Blog Recruiting

How to Avoid Turning Off Great Engineering and Design Talent Before You Meet

When it comes to recruiting, great talent can be temperamental. Learn how to reach out without being shown the door.

Ben Jackson, January 14, 2018

Photo credit: Ryan Forsythe

Over two decades working on web and native apps, I’ve gotten my share of cold emails from recruiters. Unsurprisingly, most were terrible. But a rare few broke through my attention barrier, and those relationships continue to this day. These dos and don’ts will help make sure you’re able to pass the first, most difficult step: the bullshit filter.

Don’t: Be Weird

Below is an unedited copy of a second follow-up sent to me at 10:47 AM on a Sunday [emphasis mine]:

Subject: Exciting New iOS Challenge?

My attempts to contact you have been a complete failure so far…
I hope you’re not ignoring me, the last person who ignored me got eaten by a Bear.
Let me know if any of these apply:

I was attacked by a bear and survived - send me flowers
I’m alive, but I wish I wasn’t so I wouldn’t have to read your emails
Sorry, but I didn’t have time to read your mails, let’s talk
Those opportunities aren’t what I am looking for, I am looking for an iOS position in…..

Just incase none of these apply, if you know anyone good that it may be interested - I will pay referral fees!

Screenshot of recruiter emails
Your favorite candidate’s inbox is a graveyard filled with inbound job offers.

Don’t: “Spray and Pray”

If your team emails candidates indiscriminately, they’ll tank your reputation. Keep your list focused on candidates who look like a good fit and whose last big career change or promotion was at least a year ago.

Don’t: Understaff Your Recruiting Team

Overworking recruiters leads to sloppy mistakes. When a candidate’s first impression is a typo in the name of their favorite tech stack, you’ve done more harm than good. Build a realistic recruiting plan, or you’ll be burning bridges in addition to burning out your team.

See Also: Sequoia’s Recruiting Calculator

Don’t: Use Automated Follow-Ups or Get Too Personal

Nothing will turn off a candidate faster than an automated follow-up email to a cold outreach. Automating personalized outreach through your own outbox with a tool like Reply or PersistIQ is fine, but don’t go crazy with variables or use those tools for nagging follow-ups.

If you use an email automation service, make sure to A/B test your subject lines. Great subjects are like great headlines: they spark curiosity with a compelling story, but don’t tell you everything up front.

See Also:’s Guide to Cold Emailing, MailChimp’s Best Practices for Email Subject Lines

Screenshot of automated follow-up user interface
Get thee behind me, Satan.

Don’t: Cross Lines and Email the Same Person Twice

Seems obvious, but it’s easier than you think when you have more than one person doing outreach.

Don’t: Mention Your Diversity Goals

Your focus on hiring a diverse team is laudable, but not notable. Focus on the specific qualities that make the candidate stand out in their field. Are they an expert at Sketch automation, or Log-Based Architectures? Mention that, not how excited you are to bring on more “people like them”.

Do: Get A Warm Intro from A Peer

Great candidates hear from a ton of recruiters, so a thumbs-up from one of their peers helps a lot. Build a network of thought leaders, and learn how to write a great intro request.

See Also: Chris Fralic’s Guide to Emailing Busy People in Forbes

Do: Ask Leadership for Help

Getting an email from a C-level executive will make anyone feel important. Sometimes, it can turn a “meh” into a “yes”.

Do: Research Candidates and Tailor Your Outreach

This is more work than it sounds: it’s not enough to check the first page of their Twitter (“Congratulations on [open source project]’s 2.1 release!”). Pay attention to all the signals: Does their LinkedIn have specific instructions for outreach? Are they wearing sunglasses and scowling in their social avatars, or flashing a friendly smile?

DISC Profiles are an easy way to start personalizing your outreach. For some candidates, Crystal will give you a decent read based on their LinkedIn profile. Once you understand the types, spotting them yourself isn’t rocket science.

Use a text-checker like Joblint or Textio to scan your email for clichés and language that might send the wrong message.

See Also: Introduction to DiSC Profiles

Do: Build a Competitive Internal Referral Program

Similarly, peer outreach trumps recruiter emails whenever possible. Offer both signing and one-year retention bonuses to anyone who refers a hire (even through social). Give your people free reign to expense coffee and snacks with great talent.

See Also: Sequoia’s Memory Palace Technique, Workable’s Tips for Building Referral Programs

Do: Host Events and Meet Them Before You Need Them

Nothing gets people in the door quicker than literally getting them in the door. Ask members of your new thought leader network to speak about something unique and cutting-edge. If you can host a panel, even better. Use your speakers to publicize the events, and start a group on Meetup to build community and encourage return visits.

See Also: How to Produce a Successful Panel Presentation

Do: Be Extremely Careful With Your Employer Brand

Your career portal should look fresh, and highlight your team’s contributions to the open-source and design communities. (If your team isn’t budgeting time for these contributions, solve that problem first.)

Be especially careful with reviews. Glassdoor doesn’t lie: if your company has a reputation as a hostile workplace, you won’t get far. Be religious with exit interviews. When you get a negative review, hold an effective post-mortem with your team to find the cause and fix it.

See Also: Society for Human Resource Management’s Guide to Employer Branding