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A Few Tips for Recruiters

  • Moscow, Russia
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career

Recruiters, you know what we programmers think about you, don’t you? Read this and this, to get the full picture. You are still here because we still don’t have good tools and we still enjoy being enslaved. One day this will be over and you will stop exploiting our drawbacks, will lose your “Senior Recruiter” jobs, and start doing something useful and meaningful. However, until this day comes, here is some advice, to help you be a less annoying better head hunter.

The Fifth Element (1997) by Luc Besson
The Fifth Element (1997) by Luc Besson

Recruitment is very much like dating. And you, like it or not, are a match maker. Just like those marriage brokers organize dates and help people fall in love, you help us break up with the company we’re married to and fall in love with a new one.

The best date happens when people research each other beforehand. You too, should come prepared. When I get an email from a recruiter that starts with a description of the job, I most likely just delete it. Instead, to catch our attention, the letter should start with an explanation of why you decided to reach out: Maybe you already know something about me? Maybe you read my code on GitHub? Maybe someone told you about me? Maybe you know what language I’m coding with? When you are interested in me, I will be much more interested in you, and the company you represent, and the job you are trying to match me with.

It’s Not About You

It’s important to remember that you are my match maker, but not my date. I’m not interested in a date with you. I want to have a date with people who I will work for. In most cases, you are a temporary person, who will disappear once I’m hired. That’s why you will do yourself a big favor if you position yourself the right way. Compare these two:

Jeff Amy
Hello, I’ve got a database of 5,000 single ladies. I can help you find your soul mate!Hey, I know Silva, she seems to be a perfect match for you, how about I introduce you two?

Jeff is trying to sell himself. He has the database! He knows the ladies! I should talk to him! He is my new friend!… No, not really, this is not what I want. I don’t want you, Jeff. Sorry. I’m not interested in knowing or dating you. Delete.

Amy, on the other hand, puts Silva in front. This is who I want to know: Silva! Amy is just a temporary middleman middlewoman. She is not even trying to sell herself, even though, I’m sure, she also has a database of ladies, and so on. Technically speaking, she is no different than Jeff, but she presents herself right: “I’m here just to introduce you to Silva, that’s it!” Amy, I like you, I reply!

How about these two:

Jeff Amy
Hi, we’re looking for a Java developer to join our new project for online payments, can you send your updated CV?Hey, I showed your profile to our Java tech lead, he is very interested in talking to you, may I introduce you?

Which message do you think has a higher chance of being answered? I bet Jeff’s email will be replied to only by those who don’t care much where they work. For them, seeing a new job opportunity in their Inbox is enough to click “Reply”. But ask yourself: does your company need those people?

Do You Understand the Market?

Dating, just like head hunting, is about finding the right people. First finding, and then reaching. It’s not a problem to just approach a Java developer and schedule an interview. Most probably you, as a recruiter, are not paid for each interview you arrange. You are paid for “a placement” you make—when the developer is actually hired. We will be hired only when there is a good match. So, your first task is to find those who potentially are a good match. You have to research the market and create a map of talents.

I would start with a list of key people on the market, who are the most visible and the best, whatever that means. If your hiring focus is small enough (this is how it should be), you will identify just a few dozen key people. Then, starting from them, you dig deeper and find out where they work, who works in their teams, where they worked before, and so on. Check the conferences and workshops where people present their ideas and achievements. Check their GitHub accounts and see who else is committing to their projects. Do whatever it takes, but make the map. Maybe even pay a private detective to collect the data you can’t find in the Internet: who do they drink beer with, where do they spend their vacations, who do they sleep with, etc. I’m kidding here, but you get the idea: you need to know the market!

Then, once you know your target market, the best way would be to make it approach you. Think about this: the best people are hardly reading job boards, they don’t post their CVs anywhere, don’t make their LinkedIn pages “open for hiring offers,” and usually don’t reply to recruiters (for various reasons). Simply put, they have better things to do than talk to you. It’s hard to approach them. Sometimes even impossible.

But you can make them come to you, if you do something that will be interesting for them. For example, if you organize a competition for new open source projects with a prize fund of $1M. It’s very likely that the best people will come to you to compete for this money. There you will have a chance to talk to them. You don’t have a million dollars to give away just to hire the best people? Sad… Maybe you can organize a workshop where people meet to discuss Java and invite those who you want to approach? There are many options. Just give them something they are interested in and they will want to know you.

Formal Emails Get Deleted

If you don’t have a million dollars and you don’t have time to make a good conference for them, you have to do cold calls. Well, more like cold emails and cold LinkedIn messages. I suggest you sound short and informal. Compare these two:

Jeff Amy
Dear Sarah,

My name is Jeff, I’m a recruiter in ACME Inc. We have a new interesting project that needs senior Java developers. The requirements for this position can be found in the attached document.

