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How to Use Collaboration to Engage With Devs More Meaningfully

3 February 2021 , by Jomiro Eming

Many technical recruiters acknowledge that hiring developers is particularly hard. They often don’t have a background in tech, and traditional approaches to recruiting often don't work because of how a developer thinks and what they're looking for in their careers. That's why Mark Deubel, Senior Tech Recruiter at Elastic, has found it useful to collaborate with his hiring manager and their team to learn more about the candidates that he's reaching out to. Here's how he approaches this.

Mark is a senior tech recruiter at Elastic now, but he’s had experience working as a system and networking engineer and a tech hiring manager. As an engineer, Mark has had many tech recruiters reaching out to him, and has felt the frustration first-hand when those messages are templated, or inaccurate:

“Imagine being an engineer, who is one of the most sought-out people at the moment, and getting at least eight or nine recruiters reaching and 99% of them are crappy messages. You're going to block everybody, and you're not going to look at the good ones.”

The challenge he discovered is that recruiters need to approach tech hiring with a different mindset. “It’s not the technology, that’s not even the biggest thing,” Mark explains. “The biggest thing is being able to understand what developers are doing on a daily basis, and how.”

Developers are also in high demand, which means that recruiters need to work on understanding the psychology of a developer and what they really value in their career, and then focus on that in their messaging.

To do this well, Mark has found that tech recruiters need to become expert communicators — and that’s where collaborating with a hiring manager and their team can make their hiring processes more effective:

“I have met amazing recruiters that don't have a technical background… but they are incredible communicators, they understand what to ask, and their hiring managers support them. If you understand what to ask, and what to tell a person, you’ll be able to connect meaningfully with anyone.”

This is why Mark spends a lot of time building rapport with the hiring manager and current dev team at his companyto improve how he engages with candidates.

In this article, he shares how he approaches this, and how he’s found his hiring managers can best support him:

  • Understanding what the team is missing, not what they’re looking for
  • Working with the tech team during the sourcing process
  • Building rapport between the recruiter and tech team outside of hiring

Understand what the team is missing, not what they’re looking for

Mark has found that a big reason why recruiters struggle to engage with candidates is because they rely on buzzwords. This is a result of ineffective communication with their hiring managers. When they ask what role or person the team is looking to hire, Mark says, “hiring managers go for the optimum — they say, ‘We are looking for these skill sets, for this experience’, which leaves recruiters with a checklist to work with.”

In his experience, this approach means that all recruiters have in their arsenal are key-words. In most cases, they simply match those to job titles or bios, and don’t actually speak to the specific thing those candidates care about.

A more effective approach, in his opinion, is for recruiters and hiring managers to sit together and unpack the job description. Mark says, “I want to know what's happening in that team right now, and why. If I can understand that, then we can work together on painting a picture of what is still missing for you, as a hiring manager and who I can look for to help you fill that gap.”

For example, if a hiring manager says they need a data scientist, a recruiter will go out and find anyone with “data science” in their bio, without knowing why or how they’ll apply that skill. If, however, that hiring manager says they’re missing someone who can synchronise unorganised data, all of a sudden the recruiter can pinpoint with greater specificity the kind of person that can fill that role well — which may not even be a data scientist at all. He explains:

This empowers Mark to reach out to a candidate, and say: ‘We need this skill for this project in particular — and I think you have that’, and hiring managers and their team are key for recruiters finding that level of detail.

Working with the tech team during the sourcing process

One of Mark’s secrets for sourcing the right people is to work alongside the developers at his company to understand what a good candidate looks like and why.

The two ways he does this are:

  • Screen-sharing, and working through profiles of candidates that he thinks might be a good fit
  • Sending the dev team a candidate’s GitHub profile, and asking them what they think

This helps him uncover deeper, and more interesting insights based on what they find exciting in someone’s code or profile, and lets him account for any technical blindspots he might have: “I actually sit down with them, open my laptop, and ask them to explain to me why someone is or isn’t a fit, how someone’s expertise might tie into a project they are working on, what buzzwords I’m using or not using, whether I know the difference between the two, and why I should or shouldn’t be using them at all.”

Although this takes more time, he says that the benefits of spending that time together show very quickly:

“Engineers know what they’re doing. It is a lot of time that you have to spend, and that they have to spend, but it feeds back into your pipeline because the quality of candidates will be way higher.”

Pro-tip: Knowing what it’s like to be on the other side as a hiring manager, Mark suggests recruiters do some research before involving the dev team. It costs tech teams development time, so it’s important that recruiters use that time as efficiently as possible.

“Do some homework before you go into it”, he explains. “If you can go to a hiring manager and say, ‘Listen, I've done this research, I’ve looked into what you’re doing, but I’m missing these key parts — can I talk to your team?’ it’s easier for the entire team to see that their contribution will impact the quality of the hire.”

Building rapport between the recruiter and tech team outside of hiring

A good relationship between a hiring manager and a dev team is a big part of what enables Mark to hire the best candidates for a certain role. However, Mark says that too many technical recruiters and hiring managers only work together when they need to hire someone. In his experience, this is like only being nice to someone when you need something, and it normally makes building a good relationship with tech teams really hard.

This is why Mark focuses on spending time with tech teams even when he isn’t hiring.

“You have to be a partner. You have all the knowledge you need right there — so, don't be reactive; be proactive. Talk to your tech teams, talk to the hiring manager, even though you are not hiring for them at that moment. They are good engineers, so learn from them.”

A good way to do this is to chat to hiring managers about creating more opportunities for technical recruiters to sit with dev teams during their day-to-day cadences. This could be during sprints, sitting in on pair programming sessions, joining standups and retros, or even just having non-work related chats.

This helps recruiters without technical backgrounds to better understand specific ways of thinking, or specific challenges that devs face in their daily lives. When it comes to reaching out to candidates later on, Mark says that it’s much easier to be relatable in how he engages developers, and means it’s more likely they’ll actually listen to what he has to say.


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