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How to Incentivize Top Tech Talent in a Competitive Job Market

Topics: Retention

The War for Talent is fierce, but it’s especially fierce for top tech talent. How do you capture the attention of this audience? What does top tech talent look for in a job? What entices them? What doesn’t? How do organizations — especially smaller organizations who don’t have the deep pockets of large enterprises — prepare compensation packages that will incentivize top tech talent to join their teams? 

It’s not an easy question to answer. According to Career Builder, IT professionals say they receive up to 32 solicitations from recruiters and hiring managers on LinkedIn daily.  

It’s also not hard to understand why top tech talent is in such high demand, especially highly skilled and experienced tech talent. 

The world is becoming increasingly digital. Technology is moving and changing so quickly that many organizations can’t keep up. What customers expect to be able to do with technology far outstrips the digital experience most businesses can provide. Many businesses are burdened by outdated interfaces, clunky infrastructure, and slow-moving processes. Most are aware of the problems but simply don’t have the budget or talent (or both) to rebuild applications, reduce technical debt, modernize systems, design for the customer experience, and automate the way they want to. The result is reduced efficiencies, frustrated employees, underwhelmed customers, and lost business opportunity. 

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Many large enterprises, for example, are losing market share to small, start-up e-commerce companies that are able to take advantage of starting from scratch and using modern technology that leverages cloud-based platforms and applications on a subscription model to provide cutting-edge customer experiences whip-quick and at reduced expense. Then there are the industries whose main business is far removed from technology  like insurance, energy & utilities, or government  but who must provide digital services because that’s what consumers demand. For example, most adults today want and expect to be able to pay their bills and self-service accounts over the internet using a mobile deviceAnd yet there are many service businesses that still don’t have website that can process credit cards 

This is what is meant by “digital transformation”—and it affects absolutely everything.  

The skills and expertise required in the modern age to support digital transformation is constantly growing and changing. Businesses need top tech talent to support everything from web development and analytics to network security and systems architecture. The “hottest” tech jobs are in data science, cloud, security, new and in-demand programming languages, and technologies that make managing business applications or data easier.  

HR and recruiting departments have a hard time keeping up with which technology skills are “hot” and how to entice and compensate candidates with these skills. Technologists themselves have a hard time with this. No one understands all of the technology out there or the meaning behind the jargon that summarizes the work every technologist does. This makes it difficult to put a value on technology skills in the open market. How to attract and incentivize top tech talent is therefore something many organizations are asking themselves, especially in highly competitive labor markets.  

Common approaches in recruiting don’t work for top tech talent. A sure-fire way to get ignored is to send a generic job inquiry stating you are looking for Generic Technology Job Title with 5-10 years of experience to work at a company with a great work culture and benefits. Every job inquiry reads this way. Job posts of this type are also more about the employer than they are about the job seeker. When considering that 73 percent of job candidates are passive job seekers (meaning they already have a job and don’t need yours) the power in the situation changes, especially for top technology talent. You have to put the needs of the candidate first in a candidate-driven market, and that means really understanding what the candidate cares about and providing the level of detail they need to decide if they might be interested in your job opportunity.   

To stand out and really incentivize top tech talentfocus on the following, either in your individual job postings, as part of your employer branding and employee experience, or in conversations with the job candidate.


1. Competitive compensation packages adjusted for location and skills 

Money matters, especially for job positions that are in high demand. According to Devskiller, 52% of surveyed candidates claim competitive compensation packages are the most attractive element of a job. Skilled technologists know their worth. Many people initially become interested in technology because of the compensation and job outlook, tantalized by the data that show programmers commanding six figure salaries right out of school. Top tech talent in the 75th percentile or higher, especially in highly competitive labor markets, can earn over $200K. In Silicon Valley, fierce competition is pushing median salaries past $200K.

Although not every technology position is in high demand and there are other aspects of a job position that matter, you won’t be able to attract the very best talent if you aren’t at least somewhere in the range for the position that you want in the location where that person will work. To calculate compensation accurately, we recommend compensation management software informed by robust salary market data sources as well as geographical and skills differentials to help you isolate all the compensable factors and make an offer that is both competitive and in line with your compensation strategy.  

You might also consider displaying compensation ranges within job postings for your most coveted and competitive positions. Depending on the sophistication of your compensation strategy and your comfort level with pay transparency, displaying the value of the position right out the gate can help attract more top talent. Research from LinkedIn showed that 61 percent of job seekers said salary ranges and benefits are the most helpful pieces of information on the entire job posting. In addition, a study by SMART Recruit Online found that job ads that include a salary range get over 30 percent more applicants.

If being candid about the salary range up front is not an option, at least communicate to the technologists you reach out to why you are contacting them specifically, which skills caught your eye, and that you are prepared to compensate competitively for those skills.


