Double Your Talent Acquisition: Five Do's and Don'ts For Technical Recruiters

Are you a technical recruiter?

Is it starting to feel like a cold, cold, world out there?

Like it or not, there are a lot of companies competing for technical talent right now and it’s hard to differentiate yourself. But you may be making mistakes that could be avoided, and overlooking things that could be used to help improve your conversion rate. How would you like to source more talent, make your clients and recruits happier, and generally recruit like a boss?

I’m a developer that receives a fair share of attention from talent acquisition specialists, and I’m here to tell you about ten things you can do or stop doing to improve your success rate (from the other side, so you know it’s legit).

I hope to help good recruiters source the talent they need to source, while making things a lot less irritating for the talent that gets spammed with endless offers to jump through administrative hoops and maybe get a new job offer.

Here are Nate’s Do’s:

  1. Hustle
  2. Flatter us
  3. Bribe us
  4. Get a technical person to contact candidates FIRST
  5. Cater to our laziness

And here are Nate’s Don’ts:

  1. Message us or “connect” with us on LinkedIn
  2. Modify or botch our resume
  3. Act like what you’re selling is unqiue or indispensable
  4. Show up at our current place of employment
  5. Be clueless about technology

Let’s do this!

Do’s

Hustle.

If you are recruiting you are most definitely selling.

All of sales is a conversation. It is about building a relationship, and it is about mutual fulfillment. You need to get paid, and candidates need to have a good job.

The worst way to sell something is this:

“Hey, uh, you need any X?”

HELL NO! I DO NOT NEED ANY X! It immediately puts people on the defensive. You’ve seen people botch these kinds of sales before, I guarantee it. Whether they are selling Cutco knives, cable, or vacuum cleaners, you’ve seen someone try to peddle their wares this way and get shut down, hard.

And what do they do after they get rejected? They sulk away and never try again.

Don’t be this guy. Be the Ultimate Sales Machine.

Start a (two-way) conversation. What are the needs of the people you are trying to recruit? Who are they? Where can you meet them in real life?

Let’s say you want to hire PHP developers. Where would you find such a rare creature? Oh, I know! On LinkedIn, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. Every developer worth her salt is getting an endless parade of messages and contact requests on LinkedIn right now, and most of them aren’t worth digging into. You might get lucky, but you probably won’t.

Instead, look for PHP meetups in the area. Alternatively, source at events such as hackathons and conventions, and take a legitimate interest in the lives of developers and their interests. Most recruiters don’t seem to do this. Intstead, they all stick to the same tired venues (career fairs, Dice, LinkedIn, etc.).

This is the same reason why people pursuing mates are encouraged to go to bookstores, yoga classes, hiking groups and so on instead of bars and clubs. The odds of meeting someone who is a good fit are just so much better.

Because you are creating a true connection. Because you are creating value.

The truth is that your true competition isn’t other recruiters. Most of them are pretty average at what they do. Your competition is video games, the Internet, relationships, and all the other things that are more important to us than talking to you.

Do yourself a favor and make it worth our while to talk to you.

Hustle.

Flatter us.

Are you mentioning specifics in your pitch about why you think the candidate would be a good fit, down to details such as “I really enjoyed your article on the Rapportive hack” or “Looks like you are a pretty active JavaScripter on Github. We love active open source contributors!”?

Many of the best candidates have put stuff out there online for the world to see, because people who are great often love to share their greatness. I would be willing to bet that 90% of recruiters do not flatter these guys and gals. Perhaps they are simply too lazy or simple-minded. They can’t see things from someone else’s perspective.

Yet, they still expect people to endure the hassle of actually talking to them.

Would you rather talk to someone who loves your work, and is familiar with it, or someone who is sending out the same spray-and-pray message to everyone in the area? We are all human here, we love having our egos stroked. And programmers have some of the biggest egos you’ll ever meet, which makes them especially vulnerable to this kind of flattery.

So flatter us.

Bribe us.

I’m not talking about huge stuff here.

What I mean is, differentiate yourself by giving little gifts. Know that the candidate you’re chasing loves coffee? Send them a bag of beans or, better yet, take them out for a fancy Aeropress brew. One time a recruiter dropped off a case of Red Bull at our office which, while violating my rule to not show up at our current place of employment (a major drag), at least showed that he knew where we were coming from a bit.

