Nik Kantar

Friday, August 29, 2014

How Not to Recruit a Developer

An irritated dissection of an unappealing recruiter email.

As probably every developer with any kind of a web presence (website, blog, LinkedIn profile, GitHub account with some projects, etc.), I get a fair number of "great job offer" emails. I've managed to decrease the amount of spam by disabling as many ways of LinkedIn communication as I could, but some recruiters still manage to get through, which is fine.

What's not fine is how pointless some of these emails are. They tend to be painfully obviously template-based with some random details about me sprinkled throughout to make me think they were written just for me. And while I understand that recruiters are busy people, I am too, and I'm not going to devote my attention to someone who can't be bothered to compose a message solely to me.

Uncle Sam

Let's illustrate the problem with an example I received recently:

Hi Nikola,

Please pardon this unsolicited interruption, I found your contact information on your website (http://nkantar.com/).

I was recently hired by a L.A.-based software company to help expand the development team. We need a lead software engineer for a role that combines a CSS-AJAX front-end with mobile apps for users (back-end is PHP-Codeigniter).

I think you might find this position interesting, it touches on many of your skills (as reflected in some of the information you put out there). It is also an opportunity to focus long-term on a major software product and solve complicated technical problems while working for a company where software is the core business, not an auxiliary function.

Please let me know if you might be interested, I'd be happy to share more information about the company and the product.

Thanks,

[name redacted]

P.S.: I'm not a recruiter, I work directly for the hiring company

On first glance, the email appears to be written by someone who knows about me and has taken the time to personalize it. However, if we dig a bit deeper into its pieces, we'll find that this isn't the case after all.

Let's start with the introduction:

Hi Nikola,

Please pardon this unsolicited interruption, I found your contact information on your website (http://nkantar.com/).

So far so good: my name and the site referenced are correct. (My nonfiction writing professor wouldn't have hesitated to point out a fantastic opportunity to use a semi-colon, and I'd have been OK with just a "but" after the comma, but it's relatively minor.)

I was recently hired by a L.A.-based software company to help expand the development team. We need a lead software engineer for a role that combines a CSS-AJAX front-end with mobile apps for users (back-end is PHP-Codeigniter).

"A L.A.-based"? Not "an LA-based"? OK, fine, I guess can forgive one transgression — it happens to everyone, right?

More importantly, we have hits with CSS, AJAX, and frontend, which relate to my professional experience. However, that's not how my site phrased it at the time. In fact, as my career path is somewhat changing, I very deliberately referred to "most of my experience [...] in the ubiquitous LAMP + front end stack" and the fact that "I like to play with Python and Ruby in my spare time". There was no specific mention of CSS or AJAX (even if implied), but there was certainly an emphasis on the backend.

I think you might find this position interesting, it touches on many of your skills (as reflected in some of the information you put out there). It is also an opportunity to focus long-term on a major software product and solve complicated technical problems while working for a company where software is the core business, not an auxiliary function.

"Some of the information [I] put out there"? What? As in the information that used to live on my site but hasn't for months now? Or the résumé that I stopped circulating over a year ago? I expect anyone who doesn't already know me and is contacting me about work to at the very least glance at my site beforehand.

Please let me know if you might be interested, I'd be happy to share more information about the company and the product.

I think this means I'm supposed to about what the company does. If I have to ask for more information about the one significant part of the message that could be copy/pasted, I won't do it. It's quite tedious and somewhat offensive to expect me to invest more effort into this opportunity than the person bringing it to my attention.

Thanks,

[name redacted]

P.S.: I'm not a recruiter, I work directly for the hiring company

No period at the end of the very last sentence of the message. Is it a cliffhanger? Will there be more at the same time next week? I just can't wait!

My interest in this opportunity went from casual to nonexistent, and this didn't help.

What's the point of this rant? If you're a recruiter and you want developers to take you seriously, take them seriously.

I only work with one recruiting firm and one other recruiter. I was introduced to both by colleagues I respect who only deal with the best. My dealings with these recruiters have prompted me to only want to deal with the best as well.

That doesn't mean the best opportunities, necessarily. That means human beings treating me like a human being. Emails written to me and no one else, promptness with calls and meetings, and understanding that I'm more than a collection of technical skills.

The firm mentioned above placed me with my current company. The entire process was a breeze, and they've checked in occasionally to see how I'm doing. I always read their emails and answer their calls. If/when time comes for me to move on, I'll definitely be working with them.

The other recruiter I work with just recently met with me for coffee after work, just to keep in touch. We talked about traveling and tech — he keeps up enough to be able to do his job in an informed manner. I put him in touch with a friend who was looking to relocate, and they struck gold. If/when time comes for me to move on, I'll definitely be working with him.

I don't know that I'll be at all compelled to work with anyone else. I'm sure there are plenty of other great recruiters out there, but they seem vastly outnumbered by the LinkedIn scouring, résumé skimming, email template copy/pasting fiends, and I simply don't want to deal with them.

Thus, if you're a recruiter and you plan on contacting me, make it worth my time. I promise to do the same.


Uncle Sam image adapted from DonkeyHotey.