Why Cold Approaches From Recruiters Miss the Mark

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It’s a challenging market for recruiters at the moment. There are a lot of open roles, but not many candidates. It seems like some recruitment strategies will need to change to increase the response rate to cold recruitment approaches.

Every few months I update my LinkedIn profile. It’s usually an update to add more detail about my current role and my recent achievements. As a side effect of this I suddenly get a barrage of contacts from recruiters, I think this is because LinkedIn’s algorithms sort searches by modification date. Through these cold contacts I am constantly amazed at how often the recruiters miss the mark in terms of my skills and desires, but also how their approach doesn’t encourage me to respond.

I’ll start with a quick review of how recruiters don’t seem to understand my career journey, and some of the approaches used by recruiters, and then I’ll make some suggestions about how this could be improved.

# Missing the Mark

I’ll admit I’ve had a varied career journey. I started in a role that with the benefit if hindsight I realise was a CTO role, I’ve worked as a developer (both freelance and for other organisation), I’ve managed a bar and a print & copy shop, and more recently I’ve moved into leadership roles. Based open a number of the cold contacts I’ve got from recruiters, I think they rely purely on a keyword search on LinkedIn and don’t review the potential candidate’s employment history or desires. I’m also astounded by the InMails on LinkedIn that imply they’ve looked at my profile but after a couple of lines it’s obvious they haven’t.

Recently I received a message with the text “I love your background so wanted to reach out” for a full-stack Javascript developer role, they even went on to say “…I love what you talk about, your passions, in your bio…”, but my bio is VERY clear that I am not interested in being an individual contributor. Or perhaps the “…while looking for React/Front-end/UI skills…”, erm, I don’t have those skills. Another one from the last week was “…Senior AWS Developer… 6 months contract”, but my profile only talks about my leadership skills and desires in relation to SaaS products, there’s no hint about any interest in contract roles.

In each of these cases I can only assume that the recruiter hasn’t even spent a minute or two looking at my bio; it seems like they haven’t even looked at my work history and my clear path into leadership roles; I’m 100% certain they haven’t viewed any of my posts or the articles I’ve published. These cold approaches which don’t show any attempt to assess my suitability for a role are not only wasting my time, but they’re wasting the recruiter’s time and are also driving up the hiring costs for the companies that engage the recruitment agency.

Thankfully there’s a solution to this, and one I see a few recruiters use, but I’ll cover that later in this article.

Something else recruiters should be aware of, the LinkedIn sorting algorithm is flawed. I get the most contacts from recruiters just after I have started a new role. The people at the top are those who have most recently updated their profile. Now, when LinkedIn was purely used by job seekers this worked well, but it’s become more of a social network these days, and an update is not something that signifies a desire for change, you’re going to have to make more of an effort than just relying on the search results.

My final point in this section is trying to bait candidates to respond. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve received a message about a “role” that may suit me, but with no real detail. If you want the attention of a candidate you need to provide them with some value in your cold approach, you need to provide clarity, and you need to trust that they will do the right thing by you. As per my previous point, I’ll give you some ideas about how to do this later in this article.

# Job Seeker vs Recruiter - The Lessons are the Same

As a job seeker I’ve talked to a number of recruiters and I’ve learnt from them, I’ve also talked to a lot of people about job search strategies and taken their knowledge on-board too. One of the things I’ve learnt along the way is that the machine-gun approach to job hunting doesn’t work effectively. For those who aren’t familiar with this approach, it’s having a single, standardised resume and submitting it without context for as many roles as possible; eventually something will hit, but the strike rate is pretty low. The same can be said for recruiters relying on LinkedIn’s algorithm to present them with potential candidates, if you just machine gun your role out to as many people as possible you’ll get a very low return on investment.

Recruiters, you (or your organisation) charges tens of thousands of dollars to place a successful candidate, the least you can do is pre-filter your contacts and not rely on candidates to do it for you. You expect the candidate to customise their resume, prepare a cover letter, perform due diligence on the role, but if you don’t do some basic candidate filtering you are devaluing the candidate experience, missing potential candidates and ultimately costing your clients.

# Enough Complaining, What’s a Solution

The solution to all of these issues in really simple. Now I know you’ll be wondering why I’m writing an article about it if it’s so simple, well it’s so simple that most recruiters overlook it. All you have to do is value the candidate and view the process from their perspective. If you want to get my attention, then you could just follow the rest of this article (I’m sure it would apply to many other potential candidates), but you may need to adjust it to get the best overall return on your time.

