught up in conflict zones.

The first major impact this has had is how it allowed us to really focus our efforts on specific causes and make a genuine impact to the causes we have chosen. By committing to these projects long-term, we get to appreciate the difference we can make and this in turn motivates the whole business to continue and do more. Which brings us to the real benefits this brings to our business and our growth. By having a strong, well marketed approach to giving over time, this starts to generate a real ‘halo effect’ for our brand and how it is perceived to the outside world. Now, whilst the overriding priority is to raise money for the causes that need it most, every business also has one eye on the commercial benefits that CSR programmes can bring – so this is nothing new.

In a crowded industry like ours where brand differentiation and confidence are key, our foundation work has been very effective. It is a strong message for our Employee Value Proposition and supports us in attracting, retaining, developing and ultimately engaging our staff which is essential for lasting growth. More and more at interview stage we are being asked about ‘WHY’ we do what we do rather than just ‘what’ and ‘how’ and this gives us a practical way to demonstrate our purpose as a business.

It also gives us different ways to connect to our clients and contractors other than purely service provision. A few of our key clients are engaged with the work our foundation does and I am sure this will give us a deeper relationship which will be there for when we need it.

Finally, I think it gives our sector as a whole some decent PR. I am really proud that over 20 other recruitment companies joined us on ‘Donate Your Day’ by working for free on June 20th (World Refugee Day) and making a huge difference to people who really do need our help. This reflects so well on our sector and I think next year – with a bit more planning – could be much bigger and I hope we really move the needle for our collective industry image.

Thanks so much for everyone who got involved…and to War Child for putting on a great party!

By James Parsons

CEO Arrows Group, Trustee Arrows Group Foundation.


Arrows Group. Work Hard. Deliver Excellence. Make a Difference.