A lot of companies think they’re hiring the top 1 percent because they get 100 resumés for every open position. They’re kidding themselves. When you fill an opening, think about what happens to the 99 people you turn away. They don’t give up and go into plumbing. They apply for another job. There’s a floating population of applicants in your industry that apply for nearly every opening posted online, even though many of them are qualified for virtually none of these positions. So if the top 1 percent never apply for jobs, how can you recruit them? My theory is that the best way is to find them before they realize there is a job market–back when they’re still in college.
Joel’s approach for his company was to create a summer internship program, which isn’t your usual summer-project kind of job. How is it different? Well, for starters:
We use the summer to decide if we want them full-time. So we give them real work. Hard work. Our interns always work on production code. Sometimes they work on the coolest new stuff in the company, which can make the permanent employees a little jealous, but that’s life. One summer we had a team of four interns build a whole new tech support product, Fog Creek Copilot, from the ground up. That particular intern class paid for itself by the end of the year. Even when they’re not building a new product, our interns work on real shipping code, with the helpful advice of experienced mentors, of course. Our interns are totally, personally responsible for some major area of our software’s functionality.
They treat the interns well, they make it a good place to work, and they hire from the intern pool, and can afford to pay well because they’ve already “auditioned” the interns.