The first thing to do is determine what approach you’ll take if you find I’m not suitable for the role. The best approach I’ve seen is the recruiter who asks me if I know anyone who may be interested in the role. This approach not only simplifies the candidate search for you, but allows me to feel like I can provide value to you and potentially to someone in my network. When I’ve received these type of contacts I’ve responded 100% of the time. Now some people are just plain old anti-recruiter, they will never help you, or at least they’ll never let you know they’ve told someone in their network, but chances are you had no way to find value from that type of person anyway.

Once you know how to approach me if I’m not suitable, start working out if I am suitable. Let’s assume you’ve just done a search on LinkedIn and you’ve located me. The first thing to do is check to see why I last started a role, if it was in the last few months then it’s extremely unlikely I will be looking for a role, go to the strategy you determined earlier, and if I am looking for a role I’d let you know.

Once you know there’s potential for me to discuss a role, check my current job title. If the role would be a backward step, then I’m probably not suitable, use the strategy you determined earlier. If I’ve decided I’m not happy with the current level of seniority I’ll tell you that the role would interest me. If you don’t understand what my job titles means you can always contact me about the role, but disclose that you don’t know how to interpret my job title; I’d be happy to educate you.

If someone has taken the time and effort to write a comprehensive profile on LinkedIn, read it. Do they align to the PD you’ve got? If not, then, you guess it, use the strategy from earlier.

If you’ve made it this far you’ve invested a total less than 5 minutes in ensuring I would be suitable for the role. If there’s clear alignment between the LinkedIn bio and the role you can skip past the next few items, but if you aren’t sure about the alignment, there’s a few more options.

Scan my job history, is there a pattern to the type of company I’ve worked for? If I’ve only worked for start-up and scale-up organisations there’s a pretty slim chance I want to work at one of the big banks, or at Facebook, or at Amazon.

The final step would be to look at the skills section of a potential candidate’s profile. If I list jQuery but not React, don’t approach me about a React role and vice-versa. If I’ve got a clear back-end or cloud infrastructure focus make sure the role you’re promoting aligns with my skills.

If you’ve made it this far without resorting to the “unsuitable candidate” approach, then it’s time to contact me about the role. Don’t try and bait me, be upfront about the role and give me enough detail to assess if I’m interested or not. Make sure you tell me the company name, if I’ve been presented to them previously it will save us both time, and the chances of me reaching out to them directly and denying you a commission is so small it isn’t worth worrying about. Tell me the job title and what the team does; I have no idea what “tech lead/principal developer for Team Frootloops” means. Tell me the salary band for the role, if I want $200k and the role is only offering $160k then it’s never going to work, the same goes in reverse, if the role pays too much it is likely beyond my abilities.

There’s a couple of other things you could do to help streamline the process in future.

Don’t be afraid to ask if we can connect. Many people are happy to help others on their career journey, so it means I will get to see your future job announcements. It also allows you to see my posts, maybe you’ll find value in some of them, but you’ll definitely get a chance to understand me better and know if I would be suitable for a future role. I may even introduce you to some candidates who are choosing to look for a new role and you’ll be able to talk to them before they’ve applied for other roles.

Once connected, maintain contact. Interact with posts and articles you find interesting; send those birthday wishes and job anniversary congratulations (but don’t use it as a chance to try and entice me to another role). Reach out any time you have a role you think I could help find candidates for. Ask me to introduce you to people in my network instead of just using the cold approach.

# What’s the Value in All This?

Now I realise this approach takes 15 minutes for the cold connection instead of 3; I realise maintaining a network will take an hour or two of your day, so why would you want to do this?

The value provided through this approach is that you can gain a smaller number of highly qualified candidates and can invest less time in filtering the responses that aren’t relevant. As you build and maintain your network of connections you will be able to approach people with roles that will suit them or get introductions to suitable candidates with ease. You’ll get potential candidates introduced to you and you can perhaps slot them straight in to a role. You’ll also be able to maintain the accuracy of your internal candidate database as you observe changes to profiles in your network.

If you’re serious about a career as a recruiter, this network of candidates will follow you between employers, increasing your value for future roles, but also allowing you to choose your own career destiny.