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John Van Wagenen
John Van Wagenen

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Tell Me the Why

This article was originally posted on my personal blog.

If you know me personally, there's probably no doubt that I have a few quirks or things that I do that may seem odd. One of those things is that I tend to keep up with my LinkedIn notifications. Most people I talk with tend to log into LinkedIn only once in a great while. For some reason, I'm not that way. I tend to log in at least weekly to clear out notifications and respond to recruiters (usually with the canned, "Hi Bob, thanks for reaching out. I’m not currently interested, but let’s keep in touch").

As a Software Engineer, I generally have a few recruiters a week messaging me. As I've looked over each of these messages, I feel like I've seen some good recruiting messages and some poor ones. Unfortunately I don't think I've seen any great messages. In this article, I want to share some thoughts on what I would like to see in a recruiter's message to me if they were really serious about me joining their team.

It's more than technology...

One common theme I see in many messages from recruiters is a focus on the technologies the company uses. Again, this may be one of my personal idiosyncrasies, but technology is lower on my list of things I care about when considering job prospects. For the most part, technologies can be learned and can be changed for other things. Technologies come and go. Just because you're using technology or language X doesn't mean your product is worthwhile. I'm much more interested in the problems you're solving and the industry(ies) you're in rather than the tools you're using to solve them. This isn't to say I'm completely uninterested. I definitely am interested in technologies and languages, but I find the problems we solve as software engineers are more important than the tools we use to solve them.

So, instead of focusing on the technology being used, tell me about the product you have, the problems it addresses, and why that's important.

It's not about the tangibles...

Another common theme in many messages, and rightly so, are what I'll call the "tangibles." By this I'm referring to things like money, location, benefits, office perks, etc. These things are appealing and should be included in every hiring process, but I'm not sure an initial contact with a job prospect is the right time.

Instead of a focus on the tangibles, I'd rather see a focus on the why. Why does your business exist? How does it improve the human condition? Why do you do what you do? We've probably all seen that famous TED talk from Simon Sinek about how people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. I think the same is true when recruiting. If you focus on what you do (we use X language/tool or we can give you X dollars), you will attract some people, but you'll probably see high turnover and product churn. You'll probably see challenges with processes and gaining a shared vision. This can be okay in the short-term, but isn't a sustainable business practice.

So, focus on the why. Tell me why you do what you do as a business. If you have a compelling reason to do what you do and you just so happen to offer great benefits, then you'll get my attention.

In the end...

There are other little things that I could mention, but what I've shared in this article cuts to the root of the issue in my mind. As a Software Engineer, I don't just want to be pumping out code in the coolest new technologies. I don't really even care so much that you can offer me large amounts of money. In the end, it's the problems I solve and the humans I impact that brings me satisfaction in my job.

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