Why your recruiter email gets ignored

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If you’re a technical recruiter, most of your job function centers around email1. For the good recruiters like yourself, that’s email to a carefully selected list of developers that you think are perfect for this opening (we’ll talk about those other folks a bit later).

The emails fly off into the aether … and nothing.

No response. No acknowledgement.

Ever wonder about what drives the decision tree matrix for a developer when they receive a recruiting email?

Here are some the reasons your email didn’t get a response:

They’re simply not looking: This one’s pretty easy and there’s not a lot you can do about it. If your potential developer hire is not looking for a job right now (or, more properly, even thinking about a new job), they might read your email, but they’re not likely to bother responding. The trick is to figure out the pattern for when developers start getting a wandering eye. As I mention on the Ruby product page2, one of the best times is right before or right after annual review time3. In general, at least when I was a developer and other developers I’ve known, the general cycle outside of that is every year and a half.

They never saw it: Developers of any particularly popular language or speciality are inundated with recruiter email. It’s a fact of life you have to deal with. And the vast majority of those emails are going the straight-up spam route. I know of one technical recruiter, for instance, who I’m pretty sure pulled down/bought a list of email addresses and blindly emailed the entire list with the same message. You might know a few who have done the same.

And every time one of your brethren does something like that, you’re one step closer to developers the world over setting up spam filters to catch it. Or even flat-out reporting even you - the good, honest recruiter - for spam.

For developers of a certain disposition, they’re just going to blanket block/delete/filter any recruiter contact that comes in. It happens.

They don’t know you: It’s a fact of life in agency recruiting that you can’t readily give out your client’s name upfront4. But, oh, if you could, you’d be so much better off.

Because without that little detail, almost every recruiting email that comes in looks roughly the same and you lack the ability to use your client as a value proposition.

The way you can get around that - that they don’t know your client - is to ensure they know you before you email. I talk a lot more about this in the guides, but suffice it to say that if a developer recognizes your name, you’re much more likely to get read and responded to.

You don’t know them: One way to differentiate your email is to include some personalization - something more than “Hey, I saw your GitHub profile …”

For instance, a recruitment email I responded to recently led with this:

I see you are doing an experiment on recruiters and I would like to partake. I would also like to recruit you for …

Even something as simple as that tells me you took the time to at least look at my blog and know what I’m working on.

And if nothing else, flattery will get you anywhere. See a project on their GitHub profile5 that has a huge number of stars, watchers or forks? Why not lead the contact email with something like, “Wow, <PROJECT X> is great. How did you manage to pull that together?” and then transition into the pitch?

There are certainly other reasons your email might get filed away or ignored without a response, but the above should give you a clearer picture of what devs look for and respond to in general.

To wrap up:

  1. Know who you’re emailing. What are they working on? What frustrations can you imagine they have with their current job?
  2. Make it relevant. Related to the above, if you know your prospect is a Ruby developer, why would you pitch them .net work?
  3. Don’t spam. Ever.
  4. Give it some personality. Like the below, which was included in the same email I referenced earlier.

    If you are not interested at all, please at least enjoy this sloth picture that I find cute and perfect for a Friday afternoon.


Have any other tips/tricks you’d like to share?

  1. Or using LinkedIn’s InMail. For our purposes today, we’re going to call them equivalent. We might chat about how they’re not in a later post.

  2. That tip is in a footnote. Natch.

  3. You can generally get pretty close to pegging this from LinkedIn or Twitter if you look back through their history and find the “Wow, I start my new job today,” post.

  4. For the developers who might be reading this, recruiting agencies and their recruiters are generally paid on commission. If they refer a prospect who gets hired, they get a cut (and then the specific recruiter gets a cut of that). If they tell you their client up front, then they run the risk of you skipping the recruiter contact all together, applying directly and cutting them out of the loop. Corporate recruiters - or recruiters who work not for an agency but directly for the company that is trying to hire you - can be incentivized very differently.

  5. Take a look at this screenshot from my own GitHub account. Notice the different icon for the bottom one in the list? That’s the icon GitHub uses for a repo I “forked” (or copied and modified) from someone else. You can probably ignore those.

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