Recruitment
Recruitment Stories

Recruiting is personal - remember that when doing cold outreach

Doing cold outreach is about finding candidates on your terms: Either avoiding job posting or attracting talent not actively looking. But the key to making it successful is respecting how personal a journey taking a job actually is. 

November 5, 2020
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3
min. read
Illustration by Signe Valentin Andersen

This post is part of a series where we’re taking you through what we believe to be the best tips on growing a team. It’s based on experiences from our combined 15 years working with recruitment but most importantly on how we grew the Platypus team from 2 people in February 2019 to 19 people 18 months later.

Check out the other posts in the series:

  1. Our basic principles for recruiting
  2. How to attract talent when you’re a startup with nothing to offer
  3. Why unplanned opportunities should be part of your recruitment plan
  4. The quickest way to build a fast-moving team
“You’re not selling me. You’re scaring me!” How on earth can that be a good recruitment tactic?! It is if you want to give the candidate a fair basis for making their decision.

This is both a matter of what we’ve learned in our years of recruitment and a matter of opinion: Taking a job is deeply personal.
Understanding the personal journey that any candidate goes through, and the values that drive it is key to making your outreach relevant.

Also, it’s the right thing to do.

Tech is a pretty unique market when it comes to recruitment. Because of the scarcity of developers, finding and attracting talent is a game of its own. Let’s state that bottom line.

When we were in the very early stages, hiring developers was a core priority. And even though there is much good to be said of hiring through your own or employees’ network (see here and here), it’s not always enough, or even the best approach.

Enter: Cold outreach.

The advantages of cold outreach are clear: You’re taking some control in pinpointing the kind of talent or skills you need and avoid creating a job posting that will have you look through some 600 CVs. Compared to this, doing outreach is quick and efficient.

The flip side is, of course, the massive efforts put into reaching those valuable tech talents by others than you. Developers are drowning in less-than-relevant outreach from recruiters and headhunters and cutting through that noise is not easy.

“This is gonna be a first-world problem… But do you know how annoying it is, how misleading it is to get all of those messages?
Because it’s always recruiters, never a developer, that would contact you. And it’s always the same: A copy-paste message with a “yes” or “no” button at the end. Looking at this, I might have so many options, but what actually fits me among them?!”
Abboud - Abdelrahman Afaneh

With recruitment stranded on being a numbers game, you end up with the kind of numbness that our frontend developer, Abboud, describes: Options stop being actual opportunities and end up as junk because they completely lack the ability to reflect that recruitment is personal to the people being sucked into the pipeline.

There’s simply a missing link between the outreach machine and the reality of candidates that is all about acknowledging what makes it worthwhile to brave a journey and join a new organisation.

Turning the picture around, and focusing on how outreach, and the following recruitment process, can be relevant by being genuine and personal, we see three stages in the outreach journey:

  1. Reaching out - where you need to make yourself relevant to the candidate
  2. Engaging in a conversation - where you need to get a deeper understanding
  3. Allowing an informed decision - where it’s up to the candidate to take a leap of faith

These are our thoughts on how to approach each stage:

#1: Make yourself relevant

The ultimate hurdle in outreach is getting through the noise. That requires writing a message that is somehow worth responding to.

Every recruiter has their approach to this. We differ very much in ours. Dan used to write very long messages with a dash of self-deprecating British humor. Nico writes almost nothing – because the more you say the more excuse you’re giving to say no.

This strategy is all about getting the candidate on the phone. Because once you are on the phone you’ll be able to stand out from the crowd and sell the job – or rather an interview – on the mission and the vision. Not just the specs of the job.

Behind all of this lies having the basics in order (even if it almost goes without saying): Do your homework. Don’t reach out out of the blue. Know who you’re reaching out to, clear it with someone who (actually) knows tech, and make sure that this is in fact a position relevant to this candidate.

#2: Engage in an (actual) conversation

We believe strongly in making the recruitment process conversational. It shouldn’t really be an interview because it’s not just about you vetting the candidate. It’s about both of you figuring out whether there’s any prospect in joining forces.

Making it conversational is about spending time finding out what really matters to each of you - and about establishing a basis of trust.

The conversation naturally includes the hiring manager, and instead of focusing on procedures and tasks, we like to focus on open discussions that can be just as useful for ticking the boxes on technical skills, etc. – but much more useful for getting a sense of the person you’re dealing with.

It goes without saying (since we’re building a tool for this) that we find that getting deeper into the values and priorities that drive this candidate of great importance. The journey might have similar stages, but for every single candidate, changing jobs involve different considerations, different risks, and different rewards. And this is something that we need to get closer to, for both them and us to assess whether taking this step is right for them.

At the end of the day, this process is all about both of you making an informed decision - and the responsibility of the recruiter and hiring manager is to give as fair a basis for this decision.

#3: Allow an informed leap of faith

At the last stage of the journey, the work is all on the candidate. The recruiter and hiring manager have done their part. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t consequential for this stage.

When you’re asking someone to take a leap and join your mission the very least thing you can do is offer brutal honesty. Even if it – as happened with our frontend’er – is a bit scary at first. Because the transparency you offer by being genuine and honest will pay back in a trust that what you see, really is what you’re getting. And that trust is what you need for making an informed leap of faith.

Signing off on this post, this is something we believe in very strongly: It is your responsibility as an organisation to offer transparency - even when it is scary. Because it is the only way to leverage the field for the candidate’s decision.

We will be sharing more advice on recruiting and team building in this series of posts on recruitment. Stay tuned! And check out the other posts in the series:

Our basic principles for recruiting

How to attract talent when you’re a startup with nothing to offer

Why unplanned opportunities should be part of your recruitment plan

The quickest way to build a fast-moving team

Written by
Nico
Blier-Silvestri
Daniel
Bowen