8 Tips for Hiring a Great Web Developer

Hiring the right web developer not only improves overall team performance and customer experience—it can have a huge impact on a company’s operations and bottom line.

Studies show that improving website performance and speed by as little as one second can increase revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. According to Google, 53 percent of mobile website visits are abandoned if pages take longer than three seconds to load.

In other words, a web developer can be one of your most critical hires. Here’s how to make sure the next one you hire is really great.

1. Get Out Ahead

With 52,431 job postings per month for web developers and just 6,641 hires, it can be hard to assemble a slate of high-quality candidates, unless you get out in front of a hiring need.

“Don’t take shortcuts,” advised Nelly Yusupova, founder of Digital Woman and creator of Techspeak, a workshop for non-tech entrepreneurs. “To hire someone who can make a big difference long-term, you need to start looking at least six months out.”

Forget “post and pray.” To find web developers who might be interested in exploring a new opportunity, tech hiring managers and other front-line staff need to rub elbows with prospects while attending conferences and Meetups.

If someone great comes along, don’t wait until you have an approved requisition: Make an offer. In fact, research shows that 68 percent of best-in-class companies are proactively building candidate pipelines and extending offers when they find the right candidate, regardless of their current hiring needs.

2. Become a Talent Magnet

What does it take to become a magnet for top web developers? Build really cool stuff. The best web developers want to create something awesome and engage in meaningful work.

They also want on-the-job opportunities to try new things, develop new skills, and advance their careers, noted Paul Francis, partner and product manager with The BHW Group, a builder of mobile and web applications for businesses.

If you have a great work environment, flaunt it. Studies show that employers who make an effort to deliver on employees’ top priorities can set themselves apart when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. In addition to developing a pitch that highlights key attractors, point to online ratings, reviews and awards to prove that your company is serious about creating a positive work environment.

Of course, companies also need to pay well and provide competitive benefits. While paying more will not guarantee that you will attract top talent, paying below-market will guarantee that you don’t.

3. Hire for DNA

DNA is the most important consideration when hiring web developers, Yusupova said. You can always teach someone how to write code, but the best developers are hired-wired to be curious learners, self-starters and effective communicators.

Start by making a list of your company’s “DNA requirements,” then look for developers who possess at least three of the top five characteristics by exploring how they work and their level of involvement in helping others. For example, review their samples on GitHub to see if they document code in a way that helps others learn, or see if they contribute to open-source projects or respond to questions from peers on technology forums.

4. Evaluate Interpersonal Skills and Temperament

Web developers need the ability to explain the technology and the limitations of a specific design to clients, Francis explained.

To see how well they communicate, ask a candidate to teach something about a non-technical subject or hobby that interests them. It doesn’t matter whether they explain a baseball strategy or diagram the best way to wash a car—it’s a preview of the candidate’s teaching abilities and personality through their delivery and presentation, he added.

As an alternative, a reviewer could also ask a web developer to expound on some sort of tech topic using plain language to see how creative they are (and how well they explain concepts).

5. Test Conceptual Knowledge

Because web development is always changing, you want to find developers who understand and apply core concepts and foundational knowledge, Francis advised. They are the ones who will more easily adapt to new technologies, tools and languages.

To figure out if a candidate understands a general web development concept, or just a specific methodology or approach, ask open-ended questions that explore familiarity with concepts, underlying technologies, architecture, frameworks, and high-level decision-making. Alternatively, ask them to compare one tool to another and so forth.

6. Use Real Coding Problems

Using the real problems your team faces on a daily basis is the best way to evaluate the candidate’s ability to solve problems and write code. “Our evaluation team selects a typical problem that they have faced over the last two weeks,” Francis said.

Then pose a number of “twists” to the original problem to simulate what happens when a client changes or reprioritizes the existing requirements. Evaluate how their solution evolves in response. As a reviewer, you want to see how they begin, change and review their work.

7. Gather Input

To ensure team chemistry doesn’t deteriorate, it’s always a good idea to involve several members of the team in the hiring process. To make sure that their evaluations are fair and impartial, have each evaluator ask the same questions and submit written feedback in advance of the debrief session.

Give them key things to consider, especially when choosing from several contenders such as which candidate has the most potential for growth.

8. Hire (Somewhat) Slow, Fire Fast

Even the best hiring process only results in a great hire 80 percent of the time. An ineffective web developer can disrupt the entire team and potentially the entire project. That’s why many companies have a 90-day “probationary period” for new hires.

“Accept that risk is inherent and make a hiring decision,” Yusupova said. “But if you realize the web developer you hired isn’t working out, let him or her go as fast as you can.”