3 Tips for Winning Top Talent at Your Ad-Tech Company

It may not be as sexy as SpaceX but that doesn’t mean you can’t land someone great

Illustration of a pink scale with two people standing in front of it and various items being weighed.
There are a few things you'll want to keep in mind when hiring for an ad-tech company. Getty Images

It’s a tough time to be an ad-tech recruiter, especially when it comes to making skilled technology hires.

With the continued tech boom, the allure of emerging industries like AI and robotics and concerns about how ongoing privacy regulations will change the nature of targeted advertising, attracting talent to a mid-sized ad-tech company or startup can be quite the challenge.

In the past, opening a satellite office in a smaller, less competitive market was an easy solution. Now, however, in cities like Toronto, the bigger companies are also moving in, paying up and increasing the competition. Currently, hiring managers need to rethink your process from sourcing to interviewing and focus on the most critical points that make or break the experience for everyone involved.

So, what’s an HR or talent lead without a Google-sized budget or an aerospace-focused job description to do? Here are some tips.

Get senior tech leaders involved from the onset

It sounds like a no-brainer, but this is counterintuitive to the “standard” recruiting process of HR conducting a preliminary interview before leveling a candidate up to a more senior technology lead. Try moving away from that, and instead include a vp or director of engineering on the first call.

This quickly helps establish whether there’s a cultural fit between the candidate and the person they’d be working under. And if you’re lucky, it can also help spark the desire to join and learn from that person. For more senior candidates, having a product or engineering lead on the first call shows candidates that you’re a strong technology company, along with creating a sense of belonging.

For this tactic to be successful, you do need to work with the tech leads to test and refine the interview process. It also requires being very selective in terms of candidate pre-screening to thin the pipeline and not waste anyone’s time.

Emphasize your cultural and operational differentiators

There’s no use trying to compete with the likes of Google or Facebook on salary, and good luck trying to lure candidates in with perks if you’re a bootstrapped startup. But highlighting key aspects of company culture and getting specific about how you operate versus other larger, “sexier” companies in the market can help potential hires see joining a smaller team as an advantage.

It could be as simple as pointing out the commute or less pressure to be in the office at 9 a.m. or getting granular to illustrate how the work they do will directly impact product development.

For example, a developer very interested in coding might be intrigued to know that the lines of code she’ll write each day will actually be utilized within 48 hours. That’s in contrast to working at a publicly-traded tech giant where a single line of code might require weeks or even months of approval before it’s implemented.

Figuring out those advantages starts with asking candidates the right questions and making sure that your enthusiasm when talking about your company’s culture will address any concerns or confirm that she or he is a good fit.

While every company’s secret sauce will be unique, common questions about culture and process could include: Is the team already established or can I help build it? Will I be siloed, or do you want me to work on multiple projects? Will I have the opportunity to work with and learn from employees that left those bigger companies?

Knowing the tipping point between education and experience

The trend toward moving away from requiring four-year degrees for tech hires is newsworthy for a variety of reasons, and it makes sense in a market where candidates can acquire skills like coding without ever setting foot on a college campus. That said, sometimes the learnings that come along with a college degree actually are necessary.

If you’re hiring a data scientist, it’s hard to supplant the years of formal education in research and analysis with the more amorphous criteria of experience. When years of data science training are highly correlated with performing the job correctly or making the right decisions when limited information is available, there’s not much room for subjectivity.

In contrast, you can have two candidates writing sample code, one with a degree who takes 30 lines to accomplish the task and the self-taught maven who takes just five, and while the candidate who did more with less might ultimately be better, both of their efforts will still get you to the same place.

There are extremely accomplished engineers leading teams at both large and small companies that dropped out of school, but products with true market fit are also co-created by heads of product, software engineering and other disciplines that have college and post-graduate degrees.

When working to find the right candidate for your tech team, the key is to know when to select based on experience, education or the right blend of both.

Müller Luo is vp of operations at Tatari.