Hiring Technical Talent

The Art of Writing Messages to Developer Candidates

Written By Dana Frederick | August 14, 2018

Illustration of a desktop monitor with its screen showing an icon that implies 10 unread emails

Developers are skeptics by nature—but when it comes to reading messages from technical recruiters, developers can be downright irritable. Reddit threads, Facebook posts, and forums are rampant with rants about technical recruiters inundating developers with irrelevant job opportunities. Some developers actively avoid recruiters, and some have gone so far as to design a Chrome extension to make them invisible on LinkedIn—ouch.  

As the pace of demand for software engineering jobs continues to grow, reaching developer candidates will only get harder. For tech recruiters, it means pressure to find and close viable candidates is at an all-time high. For tech talent, it means a sea of emails from hungry recruiters.

Breaking through the noise is an art form. To better understand the messaging developers respond to, we sat down with two of HackerRank’s engineers who are constantly fielding (or ignoring) emails and messages from recruiters.

Here are their tips for breaking through the noise:

Cut out fluffy introductions

The best types of recruiting emails are two things: quick and concise. All too often, candidate messages use ambiguous buzzwords, or focus on the less impactful aspects of the role, like employee perks. Instead of highlighting generic details, try explaining why that particular candidate suits the job:

  • Why is their background the right fit for this role?
  • What’s the company’s mission and what impact will this new person have?
  • What will the hiring process look like?

Less is more for introductions. “If a message looks like a wall of text, I’m honestly not going to bother reading the entire thing,” says engineering manager Shiv Deepak, who’s been recruiting engineers for more than three years. “And, if they start with descriptions like ‘hot new startup’ or how they have a ton of ping-pong tables - I’m not interested. Sure, ping-pong tables are great to have but I first want to know how this role is going to have an impact."

Avoid copy-pasting the same email to multiple candidates

There are some aspects of the recruiting process that you can't automate—and getting developers’ attention is one of them. Especially for cold outreach, tailoring your message to each candidate is crucial. It may sound obvious, but it’s not a common practice.

A regular target of recruiting emails, data engineer Justin Suen says, “[The best emails] are usually warm and personal enough for me to see that the recruiter probably did the research themselves, and wrote most of the email themselves.” It doesn’t hurt to mention how you can elevate their career through the role, too.

Ultimately, it comes down to pacing your outreach efforts.

“It can put a lot of stress on the recruiters when they’re talking to more candidates than they can handle,” says Shiv. And the thinner they’re stretched, the easier it is to make careless mistakes, like misspelling a candidate’s name. After a mistake like that, “you likely won’t get a response if it’s a first email,” Shiv admits.

Don't cut corners on role research

Nothing irks a candidate more than being recruited for a skill they don't have. Sometimes, errors happen. It's possible to misjudge a role's technical needs—after all, most tech recruiters don't have a technical background. But it’s important to put in the groundwork to minimize them.  

Bots are a commonly used, but rarely effective shortcut here. “A few [bots] listed out skills that I'm supposedly excellent at, but I never listed them anywhere,” Justin said. The result? He received an email asking him to apply to completely mismatched role.

Set aside some time with the hiring manager to learn the role inside and out—after all, most recruiters aren’t as aligned with hiring managers as they think they are, so it’s worth double checking. What skills does the role require, and what will this role be focused on building? Understanding the role’s context will help minimize misleading keyword matches.

Remember to proofread

This one should go without saying, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always. When you only have one shot to intrigue a candidate, botching key details is the fastest way to lose credibility.

Justin recalled interactions with one recruiter, who was using a bot to conduct candidate outreach. Their first email to him utilized a template riddled with typos—“not just ordinary typos,” Justin said. “The company name was misspelled twice.” Not a great first impression.

What’s worse is getting the candidate’s details wrong, which Shiv agrees is one of the biggest sins a recruiter can commit. “I’ve seen recruiters addressing the candidate with a wrong name,” he explained. "It’s hard to recover from.”

Focus on the the human side of recruiting

Human connection and relationship-building are key aspects of recruiting. Refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer or neglecting follow up can easily destroy a relationship that may have been fruitful down the road.

“Persisting to convince the candidate to move forward with the process can become annoying very quickly,” says Shiv.

“It can be hard to take rejection from a candidate,” continues Shiv. “[Especially] if their profile looks strong, or if the candidate has already done a few screens.” But if they say no, he says, “it’s better to reach out to the candidate six months later than to burn bridges.”

If a candidate isn't interested in the job at hand, it’s unlikely that you’ll change their mind. But if you leave things on a high note, they may be willing to consider roles you find down the line. Even if they’re not interested, consider shooting them a friendly thank you for hearing your pitch. 

“A lot of recruiters don’t reply [when I tell them I’m not interested], which is totally fine,” says Justin. "But the ones that send a nice message after being turned down? It makes me want to work with them in the future, should an opportunity arise.”

“I remember an instance when a candidate sent me a thank you note after the onsite interview just because I gave her updates on what to expect next,” Shiv recalls. Those simple human touches not only reinforce your attentiveness, but also elevate your tech talent brand in the long run.

NEXT: Read how to to attract developer talent through talent branding here.

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