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The Art of Writing Messages to Developer Candidates

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 even 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 become more difficult. For tech recruiters, it means the 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 help technical recruiters master the skill of crafting effective messaging to developers, we sat down with two of HackerRank’s top software engineers who are constantly fielding (or ignoring) an influx of emails and messages from recruiters.

Here are the most common mistakes that technical recruiters can avoid to help break through the noise:

Fluffy introductions

The best types of recruiting emails are two things: quick and concise. Candidates feel respected and appreciate not having to waste time going back and forth with numerous emails. All too often, recruiters use buzzwords that don’t mean anything and focus on the wrong aspects of roles like employee perks. Here’s a messaging framework that illustrates precisely why that candidate specifically 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.

Copy-pasting the same email to candidates with different backgrounds

There are some aspects of the recruiting process that you cannot automate – getting developers’ attention is one of them. Especially for cold outreach, tailoring emails to each candidate 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 add value to them through the role, too.

Copy-pasted outreach emails are often a symptom of a bigger issue of misalignment of the metrics by which recruiters are measured.

“It can put a lot of stress on the recruiters when they’re talking to more candidates than they can handle,” says Deepak. 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,” Deepak admits.

Cutting corners on researching the role

Nothing irks candidates more than being recruited for a skill set they don’t have. Errors happen and a recruiter may accidentally misjudge the technical needs of a role, 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,” Suen said.  

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 accidental keyword matches that don’t actually have much to do with the role. 

Neglecting basic proofreading

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

Suen 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, but “not just ordinary typos,” Suen said. “The company name was misspelled twice.” Not a great first impression.

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

Forgetting about the human side of recruiting

It’s important to keep in mind that human connection and relationship-building are key aspects of recruiting. Behaviors like not taking ‘no’ for an answer or not following up with candidates can easily destroy relationships 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 Deepak.

“It can be hard to take rejection from a candidate,” continues Deepak. “[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 is uninterested in the job at hand, it’s unlikely that you’ll change their mind. But if you leave things on a good note, they may be willing to consider another role you find for them 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 Suen. “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,” Deepak recalls. Those simple human touches not only reinforce your attentiveness but also elevate your tech talent brand in the long run.

NEXT: Read about building tech talent brands to attract developer talent here.

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