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The year was 2017, and a senior developer at a local startup was mulling a power move.
“I had one recruiter I was working with for a bit, applying for a job that I was already unsure about taking but I was going to give it a try anyway because I wanted to find a new job,” said the developer, who asked not to be named, in a Slack DM. “The communication was fine from the start and I received an offer, but I then decided I did not want to take the offer.”
That’s when it all went downhill. The recruiter began calling and sending several emails a day. Although the decision was final, they wouldn’t let up.
“A few months later they contacted me again for a similar role,” said the engineer, who now works at an AI-focused startup. “I again said I didn’t want [it] because it wasn’t what I was looking for at the time. It just felt like they were more trying to push me to fill a role rather than trying to help me find something that was right for me.”
Developer Kristin Everham had a similar experience after giving a recruiter a recommendation for a former coworker. The recruiter then began calling every three months to ask Everham how she felt in her current job.
“After the third phone call, I just asked them to never call me again and take me off every list,” said Everham. “I get why it’s in their best interest to keep in touch with me. But it just felt like borderline harassment at that point.”
TL;DR: Tech recruiters don’t have a great reputation among developers. But is there an appropriate recruiter approach? What is it that ultimately gets a top-notch engineer to engage with a recruiter?
For Govinda Vyas, a product manager at digital marketing agency Netplus, there are three specific things that would make him more likely to pick up on a cold outreach from a recruiter:
- Being presented a role that actually reflects his title, skills and location (“No, I’m not interested in an IT support job in Moorestown, N.J.”)
- A transparent salary range, “especially if it’s a substantial bump from my current salary (15 percent or more)”
- Signs of trouble at his current company (layoffs, senior staff exiting)
“Even if it doesn’t lead to an in-person interview, it’s a good reason to refresh your resume and see if the market rate for your position has changed since you started your current job,” said Vyas.
Another constant? Maybe phone calls are best saved as a last resort.
“I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t take a phone call specifically,” said D.C.-based engineer Laurie Barth. “I normally won’t answer numbers I don’t already recognize and I certainly am not comfortable answering a call from a recruiter in the middle of my work day.”
Barth, who has been a developer for the past seven years and works for Arlington, Va.-based consulting company Ten Mile Square Technologies, says she’s more akin to entertaining a LinkedIn message or email, and that there’s nothing wrong with keeping tabs on what companies are out there, what they’re doing and what skills are most in demand.
“If it’s a clearly personal message where they’ve done their research and come up with a position that actually matches my skill set, I’ll normally respond quickly even if I’m not interested,” Barth said. “I appreciate the effort and want to keep that line of communication open should I ever be interested in looking for a new role.”
For Baltimore-based Charles Bushong, who’s been a developer since 2007 and is currently with digital services firm Fearless, the pitches that get his attention are the ones that are direct and to the point: They have a salary range in the subject line and details that pertain to his specific line of work.
“If they don’t list a salary I ignore the email,” Bushong said. “I’ll sometimes respond to recruiters to tell them what’s wrong with the email.”
Bushong sent this reporter a cold email he received from a recruiting firm and signaled what he believes to be red flags:
- Multiple jobs: “A lack of focus gives a feeling that they’re casting a very wide net”
- Generic pitch: “No indication they looked up anything specifically about me, other than found my email associated with ‘AWS’ somewhere.”
- It’s a recruiting firm: Bushong said he avoids pitches from staffing firms, since potential hiring bonus would have a headhunter’s fee carved out.
- Vague description: Pitches with no company name, salary range, benefits, task descriptions or size of team get a no-no from Bushong.
Ultimately, ideal recruiter approaches share three common traits: respect, empathy and specificity. Justin Copenhaver, a former IBM engineer and founder of Philly-based Urality, succinctly sums it up:
“In the past, I’ve also resorted to telling recruiters EXACTLY what I was looking for and that I’d essentially blacklist them if they didn’t honor that,” Copenhaver told this reporter via LinkedIn. “They have to do a better job of understanding candidates before they start spamming with job opportunities that may or may not be an ideal fit.”
P.S. Technical.ly’s ebook “Beyond Recruiting” features stories from dozens of companies that are experimenting with ways to highlight company culture, engage their local tech community and create new ways to recruit top tier tech talent. Grab it for free below.-30-
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