Please, send me your updated CV if you are interested.

Sincerely Yours,
Jeffrey Lebowski
ACME Inc.
Palo Alto, CA
Sarah, we’ve never met before but I showed your GitHub to our Head of Dev and she asked me to email you. Her team is making a new payment platform and they lack expertise in big data. How about you two talk?

BR,
Amy

Jeff’s message is just wrong, on so many levels: it explicitly says that Jeff is a recruiter (nobody likes recruiters!), it doesn’t say anything about why Jeff is approaching Sarah, and it’s too formal and official. To me the letter seems to be template-based, while only the name of the recipient is replaced (which is not always the case—I’m getting many emails that start with Hello, %NAME%).

The message from Amy is much better: there is nothing in it that tells me that Amy is a recruiter! Maybe she is a programmer from the team? Maybe she is a CEO of the company? I don’t know. And I don’t want to imagine her being a recruiter. I imagine her being a member of the team, who is really interested in my stuff on GitHub. She is someone who studied my work and got interested. She is already my friend. That’s why I reply.

Cut Corners for Me

The biggest disadvantage of Jeff’s email and the advantage of Amy’s is in the way they present the hiring process to me, the candidate. Jeff is sending me requirements and right from the start makes it look very long and official. I immediately imagine a series of interviews, a bunch of forms to fill up, a month-long journey full of stress. Do I want to start that if my current job is more or less OK? No, I don’t. On the other hand, Amy, right from the first message, suggested connecting me with the hiring manager, who is already interested in me. Maybe there will be a full official process of hiring. Most likely! But I already have the key person on my side: the Head of Dev. The rest will just be formalities.

Try to put yourself in my shoes. I don’t know your team, I don’t know the project, I’m scared of change, and I’m not sure I should do it. It’s easier for me to stay where I am. Also remember that for most people changing jobs is very similar to betrayal: they quit the team, which relies on them. You are the person who turns them into traitors. Try to make this journey of stress and treachery look simpler for them:

Jeff Amy
Bob,

Send me your updated CV and we will take it from there.

Sincerely,
Jeff
Bob,

Let me take a look at your CV. Here is how we usually do this: first, you have an interview with the Head of Dev; then, our chief architect talks to you; finally, our HR guys will have a quick call with you; and in about a week we give you an offer. The entire process usually takes up to a month. How does it sound for you? Ready to start a trip? :)

BR,
Amy

I believe it’s obvious that Amy is doing a much better job of helping Bob understand what he has to be prepared for. We are scared of things we don’t understand or don’t know. You don’t want your candidates to be scared of you. You want them to feel comfortable.

The best way to attract us candidates is to show that you are ready to simplify the hiring process especially for us. Well, for me only. Not for everybody. For example:

Jeff Amy
Bob,

Send me your updated CV and I’ll get the ball rolling. There will be two online interviews and then we will invite you to the office for the final one. Before we start, I kindly ask you to sign the attached form about personal data disclosure. It’s just a formality.

Yours,
Jeff
Bob,

I need your CV and then I think I can optimize our hiring process a bit: instead of three interviews there will be just two. How does that sound?

BR,
Amy

Smells like a sales trick? It is.

Don’t Loose the Intrigue

The best companies, I believe, try to find a job position for a person, instead of finding a person for a position. In other words, they invite the best people and then let them decide what’s the best application of their skills and expertise. That’s why the less specific you are about your “requirements,” the better. Just “we have problems with big data” is more than enough for a job description. The rest of it you will explain later, on the first interview. You don’t tell your requirements to someone you just caught sight of in a bar, do you? The same here. Remember, recruiting is dating—you have to keep the intrigue up.

Instead of saying what you need and sending the job description, briefly explain the problems your team is facing:

Jeff Amy
Bob,

We are looking for a Java developer who knows Spring Framework, MySQL, and XML. You need to have at least five years of hands-on coding experience. You need to be familiar with the payment processing domain.

Yours,
Jeff
Bob,

We are making a payment processing app and use Spring, MySQL, and XML. Our team lacks expertise in this new domain. We need help, both in form of advice and daily coding.

BR,
Amy

Jeff is placing his requirements on top, which hardly sounds attractive. Just like in dating, such an arrogant attitude is not helpful at all. Instead, Amy is talking about problems she and her team are facing. It’s up to Bob to decide whether there is a fit or not.

I would suggest making your job descriptions as undemanding as possible. Your goal is to attract the best candidate, not to find those who are ready to put up with whatever you write in the job description. Write about problems and issues you expect your candidates to solve. Don’t focus too much on the expectations you have for them. Of cause you have those expectations, but putting them right on the table at the first date is a silly idea.

That’s all. Happy recruiting!

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