Nothing gets a caffiene junkie’s attention better than free caffiene.

Nothing gets a gamer’s attention like a Steam gift card (no matter how small).

Carpet bomb big swaths of potential candidates with little trinkets and oddities if you can.

Want some of the candidates you’re chasing to stare at your company’s logo for hours at a time? Give them a branded Rubik’s cube. Or give them a pen or mechanical pencil with your contact information - I never seem to be able to get enough pens. They always come in handy.

It’s the little things like this that will get candidates to start warming to you. Look at it this way: Let’s say you get a $1500 commission for each candidate that converts. You spend $5 on gift cards for 5 candidates, and only one of those candidates converts. You’re still $1475 ahead.

Go ahead. Bribe us.

Get a technical person to contact candidates FIRST.

I can’t seem to dig up the link, but I remember a case study from a start-up where they had technical people (VP Engineering, Lead Developer, Dev Manager etc.) contact candidates instead of recruiters. This increased their response rate dramatically.

This is not surprising to me. Every time I receive an e-mail from a technical person, I’m way more inclined to respond because I feel like that person “gets” me. I know that they will know what JavaScript and Python and MongoDB are. I know that they have shared my pains and elations in the trenches working on a real-world technology project. I can ask them what they think about e.g. unit testing and get a real answer.

It is a lot more encouraging to hear from a technical person first, and then get handed off to HR / recruiting later. So at least for the first e-mail, consider wrangling your friendly neighborhood developer into sending it.

You probably don’t even have to convince them to write it themselves. Just whip up a draft and have them run over it before sending it out. If they are a good developer, they will get viscerally uncomfortable if they come across as sounding stupid and fix these parts for you.

Get technical people to be the first point of contact for technical roles.

Cater to our laziness

Remember that you’re fighting an uphill battle. You have to actually persuade people to go through the (probably painful) process of interviewing at a company. In doing this, they have to face something that is probably a great source of mental anguish for them (it is for most of us): the possibility of rejection.

An interview is not a guaranteed offer. It is an invitation to be rejected. Therefore, the lazy person will avoid this unpleasantness altogether. In order to go through the dog and pony show, they need a reason, and they need encouragement.

They need to have a (probably powerful) incentive. And every single roadblock, minor inconvinience or show-stopper they meet along the way is going to either chip away at that incentive, or destroy it completely. They are going to be brutally apathetic towards you.

Programmers especially are notorious for this. Most of us decided to start doing what we do because we were sick of doing things manually, so we automated them instead.

We are lazy.

We may not respond to your emails right away, or at all. We may not suggest a time to have a call.

Instead of resenting this or trying to swim upstream against this natural way of things, use it to your advantage.

Be persistent (but not pushy). Ping us if we don’t e-mail you back over the course of a few days. Don’t forget about us.

Suggest a time to have a call. They will correct you if it is no good.

Instead of pestering them for a Word version of their resume, do the conversion yourself.

All in all, just take the initiative and remember that the more work you make the candidate do, the less likely they are to convert. They are busy and they are lazy.

So cater to our laziness.

Don’ts

Message us or “connect” with us on LinkedIn

There may be some wiggle room here, and I know your gut reaction is probably vehemently against this, since it runs completely against everything you’ve probably been doing.

But let me ask you this: How’s it been working? You have any numbers on what your actual conversion rate for candidates you attempt to recruit from LinkedIn?

My guess is that it’s pretty abysmal. Because it’s what everyone else is doing. LinkedIn is a necessary evil that most of us use to maintain shallow business relationships. For recruiters it looks like gold, since it’s a database of many possible candidates.

But nothing beats an e-mail, and nothing gets ignored quicker than a LinkedIn message or a connect request from someone I don’t know. Our e-mail inbox is where we all hang out all day, and it’s ever more personal than anything LinkedIn could ever hope to offer. In fact, it’s why LinkedIn themselves spams your e-mail inbox so hard. They know its power. They’d like nothing more than to get their greedy little paws on all of your contact information.

So if you can, send them an e-mail. It’s usually not too hard to get ahold of someone’s email. Github and personal sites are a good place to check, and a little Google-fu might do you good as well. If these don’t yield anything, try to track it down through real people first. Alternatively, get those people to make an introduction.

