Hiring developers is hard, and it’s especially hard when you are working in tech. The competition for great talent is fierce and your prospective hires are spoiled by great salaries and amazing perks. I’ve been working and building teams in different startups for the past 6 years (in TogglTeamweek and now Dashbird), and I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. Hopefully, these will be helpful for other startup founders as well.

1. Make it fun, make it a competition, try something different

It’s surprising how many startups approach hiring in a really corporate way - prospecting possible hires via LinkedIn and trying to schedule a generic interview. Great tech talent isn’t hanging around LinkedIn, waiting for recruiters to contact them. Of course, you can luck out and find great people that way, but you could also try and throw some alternative recruiting strategies into the mix.

For example, when hiring developers, create a skills test with a nice prize (think some latest cool gadget that developers would love to get) and make a campaign around it. “Who’s the best Java developer out there? Take this test and win a [insert latest cool gadget here]! Best scores get prizes and possibly a job offer.”

Check this example from Toggl.

2. Test week (or month): two-way validation if the fit is right

When you have validated that your new hire is a really good fit, don’t end the final interview with a job offer just yet. End it with an offer to do a paid test week or a test month with the whole team. This is a good way for both parties to validate the cultural fit—to see how people set their own goals, how they communicate problems, etc. and for the new hire to see how they click with the team. This has been a default practice in Dashbird since day one and arguably the main reason we managed to land such great talent during our startup’s early days.

You might say this is impossible to pull off since most people have full-time jobs. Actually, it can be done very easily and remotely (almost every company is using Slack for team communication, even if they are not fully distributed).

Just agree on the total time capacity that works for the new hire. It can be a test week with a total of 10 hours, 2 hours each day for example. It can also be a full month of part-time work. Agree on what project is realistic to get done during this time and sign a contract for this test period. It’s good practice to pay for these hours with the same hourly rate they would get with the full offer. 

State of software development 2018 report

3. Stand out from other companies and promote your team culture

First of all, let’s assume you have great company culture. You love to work there and most of the team feels the same. Don’t keep that feeling only to yourself. Shameless promotion is quite okay here.

Most devs find oversharing on Instagram cringeworthy, but they have no problem scrolling through everyone else’s feeds and checking all the posts other people are sharing. So get over that judgement and share your company culture! You will attract a lot of attention while giving insights into your company culture and who your team is in a really low-cost way. With Dashbird, we are giving insights into our team via Instagram, and it has proved to be a really low-effort way of promoting our culture that supports our hiring efforts.

Or you can take it a step further. Create a YouTube channel with personal vlogs. But whatever you do, make sure it’s authentic to your company and team. Faking a good culture is a very bad strategy because people can smell phoniness from a distance. 

4. Offer perks that communicate good values

James Tarbotton 367 Unsplash

Image credit: James Tarbotton

This is where it all starts - you should actually have a really cool company and a lot to offer to potential hires. Since startup salaries are high anyway, I argue that the perks you offer on top of those are really important. These are the things that actually communicate your company culture.

Offer flexible working hours and remote work, and your talent pool will open up like crazy. This will show that you trust your people to get the work done wherever they are and that you value work-life balance. Offer a free Kindle and e-books, a gym membership, etc. and your highly motivated future employees will know that you too value self-improvement.

5. Communicate your mission

You believe that you are changing the world with your product, and it’s very important that you communicate these inner hopes and dreams for your company to the outside world as well. The absolute top-crazy-good talent is first and foremost motivated by this shared vision and mission.

For them, if they share the same pain points and want to solve them the same way you do, it will be a no-brainer to get on the same boat. Instead of starting a new company, they usually find it easier to join forces with you. So, make sure you speak and write about your inner motivations, hopes and vision all the time and in different mediums. Somewhere, there is a superstar who is thinking the same way, and no matter what salary or perks they have at their current place of employment, they will seriously consider joining your revolution. 


Startup hiring is a real challenge when you have to go against Google, Facebook and countless other superstar companies, but don’t get discouraged. Try some of these unconventional tactics to attract the right people. Fortune favors the bold, so good luck!

Hopefully, you got something useful out of this article. If you have some additional out-of-the-box hiring hacks that have worked for you, please share them in the comments below!

“Take your engineering team from good to great

About the author:

Annika Helendi

Annika is the co-founder & CMO of Dashbird.io — the fastest growing AWS Lambda monitoring platform. Before that, she was the CEO of Teamweek and also used to lead the marketing team in Toggl. Annika strongly believes in the benefits of remote work and has built and lead several distributed teams during her startup career. 

Cover image credit: Lucas Clarysse