How Yahoo, Facebook and Zappos Recruit Tech Talent

Justin Thompson

It’s no secret that Yahoo, Facebook and Zappos are among the most in-demand and desirable companies to work for. But like a supermodel who has trouble getting a date, even these companies don’t always have it easy when it comes to attracting top tech talent.

Zappos, for instance, struggles with selling candidates on moving to Las Vegas, where the cost of living is lower and compensation isn’t as competitive as it is in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, Yahoo and Facebook have had their fair share of not-so-great press (most recently for Yahoo, the company’s controversial ban on working from home, and for Facebook, its questionable psychological study).

Thanks to the innovative ways in which they approach recruiting, however, these companies have overcome these challenges and consistently manage to draw in the best of the best tech talent. During a panel at last spring’s ERE West Conference in San Diego about recruiting technology talent, representatives from Facebook, Zappos and Yahoo revealed the successful strategies they employ at their companies to recruit tech talent.

They focus on relationship-building, not recruiting.

We have to assume every candidate has two or three [other] offers, so we really have to know our candidates who are out there in order to engage them,” Lisa Nakashoji, senior director and talent builder at Yahoo, Inc, told the audience at ERE. That’s why at Yahoo, “it’s all about building relationships” with candidates.

One way the company engages candidates is through regular meet-up events, which brings together members of the community, Yahoo employees and other company professionals to talk about a particular subject. Instead of treating these gatherings as recruiting events, however, Yahoo looks at it as a way to gain insight into the community and build relationships with potential candidates.

Similarly, Facebook makes an effort to reach out personally to candidates. “There’s nothing worse than a spammy ‘Dear sir or Ma’am’ email,” Cortney Erin, head of global technical recruiting at Facebook, said during the panel. “Engagement is key. You should send a personalized message that differentiates you from anyone else. It might take us a while [to turn that relationship into a hire], but in the long run, there’s a payoff.”

They train their recruiters rigorously.

At Facebook, recruiters go through a “very rigorous training process” before they’re allowed to touch any candidates, according to Erin. “Each one of them goes through classroom training, then shadowing, then reverse shadowing. The whole process can take about a year.”

In a related, but more hands-on training approach, Yahoo has its hiring managers and engineers work together to source talent. “We reach out together,” said Nakashoji. “It helps the engineering team identify what we do and how we do it, and as a result, my team really begins to understand the specific role of the job.”

They kick their referral programs up a notch.

In order to increase both the quality and quantity of tech referrals, Zappos created a referral contest. “We launched a ‘Win a trip to Vegas’ referral contest and got a bunch of referrals that way,” explained Michael Bailen, senior human resources manager at Zappos. The company encouraged its followers to refer their best tech people for the chance to win a trip to Vegas. But they also made it as easy as possible to refer people “We looked through their network, asked for permission to get in touch, and then wrote the email for them,” Bailen said.

They proactively groom future talent.

A couple of years ago, Zappos created “Z Code,” a six-week paid internship designed to help interested candidates learn coding with the company’s engineering team. By the end of the program, the company ended up hiring seven of the 40 participants. (Both Cook Systems’ and CareerBuilder have similar training programs for individuals who want to learn the skills necessary to work in the technology field.)

They have buy-in from leadership.

Nakashoji attributes much of Yahoo’s success in recruiting talent to the company’s “really engaged leaders who help make recruiting a priority.” Not only do they support the efforts of the recruiting team, they’re involved in the process themselves. “There’s a lot more response when a leader reaches out to a candidate than when a recruiter calls,” according to Nakashoji.

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