How to Hire a Software Developer: A Complete Guide

ProfilePicture of Osiris Villa
Osiris Villa
Talent Specialist and Senior QA Engineer
A woman with a magnifying glass looking at software developers profiles

If you’re in the market to hire a software developer, you have likely discovered – or will discover – some of the challenges associated with acquiring tech talent. The demand for freelance software developers is at an all-time high, making it especially difficult to find and hire the best people right now. This doesn’t change the fact that who you hire is one of the most important business decisions you’ll make for your company. A bad hire can waste time, set you back financially and negatively impact your team’s morale. 

Needless to say, getting the right people onto your team is a necessary challenge, and it all boils down to the effectiveness of your hiring strategy. We’ve learned through experience that acquiring great talent comes from having a great process in place. To help you with this, we’re sharing our hiring guide so you can have a better understanding of how our process works behind the scenes. 

Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce

Table Of Contents

How to Define Your Role 

An excellent hiring strategy starts with understanding the basics of the role you need to fill. Take time to visualize your ideal candidate, determine a budget and a timeline, and set the stage with expectations. This will create clear intentions for you and your team before you bring anyone new on board. It will also eliminate uncertainty for candidates and give them the opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications during the interview process.

Here are some steps you can take to define your role: 

Define the Basics

An excellent hiring strategy starts with understanding the basics of the role you need to fill. Take time to visualize your ideal candidate, determine a budget and a timeline, and set the stage with expectations. This will create clear intentions for you and your team before you bring anyone new on board. It will also eliminate uncertainty for candidates and give them the opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications during the interview process.

Here are some steps you can take to define your role: 

Software developers have different specialties and areas of expertise, and the field is growing every day. If you’re working on a web project, for instance, you’ll need to know whether you’re looking for talent with capabilities in front-end, back-end, or across the full stack. Within those categories, you may even need to get more granular, depending on whether you have an established product or one that’s pre-launch, in which case the framework can still be decided. 

In any case, software development is a broad field, and the first step to hiring the right one for your team is knowing which category to look in. Understandably, if you’re non-technical, it can feel like this first step is already a barrier: it may not seem realistic to know what type of developer to hire. If you need help determining what kind of software developer you need to hire, feel free to get in touch and we can help.  

With a solid understanding of the role, requirements, and other expectations, you’ll have a better shot at identifying qualified candidates during the interview stages. The next challenge? Getting suitable candidates to apply.

How to Attract the Right Software Developers to Apply 

An in-demand software developer will receive hundreds of messages per month about new jobs. If you want top talent to notice and apply for your role, you’ll need to make it stand out. 

A good job description will cover the key aspects of the role while also showcasing the project, growth opportunity, and company. In our guide to writing job descriptions, we describe how you can create one that checks all the boxes and communicates clear expectations with potential candidates.

A thorough and accurate job description will help you filter out some unsuitable candidates. That said, it’s incredibly difficult to rely on a job posting as the primary conduit of getting great developers onto your team if you’re not working with a staffing service. You may have candidates that look great on paper, but it’s impossible to know until you have sufficiently assessed their personality, skills, and experience.

Evaluating Candidates: What Qualities to Look for in Software Developers 

To find out if someone is a great software programmer, you often have to look beyond their coding skills. That’s because what makes them ‘great’ is the addition of specific soft skills. Our team has worked with many freelance developers over the years, and we’ve noticed the qualities that the best of them have in common are: 

When preparing to interview remote software developers, it’s helpful to know how to assess these soft skills. We do this during the initial screening interview and also evaluate their English communication and experience and logistical suitability (time zone, availability, rate), seniority, leadership skills, and general cognitive ability. 

Top Non-Technical Must-Have Skills: Communication Skills and Management Experience

Arguably two of the most critical non-technical qualifications we assess during the initial screening process are whether candidates communicate effectively and have sufficient management experience. 

Good communication is essential for every job, but it’s vital for technical roles. If a developer cannot communicate effectively, they likely won’t be able to explain problems or suggest better solutions in a way that the whole team can understand. If a candidate can’t demonstrate an ability to communicate during an interview, they will also likely have issues communicating on the job. 

It’s also a good idea to gauge how much experience they have managing themselves and working within a similar team setting to yours. Is this candidate someone who will need to be carefully managed? Or do they demonstrate the ability to be self-sufficient and responsible? 

The following questions are some examples of how to assess a developer’s experience in both communications and management areas: 

Technical Must-Have Skills and Experience 

We also conduct a technical interview that consists of general technical questions and a live coding exercise. During this interview, we assess how well the candidate can code, how clean their code is, and their general technical knowledge. We also evaluate: 

Learning the details of a candidate’s experience can also help determine whether they are as qualified as their application claims. How senior is this person? By asking candidates to share information about their technical experiences and personal preferences with specific technologies, you will gain a better understanding of how much they know. The following points can also help you get a sense of a candidate’s technical skills:

It’s worth noting that giving an algorithmic-based problem is not our personal preference for evaluating a developer’s technical abilities. The trouble with this type of test is that developers rarely actually write advanced algorithms on a typical project. Instead, we ask developers to complete a task similar to the work they’ll do in the project or role for which they are interviewing. We try to customize each test to cover as many of the key skills needed for the role as possible in about an hour.  Additionally, we have an experienced technical interviewer sit in with them to give feedback, ask questions and listen to their thought process.

This approach allows us to assess if a candidate can understand problems clearly, how well they respond to feedback and whether they can do the work needed for the role. 

If you don’t have a good technical understanding of the project and role, enlist some help from someone who can carry out this part of the vetting process. People who have coding experience can often differentiate potential in software developers more efficiently, especially as things get more technical. 

