Recruiting - A Tutorial

I’ve been thinking about writing a recruiting post for a couple of years now. For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about it even more lately, but tonight finally pushed me over the edge. I’d just gotten home and saw I missed a call from a number in Louisiana (where half of my family live). I called the number back and after a couple of rings Andrew from Crappy Tech Staffing Agency Dot Com picked up and, before I could figure out who I was even speaking to, started pitching me on “opportunities.” I interrupted him to ask how he got my number and after an awkward pause he stammered, “Research.” I asked him again what company he works for and then told him I would be sure to never work with that company in the future.

This experience, as I understand it, is not uncommon. In fact, Andrew seemed surprised that I was unhappy with being cold-called at home. “This is industry standard,” he argued with me.

No wonder everyone who works in tech hates recruiters. We’re constantly bombarded by LinkedIn requests, emails for positions that don’t even come close to our skill set (I’ve personally been offered Server Ops positions at reputable startups all because some recruiter searched for “Ruby on Rails” and I popped up) and now phone calls. We need an intervention. So here are a few rules-of-the-road for how to recruit without being an asshole:

1. Only use publicly-available contact methods

My phone number is definitely not publicly listed (at least not by me). I’m not sure how I got into whatever database Andrew is using, but I have never posted it online for the world to see and use. The thing is, I’m not hard to contact otherwise. On my personal site I provide links to Twitter, LinkedIn, Dribbble and even my email address. If I have a public profile, you can contact me through it. Unlike some people, I don’t even find cold-emails offensive, since I list that openly on my portfolio. But it’s really creepy to have my phone ring and immediately sets me on the defensive. Use the approved contact methods or don’t even bother.

2. Read the profiles. Know who you’re contacting

Like I mentioned above, I regularly get recruiting emails talking about how I would really love this open Sys Ops position or that SDE role. Yes, I have experience working around Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, etc., but one look at my web site, LinkedIn resume, Twitter account bio, etc. and you’d know I’m a designer. This is pure laziness and shows you’re playing a numbers game. It not only makes you look like an idiot, it makes the company you’re working for seem either inept at recruiting or inept at hiring good recruiters.

Startups, I’m looking at you here. I know that outsourcing recruiting is the way it pretty much has to be up to a certain point. But be very careful about who you hire to do your recruiting. Check on their methods often. Spot check the lists of people they’ve contacted on your behalf. They’re representing you and should be doing so with care and class.

3. Tell candidates what company you represent

It really does not make you more appealing to hide what company you’re pitching. Let me save you some time: No, I would not love to come interview at shadow company X.

4. Have the hiring manager cold-contact candidates

The companies I typically respond to are the ones that only use recruiters to identify potential candidates (or don’t use recruiters at all). Getting an email or @reply from the CEO/Creative Director/UX Lead/etc. is so much more effective than the form email from It a) let’s candidates know you’re serious. and b) shows them you’ve actually taken the time to filter them prior to reaching out. You’ll save yourself a ton of time, because instead of phone screening candidates your recruiters found, you’ll instead only be dedicating that time to candidates you’ve personally reviewed and reached out to. I know in a startup that’s asking a lot, but believe me, those first hires will make or break your company. Be as involved as you can be.

5. Don’t be a dick

This is sort of all-encompassing. Just don’t do it. Be cool. If you’re cool, even if I’m not right for the position, I’ll gladly refer others to you who might be. If you’re a dick, no one will work with you and they sure as hell won’t refer anyone to you either.

That’s about it. To be honest, the entire recruiting industry needs to be shaken up. It’s so crummy that I’d imagine a solid, people-focused recruiting startup could easily gain traction and tear down this numbers-driven staffing plague currently engulfing the technology industry. If you’re working on something along those lines, let me know, I’d love to shoot the breeze.


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