How to recruit a developer

Typical recruitment pattern

The wrong way

I, like many software developers, get messages from recruiters in spurts. A couple of weeks will pass silently and then in one week I’ll get three or four LinkedIn messages, a couple of embarrassingly generic emails, and maybe even a call.

The messages are all about the same. Here’s one, slightly anonymized, with my gratuitous commentary.

From: Bob
Subject: QA Tester in [nearby city] for amazing company (permanent)
Isaac, Hope your Thursday is going well. I wanted to reach out because I like your experience at Direct Sale and that you graduated from BYU.

You “like” my experience? Um, what? Also, the company is called “DirectScale” (copy and paste, bro). And yes, I did graduate from BYU but I got an English degree so that really has nothing to do with this. If you’re going to spout random details from my LinkedIn profile, at least try to make sense.

How are things currently going and how open are you to a new opportunity?

This would have been a great question to lead out with. Things are going great. I’m very happy where I’m at and I haven’t been shopping for jobs. I’m not open to a new opportunity unless it’s seriously earth-shattering. I have a feeling it won’t be.

I have a client located in [nearby city] that is looking for a QA manual tester to add to their team. This company was formed to develop inventory management software for their parent company.

I don’t expect you to know this from my profile picture alone, but I have never been a manual tester. For the brief period of time that I did QA, I was a test engineer (read: low-ranking coder). On the upside, I have always wanted to create “inventory management software.” What a rush that must be! Especially if I’m doing it for a parent company.

They have been tremendously successful and have plans on selling this software to other companies as well.

By “tremendously successful” do you mean that their parent company thinks their software is useful and hasn’t shut them down yet? Wow, that’s really cool. But not as cool as them wishing they had more clients! Just imagine all the success they’re going to have in the under-served niche of “inventory management.”

This is a small shop (only 12 total employees) so your work will absolutely stand out here. This is a tight knit group with a lot of potential.

Replace “potential” with “money” and you might have something to tweet about.

Amazing culture, free food, golf simulator, pool table and ping pong.

Everybody has snacks and table tennis. That’s not “culture.”

If you are interested in more responsibility and growth opportunity in your career with direct access to your boss (no going through a bunch of middle men), then this opportunity could be for you.

I joined my company a year ago. It had 20 employees and a few small clients. The clients we’re signing now are doing over a billion in revenue. We have launches scheduled as far in the future as we can possibly schedule them. Our development process is unbelievably good, so I am 100% confident in our growth and retention as time goes on. My stock options are getting stretch marks.

Also, the COO’s office is 30 feet from my desk. I can wave to him any time I want.

Let me know if you are interested in hearing more and I can give you more information. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you,
Director of Technical Recruiting

Sorry Bob. You didn’t make this opportunity sound appealing at all.

I try to be a nice person, so I responded graciously, told him that the opportunity wasn’t terribly interesting to me, and invited him to get in touch in a few years.

The right way

Not all recruiters are robotic and crass like our friend Bob.

About a month ago I got a phone call. I don’t usually answer calls from unrecognized numbers but this time I did. The person on the other end introduced herself, explained that she’s a technical recruiter working with multiple clients, and asked if I had a minute to introduce myself and tell her about my technical experience.

She was disarmingly warm and charismatic. She had done her homework — it sounded like she knew my online resume by heart. She wasn’t in a rush. And I could tell she wasn’t interested in spamming me with opportunities that didn’t fit.

After a brief (and surprisingly pleasant) conversation about my experience and preferences as a coder, she asked me to tell her about my current job. So I told her how happy I am and how well they treat me. And she listened.

How do I know she was listening?

Because she didn’t go on to tell me about an “amazing opportunity” with a “local company” that has “great benefits.” Not even once. By that point, she had gotten to know my situation well enough to realize that I wasn’t interested in going anywhere. So instead she asked me how soon she could check back in. I told her if she wants to chat every six months, that’s fine with me.

When (if ever) it’s time to move on from my current company, she’ll be the first person I talk to.

I was so impressed with her recruiting style that I referred two friends to her. I’ve never done that before. And I’m confident that she’ll be as likable with them as she was with me.

How did the field of recruiting become so crazed and ineffective that a recruiter can stand out just by being friendly and personable?

Here’s one more example of effective recruiting.

Maybe you don’t have 79,000 Twitter followers like this guy does. I get that. I have about 30. That’s not the point, though. He provided all the relevant information about the job in one sentence and did it in a discreet, unpretentious way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also sent an email one-liner to a few carefully-selected acquaintances.

