Dear Third Party Recruiters,

Due to the high volume of contact requests I’ve received, I have decided to write this open letter in order to improve the quality of my network.

The Greater Columbus Area is home to a very large number of third party recruiting companies. This means you have a lot of competition. Competition should mean improved quality. Unfortunately, what I generally see is rather disappointing.

We tech folks are generally a merit-based people. We’ll respect you if we have reason to do so. You can earn that respect by demonstrating that you respect us and what we do (and no, saying that you do doesn’t cut it; show, don’t tell). Here are some ways to do that.

Have some fundamental understanding of the technology 

Or, don’t play buzzword Bingo.

I don’t expect you to have been a developer, but I do expect basic, high-level knowledge, such as the fact that Java and JavaScript are two very different things. How can you expect to get proper, let alone quality, matches for the companies you’re recruiting for if you can’t even get the technology right?

Pay attention to the last time I used a technology, and the ones I use now 

Or, do some some homework.

I know there’s a certain amount of crossover when it comes to technologies, but there’s also a sort of expiration date, especially at the Senior Developer level. I have not touched Java since 2007. Odds are, I am not a good fit for that great Android developer position you’re looking to fill, nor will I be interested in it, nor am I likely to have anyone in my circles that use it. For the record, my network primarily covers the open source languages (PHP, Ruby, Python) and, to a lesser extent, the .Net languages. However, I won’t be forwarding your leads to them if you haven’t taken the time to build some rapport with me.

Pay attention to all of the technologies I use 

My time at a design agency has resulted in a number of “front end!” development position leads, since a large portion of my job was HTML and CSS. Now, while a front end development position may not get immediately trashed, you will probably find a far better match with me for a full stack position.

I’ll be among the first to admit – software is a huge industry (really, there isn’t a word in the English language that adequately describes just how mind-boggling huge an industry it is). Front end web development is, on its own, enormous. If a company is looking for a dedicated front-end person, odds are, I don’t know half of what they’re looking for, at least not to the level that would best serve them. Now, while I’d love to learn it and would have no qualms doing so (hell, it’s how I’ve learned most of the technologies I use at this moment), odds are very good that I’m not as great a match for the company as you might think. There’s probably someone out there better suited to that particular position.

Don’t get me wrong – if the company doesn’t mind a little more time to pick up the new technology and the ins and outs of the new (to me) company, then by all means. However, most companies, especially those going through the heavy, active recruiting that you get paid to do, generally prefer someone who can “hit the ground running.” Angular/Backbone/Ember/Knockout may be a JavaScript framework, but it’s enough of its own beast that just knowing JavaScript probably isn’t enough for a “hit the ground running” position.

Instead, look at what I do use, and look at all of it, especially in recent gigs. Odds are very good that if you have a position that needs a little bit of everything, then I am a good fit for it. Framework matches? Even better!

Write better introductions 

I literally received an email from a third party recruiter that started like this:

I was just cruising around the web, and I stumbled upon what you've been up to on the software engineering front.

Seriously? Now, I don’t expect some kind of formal thesis with the formal greetings we all learned in school, but come on. Do you really expect me to believe that you, a person whose entire job is to seek out people like me, was “cruising around the web” and happened to stumble on my website/Twitter/LinkedIn profile? Really, it sounds like a bad pickup line.

Granted, I’m sure there is a certain amount of meandering going on, following leads and connections, friends-of-friends and blog posts by related authors. It’s not like I’ve made myself scarce in the online world. If you really just happened upon my information, then cool, I’ve done my job at least to some extent.

But please don’t fluff it up like the above quote. Something like “I found your LinkedIn profile” or “saw one of your blog posts mentioned in a Tweet on my feed,” or whatever other more straightforward and non-sickening way of telling me where you found my information is much less likely to get your email immediately deleted. You also get some brownie points for being more specific with how you’ve found me.

For that matter, introduce yourself 

If you send me a LinkedIn invite, and all it reads is the “Join my LinkedIn network” canned pre-fill text, then your invite will get trashed. I don’t collect contacts, especially third party recruiters.

Be more straightforward in general 

I hate social games. I value straightforwardness and despise things like this:

I came across your profile on LinkedIn while researching Developer professionals. Your background/experience caught my eye so I’m sending you a quick note to see if you'd be able to point me in the right direction.

Our client is looking for a Web Developer in the Columbus, OH area! Do you know of anyone who may be interested?

Especially when it’s followed by this, when I ask for more information:

I wanted to see if you were still interested in this opportunity! We sat down with the client this week and were able to find out a ton more details of exactly what they are looking for, I would love to talk some details with you!

Now, I understand that, as a third party, you can’t (or are hesitant to) disclose things like the company name (though doing so would earn you some brownie points; otherwise, it conveys the message that you don’t trust me, and that’s not a good start), but if you don’t want your email to end up in the trash bin, then give me at least some information about the job itself – things like what technologies, number of years experience. You know, the usual.

This also highlights another issue.

Don’t insist on only talking to me via phone 

First off, if you’re not willing to put something in writing, then that itself raises a red flag and makes me more likely to dismiss you.

Second, phone calls – particularly unexpected/unsolicited ones – are intrinsically intrusive. Additionally, developers typically run on what can be described as the maker’s schedule, and I’m not exception. By calling me, you’ve diverted my attention from my work, broken my concentration. The phone call itself does this, even if I don’t answer. At the very least, your call has just cost me roughly 10-15 minutes in productivity. Since time is money, you then owe me a fancy coffee at a hipster coffee shop, just for the interruption. If I actually answer and talk to you, you might as well buy me lunch.

In fact, if you’re really interested in me and talking to me, then do that – buy me lunch. We can organize a lunch meeting via email (when I can respond at a time that suits me), and chat about things then. And keep in mind, it’s not about the free food aspect. It’s about respecting and valuing my time.

