10 Ways to hire niche employees

Whilst away on holiday last week a short but interesting twitter conversation happened about recruitment of testers. It was between Anna Royzman, John Stevenson and Dr Mohinder Khosla.

Start at the bottom and read up the feed ūüôā

Screen Shot Of Twitter Conversation
Screen Shot Of Twitter Conversation

I didn’t get much chance to get involved but it inspired this post.

Anna asked a great question:

Do agencies read @rob_lambert ‘s work?

The answer is a definitive yes.

I speak with a number of agencies who generally tend to like what I write about and who¬†generally appreciate that I value recruiters – I couldn’t recruit so many people without them.

Will they change the people they look for or the way they work? Well, that’s a little more complicated.

In fact, Mohinder nailed it when he mentioned:

“They probably do read and ignore it. They r there 2 maximise profit and satisfy employers criteria of selection”

Absolutely. I know that they read my work and I know that most of them ignore it. And rightly so.

When you look at the nature of recruitment from a recruitment agency perspective you see some very interesting perspectives that should help you to change the way you plan your recruitment, and I’ll share some ideas later in this post.

It’s all about money

A recruitment business exists to make money – like all businesses.

Without money there is no business. So money is an objective.

For every company like the one I work for who are looking for smart, engaged and talented exploratory testers there are 100’s of companies looking for someone….anyone.


As it’s hard to find smart, engaged and talented exploratory testers and it’s VERY EASY¬†(highlighted, bold and caps to really emphasise how easy it is) to find people who meet a generic requirement for a¬†tester, which job would you take on as a recruiter? After all your business is about making money.¬†You’d most likely choose the generic tester gig.

For the same fee you could either work an entire week trying to find a hard to find candidate or you could place 10 people tomorrow and earn your fee. It’s a no brainer.

To understand the nature of good testing and to hire good testers for agile teams, you really need to understand testing (and agile), and most recruiters don’t. And that’s to be expected. Why would they need to when there is a viable market and business placing larger numbers of people for other organisations?

For many recruitment gigs it’s simply a case of finding people with ISTQB certifications and not much else. For my requirements I demand more, like many other hiring managers, and this often requires work on the recruiters part. More work for less return……doesn’t sound very good for business does it, especially if you have large overheads?

They are supplying the candidates that companies demand – and in a nutshell – that is what their business is about. They are doing their job. They are serving their customers.

But the problem arises when along comes a customer (like myself) who requires someone niche.

And niche it is. Believe me, for all of the talk in our community about testers who can explore, learn and think deeply about testing, there really aren’t that many who meet that criteria.

So, you’re a hiring manager looking for a niche employee and having to work with recruiters who would prefer to work on easier jobs¬†(and rightly so). How do you get around that?

What follows are 10 ways to hire niche employees. Some or all may work and no doubt there is plenty I’ve not included too – leave your own suggestions in the comments.

1. Be Patient

When you don’t have 100 generic roles to fill (which ironically is easier and quicker to fill) you will have to take your time. And it can take a lot of your own time and it can take a long time.

But hold out.

Don’t give in and hire someone who is not right for you. There are candidates out there, you just need to find them.

2. Find a niche recruiter and get to know them

There are agencies now who specialise in finding you those hard to find people.

These agencies are usually owned and run by ex-testers/developers.They are also typically smaller agencies.

They are well connected and know the needs of most businesses. They know the expected salaries and contracts rates and they are well versed in eliciting your requirements.

In some cases, these people will know more than you about what sort of person you need. Find a good agency like this and stick with them.

3. Give exclusivity

With hard to find roles many recruiters will want an exclusitivy clause that means, for a select period of time, only they will be working on the hiring for you.

This gives them the impetus to put in the hours. It must be frustrating to spend a lot of time finding a candidate only to have another agency get in ahead of you.

Exclusivity gives recruiters the chance to see a return for their work. Just be sure it’s short term until you build a strong relationship. What if they don’t turn up the candidates?

I only ever work with one recruiter for testing roles and he knows just the sort of person we like to hire and he also knows he’s the only one hiring for me.

4. Pay higher rates

I’m not a fan of this one but sometimes for hard to find roles you may have to pay higher rates.

This gives the recruiter the financial return should they find someone for you. I’ve had recruiters ask for 25% – 30% of the final salary as rates. For tricky to find candidates it might be required but I’ve never needed to pay anywhere near that.

5. Network

Build a strong network, get to events, get on social media and let people know you have a role available.

I’ve been slowly and steadily building my own personal network for about 7 years now and it’s great to be able to tweet out about a new role and get enquiries within the hour. Networking is crucial. You have to get out and let people know who you are and what roles you have.

6. Create a compelling offer

It’s very rare that you will be able to take salary out of the equation and offer so much money that there is no competition.

Even if you can pay huge salaries a financial reward is not always what people are after, although there tends to be a salary point that most people will struggle to resist.

Instead view the package you can offer on a set of old fashioned balance scales.

On one side of the scales is salary. This is the cold hard a cash. And like I said – it’s not usually a deal winner.

On the other side of the scales is the goodness that you can offer to help balance out a winning offer. If you struggle to come up with much for this side then the chances are you need to work harder at trying to grow the right environment for great people to join. Good people want to join good companies.

