If you’re trying to hire for a software development team, finding good people in such a high demand industry is incredibly difficult, and you have my sympathy!
I recently finished my first gig as a contractor. It was a great experience and, whilst I’m actually considering trying something slightly different for my next experiment (another story for another post), I’d noticed a couple of interesting consequences of hiring contractors from the client’s perspective that hadn’t occurred to me before.
I was one of two contractors hired initially, the other was a seasoned freelancer who it turned out was not only great at their job, but also added unexpected value in terms of the client’s ongoing need to hire technical staff, both temporary and permanent.
Of course when you hire a contractor there is a chance that, if it’s a good fit from both sides, you may be able to convince them to join as a permanent employee. I did see a bit of potential for this to happen, but I noticed there was an even more valuable angle in terms of future hiring, especially given the contractor had been working in the local area for some time.
As a side-effect of the temporary nature of contract work, good contractors tend to build relationships with many others in the field as they move around. If you’re hiring, such a contractor can probably put you in touch with and recommend other candidates.
Without wanting to be too hard on recruiters (obviously there are good ones who do a valuable job!), it is very difficult for them to vet candidates based on how good they actually are. Plus unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of incentive to do so.
Conversely, a contractor recommending someone will know they are likely to have to work with them. That means there’s a much stronger incentive for them to only recommend good people. Plus their assessment is likely to be based on their experience of actually having worked with them. I think most people will agree that reading CVs and interviewing alone is a pretty poor proxy for actual experience working with a candidate.
Another difficulty of hiring is that the best candidates are quite likely to already be gainfully employed, and essentially “off the market” to recruiters. They’re much more likely to respond to a potential job offer that comes through from a former colleague than from an agent, meaning an increase in the pool of accessible hires.
In addition, the contractor may be able to warn you against potential bad hires that arrive through other channels, a service you certainly couldn’t expect a recruiter to provide.
In one case I experienced, the client had decided to offer a contract to a candidate who seemed very technically proficient, but there were a few concerns around a potential personality clash. Luckily the client had mentioned this to my fellow contractor, who it turned out had previously worked with this particular candidate. To cut a long story short, his intervention saved the client from what would have been an expensive hiring mistake!
Of course, there is an additional benefit of hiring direct through recommendation, in that it may also save on recruiting fees.
Obviously I’m not suggesting hiring someone just to get access to others, but if you were thinking about hiring contractors anyway, it might be worth factoring in the additional benefit of focussing your initial efforts on just one or two highly experienced ones. It could actually turn out to be a more efficient way of building up a larger permanent team over the long-term!