The problem with emails from recruiters

by Alex MacCaw

Emails from recruiters have a fairly infamous reputation in the technical community, partly because of their often spammy nature, and partly due to a lack of interest in the jobs they're pitching.

The ideal recruitment email should basically be a pitch, motivating candidates to further explore the opportunity. Engineers are extremely fortunate--we're not generally in want of a job. To hire the best, you have to entice them away from other work.

Unfortunately many recruitment emails seem canned at best, automated to spam out to the widest audience possible. It's a wonder these emails work, if indeed they do at all. Looking back through my inbox, here's some of the mistakes I often see recruiters making:

  • Canned, with only the name changed
  • Asking people to email in their CV or resume
  • Not mentioning the company name, only an unspecified 'client'
  • Urging you to spam your friends with the opportunity
  • Mention ninja, rockstars, or showing a general technical incompetence
  • Advertising a job in country I'm not in, or for a language I don't use.

The problem stems from two very different worlds colliding, one technical, one not--there's no wonder it's a source of friction. Recruiters are trying to hire for jobs that they don't understand, let alone make technical evaluations for.

Let's take an email I received the other day (anonymized) as an example:

Hi Alex,

How are you? I just came across your profile and thought you could be a great fit for a company that I am recruiting for in San Francisco called FirstWorldProblemsFixed.

Not a great start. It doesn't look like any effort has been put into this--indeed my name seems to be the only customization in an otherwise canned email. There's no explanation of what the company is, or why I'd want to join.

We are looking for only the best to join this team. If you are a rock star ninja, please send your updated resume to me and let me know when you have some time for a quick chat so I can tell you more.

If the recruiter had done their homework, they'd just look at my work online rather than asking for a resume. Indeed, I don't even have a resume - an active GitHub account should be enough for most programming jobs. Also, what exactly is a rock star ninja?

If you're not interested, could you please share the open job on your channels anyways, mention it to your RoR friends, that would be so cool, thank you!

And they finish with a desperate plea to spam all my other friends.

Best, Jessica

Clearly this particular example is a bit of a straw man, and there are certainly better emails from recruiters. However I'm sure we can agree that the general trend is pretty abysmal.

The reality is that if you're cold emailing a candidate you're already at a big disadvantage. Referrals are the best method of recruiting bar none. Take advantage of your company's combined social network, a short email from a founder or engineer will do wonders.

For example, here's the Facebook message I got from John which ultimately led to me leaving Twitter for Stripe. It's short, to the point, and referral based.

This is the kind of dialog we're trying to encourage at, and we're aiming to raise the bar on technical recruiting. We are going to great lengths to ensure that recruitment offers are personal, of high quality, and ideally from someone you're already acquainted with.

This is a repost from an article I wrote on my personal blog in October.