Resist the Spam

This email came through my inbox:

It doesn’t sound terrible, right? Then why does an email like this cause all the frustrating feelings toward tech recruiters?

Clue: I’m not a developer.

I work with developers and while I reference my work within the tech industry online, any technical person really looking at my LinkedIn (or my GitHub profile as they claimed) could quickly tell that I’m on the human side of software, not someone who would consider applying for or even remotely qualify for a position like the one they pitched.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received an email like this, I get these emails often. They’re all the same: soliciting my skills without taking the time to research or learn anything about me, clearly showing a lack of care for the person on the receiving end. It definitely doesn’t start our newfound “relationship” on the right foot. Now, imagine how many more emails actual developers and other technical folks get on a daily basis. It’s not flattering, it’s spam.

Spamming potential candidates is a funny concept to me considering humans have spam filters too, and they’re better than gmail’s. I know immediately if the emails in my inbox were written by humans genuinely reaching out to me (and only me) versus those emails that were clearly mail-merged, pretending to be genuine, just like the one in the screenshot above. I know I’m not alone in this.

This email in particular stands out with a ton of red flags, filled with general, sales-style information about the company, a quick reference to where they found me (though that immediately discredits them in my case considering my GitHub profile has four repos that clearly demonstrate my inability to do any of the skills they’re in search of), and a P.S. “I’m spamming you, so feel free to unsubscribe” disclaimer. Oh! And don’t get me started on the presumptuous, “or if you know someone who may be a better fit…” line. It’s beyond ridiculous to think it’s acceptable to ask for access to my network when you haven’t even taken the time to get to know me, let alone even really research me. Referrals are an incredible thing to ask for… once you know the person you’re requesting them from!

But hey, it’s a numbers game. Send emails to as many people identifying skills that match the job description — this will definitely get a high return on our invested time. Use all the technology to reach more people and hack the system. Success!


The process most recruiters are using is broken, especially in the tech industry. There is this misconception that a large output produces a large return. In some cases large quantities pay off. In recruiting it doesn’t. Recruiting is about building relationships and using human-centric strategies rather than playing the numbers game.

With the rise in access through email and social media, a lot of bad recruiting habits haven surfaced. Just because I can find virtually every Java developer in Chicago doesn’t mean I should email all of them, especially if it’s with the same form email. When developers get recruiter spam, it’s not the recruiter’s name they remember, it’s the company. They judge the company. Do you really want your tech company’s brand to be associated with that of a spam machine that is annoying all of the software engineers in town?

Here’s what would have produced a better return on their investment:

  • Research: spend time on the relevant sites (e.g. Meetup, Twitter, GitHub, Cocoapods, LinkedIn, Lanyrd, etc.) looking for people who reference their projects that are using the desired technologies, look for people who are members of Meetups or groups relevant to the skills needed to perform the job, pay attention to the people discussing challenges with desired technologies. Once you find potential candidates, research them to the nth degree. Explore their personal site, GitHub profile, LinkedIn, and Twitter account. Google the individual to see what additional information you can learn about them. You’re looking for information to use when making a more concrete connection to why you’re reaching out specifically to them. Show the person on the other end that you took the time to find the right candidates for the role, not just any candidate. 
  • Frequent events/Meetups/conferences: Talk to people, get to know them, and build relationships. The more you invest in knowing someone, the better your recruiting experience will go. Having a network and building a community of people you can turn to when building a pipeline is a game changer. Think long-term. 
  • Partner with niche groups: We posted recently about intentional recruiting for diversity listing organizations that focus on creating community for underrepresented groups. These are great options for sourcing the right candidates.

  • Ask for referrals: If you don’t know the people who have the right skills, then you can ask for referrals from people you do know. Asking for referrals from strangers is awkward and invasive, so don’t do that. When asking for referrals, be careful so you don’t end up “lacking diversity” in your pipeline. As long as you’re mindful about this strategy, it can be a great way to open doors with warm introductions to candidates who have the skills you need.

  • Appeal to your audience: Initial outreach should be all about the person on the other end. Prove to person you’re reaching out to that the email could have only been sent to them. Help them understand why they’re interesting, what research you did on them, where you saw the information about them that caught your eye. Demonstrate your interest in learning more about their goals and what they want rather than trying to sell them the position prior to talking with them.

The sooner you get someone out of their inbox and in person, the higher your chances are to building a relationship with them. You have to appeal to their interest. Stop thinking about your short-term needs and start thinking about the person on the other end, it goes a long way and can open more doors than initially intended. Ask yourself: why do they care? Take the time to write a quality message and invest in reaching out to a few great candidates. I bet you’ll be surprised at the response to this strategy compared to a large email blast to anyone that has ever pushed html or CSS into the world. Sure, it takes time and more time than a mass mail merge, but the return will be much more valuable for your company.

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