You should only resort to LinkedIn tactics if you absolutely have to. Nothing in life is free.

Modify or botch our resume

Note: this advice goes beyond recruiters and into the realm of, say, consulting houses that are shopping around their candidates to prospective clients.

I’m a geek.

My resume is done in LaTeX.

I understand that PDF may not sometimes be the best format for your purposes, and don’t really mind if you port it to other formats, as long as it still looks nice. I’m not super happy about it, since I much prefer the PDF version, but I don’t really mind.

But God help you if you modify it. You start getting into really dangerous territory, really fast.

For starters, it could potentially be embarassing if you misrepresent the candidate. They presumably put a lot of time and effort into the way they are presenting themselves professionally, and now you are mucking it all up. Even seemingly mundane things could end up being very harmful later. If the candidate finds out that you did this, they WILL hate you for life.

Don’t modify even a single word on our resume. Just don’t.

Act like what you’re selling is unique or indispensable

We’re not talking to you because you’re unique or special or indispensable.

We’re talking to you because we’re possibly interested in something that you’re selling.

And whatever it is that you’re selling, we could get it somewhere else.

So don’t act like you’re God’s gift to job-seekers, or whatever, even if you work for a hot company that everyone wants to work at. You will turn off far more candidates than you will impress with arrogance. Instead, adopt an attitude that you are trying to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Both parties can benefit, and both parties should be respectful of the other. As mentioned earlier in this essay, getting a new job is a pain. Do your best to alleviate this pain.

Candidate can only talk at six? That’s when you’re talking.

The more you act entitled and indispensable, the worse your conversion rates will be.

Show up at our current place of employment

I can’t even believe that this one needs to be said, but there have been a few instances with my current job alone that make me feel like there are some recruiters with screws loose in their heads.

I already mentioned the recruiter that dropped off the Red Bull (he was actually looking to talk to a specific person employed there). Recently, however, I had another run-in that was more dramatic. Let me tell you a story.

I was starting to get into my morning groove, sipping some coffee when I got a Skype message from Jill, our administrative assistant.

JILL: “[some recruiter I’d never heard of] from [recruiting agency] is asking for you”

ME: “Wait, like he’s literally here at the front desk?”

JILL: “He’s here, at the front desk”

I was going to ignore it, hoping he’d go away, when I got another message from Jill:

JILL: “Please come save me”

So, I left my desk had the flow of my morning interrupted to go talk to some random guy, who happened to have come across my profile on LinkedIn.

I called him out for being rude and he scurried away, insisting that he was “trying to help our company recruit” and not trying to recruit me. It left me pretty appalled that someone would show up and interrupt my day unprompted for their own purposes, whatever they may be.

Honestly? What the fuck, recruiters?

Don’t show up at someone’s current place of employment.

Be clueless about technology

More than anything else, this will hurt your performance and get you all the worst kinds of candidates.

How can you possibly hope to recruit people if you don’t understand what they do?

If you think you don’t need to learn about technology to recruit technical candidates, then I honestly hope that you fail miserably. You are doing a disservice to everyone involved and you are the reason that recruiters get a bad rap.

For instance, if you need to recruit Java folks, know what Java is (and please for the love of God know the difference between Java and JavaScript). Create a project in it. Try to learn at least a little bit of the fundamentals. If candidates are any good they will ask you questions about technical things. Know what Jetty, JBoss, and Mockito are.

Until you have this knowledge, you will not recruit people who are legitimately excited and enthusiastic to talk to you.

You will recruit people who see you as a necessary evil.

Is that what you want?

If this intimidates you, just ask your friendly neighborhood developer to help. Perhaps they can whiteboard some things out for you so that you understand them better, or walk you through basic programming stuff. Many great developers LOVE teaching, and they will be excited that you want to know more about what they do. Taking an interest in someone is one of the most sure-fire ways to make them like you.

Don’t be clueless about technology.

Conclusion

This was a long-winded article but I hope it makes the recruitment process a lot more comfortable for everyone.

Please send me your crazy recruiter stories if you have them! I’d love to hear.

Stay sassy Internet, and double those acquisitions.

  • Nathan