Crazy tech hiring perks—From cash to a clean house

The battle for top talent in tech has never been more intense.

Unemployment is back near pre-recession levels, turnover has decreased, and CEOs say the shortage of qualified candidates is one of their biggest concerns. Job openings can go unfilled for months, and those with in-demand skills can afford to be picky.

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To stand out from the competition, tech companies have long one-upped each other with exorbitant compensation offers, but now the battle for the best talent is getting more creative.

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At Lever, we help teams find, interview, and hire top talent, so we're always hearing about the latest and greatest strategies in recruiting. Here are five of the most innovative, unique, and sometimes, crazy hiring strategies we've seen yet.

1. $10,000 cash rewards (even for non-employees)

Marketing-automation company HubSpot places such a premium on top-quality hires that they offer a $10,000 bounty to anyone, not just employees, who refers developers and engineers who get hired. It sounds extreme, but it's the price HubSpot is willing to pay for the best talent. Former HubSpot Chief Products Officer David Cancel describes the referral bonus (which was $30,000 in 2013) as "our way of thanking people worldwide for bringing us the best and brightest." HubSpot is only one example of this. Companies like Atlassian, Lumosity, ZenPayroll, Cask, and Lookout are all offering aggressive cash rewards for top referrals.

2. Company-wide hire-a-thons

Many tech start-ups already hold hackathons — engineering sprints that go late into the night — but the integration-application company Mulesoft has applied the same hacker mentality to recruiting. During Mulesoft's hire-a-thons, everyone at the company stops what they're working on for about half a day. Literally everyone, from salespeople to engineers and even executives, gets into teams and scours professional and social networks for candidates to refer to openings. According to Recruiting Manager Melanie Tantingco, the hire-a-thons have helped remind everyone that hiring is their "number one priority." Mulesoft's first hire-a-thon resulted in 12 hires, and the company has seen an increase in overall employee referrals since.

3. 100% remote arrangements

Nine-to-five has become the norm, but it doesn't have to be. Matt Mullenweg, CEO of the web-development company Automattic, opens his company up to a global talent pool by offering a completely flexible work day. No office, no hours. "I don't care what hours you work. I don't care if you sleep late or if you pick up a child at school in the afternoon. I don't care if you spend the afternoon on the golf course and then work from 2 to 5 AM. What do you actually produce?" Automattic's accommodating setup makes it easy for employees to join, and hard for them to leave.

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4. In-home perks

Tech start-ups are known for flaunting their perks, with companies like Google setting a new standard for free lunches, game rooms, and happy hours. But some, like the digital-workspace company Evernote, have expanded perks beyond the office and into employees' homes. In-home perks — like the free house-cleaning services Evernote employees enjoy twice a month — are designed to reduce employee stress and enhance productivity. But the perks don't only help employees, they're also a way for companies to differentiate themselves among the competition and retain top talent.

5. Quitting bonuses

If a new hire isn't satisfied with their experience at Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, after their first month, the company will pay them $3,000 to quit. It sounds crazy at first, but the "quitting bonus" helps Zappos build a loyal team, increase retention, and protect their brand. The Zappos brand revolves around providing the very best customer service and customer experience possible, and they believe it all starts with company culture. According to CEO Tony Hsieh, "if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own." By allowing misfits to self-select out early, Zappos is able to attract and retain the employees who will ultimately be the best fit.

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Throwing money at a problem used to be the go-to solution, but now it's the companies with the most innovative and passionate teams who rise to the top. Talent is the critical asset in today's economy, so it's no surprise that organizations are going to new and extreme lengths to attract and retain the best. However, what's novel and effective today, might not be tomorrow. As the competition for talent intensifies, we're betting hiring strategies will as well.

Commentary by Sarah Nahm, the CEO of Lever, which makes modern software for helping companies recruit and grow their teams. Before Lever, Sarah worked in product at Google and studied design and engineering at Stanford University. Follow her on Twitter @srhnhm.

David Cancel is the former chief product officer at HubSpot.