Tips for recruiters

I’m a pretty lucky guy these days. As a DevOps engineer in NYC my skills are in high demand and recruiters contact me almost every day. As someone who was once unemployed for 6 months I’m grateful to be in this position. That said, there are some requests that go straight to the trash, and some I’ll at least respond to even if I’m not interested. Here are some of the factors that influence my decision:

Does your email look like a generic mail merge/copypasta?

As with all things in life, you need to make an effort. If you’re just spamming everybody with jobs that are listed on LinkedIn or Dice or whatever, there’s no need to talk to you. Like this one, which looks like an Excel mail merge.


Our direct client located in New York, NY has a position open for a Release Engineer. A copy of the job description is below.

If you are interested, please send a copy of your resume (preferably in MS Word format) to

Please be sure to include your rate, location and contact information.


Here’s another one I got via LinkedIn last week:

Subject: Fantastic opportunity for a very cutting edge company in New York City

Dear Evan,

How are you?

I have a client (startup) looking for someone of your background. The location is Manhattan and the funding for this company is off the charts. The pay is great, the benefits are unbeatable, and technology and collaborative environment is off the charts.

Let me know if you or a friend may be interested and I can give you some more details…


This is sort of the perfect bad email. For one thing, there’s no information about the company at all: What industry? What technologies? How big is the team? How long have they been around? Are they profitable? For another, there’s no information about the position itself. This same email could be used for an engineer, sales, ops, finance, CEO or janitor.

There are also some words that add no value at all to the email. When describing a job or a company, you should omit the words “exciting,” “awesome,” “amazing,” “cutting edge.” Just tell me the name of the company, maybe with a link to more info about them.

Are you an in-house recruiter or with a headhunting firm?

I know there are good recruiting firms but I seem not to have worked with any of them in the past. In my experience, “executive search” firms are just concerned with volume – getting people to quit their job to go work somewhere else, and then contacting them a year later asking if they want to move again. I’ve had recruiters call me up asking if I was looking to hire anybody, and when I say no they ask if I want to go work somewhere else. if they can’t sell to me, I guess they’ll try and sell me.

For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a recruiter insisted I interview at a place where the job description said “We’re looking for a Ruby expert. You should eat, sleep, and breathe Ruby.” I told the recruiter I didn’t really know Ruby that well, and he insisted that didn’t really matter. I looked into the company’s product and didn’t really like it, but somehow he talked me into going on the interview. It was kind of a disaster: the office was cramped and hot and looked pretty shabby, it was far from any subway station, the interview questions weren’t relevant to the position, and I didn’t like any of the technologies they used. I was uncomfortable and lost what little interest I had about an hour into it. Apparently the feeling was mutual. The recruiter apologized and asked me what I wanted to do next. I never wrote back.

After that ordeal I decided to deal only with in-house recruiters. Personally, I prefer in-house recruiters because they’ve got skin in the game beyond a commission – they’re employees who are committed to seeing the company succeed and are aware of how important it is to land the right person, and would much rather let a seat go empty than fill it with a bad hire. They understand the company culture because they’re part of it. They can sense whether someone will be a good fit on a team because they know everybody on it. They can answer questions about the company without skipping a beat. The job description is more than words on a page to them. The last time I spoke to a recruiter from a staffing firm he assured me he was different, and then all he had to offer me was a menu of 5 companies that he could “get me an interview with.” Well, thanks, but I could do that myself.

I realize a lot of startups don’t want the expense of a full-time recruiter, and I’m probably missing some good opportunities by ignoring these crappy emails, but my experience indicates most of these guys are just going for quantity, sending as many candidates as possible to as many interviews as possible, and don’t much care about quality. Again, I’m sure there are good ones, maybe even most of them are good, but that hasn’t been my experience.

For God’s Sake Stop Calling Me

Email is one thing. I can ignore an email pretty easily. But please don’t call my cell phone (or worse, office phone). If you’re calling during the day, I’m at work, and I don’t want to talk about a new job at work. If it’s after work, well, I’m on my way home on the train and can’t talk, or I’m at home eating dinner and can’t talk. I don’t know how you even got my number in the first place, but if you manage to trick me into answering a call while I’m at my job, you’re not going to get a warm reception. I don’t have a private office, so how am I supposed to have a conversation about switching jobs while I’m at work?

Some recruiters just can’t take a hint. A couple months ago I was on vacation, heading to a Disney Cruise in Florida. As I was approaching Port Canaveral, my phone rang. It was a 646 number (NYC) so I figured it was a recruiter and let it ring out. A couple minutes later they called back and didn’t leave a voicemail. A couple minutes later, another call. I didn’t recognize the number but I was worried it might be someone from work so I answered it. It turned out to be a recruiter and I told her I was about to get on a cruise ship and she could call me back next week just to get her off the phone. Next week came around and sure enough she started calling multiple times a day for over a week. I ended up having to block her number in Google Voice. A couple weeks later, another recruiter from the same firm started calling me from a different number and I ended up blocking him too. Desperation isn’t attractive.

Another problem I’ve encountered is recruiters who are just lousy at their jobs. A few times when I’ve answered the phone, the person on the other end sounds like a deer in the headlights, like now that they’ve got me on the phone they have no idea what to say. When this happens, I picture an intern given a list of names and phone numbers and told “make 200 calls today or you’re fired.” Out of sympathy I usually let him finish his/her spiel and then say “thanks, but I’m not looking right now” and manage to get out of it, but this doesn’t seem like an effective strategy and just makes your firm look amateurish.


Basically, if you’re looking to hire engineering talent, you should:

  • Be an expert on the company you’re recruiting for. Ideally this would be the company you work for, but even if you’re a third party, you’d do well to spend a day on site at your client’s office so you can answer questions about the culture, location, nearby food, etc.
  • Do some research on the candidate. Whatever resume you have in your database is probably out of date. Maybe your target has a website or a Github or a LinkedIn that gives some insight as to what they’re up to.
  • Make your email short and sweet. Whether you’re in-house or a placement firm, the email should give the basic facts: What’s the name of the company (duh)? Where are they located? Are they profitable? How big is the team? What’s the org chart look like – to whom would they report? What technologies do they use? What’s the ballpark compensation?
  • Not annoy anybody. If you send somebody an email and they don’t respond, they’re not interested. If you send them 10 emails about 10 different jobs and they don’t respond, they’re just not that into you. Give it a break. Definitely don’t “call to follow up” if they don’t respond to your email.

The general theme here is “don’t waste anybody’s time.” Don’t send me an email full of intrigue or try and sell me. Like when buying a house, the company/position should sell itself. Just give me the necessary info and don’t bother me.

Disclaimer: this post is just my opinion, and has nothing to do with my employer.