Five phrases that kill your credibility with developers

If you want to attract the best developers to put in front of your clients, Jeff Szczepanski at Stack Overflow says here are the top five phrases to avoid if you want to maintain credibility with prospective candidates.

Recruiting a developer requires a different approach and a different skillset to recruiting in other verticals – but developers aren't the mysterious creatures you may think they are. A lot of the dos and don'ts might appear like common sense but you’d be surprised at how frequently the don’ts actually happen.

How you write job specs and speak to developer candidates really matters: this won’t be news to recruiters, however there are some extra pitfalls to watch out for when you’re trying to attract technical candidates. Whether it is your first developer hire or you are looking to specialise in technical recruitment, here are some stock phrases you’d do well to avoid in your communications with developers.

1. “You seem like a great fit for the role!”

A phrase like this immediately sets alarm bells ringing for a developer. Obviously, if you’ve done your research and the candidate is ideally suited it makes sense to tell them. However, most of the time a developer will see this as an empty phrase, part of a bland, untargeted, copied and pasted email blast. Beware: if you don’t put more effort into personalising your outreach, your developer recipients will treat your emails like any old spam.

Developers are in very high demand and 91% of developers in the UK are gainfully employed, according to Stack Overflow’s 2016 developer survey. Because of this high-competition environment, the onus is very much on the recruiter to prove the value of the position to the candidate, so it’s vital to ensure your job description, responsibilities and required skillsets are as rich in detail as possible.

Phrases like “your background looks great” don’t have much appeal for a developer, and run the risk of turning developers away. Developers would much rather cross-check their own skills with a detailed job spec than engage in small talk with a recruiter.

2. “I’m looking for a highly-skilled Java and C plus plus ninja”

The subject line: it’s the most important part of the message. You’ve got a few short words to grab your reader’s attention, so you’ve got to make them count. Now, a recruiter is not expected to know about programming languages in any great detail but this phrase is like nails scraping down a blackboard for developers, sure to send anyone worth their salt running in the opposite direction. Let’s dissect exactly what’s wrong in this disaster of an opener.

To start with, get your terminology right: it’s C++ rather than ‘C plus plus’. To a developer this is a very basic term and using it incorrectly immediately lets the candidate know that you – or worse, the company you represent – do not understand the role you’re hiring for. An error like this can really damage your credibility, making it much more difficult to build a relationship with your developers long term.

From a more technical point of view, Java and the C-family of programming languages are vastly different from one another, and these two technologies are rarely used in tandem with one another. In short, the above phrase would require two, separate developers. Again, as a recruiter you’re not expected to have a technical background, but phrases like this demonstrate the value of having a technical person cast their eyes over job listings before you send them out

3. “We are about to go public”

An IPO is often hailed as the holy grail for tech companies and they can often generate an enormous windfall for the company that can be passed on to employees in attractive stock options. Going public, however, inevitably has an effect on company culture, and recruiters need to bear that in mind as the role they are advertising may change post-IPO.

The IPO may be great news for investors and for high-ranking executives, but a developer is unlikely to be intimately involved in the IPO process. They’re much more likely to be interested in cashing in on an IPO, so if you are going to mention future IPO plans, make sure you can back it up with solid information about stock options.

A company going public doesn’t actually say much about what it would be like to work there, or what a specific job would entail. If you’re going to feature IPO plans prominently in your correspondence, you run the risk of developers wondering why this is the biggest selling point, and they go away suspecting you’ve got something to hide.

4. Avoid the ‘en masse’ mail blast

Okay, strictly speaking this isn’t a phrase but it is good practice to bear it in mind anyway. As a recruiter, it's often tempting to send out big email blasts to lists of prospects, detailing job opportunities and other local and relevant news. However, in part due to the sheer number of jobs available, developers warrant a much more targeted approach.

The likelihood is that developers will have at least a passing familiarity with industry trends and the companies that they might want to work for. Developers sharing an office do actually talk to each other – this really shouldn't be a surprise. Make sure you're not sending the same 'personal' opportunities to everyone in the building.

A recruiter is likely to achieve much better results by focusing on a single job that is relevant to the developer’s career goals and existing skillset.

5. “If it’s not for you, can you send it on to your friends in the industry?”

Developers are there to write code, not do your job for you. They do not expect you to give them a code review, so don’t expect them to scout out prospects for you.

If a recruitment email contains a caveat explaining that the recruiter is open to other candidates, this immediately comes across as lazy, and rude. Think about it: if someone asks you on a romantic dinner, with the caveat that if you are unable to attend your friend would make a great replacement, then it is pretty unlikely that you’d go. As a recruiter, you may well be ‘seeing other people’ but it’s not a good idea to point it out in the first instance.

Ultimately, recruiting for a technical role means forming a relationship with the developer and demonstrating an understanding of developer culture. Take the time to add a personal touch to the email: with such high demand for developers in the UK, taking the time to create a personal connection goes a long way.

Jeff Szczepanski is chief operating officer at Stack Overflow, an online community for programmers.

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