Yes, your best tech staffers really do wish they worked at Google

September 9, 2014, 3:49 PM UTC
2008 Google Winter Marketing Forum In Xian
XIAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 20: (CHINA OUT) An etiquette girl is reflected on a big screen at the Google's 2008 Xian winter marketing forum on November 20, 2008 in Xian of Shaanxi Province, China. Google has covered in China most of the commercial value of users, 88 percent of search products and user information in the use of Google. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
China Photos—Getty Images

When it comes to U.S. tech employers, there’s Google, and then there’s everybody else.

Perched atop our list of the best places to work for the fifth straight year, the company attracts more than 2 million job applicants a year and hires only about 4,000 of them.

“It’s easier to get into MIT than it is to get hired by Google,” notes Tom Leung, who spent three years there as a product manager. “Google is very, very picky, because they can afford to be.” Leung is founder and CEO of Poachable, a job site launched just two months ago that aims, as the name suggests, to match companies that have IT job openings with “passive” candidates who are already working elsewhere but might be open to better offers.

When Leung’s team surveyed thousands of techies to ask who they’d most want to be poached by, 55% picked Google—five times as many as would entertain an offer from second-place Apple (11%), and seven times the 8% who want to work for Amazon. Says Leung, “I expected Google to come out on top, but I was surprised by how huge the gap is.”

A big part of Google’s appeal is that it’s “an engineer’s dream,” says Leung. “Engineers really want to work on hard technical challenges, like self-driving cars, drones, and wearable technology.” Obviously, most companies aren’t making those things. Even so, any company can match Google, or at least come close, in other respects. Leung says almost all the 2,000 techies who have signed on to Poachable so far are looking for three things: work-life balance, generous pay, and a clear career path.

“When we ask IT people, ‘What are your must-have criteria for a new job?’ almost all of them mention time for a life outside of work,” says Leung. “Certain tech companies are known for expecting everyone to work 70 hours a week and sucking all the energy right out of people so they have nothing left over.” To attract tech talent, don’t get that reputation, Leung suggests. “Keep an eye on the number of hours people are working.”

Below-market pay is another reason techies sign up to be poached, as is the lack of “interesting career prospects,” he says. Google gets high marks for both—but so can other employers, many of whom aren’t even tech companies.

The biggest reason not to worry about competing with Google, Leung says, is simply that you probably don’t need the same people. “Google is like the Olympics, but not every team does better with an Olympic athlete on it,” he points out. “You may be better off with a strong, seasoned player who has the particular skills you happen to need.”

Employers will also have to get used to the idea that “talent is temporary these days. IT people get so many job offers that any company has to be prepared to lose some of them,” he says. “The employers on Poachable have told me they feel a little guilty about ‘stealing’ talent from other companies. But then, they’re well aware that some of their own employees have signed up, too.”