Recruiters and HR professionals are in a tough spot. In an era where “software is eating the world,” the demand for hiring developers to help build all that software is unprecedented -- and the supply is low. It’s not that there aren’t many developers; there are plenty. 50 million of them are on Stack Overflow alone. The challenge is that 98% of programmers are already employed, and there are currently 5 jobs out there for each of them. Recruiters therefore have the seemingly insurmountable feat of finding (where do they hang out if they’re not actively looking?), attracting (with effective job listings, great employer branding, etc.) and ultimately engaging (via authentic conversations) “potential candidates” that are both picky and not necessarily looking for a job.
Tough spot? You betcha. But there’s hope. Because you’re on a mission to help your company find the tech talent it needs to build the products, tools and systems necessary for growth. And developers are awesome. They love building things. They’ll talk to you. You just need to be cognizant of common misconceptions about developers that will kill your chances of recruiting them. Here are some of the biggest culprits:
We’re not talking about stock options. We’re talking about the kind of job “options” some recruiters are notorious for sending developers. Something along the lines of, “We have some great open job roles! Job #1 Senior Software QA Engineer, Job #2 Senior System Administrator, Job #3 Junior Software Engineer.” Wow. Few things come closer to spelling “lazy” than a statement like this. This is an immediate turn-off for developers. They don’t like lazy, and they don’t like spam. If you are going to “spam” them (i.e. contact them without their permission), then the least you can do is your homework -- do some research on them, find out what they do, what programming languages they work with, and personalize your message so that it directly speaks to them.
If developers have already given you permission to talk to them - through a CV database that developers opted-in to, for example -- then don’t apologize for reaching out. Get straight to the point and tell them what’s up. Make sure you’ve done your research on the developer you’re talking to, studied the role you’re hiring for, understand the tech concepts associated with it, and go for it. If, on the other hand, you don’t have permission to reach out (thus, spamming them) then apologies won’t make up for the spam, so don’t say sorry -- that would be disingenuous (because after all, you’re not really sorry). Even though your chances of getting a reply from an unsolicited email might be lessened, if you do everything else right, you might just get a response.
If there was such a thing as kryptonite, then “ninjas” and “rockstars” written in developer job descriptions would be it. It’s a surefire way of getting hoards of developers to lose interest in your tech job opportunity (and make fun of it on the web). “Most good developers don’t think of themselves like that,” Oded Coster, one of our software developers said during a conversation about this topic. “It encourages pretentious people to apply, and then you’ll feel like you’re working with pretentious people,” added Chris Jester-Young, another Stack Overflow software developer. “Many skilled developers have big egos, but programming is a team sport and individual egos need not apply.” says David Haney, an Engineering Manager at Stack Overflow, “Low ego means you can learn quickly. If you use ‘rock star’ or ‘ninja’ it should describe your team.” In a nutshell: steer clear of these types of job descriptions unless you’re looking for an actual ninja or someone to join your rock band.
This is an assumption that wouldn’t necessarily materialize itself in what you say or write, but rather in how you say it. The problem here is that some people view coding as something that’s analogous to typing -- you know, like when your company is building a product and you just, kind of, need someone to “go code it.” There are a lot of effort and intricacies involved in programming that make it way more complicated than “just coding” something. There’s a ton of logic that needs to be thought through, obstacles anticipated, foundations architected, systems that need to be integrated, and the list goes on and on. The problem with this “just code” assumption is that when you view developers as “coders” you begin to see them as commodities or cost-centers and you end up not treating them as the intelligent, creative, or productive, human beings that they are. Programmers are building the future and they’re constantly problem-solving along the way. They may not be out there selling and marketing your products and services, but your company (or clients) wouldn’t have anything to market or sell if it weren’t for the people behind the code. Speak to them as such.
They really can’t. They don’t like ambiguity -- in any way that it can possibly manifest itself. They need details, clarity, composure, and logic. IF you’re reaching out about a position THEN disclose your client, be specific about the role, make sure you know the salary range, etc. Even a poorly formatted email, full of whitespace, incorrect grammar, or Comic Sans, is a form of ambiguity that will turn developers away from you. Developers are incessantly analyzing and synthesizing all day, everyday. They need complete visibility into things to be able to understand the big picture, all of the little pieces, and how they all fit together. Be vague and you lose them. Be specific and transparent and you may have their attention.
If your company/client offers perks such as softball teams, free beer, an X-box game room, ping-pong, weekly team happy hours, etc. that’s great. If anything, it can communicate that you care about the happiness of your employees, which is definitely a good thing. Just don’t assume cultural uniformity with candidates. Even if your current development team enjoys beer and video games, a prospective developer might not be drawn to that environment. It’s useful information to showcase on your company or careers page and it might be nice to bring up during your 3rd or 4th conversation with a developer candidate, but it’s definitely not something you need to say at the beginning of a conversation or in an intro email. They won’t be lured in with these kinds of “perks.” They’re more concerned with things like flexibility in technologies, access to education and having the right equipment.
Most of them won’t. They cherish their time and their friends’ time, so most likely if they view you as wasting their time (i.e. spammy email, poor outreach, inapplicable job offer), then they will not want you to do the same to their friends. And no, most don’t care about referral bonuses. It’s even more harmful to your relationship when you don’t disclose the name of the company you’re recruiting for or details of the position and then ask for referrals. Developers thrive on efficiency. If you’re not being efficient in your role (as a recruiter), then why should they help you? Again, keep in mind that 98% of developers are already employed and there are probably 4 other companies or recruiters like you competing for their attention. Don’t ask for referrals or introductions to their developer friends...unless you know them personally.
At the end of the day, we’re all trying to do our jobs. It’s not that developers don’t respect tech recruiters. They do. Do your job well, and they’ll honor that. Understand the tech role you’re hiring for, research the technologies needed, look for potential developer hires that you think will be good fits, treat them as humans, Google them, take a look at their Stack Overflow profiles or open source projects and portfolios, read their blogs, and get to know them as people. Reach out to them citing what you’ve learned about them and provide detailed information about your opportunity and why you’d like to have a conversation. If you both realize that the job is not a fit, don’t try to force-feed them or ask for an “alternative” developer referral. Be polite and professional, thank them for their time, and move on. If anything, the next time you reach out, they’ll be more likely to remember and appreciate you.
The success of your efforts ultimately boils down to your authenticity and integrity. Whether you’re approaching software developers, marketers, or accountants -- if you come from a place of respect, diligence, and efficiency in your outreach, and have the will and desire to make a difference in people’s lives, then you’re bound to get the results you’re looking for.