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.

New York City commuter winter survival kit

Since I started working in Manhattan again a couple years ago I’ve learned a couple of things about surviving the winters on the LIRR platform. This winter in particular has been pretty lousy, temperatures below 20ºF and gusty most of the mornings for the past couple of weeks when I’m waiting for the train. Here are some of the things that have made it bearable. This is kind of a hodge-podge as a result of complete trial & error, but when fully geared I’m totally comfortable in the biting wind and snow even as others visibly shiver.

Land’s End Commuter Coat (Tall)

I have this one (apparently discontinued), but in black.

Land's End Commuter Coat

When my wife got this for me in 2012 I groaned. I was concerned that it made me look like an idiot. Well, the next time it snowed I instantly got over any reservations I might have had because this coat was heavenly. It has lots of pockets, it’s waterproof and windproof, and it’s long enough to cover my butt – actually the first coat I’ve owned that was long enough for me. The only real negative is its bulk – on the train it’s hard to squeeze in a seat wearing this thing, but I often put it in the overhead rack if it’s crowded. Also it’s REALLY warm – you can’t wear it for very long indoors.

LL Bean Fitness Fleece (Tall)

I’ve owned a lot of fleeces, and while I like the Old Navy ones, the LL Bean Fitness Fleece is my favorite. It’s warm enough to be a great layer between the commuter coat and a T-shirt but not so warm that it makes you sweat. I also like the way it looks.
LL Bean Fitness Fleece

Land’s End Men’s Squall Gloves

I’ve tried many different gloves and these are pretty good. They’re best on really cold, windy days – when you’re scraping the ice and snow off your windshield at 6 AM in the dark, these are the gloves you want. They’re comfortable (even for my XL hands), pretty much waterproof and windproof, and they have a little zipper pocket where you can insert those hand-warmer packets. And they were pretty cheap – I think $10 on sale.
Land's End Squall Gloves

Columbia Men’s Bugaboot Plus

I ended up with these boots after my previous pair of boots sprung a leak and I complained on Twitter. These are amazingly warm – definitely can’t wear them indoors for more than about 30 minutes without getting swamp feet, but they’re perfect for shoveling snow or those 8º windy days. I usually wear them with some thick Hanes crew socks for ultimate comfort. On days I wear them into the city I bring some regular sneakers along for normal wear, otherwise it’s really uncomfortable.
Columbia Bugaboot Plus XTM.
I have to add that while these boots are great, having worn them fewer than 20 times, one of the leather lace-holes ripped off completely. I could contact their CS about this but don’t want to deal with the hassle. The boots still “work” but this was a defect in a product that wasn’t used that heavily.

Chaos – CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava

My latest addition. I was pretty warm most days except for my face, which was freezing. I tried a few hats and a scarf but the scarf was too unwieldy and itchy. I realized what I really needed was a crazy ski mask. Again I was worried that this would look stupid but practicality quickly won. My main worry in buying a balaclava was finding one to fit my massive head. I took a chance and fortunately this one worked out. It’s just barely big enough – if I put it on too quickly I can hear it tearing – but it’s been wonderful. On cold windy days, now my only exposed piece of skin is around my eyes. I end up with icicles on my eyelashes but that’s a small price to pay for warmth.

Chaos -CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava


I don’t really know why I wrote this, maybe just as a shout out to the brands that have made this awful winter bearable. But hopefully the info contained herein is helpful to someone. Anyway, thanks for reading.

Why I love and hate Citibike

When I first heard about Citibike, I had just started working in Manhattan. I walk about ten blocks each way between Penn Station and my office on 6th Ave & West 23rd Street, which takes about 15 minutes or so, so the prospect of reducing that time was pretty appealing. Also, I should add that I just fundamentally hate walking. It’s just too slow. Before I got a car at the age of 17 I rode my bike everywhere. When I went to college I rode my bike to every class, even in 3-foot snowdrifts of a New Hampshire winter. After I took this job I looked into some folding bikes that I could actually bring with me on the train to work. That’s kind of a huge pain in the ass, plus the folding bikes start at around $700, so that wasn’t realistic for me. So I was pretty excited at the prospect of Citibike.

After it rolled out a few weeks ago, I did a 24-hour rental and rode from 33rd & 7th Ave (across from Penn) down to Broadway & 24th. It was fun and it was really quick. Actually, I didn’t save much wall time over just walking, but that was due to the time I spent getting the bike and getting used to riding a bike down 7th ave and then down Broadway, which was a bit jarring my first time. But that test was a enough for me to decide it was worth the $95 to sign up for a year.

My key came over the July 4th weekend and I’ve attempted to bike from Penn to the office every day this week, and back up to Penn in the afternoon. For the most part, I love it. The main thing I don’t love is exactly what I suspected would be the entire program’s downfall: lack of bikes where you need them, when you need them. Today’s Friday, and this is the second morning this week where there hasn’t been a single functional bike in a 5 block radius of Penn Station when I got in. On the LIRR on my way in, the Citibike app showed 12 bikes available at the 7th Ave & 31st Street station. By the time I got to street level (15 minutes later) there was only one bike in the dock and it had a red light indicating it was broken or otherwise unavailable. This was frustrating, but I checked the app and it showed there were 5 bikes available at the Broadway & 29th Street station, so I walked over there. This is kind of out of the way, but even biking 5 blocks is worth it (especially since I paid for the pass, and I like to use what I paid for). When I got there, one of the bikes was completely flat and the other four showed red lights. So even though there were 5 physical bikes there, as the app said, there were none I could get. I understand that things break, and as long as they get fixed I don’t have a problem with that, but if the dock knows the bike is broken (as evidenced by the red LED) why show it in the app?

Screenshot of the citibike app showing no bikes available between 34th&7th and 23rd&6th.
Screenshot of the citibike app showing no bikes available between 34th&7th and 23rd&6th.

After that, I just decided to walk the rest of the way since there were no other stations on my way. Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word; I still think Citibike is a great idea and I think they’ve done a great job for the most part, but none of that helps me if I can’t actually get a bike when I want one. I don’t know if there’s a solution to this, maybe they could incentivize people to drop bikes off at high-traffic sites during off-peak times so they’re available during peak times? Or maybe they just need more docks at the major hub areas. In any case, on my walk in this morning I started reconsidering buying my own folding bike.