The bottom line is, this guy’s not annoying anyone. And he doesn’t have to.

Coders and recruiters really have the same goal. Coders want a job that fits them well, grows their skills, challenges them, and takes care of them. Recruiters want to fill positions with people that will stick around and do a good job. Or at least, that’s how it should be. So why can’t we all work together?

My dream recruitment

The year is 2035. I am an experienced .NET and front-end senior developer/architect. I have experience with a few niche libraries and am therefore highly sought after in certain sectors.

It’s Tuesday and I get a voicemail. “My name is Steve,” it says. “I’m a technical recruiter and I’d like to get to know you. Could we do lunch on me next week? I’ll come to you. Feel free to bring a friend. Text or call me when you get a moment. Thanks!”

I text back, “How’s Wednesday? I like subs.”

He responds in minutes. “I’ve scheduled you in for noon next Wednesday at the Firehouse Subs on 16th North. I’ve studied your resume already, so all you need to do is show up.”

He shows up on time for lunch and foots the bill nonchalantly.

He’s friendly and funny, and we hit it off. He takes a genuine interest in my work and asks a lot of intelligent questions.

As I’m finishing off my sub, he says, “It’s been great getting to know you. I have a number of opportunities I’m looking to match someone with, but none of them really call for someone with your expertise. Now that I know what you’re good at, is it okay if I get back in touch when something more relevant comes along?”

“Sure,” I say. “And I’ll definitely give you a call if I start feeling like it’s time to move on.” I add him to a small, carefully-curated mental list of recruiters I like.

We part ways. I recommend him to all my friends. A year later, when the company I’m working for goes under, I call him. He remembers who I am and what I specialize in. He promises to set up an interview for me right away.

His next email says, “I found a company that’s looking for a senior front-end developer with a knack for the MengberJS framework. That’s your thing, right? The company is called MegaTronics and they’ve created a popular software-driven hydraulics system for self-driving cars (they’ve been written up in Wired Magazine and Ars; you’ll have an easy time finding cool stuff they’ve done online). They pay between 120 and 140K for devs at your level and most of the senior devs get their own office. They’re well-funded, five years old, and oddly enough, the development team has a hip-hop dance-off every Wednesday afternoon. Could you do an interview with them next week?”

He gets his commission, I get another job I love, and the universe resumes its routine.

Tl;dr (do’s and don’ts) for recruiters

Do half an hour (no excuses!) of basic Google and social research on every candidate before you contact them. If they have projects on GitHub, a Stack Overflow profile, or a personal website, do a deep scan and learn as much about them as you can. If you find out they’re not right for what you’re hiring for, leave them alone.

Don’t spam-contact several developers per day via LinkedIn or email. Just stop it.

Don’t use the words “great,” “amazing,” “incredible” or “unique” when describing a job opening. You have ruined these words. They mean nothing to us.

Don’t present a job description and company profile to a stranger.

Do get to know each candidate. Actually talk to them in real time and find out what their passion is.

Don’t present a job opportunity to someone unless you’re certain that they’re a good fit and open to changing jobs.

Don’t tell someone they’re a “good match” or talk about “culture fit” unless you’ve met them in person.

Don’t say the same things that everyone else says. For example, nobody cares if a company is a “rock star team” and “does things right” and “really is so amazing, really.” Don’t talk about ping pong, foosball and snacks. Don’t tell us about stock options. We expect those things. Tell us about the indoor trampoline, the weekend frisbee tournaments, the geeky toys, the annual company Star Wars party. Tell us about your innovative product discovery process. Tell us about the company’s last trip to Copenhagen. Brag about how ethnically and gender-diverse your dev team is. If you can tell us five things we’ve never heard before, you’ll have our full attention.

Do show off cool projects the company has worked on.

Don’t pester us. We are professional email checkers. We saw your message the first time.

Do treat us like real people. We recognize copied-and-pasted emails from a mile away. We are in comfortably high demand and we know it. This doesn’t mean we get to act like divas, but it does mean we want to be more than a commission to you.

Do learn the basic terminology of the position you’re hiring for. We can smell cluelessness. Every time you say “AngularJS” without really knowing what it is, that’s one strike.

Last, do us all a favor and introduce yourself. We’re not our jobs and neither are you. We are far more likely to talk to a person than a spam bot. So be a person.