Recruit A-List Engineers: What a cold recruitment message should look like

Recruit A-List Engineers: What a cold recruitment message should look like

I’ve written in the recent past about bad behavior by recruiters and have gotten some questions about how I would recruit engineers for my startup.  Great question, and it just so happens I have signed over 25 offer letters as a technical recruiter over the last several years.  Here’s an example of how I cold LinkedIn-Message’d them a few weeks before the offer letter.


We’re always looking for good Python guys at [company] and I saw we’re connected to many of the same people (X, Y) so I figured I’d reach out and say hey. — Perhaps I’ll see you at the Django meetup in our office sometime this spring.

VP Engineering, [company]

Here are some things that I did that made my message successful:

  1. I did thorough research on the candidate and made that clear in the message.  If you don’t spray-and-pray, you are already in the 75% of LinkedIn messages.
  2. I provided social proof to signal long term interest in the Boulder community (both by mentioning that we know several of the same people, whom I am sure would vouch for me.  and by hosting the Django meetup)
  3. I was not pushy and did not provide an explicit call to action.  I know that the candidate will return my message if s/he is interested.
  4. I signaled that I had skin in the game because I showed that I was an in-house recruiter, not a hired gun.

Here’s another cold-email I sent on Stack Overflow careers.  This one was back in September 2013 and resulted in the hire of a principle Django engineer

Morning [name],

I saw your contribution to a StackOverflow thread about sequencing Django South migrations in Django 1.4, you seem like you know your Django-fu.  [Company] is a social software company in Boulder CO (looks like you are just down the road) and I am building a Django team there.  Want to grab coffee sometime next week?  I have availability Tuesday and Thursday after 3 and like to meet at Ozo on Pearl st.

VP Engineering, [company]

Let’s dissect:

  1. Again, did research on candidate.  It’s not hard, it takes only a minute, and it improves your response rate dramatically.
  2. Signaled technical ability by mentioning a practical everyday application programming challenge — Django South migrations.   Please please please never mention recruiter-y technical questions like FizzBuzz or Design Patterns when recruiting startup engineers — it makes you look out of touch & enterprise-y.
  3. Displayed a true interest in getting to know candidate — I asked candidate to coffee *in person*, not for a phone screen.
  4. I signaled a fluid interview process — Both by making his response as easy as “sure, Thursday at 3 at Ozo works — see you then”, and by making it clear that I was the person who would be signing his offer letter.
  5. I made her/his research process easy — By providing a place for them to click to learn more.

By contrast, check out some of these awful recruiter messages I’ve gotten on LinkedIn, and how I delt with them.

Its not just the message, it’s who you are and what you stand for.

Recruiting engineers is a black art in that it’s not taught in BS Comp Sci programs.  While learning to generate candidate flow is an important part of recruiting, I would be misleading you, reader, by implying that getting good at cold-recruiting is the only way there.  There are a lot of things that you should be doing, as an organization, as an engineering team, in the community, to signal a strong engineering culture.  Here are some things that should helped:

  • Give First — Be a net-value-add in your community, help out strangers, host meet ups, advocate for Boulder, create virtuous cycles, be mindful and resectful.
  • Be easily research-able.  Have a engineering blog, social media presence.
  • Don’t use recruiters — It dilutes your brand.
  • Be a great engineering organization — Take the Joel on Software Test

Have you recruited engineers in the past?  What has worked for you?  I want to hear from you.

Do you have a great recruiter face-palm moment?  I want to hear from you. (and so does @recruiterbro)

Do you want help recruiting software engineers.  I #givefirst, let’s talk.


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