Making First Contact

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As a recruiter, you spend a lot of your time, well, recruiting. This involves finding people to fill the positions you are trying to fill, which is generally going to involve getting in touch with people you haven’t talked with before. In Early 2012 I wrote a blog post for the Highgroove Studios blog (which got migrated over to the Big Nerd Ranch blog here: How To Recruit Developers Away From Highgroove) as a guide to this “First Contact” situation with the hope that it would help recruiters do a better job. This post is a continuation of that one.

The vast majority of the time a recuiter contacts me, I politely tell them that I’m not currently looking for something new and that they should read that blog post. Sometimes with a note that they did an unusually good job of “First Contact”, but usually the e-mails I get are pretty bad. I still don’t pick up the phone for unknown numbers, or return phone calls to recruiters. I’ve spoken with plenty of other developers, and many of them won’t even reply to an e-mail unless it is really good.

Below, I’ve picked a few of the really important high-level things that will increase your response rates. These are based on actual contact that Recruiters have made me me and other people I’ve known and/or worked with.

Use The Right Medium

Don’t call.

Flow” is a very real thing, and developers are most productive (and happiest) when they are in a state of Flow. There is no way of scheduling Flow, and once interrupted, getting back to this state can take a really long time. Every developer I know keeps their cell phone on them, and if you call them, it is 100% guaranteed to be an interruption. Your phone call is guaranteed to interrupt the person you are calling. Because it’s not a phone call they ‘need’ to get, you are going to be connected to someone that already thinks negatively of you, and it’s downhill from there.

Don’t InMail

LinkedIn has a pretty wild UI that changes a lot, and developers typically don’t spend any time on LinkedIn. The good ones have notifications turned off, their profiles set to “Please don’t contact me” and have unread message counts in the 100s to 1000s. Your LinkedIn contact request / message / InMail / whatever they are called today is going to get lost or ignored.

Send an E-Mail or a Tweet

Developers live (at least some of the time) in E-Mail and Twitter. They have some method for making sure that they see e-mails and at least skim ones that look interesting or relevant, and a tweet directed at them is almost universally guaranteed to get read. It’s going to be tough to get a response to something that is public and 140 characters long. If you can pull this off, you’ve done a good job!

E-Mail is the best way to go. You’ve got a few more characters to get your point across, and with a good personal subject line, the chances of a developer reading your e-mail are pretty good. Some subject lines that could work:

  • Google wants your Python skills to work on Chromecast (Specific company, specific skill I have, what I’d do)
  • Chicago startup needs full-stack web developers to cure cancer (Specific location, skill I have, something world-changing)
  • CNN trying something new, wants to pay you $200k/year to start innovation lab (Specific compensation, intriguing possibility)

Don’t nag, don’t send multiple e-mails, don’t e-mail and call. Put all your effort into sending a quality First Contact e-mail, and if that doesn’t get you a response, there probably isn’t anything you can do.

Do Your Homework

Know who you are getting in touch with. An out-of-date resume as a reference or a generic form e-mail aren’t going to go over well. The internet is full of information about people which you should be able to find. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn all should be pretty low hanging fruit, and if you have someones name or e-mail you should be able to find one of those. (Check back for a future post on how to find out about potential hires.)

Even an intro line along the lines of

“I couldn’t find you on Facebook, Twitter or Github. The whois for your personal site is anonymized, and you don’t have a LinkedIn Profle (Smart gal!) so I know I’m reaching a bit, but I’m hoping I can connect you with something you’ll like more than your current job.”

is going to go over much better than something generic. Asking if someone has anyone they can refer to you screams of “I didn’t do my homework”, and asking people to do jobs that they are obviously a poor fit for isn’t going to get a response either. Personally (unless they are amazing and I can’t even imagine they exist), I’m not interested in jobs that are not in in-town Atlanta, at big companies that are too ‘traditional’ (e.g. “hours”, “dress codes”, etc), that don’t pay competitively or have good benifits, etc. Every developer has their list, and you should be able to figure it out from their internet presence. If you’re asking for 5-7 years of Java experience for a healthcare firm in Alpharetta, Nope.

Add Value

You absolutley must add value if you want a response. A ‘potential opportunity’ is not value, there are tons and tons of ‘potential opportunities’ out there, and most of them are a terrible fit for the person you are contacting. Finding the right opportunity for the right person is value, having a perfect fit or a handful of options is even better. Giving someone the information they need to make a decision of interest is far more valuable than holding back information to try and drag a dialog out longer. Getting someone first in line for a tough-to-get interview or an unpublished position is definitely value.

I know that recruiters often can’t/don’t share the name of the company, the salary range, and other kinds of details because a you don’t get paid if a candidate ‘goes around you’, but if you can show someone the value you provide and make their life easier, they’ll be happy to go through you.

What else?

This is terribly incomplete, and writing First Contact e-mails is a mix of art and science. If you’re a developer, please let me know in the comments below what else you want to see from First Contact. If you’re a recruiter, what other questions do you have? What works for you and what doesn’t work?

Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly / @ckdake

Curator of The Recruiter Project