Ask A Recruiter: How Do I Get Better at Sourcing Candidates? (Part Two)

gold.jpgmagnifyingglas.jpgLast time I posted on the Greenhouse blog I wrote about general prospecting best practices. Since this post, I’ve fielded a bunch of questions from my team and from internal Greenhouse employees about prospecting engineers. A lot of folks, myself included, think engineering prospecting tends to be more difficult than sourcing for, say, a junior sales rep: there are fewer engineers and it’s likely that the engineers are happily and gainfully employed. Gainfully employed individuals do not often apply to jobs!




Caitlin joined Greenhouse in October, 2014 as employee #42. Before Greenhouse, she managed technical and product recruiting for Conductor, Inc., another high-growth, NYC-based startup. Early career included stints as an agency recruiter and paralegal. She’s tried, and failed, to learn how to code and instead spends her free time figuring out how to Greenhouse @ Greenhouse. Other free time activities include hosting bar trivia, marathon-training and conquering an acute fear of flying.  



Also, engineers tend to be a bit more ornery about recruiting emails than other groups. They will post your email address to and will tweet about your email. And before I get messages from my engineering friends calling me out for calling them ornery, let me say that I get it. Recruiting spam sucks.

But at the end of the day, engineering talent, especially if you are a tech company, is a big priority for a recruiting team. It’s also a big challenge. So, how do you prospect for engineers?

The more technical, senior, or specialized the role, the more you’ll need to rely on prospecting to find your candidates. This is because these candidates are not looking for jobs. You’ll also need to send better messaging. The more specialized the role, the less people are doing it. And it many companies need these specialized skills. (Read: much of your senior engineering talent will come from prospecting.)

I’ve chatted with a lot of agency recruiters and they say that you should expect that only 10%-15% of your prospect pool will respond ‘interested’ in your opportunity. If these numbers are true, you need to have a large pool of engineers to reach out to in order to get one on the phone with you.

How do you find engineers that you can prospect? 

Below is a list of tools that I like to use to find tech talent:

LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great place to start, especially if you have a Recruiter Seat. The search is pretty BOOLEAN friendly and the Recruiter functionality allows you to set up projects, tags and email workflows to help keep track of prospects. The problem with LinkedIn is the barrier to entry is very low: everyone and their Uncle can use it for recruiting even without paying for a Recruiter Seat.The amount of recruiting spam being sent via Inmails is crazy these days and you’ll get very few engineers responding to your messages.

Entelo. Entelo is by far one of my favorite tools (disclaimer: they are a Greenhouse partner). I’ve used the platform for about three years now and it really is one of the best ways to find talent. The platform aggregates a prospect’s social media footprint and usually provides a personal email.

StackOverflow. This is a tech-only candidate database that engineers can opt into. Because the prospective talent pool is smaller and not super-active, I think it can be hit or miss. But, I will say that my best hire yet came from prospecting through StackOverflow. Worth a shot. 

Hired. Hired is a free site that prescreens engineers for you. You have to message the engineer and get her interested in speaking to you. If you hire your engineer, you pay a percentage of the new employee’s first year salary. Hired is a lot cheaper than what you would pay an agency. 

Some shoestring budget options

Meetup. These are a great way to find engineers who may not have a LinkedIn. Ask your engineers to give you a list of meetups that they like and try to join. Some groups actively screen out recruiters; if this happens, ask one of your engineers to grab a list of attendees for you. 

A target company’s team page. Many startups include pictures and social media information for their employees on their company’s site. This is a great way to find folks. 

Blogs. In the same vein, sign up to receive blog posts from companies. If a company has a tech blog, you can get the name of the author (and a topic to reference in your email) from a post.

An important point is to make sure you take a many-pronged approach when it comes to sourcing engineers. LinkedIn can be a starting point but it should be the only place you look for tech talent.

How can you tell if an engineer might be considering a job move?

The short answer is you can’t. Prospecting is pretty much a crap shoot: you roll the dice and hope your email lands in the right inbox at exactly the right moment. There are however a few indicators which I’ve found increase the likelihood that your engineer will consider a move (and to my eng friends, please forgive me for making sweeping generalizations here):

  • Is the company using an antiquated technology? If a company isn’t using some of the new technical ‘hotness’ (Docker, Go, Angular, Node, Git, Scala, Python, Django, etc.) there is a good chance some of the engineers will consider a move. Engineers like working on new stuff, it’s challenging and interesting.
  • Was the company recently acquired? Mergers and acquisitions are usually a good sign that folks will consider a move. I generally wait 3-6 months after the deal is official to reach out, this gives the engineer some time to see if he or she likes the new leadership.
  • Did the company lose an executive? VP, Engineering and/or CTO flight is never fun.
  • In the same vein, has there been a lot of executive turnover in a short period of time? Engineers get frustrated when multiple managers start to change existing process and then leave soon after starting.
  • Has a lot of the “early crowd” moved on? If a startup has been around for a while and the founders/early employees start to head to greener pastures their peers may also consider moving.
  • Has the company gone a long time without getting funding? A startup that has gone 6 months to a year without a funding announcement might be in trouble.
  • Has the engineer been at his or her company for 3+ years?  Millennials are a fidgety group when it comes to their careers and they tend to move to new ground every 2-4 years.

The best thing you can do as a recruiter is keep your ear to the ground. Find out which companies are losing customers, which companies aren’t getting funding, which companies are close to filing for an IPO, which companies are struggling to find product fit in the market, which companies invest the most in new technology… Knowing the market will help you target certain companies, and avoid the companies where the engineers are happy.

How do you write compelling messaging?

In a perfect world, you should personalize every single prospecting email you send. In the real world however, you have to try and optimize for time: reach out to as many qualified engineers as possible in as short a time period as possible. If you must use template emails, the following points can help your messaging stand out from the masses:

  • Make sure your message matches the tech stack. (And please, please, please do not confuse Java with Javascript. These are two completely different technologies.) If your engineer is working with C# at his current job, don’t reference his amazing Java skills.
  • Reference a blog post, tweet, Github project, or Quora answer if possible. Engineers like posting to these forums and you should take advantage of the content they post. A lot of it is really interesting stuff and you could end up learning something
  • Don’t make assumptions- you have no idea if your prospect is a great fit for the team. So don’t say “I think you are an amazing fit for the team”. Instead say something like “your technical experience matches a lot of we are working on right and I’d like to see if there’s a match.”
  • Substantiate your claims. If you say your company is a great place to work, back this statement up with a link to your company’s Glassdoor page, Twitter page, etc.
  • Use a funny subject line. Two of my favorites that I have used over the years are:

    “Uh, why do you have fork bombs on your LinkedIn profile?”
    This was to an engineer who had coded fork bombs onto his page. Feel free to look these up but please do not ever use these yourself. You will break your computer.

    “The answer is 42.”

    This was to an engineer who had quoted Zaphod Beebleborx (Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy?Anyone?) on his blog. The guy never got back to me but I was very proud that I got 1) understood the reference and 2) was able to nerd out a bit about one of the better book/movies written.

The last point I’ll make here is to iterate on your prospecting activity. You can’t get complacent when it comes to engineering outreach (or really any outreach). If a prospect doesn’t answer you the first time, message him or her again with something different. Persistence and creativity are key.

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