For example, for us we would balance the salary with some or all of the following:

  • Great technology to work on (SaaS product in an epic market place, value it brings to our customers)
  • Great process (agile, systems thinking, rapid release)
  • Great learning culture (conferences, library, hackathons, brown bag lunches, self learning time, coding katas, reading clubs etc)
  • Great management focused on you (regular one2ones, coaching, learning)
  • Great career progression (flat structure where technical excellence is an equal career path to team leadership)
  • Good future (what does the future look like? what is your True North? Why would people hang around?)
  • Chance to work with great people (who works with you? Why are they awesome?)

As you can see you can soon start to stack up the other aspects of an offer that could compel someone to join you and convince recruiters to work with you.

If you communicate this offer clearly to recruiters you’ll find that they can use much of this to find the right person.

After all – money rarely compensates for a crappy job.

7. Offer staff referral bonus

If you offer a reasonably high staff referral bonus for successful hires (like £4k +) then you may find that someone in your company already knows a great hire. Simple but effective.

8. Use LinkedIn

Buy a pro LinkedIn license and get searching.

If you spend time fine tuning your approach email and are genuine in your direct contact you may get some success with LinkedIn. I’ve personally used LinkedIn to hire a number of candidates.

Make sure your own profile is complete and up-to-date. Don’t try the hard sell. Give the candidate somewhere to go to read more about your company. Don’t hassle people and respect people who say no.

But don’t be afraid – I’ve not yet approached someone who was annoyed or angry about it. Most people who create a LinkedIn profile expect to be “found” and would¬†welcome being “head hunted” – especially if you’re hiring top class people………which of course you are ūüôā

9. Batch your hiring

If possible it is often worth batching up your hiring so that a recruiter is able to find multiple candidates with the same adverts/approach etc. This is often impractical and I’m not a fan of the generic job advert either but it could encourage a recruiter to work with you and put in the required effort. (as a side note most recruiters will be more than willing to work with you but you may find they send you the wrong sort of candidates. This is when feedback and an open dialogue are so important)

10. Use contractors

If you really are struggling then use contractors to plug the gap until you find the right person.

The contract market is very strong at the moment and that usually translates to high rates. For a good exploratory tester you should be budgeting (at the time of writing this) between about £400 to £650 per day.

Of course, there are good people outside of that price and this is based on the UK hiring market in August 2015, but to be honest, it’s not changed much in the last few years. Expect the minimum term to be a 3 month contract.


Recruiters are supplying the demand and a well run recruitment agency will supply where the demand is the highest. But that leaves room for the niche agencies and smaller agencies to serve the smaller needs and still make good money.They are supplying the demand in a smaller market – the Long Tail.

Most people I know who are hiring the very best are all struggling to find the right candidates, even using these niche recruitment agencies. And this is simply because there are so few good candidates, but that is not a problem with recruiters and recruitment agencies, that is a much deeper and wider problem with our industry.

And I should also add that this is not unique to the testing industry either. The same applies to scrum masters, developers and tech authors.

But I am seeing things changing slowly.

There are more talented candidates in the marketplace now (and mostly newbies to the industry like graduates, people switching industries etc).

Some of the bigger recruiters with a bigger reach and a larger workforce to put to work are also starting to work with growing companies with niche hires. The reason being is likely that these niche companies often end up being the big companies of the future and a long term relationship matters.

And what a great opportunity we have as hiring managers right now to help to build the big companies of the future who in some small way may help to change the demand profiles in the industry.

And even if the companies we work for don’t end up being the big players in our industry we can still help to grow our businesses and achieve the success we desire.

Just don’t expect your demands to be met by the mainstream if your demands aren’t mainstream in the first place.

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3 thoughts on “10 Ways to hire niche employees

  1. I like a lot of what of you say. Many of us can be constrained by the company and the related policies we’re in and have to break the rules to get new thinking in.

    A lot of what you say helps in the attraction of candidates but finding the right fit I’m finding our interview process quite dull and dry. First interview , standard questionnaire and then a 2nd interview more technical but I am getting bored with this approach and so to be honest are candidates. I almost want to wrap up batches of candidates, get them in a room, put a product in front of them and say “what do you see from you perspective?” How have you gone about your interview process?

    1. Hi Gary,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Interesting how you find the recruitment process and so too for your employees – I guess this is a big clue that it may need refreshing.

      Our interviews are very similar in that we have an initial phone / skype interview and then a face-to-face interview. We often have a practical session in there also. Our interviews are very informal though, but tough. We like to have a laugh in the interview and we do are best to make the interviewee feel at home in the interview – that way we end up having “chats” rather than formulaic questions.

      We also mix up who sees the candidate. Rarely do we stick to the same 5 or 6 people. We split the sessions up, max of about 1 hour, and we also mix up the interviewers. It helps to have a mix of experienced and newbie interviewers as it’s a great learning exercise but you also tend to get some fresh questions too.

      It’s tricky to know why you feel bored with the approach you currently have but it’s wise to change a few things and run some experiments to see if you’re improving engagement and your fun levels. Keep running experiments and finding what works.

      Overall though, I know some people who just hate recruiting, and some, like myself, who really enjoy it. I suspect those who don’t enjoy it may never come to like it.

      Thanks again.

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