Communicate with your other branches and don’t spam and harass me 

A one point earlier this year, I received 5 emails and 3 phone calls from different people at different branches of the same recruiting company in the span of 2 weeks. Two weeks! Even worse? Nearly half of those came after I asked them to remove me from their system (for the third time, no less).

That will get you reported to the Better Business Bureau, and you will be made known to my network as someone to not work with. Developers talk. Our industry may be huge, but our community is quite small. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve found that I’ve crossed paths with in one way or another or found that my friends have shared connections beyond casual “friend” or “connection” gathering on social media networks. Earning yourself a place on my blacklist will very likely earn yourself a place on the blacklist of a few dozen other developers (conversely – earning a place of respect with me will make it more likely to get referrals from me).

I understand that there aren’t really any convenient times during which you can call, but that makes it even more important to not spam or harass me.

Don’t send me leads in other cities 

Unless I’ve indicated a willingness to relocate (even better, a willingness to relocate to that city), or the company genuinely supports remote working (not just kind of puts up with it), I’m very, very likely not interested in it. Additionally, even if I am interested or would consider it, absence of a relocation package will pretty much guarantee I’ll ignore it. Selling a house and moving a family is a pain in the ass, so there’s a lot of inertia there.

What I want in a job 

Now that you’ve read this far, let’s look at the things that I want in a job. I’m in a good position right now and am not specifically looking to change. Therefore, while I always keep my ear to the ground, I can afford to be ultra-picky. Odds are very, very good, then, that I will ignore any lead that doesn’t match up with the following things.

These are not the demands of an entitled young worker. These are things that I’ve found work best for me and allow me to be a better employee to an employer. These are also things that I’ve found that say a lot about the quality of the environment. In other words, the more of these qualities that a company fulfills, the more likely I’ll be a good match for the company (not just the position itself).

Only agencies that truly value their developers 

This really applies to all companies, but from the experiences I’ve had at the ones I worked at suggest that agencies are some of the worst offenders. When the people in an environment that’s proven toxic for me repeatedly tell me that that company is better than the other (big player) agencies that they’ve worked at, that sends a pretty clear message that I want nothing to do with the entire lot.

I’ve worked in agency environments, and they were all a big fail to me. The worst fail was with a company that touted great culture, but it was lip service and superficial things – the pool table, ping pong table, and video games that I’d seen used a collective less than half a dozen times in the year and a half I was there; the happy hours and parties that were as much a disturbance to us as good things. The things that really matter to good culture – not overloading us with work, providing us with quiet environments, and the ability of project and account managers to reign in a client and say “no” once in a while (especially when the client expects it without paying extra or adjusting the deadline) – are what I’m interested in. Without these things, I crash and burn, and such an environment is a toxic one for me.

Brownie points: encourage self-direction of projects and full project ownership 

I’m a big fan of Zack Holman’s articles on some of GitHub’s ideals. In this case, it’s his “Creativity Means Self-Direction” section of this one. This isn’t a deal-breaking ideal, but the company that does this would be worth its weight in gold, particularly on top of fulfilling the other ideals. I would love to be able to work on the project(s) that I choose to work on, and be able to take full ownership and have a certain amount of control/authority over that project, and tinker it to improve it as I see fit.

Remote work friendly 

I have found that a company’s view on people working remotely has been a fairly accurate barometer for other environmental mindsets.

My ideal is the option to work full time remotely. My line of work does not require physical presence in a specific location. Many of the best teams in my industry are comprised of people who have never met in person. It most certainly can be done successfully, given the right infrastructure.

I may consider a position that allows it on a regular part time basis. This does not mean “you can work from home if you’re snowed in…” but rather, I have the option to, say, work from home on Wednesdays, because those are my most productive days, and I can encourage that productivity by working in an environment that I’ve set up to be ideal for me and don’t have to worry about people walking up to me and interrupting me while I’m in the zone.

Results-only work environment 

If you don’t know what this is, here’s some required reading for you, and when you’re done with that pick up Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It and read it . I’ll wait.

Done with your homework? Good, because this one’s come to be a deal-breaker for me.

In the US, developers are nearly always exempt salary (thank you “Fair” Labor Standards Act…), and most employers are too hung up on number of hours worked. This is a very bad combination, because it is very easily abused to get what amounts to free labor. Developers are creative people, with peaks and troughs of productivity. It does a disservice to both us and our employers if we’re not able to honor those troughs by doing something else in our lives that can break us out of these non-productive phases, especially during slow times in the company. Requiring me to work a particular number of hours a day or week, even when there’s no or not much work to do, is not “hour flexibility,” nor is it “work life balance” (especially if I’m required to use accumulated paid time off of any sort if I don’t work those hours). If I’m salaried, you’re paying me for the value I bring to the company, not for my time. If you’re going to hold me to a time clock, pay me proper overtime pay. I’m a professional level employee with an advanced set of skills, not a slave.

In short, I am much more willing to work overtime when needed if I know that I don’t have to work a “regular” number of hours during the next slow period.

Additionally, a ROWE discourages office politics. I despise office politics and don’t do well with them (for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere on my blog). So, a ROWE is more likely to be a workplace that’s friendlier to my personality, making it that much more likely that my relationship with the company will be a long and happy one.

Brownie points: use modern tools and technologies 

This isn’t a deal-breaking thing, but it is an ideal. Simply put, I’m able to do more and be more productive when I’m able to work with modern tools, instead of trying to fight with a legacy system that doesn’t follow any standards (unless I’m modernizing said legacy system).

Phew! You made it! 

Read all the way through that and still have something for me? Awesome! Send it my way, being mindful of the things we talked about here.