How many times has your boss asked you this question about headcount planning:
We have new headcount for your teams! What job levels do you want?
There’s no easy answer to this request. We’d love to hire experienced employees, but they’re expensive and take forever to find. Junior people are faster to hire but have a longer training period. But the CEO wants a new team to build out a new product. Should we hire new managers instead?
There’s no perfect answer.
I’ve been answering this question for years now, so here are 4 tips for choosing job levels when headcount planning.
Disclosure: This article includes affiliate links to any books I reference. I may receive compensation when you click on links to these products.
Tip 1: Senior Job Openings take Longer to Fill
Hiring experienced employees comes with a cost. They’re more expensive given their skillset. But they have a longer time to hire.
A junior engineer takes a lot less work to find. The entry-level tech job market in 2022 has a ton of people looking for jobs. I’ve seen 10 to 100+ applications a week for junior roles. These roles are a lot easier to fill in a shorter time.
Conversely, senior roles are in demand. Companies need experienced engineers to drive larger projects. However, there are fewer experts to hire. Companies compete for these people while current employers are working to retain them.
Recruiting senior candidates requires patience. Expect to see fewer organic applications from job postings.
Understanding these trade-offs is critical for optimizing toward short or long-term goals.
Tip 2: Account for Career Growth when Headcount Planning
Think about the experience level of your team. You probably have a staff engineer, a few senior engineers, and more software engineers.
What will this team look like a year from now? Who will get promoted?
When adding headcount, you need to account for how your current team will grow. If two people get Staff-level promotions over the next year, there may not be enough work for a third Staff engineer.
So think about what the team will look like in 12 to 24 months. Will the hiring you perform today help balance the experience levels of your future team?
Tip 3: Balance Your Team’s Experience Level When Headcount Planning
It’s easy to say you want a senior engineer when you’re headcount planning. Senior engineers can handle most projects given to them.
But how many senior engineers are already on your team?
When adding people to your team, look to balance the experience levels. Too many staff engineers will have people clawing for little work. Too many junior engineers will slow down complex projects due to a lack of mentors.
My tip is to use a 1-to-2 ratio of senior to junior engineers. That way, senior (or above) engineers can have enough capacity to mentor others and still code.
Tip 4: Align Job Levels with Short and Long-term Goals
When adding people to your team, you need to align your hiring plan with your product goals. It’s easy to optimize for the short term – adding another person increases output (to a point). They’re immediately helping ship today’s features.
But can they lead next year’s database migration? What about mentoring the slew of interns this summer?
It’s critical to balance how headcount will help you achieve short and long-term goals. Questions to think through are:
- Am I backfilling someone? How long can my current team go under-staffed?
- What are the roadmap goals for the next 12 months?
- How many teams do we want to create over the next two years? What experience levels do we need to get there?
- Do we need to move people in order to hit project deadlines?
- How many managers do we need to support this growing team?
I’ve found that adding new people doesn’t pay off for six to 12 months. That first year is about understanding how your team works and building relationships. Account for this onboarding time in your hiring plans.
So there are my four tips to help you size teams with new headcount. To summarize my four tips:
- Understand the time it takes to hire for each title level.
- Account for your team’s career growth
- Balance the team’s experience levels with a 1 to 2 senior to junior ratio
- Align your job openings with your short and long-term goals.
What questions do you consider when figuring out the title level of your job openings? I’d love to learn how you approach this topic. Let me know on LinkedIn or Twitter.
- An Elegant Puzzle by Will Larson
- Who Owns Your Company Roadmap?
- The Trimodal Nature of Software Engineering Salaries in the Netherlands and Europe
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