Recruiter Emails: High-Value, or SPAM?

Our family is car shopping, after having owned our vehicles for many years/miles. I haven’t been out in the car market for quite a while, and it’s been a very revealing process interfacing with a number of car salespeople. We’re looking for a “preowned vehicle”, which of course has become the preferred euphemism for “used car”, and I can’t help making the mental comparison between the car salespeople I meet, and recruiters.

Some are quite good and helpful, and others … let’s just say, not so much.

No great secret that the software industry is currently experiencing a robust hiring demand, particularly for certain skillsets (web application UI/UX, backend big data are just two), and there are an awful lot of recruiters who have gotten into the search business because there is plenty of opportunity if you’re good at it. Unfortunately, when you combine feverishly-high hiring demand with low barriers to entry to call yourself a recruiter, and with the huge amount of resume information available on people’s LinkedIn profiles, it leads to a large amount of spammy communications from poor recruiters.

Electronic communication (and in particular LinkedIn InMails) have replaced much of the telephone calls that recruiters used to make. It’s not very effective to try and call potential candidates at their place of work, when they’re probably involved in thinking about work, or at the very least likely to be sitting in an open area where they can’t talk with a recruiter without calling unwelcome attention to themselves.  I haven’t found too many software engineers that will object to a well-thought-out email that is somewhat specific to them, but many will object to canned emails that come right out of a template, and have no individual orientation. Amazingly enough, I’ve even gotten a few of those emails myself, where a recruiter has sent me — another recruiter for Pete’s sake! — a recruiting email which is clearly a template, talking about my great (nonexistent) software development skills, and would I like to interview for an unnamed excellent software opportunity. It’s gotten so bad that some engineers put right in their LinkedIn profile that they don’t want to be contacted by recruiters, because they consider it spam.

It’s a good time to be a software engineer. Many of the people who write that on their profiles haven’t been in the industry long enough to remember a time when software engineers and managers couldn’t easily get jobs. Since I’ve been through three recessions in my recruiting career, I’m well aware that software, like any business, has cycles of hiring demand. So it’s a positive sign for all of us that the industry is so healthy that people consider it troublesome simply even to be made aware of other opportunities! I think it boils down to recruiters forgetting that, first and foremost, recruiting is all about relationships. You can’t rush through and attempt to make a transaction without first developing the relationship. At least I don’t think so. Of course, there are always going to be some people who just don’t ever want to hear from a recruiter, but for the most part, I find I have good success by introducing myself gently to new contacts, and seeing where the relationship might go gradually and organically. I think this benefits everyone, both the software engineer and the recruiter.

Just like in the car business, there are good recruiters and there are the other kind. Even in this kind of job market where you don’t necessarily need a recruiter to get a new job, it’s still not a bad idea to build relationships with a few good ones. So before categorically rejecting reachouts from recruiters, perhaps consider:

  • How much research does the recruiter appear to have done about you, your skills, and your background?
  • Does the recruiter mention contacts and relationships that the two of you might have in common? Are they substantive relationships where value was added?
  • How individually-tailored is the recruiter’s message to you? Has the recruiter made it apparent why you, in particular, are someone they’re contacting, or do you get the feeling that you’re getting one of hundreds of generic emails?