Red Flags: What to Avoid When Hiring 

Throughout our time interviewing and assessing candidates, our team has noticed certain signals that sometimes suggest a developer lacks important skills. Though these are not deal-breakers, they can help determine if a candidate is a good fit for your company. Here are some factors we take note of during the initial screening and technical assessment: 

If and how they use Google and what type of things they search for:

We approve the use of Google because let’s face it, most developers use it day-to-day. That being said, analyzing how they use it will tell you a lot about their seniority level. 

If they copy and paste from old projects: 

Instead of using Google, some candidates rely on code from previous projects where they have solved similar problems. Allowing this can sometimes be a bad practice because it’s difficult to know if the code being transferred was actually produced by the candidate or by someone else. In these cases, ask what decisions were made while that code was written and see if they can walk you through it accordingly. Remember, during a coding test you want to see how they code, and not how they assemble pieces! That being said, it’s okay if they want to take a peek at something they have already done in the past.

How they respond to feedback or suggestions: 

It’s a good idea to offer candidates feedback at the end of the interview, whether it’s an opinion about what they produced or suggestions for improvement. Everyone has a different coding style and there typically isn’t one only way to solve a given problem. However, when a developer can take feedback well and demonstrate a desire to improve, it reveals a lot about their character. The alternative (not taking feedback graciously) can indicate that they may have a bad attitude or may not be a team player. 

Red flags that make us pump the brakes: These are often linked to a candidate’s soft skills (i.e., communication skills or attitude). Here are some red flags worth noting:

Again, not all of the points above mean a candidate is a bad software developer, but taking note of these may help to determine whether they are a good fit for your role. 

Where to Find and Hire the Best Software Developers 

There’s no doubt that the software development industry has become a crowded place, and knowing where to go looking for talent is not an easy task. Depending on your requirements, you can hire from online staffing platforms and marketplaces or source candidates directly. Your choice may depend on whether you want to carry out sourcing and vetting candidates yourself or if you’d prefer to have this done for you. 

Hire a Software Developer from Staffing Platforms 

Many of the best software developers tend to gravitate towards staffing agencies with rigorous vetting (as opposed to platforms that don’t thoroughly vet) because these platforms tend to place them on challenging projects with quality clients. Working with adequately vetted talent also takes a considerable risk away from you, as a bad hire can be an expensive and time-consuming mistake. Here are some benefits of hiring through a platform like Scalable Path: 

Hire a Software Developer from Task-based and Freelance Marketplaces 

Task-based and freelance platforms like Upwork, PeoplePerHour, and Freelancer.com work more like job boards in which you post a job, and individuals or companies in the platform are notified automatically or can find and apply to your posting. 

These sites often rest in a “race to the bottom” approach to rates, which is why experienced software developers don’t often stick around on these platforms for long. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get good value here, but you will need to spend a lot of time filtering and vetting candidates yourself, which may or not be something you’re willing or able to do. Perks of choosing to hire through these marketplaces include:

Hire a Part-Time or Full-time Software Developer In-House

Depending on your company’s needs, hiring in-house may be a better option. If you have the time and budget, this approach can sometimes make more sense for full-time engagements or more senior and core leadership positions like a CTO. However, there are reasons why companies have started to shift away from this traditional hiring practice. Here are some things to consider if you’re weighing the pros and cons: 

If you have the resources and desire to carry out the sourcing and vetting process yourself, I’d recommend tapping into your network as a first step. Often, you can have better success hiring great people by finding them through your connections. If you have no luck there, you may discover talented developers on sites like StackOverflow or Github.  

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Software Developer?

The cost to hire software developers will vary depending on the type of engagement model you use. For instance, if you want to hire someone local as a full-time salaried employee, the cost will be significantly higher than hiring someone remotely. 

The average annual salary of a Senior Software Developer located in San Francisco is $150,000 per year. The average rate to hire a software developer with the same level of experience from Scalable Path is $55 per hour. Here’s how the costs break down: 

Graph comparing full-time salary employees vs hire remote software developers
Cost of Full-time Employees vs Freelance Developers

If you’re looking to hire a software developer on a remote and hourly basis, your options for cost and flexibility become greater. Hiring someone from a global marketplace means spending significantly less. We conducted a study to analyze the cost of hiring software developers from our network and found that the average hourly rates of talented software developers in the United States are about 50% higher than those of similar developers in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

How to Improve Your Hiring Success

The best developers have a healthy balance of strong technical abilities, communication skills, and management experience. They are also good at setting expectations, delivering continuously, and creating a constant rhythm of output that builds trust and reliability with their team.

Ultimately, it isn’t easy to know whether you’ve hired the right person until you’ve worked together. When you bring new developers on board, reiterate your expectations and goals for the project. This verbal step is crucial to open the door for communication and ensure you are on the same page from the outset. 

Hiring and building a team is truly one of the most challenging tasks for hiring managers. Finding people who fit your team well and have the right qualities and qualifications will require a complete and thorough candidate assessment process. Hiring can be fraught with challenges. If you decide to vet candidates yourself, make sure you are comfortable with the interview process, have the time to carry it out and have someone with the required experience and skills to help you. 


Key Takeaways

Write a clear and concise job description.

Set yourself up for success by writing a solid job description that defines key requirements and attracts suitable candidates.

Choose your staffing platform wisely.

If you choose a staffing platform to help you hire a software developer, ensure you understand what services they offer. Each platform is different, so choose one that is the right fit for you and your project. 

Know what qualities to look for.

Quality developers share specific characteristics. Knowing what these are and how to identify them will improve your chances of hiring the right people. 

Perfect your hiring strategy.

A good hiring strategy consists of a thorough vetting process that tests both soft and technical skills. Choose whether it makes sense for you to hire a company to carry out your vetting process for you or invest the time to do it right yourself.

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