2. Interesting problems to solve with modern technologies  

When pitching a technical job position, it’s important to explain the business problems the person you hire will be solving. The more interesting the problems, the more your position will incentivize top tech talent. Additionally, you should share the whole technology stack so the candidate can evaluate whether the technology is something they either already know or think is worth knowing and can ramp up on quickly to expand their skills.  

You aren’t going to get very far with top technology talent if you aren’t able to speak to this. Technologists won’t understand the job if you simply throw out a bunch of jargon. It also won’t be interesting work if those keywords are tied to older systems and technology that is simply being maintained or way behind the times.  Technologists want to work with modern technology. More specifically, they want to use technology to solve problems in new and interesting ways and create cool technology-centric experiences.  

If your organization is dependent on old, outdated technology (as many are), your job positions are going to be less attractive to top technology talent. If this is your situation, you are either going to have to compensate more to make the job worthwhile or relax your standards on the quality of individuals you are looking to fill the roles you have open. There are people who don’t mind maintenance work and where the stability of a position is more important than the sexiness of the work, but it is a smaller pool of candidates that likely won’t include the most innovative thinkers and problem solvers in tech. However, if your objective is to hire people to help you update your old legacy technology with shiny, new modern technology, then the position will be much more interesting. Weigh these factors when setting compensation packages.


3. Other smart technologists to rely on and learn from 

Technology is a team sport. As technology becomes more complex and integrated throughout the business, teams of people are needed to code, implement, update, maintain, and optimize all the functions the business depends on to operate. Although there are some technology professionals who like to work alone, most of the top technology talent in the job market today wants and expects to work alongside other technology professionals who can teach them new skills and help them increase their value. Software development teams in particular are increasingly adopting Agile as a methodology, which is teamwork-based. As Agile methodology extends to deployment, security, and other aspects of IT through DevOps, the team becomes an important aspect of job satisfaction. 

To incentivize top tech talent, make sure you emphasize the caliber of the team and the processes used at your organization to get everyone on the same page and working well together. Technology can be frustrating when the team isn’t reliable and processes to ensure quality are clunky or nonexistent, so top technology talent will be intrigued if you can show evidence of a high functioning and high caliber team that will help the technologist grow and reach his or her potential more quickly.


4. management that understands technology 

Technology projects — especially custom development of critical business applications — require buy-in from executive stakeholders as well as realistic budgets, timelines, and understanding of technology processes. Technologists are going to be more interested in opportunities where the people running the business understand how technology gets built and are savvy to the plethora of decisions that must be made. Stakeholder involvement is especially important in organizations using Agile/Scrum, where the team is supposed to give a demo on the product or application under development to business stakeholders at every sprint review.  

In organizations were management doesn’t understand software development and doesn’t take this responsibility seriously, frustrations abound. Therefore, talking to job candidates about the processes being used in your organization and the understanding and support given to technology teams by management can be huge in helping to incentivize top tech talent to join your team.  


5. An Awesome Work Culture

In the War for Talent, the culture of the company is a big differentiator in attracting and retaining top tech talent. After all, we spend the majority of our time at work, sometimes much more than the standard of 40 hours a week. Generally, we want to enjoy both the work we do and the people we work with. To differentiate in a crowed job market, most organizations are focused on creating an enticing employer brand. According to Deloitte, 84 percent of organizations feel the employee experience is important and 26 percent believe it is urgent. And according to a report from Hired, 45 percent of job seekers consider company culture a top factor when they’re considering a job offer. 

But what makes for a great employee experience? In particular, what will incentivize top tech talent when it comes to company culture? It varies by individual, of course, but at the top of the list are company values that are real and resonate with the actual way the business is run, the ability to work autonomously (rather than being micromanaged), a casual dress code, flexible hours, remote work opportunities, work/life balance, and perks like food on premises so that busy coders can keep coding rather than being interrupted by lunch breaks.  There are also less tangible aspects of company culture that matter, such as perception of the brand and what kind of personalities are successful in the environment.  

The keys to creating a great work culture are intention and consistency. Company culture starts at the top with the values embraced by leadership, particularly the CEO, which trickle down to the rest of the organization. This is true whether the organization is intentional or not about developing a culture, but those that do so strategically will experience a better outcome and have higher awareness about the health of their organization and what makes them successful. 


More can be said about all the factors above and how they work to incentivize top tech talent. Recruiting, compensation planning, employer branding and building a rewarding employee experience are easy to acknowledge as important — even critical — to business success, but they can be more difficult to implement.  However, the effort is worth it. Businesses are facing a global skills shortage in which the number of skilled workers needed outstrips the amount of available talent to fill those gaps. This is especially true for technology talent, which is why smart, forward thinking organizations will put considerable strategy and effort into incentivizing top tech talent to build a foundation for the future.  




Amy Stewart
Sr. Content Marketing Manager at PayScale
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