Top 4 Things Engineers Hate About Recruiters

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It’s no secret how hard it can be to recruit programmers, designers, or anyone with a technical background. Finding a candidate with the precise skill set you’re searching for can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, and matters are made more difficult by the fact that you’re competing with the noise of no doubt hundreds of other recruiters. It should come as no surprise that some very common recruiting tactics are rubbing talent the wrong way, and some simple aspects of your outreach could be turning off well-qualified candidates to your entire company.

Luckily for you, Entelo has trekked through the trenches of online programming, design, and engineering communities, as well as reached out to our own friends in the industry, to compile a list of gripes, comments, and complaints about common recruiting tactics. Read on to find out if you’re guilty of technical talent’s biggest pet peeves!

" My biggest problem is they don't understand the skillset they're looking for. At least half of the ones that reach out to me say that my (empty) github page is impressive and that they're looking for a developer when they mean designer or a designer when they mean developer."

The most common complaint we heard was that recruiters frequently do not have an understanding of what the candidate actually does in terms of their specific skill set. Without a grasp of the candidate’s particular focus and abilities, it’s hard to tailor your outreach in a meaningful way. Try spending some time speaking with the team for which you are hiring to determine the type of projects they are working on, then do some research to see what skills the projects require.

Don’t place too much faith in keywords, either. As one programmer noted, “my resume contained a keyword, that they searched for, but that keyword is like 1-10% of what I do, not my main job skill set.” Rather, try to look at the type of work the candidate has done to gauge where their focus and main strengths are.

Further, bear in mind that a list of desired skills is not a suitable job description. Most engineers are already employed in line with their skills and receive competitive pay. Instead of pushing these perks in your outreach, focus instead on the type of tasks the job actually requires. More money and catered lunches aren’t likely to catch the attention of an engineer, but a specific description of a new project they can work on might.

“They try to get you to accept a job that’s two levels below your current position”

Imagine you’re the Director of Talent Acquisition at your company. You receive an email telling you about a position as an entry-level sourcer at another large company. Feeling insulted? This sort of thing happens to technical talent all the time. They’re offered positions well below their experience, skill set, or pay grade. Trying to sell an accomplished candidate a junior position is inconsiderate, and will probably turn off the candidate to you and your organization. Always have a firm understanding of a candidate’s experience and seniority before you blast them with a position that would be a step down for them.

“Pet peeve: cold-call emails with templates like these.”

After contacting some technical talent via email for their thoughts on recruiters, this response came through almost immediately. In-demand talent receive dozens of emails with job opportunities, and hundreds of Linkedin INmail messages. Why should a talented candidate take the time to respond to you if you didn’t take the time to individually reach out to them? Further, if the position has been blasted to an exorbitant amount of candidates, the individual candidate will know they weren’t specifically pegged as a good fit for the job, and that the position is unlikely to fall in line with their particular skill set. Make sure to reference the candidate’s current company and a project they’ve worked on that is unique to them. A little personalization can go a long way, and will help your email stand out amongst the torrential flow of messages from fellow recruiters.

“Anybody who prefers calling me at work over sending me an email instantly goes on my 'won't do business with if they're the last recruiters on Earth' list.”

When reaching out to a candidate via phone, tread EXTREMELY carefully. If calling an office number, odds are you may have to go through reception and identify yourself, which could be awkward or embarrassing for the candidate. Also, one designer found being contacted via their work phone unwittingly creepy: “I couldn't believe it when recruiters called me at an office number that I hadn't even learned yet.”

Even with a personal phone number, calling a candidate as a first point of contact may be inadvisable. You may have to call after work hours to get a hold of the candidate, and when you do, you’re putting them on the spot and locking them into an adjacency pair for which they may not be interested. With email, you can approach them in an asynchronous medium which allows them to read, research, and respond at their own speed and comfort level.

Hopefully this post has helped to put you in the mindset of technical talent as they are approached by recruiters. In summation:

  • Know the candidate’s PRECISE skill set
  • Understand the specific requirements and tasks involved for the position
  • Avoid cold-call mass emails with obvious templates
  • Be careful when reaching out via phone

We’ll close with some various quotes from engineers, programmers, and designers:

“That list of skills? People learned those as they became needed. So focus less on the list of languages on a resume, and more on the person's accomplishments.”

“Don't try sales talk (flattery or any kind of manipulation) on engineers. We're either completely oblivious to it or we'll find it obnoxious.”

“I want to be recruited by someone of the organization itself (recruiting is often outsourced) who knows what he's talking about. Preferably the Product Manager of the team you'll be working on”

“Just listing the programming languages and technologies used/desired isnt enough. Job listing should say what the job actually is. ie, 'design and implement a warehousing system for a major bicycle manufacturer'.”

What have you experienced in your communication with engineers or recruiters? Leave a comment below or tweet @EnteloRob! And be sure to check out more of our content at!

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Comment by lisa rokusek on April 2, 2014 at 10:08am

You are absolutely correct in that the most recruiters pitch w/o any art or substance.  It makes me sad. Telling a recruiter to limit cold calling or cold emailing is goofy a cold reach is part of what we do.  However, I think we can do these cold pitches successfully - even if we are pinging them at work.  It does require some understanding -of the role and also of the skill set and of the mindset of the person to which we are reaching out.  If we simply paused to think about those things we'd do better - in our messages and our closes.

Comment by Pete Radloff on April 2, 2014 at 11:08am

Rob - great article, and this will be a big session of the upcoming recruitDC Conference this spring. We're bringing in engineers to sit on a panel and tell us what we do wrong. But I'm firmly in Lisa's camp here. We cold call and email for a living.  Many recruiters in this industry suck, because they WONT use the phone. So, I say get a hold of them however you can, but do it with tact. 

Additionally, yeah we need to all sit with our engineers and learn some tech. I cant program worth a darn, but I've spent enough time with my engineers, and shadowing them to know what they mean by parsing, or layering, or abstract classes. And it's OK to be honest with a candidate, have them guide you through their experience, and let them know they can be "teched out" but someone who can effectively do it. 

Comment by lisa rokusek on April 2, 2014 at 11:30am

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I am usually one of the most technical recruiters I meet - I just have a knack for understanding the technical landscape and I do not program a lick.  I am, however, conversant in whatever it is for which I'm recruiting. This is step one, and all it requires is the desire to know more and do better.  Programmers don't necessarily make good recruiters - the skill sets do not really overlap.  However it is incumbent on recruiters to know at least how to discuss the technology - and, arguably more importantly - the goal/mission of the role as well as something about the people.  

I work with a lot of recruiters - I do many splits and most all of my jobs are technical and I will tell you that for far too many recruiters it is not a common practice to look up unfamiliar terms. Actually many recruiters don't look up the website of the company. These are egregious errors in my opinion.  If we participate in that kind of stupidity we deserve ridicule.  If we allow the positions upon which we recruit to remain 2-dimensional black and white blocks of text, only full of mystery and buzzwords, we deserve the abuse that candidates serve up.  

There is a way to do it differently.  We can be better - we just have to decide to do it and follow through.

Comment by Keith Halperin on April 2, 2014 at 6:37pm

ISTM that we recruiters should act professionally and in good faith reaching out toward candidates- to approach them as we ourselves would want to be approached. If they think they're"special," and entitled to anything that any other potential candidate isn't- then they're better left alone.

Comment by Pete Radloff on April 2, 2014 at 8:16pm

Keith, as always your words resonate. That's exactly the approach I believe in. Usually, its a safe bet that if they are a PITA to work with when recruiting, then they are likely to be a PITA when working alongside them. 


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