What tech recruiting can learn from community management

Tech recruiting is broken. I am not writing this out of a sensational curiosity — no. We have all experienced how recruiters try to match the demand-driven, developer-hungry job market with the supply from institutes of higher education, vocational training and self-study. Not to mention the various funnel problems such as a low share of 19% of female IT graduates (in Germany)….

Of course, Corona switched the game up quite a bit. There has never been a worse time to find a job. There has also never been a better time to get technical talent. While before, the market was scarce and qualified candidates with an exact fit were hard to come by, the scales have tipped a bit. A lower amount of positions overall is met by a higher number of free agents.

That being said, tech is one of the less affected sectors in the global economy. And finding and retaining talent still applies! I would imagine that, if anything, after an initial boost in the listings of free developers, recruiters will then increasingly compete for the positions that companies seek to fill. So what do recruiters do to keep their books full with good matches?

One of the most criticized (and most damaging) approaches recruiters apply is to send mass messages. Some developers report receiving upwards of 50 direct messages on LinkedIn and similar portals per week. That in itself wouldn’t be the worst of it. What makes the whole situation hard to digest is that in some cases backend developers are approached for frontend roles, web specialists for DevOps, and so forth… If a professional in another sector were to operate like this they would have already been on the path of professional reorientation.

Is it because recruiters don’t care? Don’t analyze? Don’t inform themselves? My interviews with various tech recruiters confirmed the impression that it’s easier for the bottom line to shoot a shot into a vast field. The core message was that as long as the average target (i. e. a developer referred) is met every couple of months income is high enough. Why change anything? And why even look for diverse candidates? The client rarely pays extra for that.

Various strategies to fix the situation have been discussed. There is no universal solution. Nonetheless, coming from a community management background, I see how strong developer communities are. And what developers do for each other in these communities. That pertains to learning, mentoring, but also to finding jobs. So… Can tech recruiting benefit from community strategies? There are quite a few pointers. Let’s dive in!

Data-driven audience development

Every community professional who is worth their weight will tell interested parties that no community development works without underlying data. You have to get to know your community — and the people you want your community to encompass.

Developers are among the most-researched groups out there. From surveys from IDC, Evans and SlashData to regional studies from agencies for employment and research institutions, there are a multitude of sources. Most come for free, others come with cost attached.

As someone who has recently looked into the numbers for a freelance project, I can testify that you are able to extract quite significant information from research. Once you know your target group you will know what they want, need and look for. Tech recruiters can develop their audience much better with underlying data.

Meaningful relationships

In the olden times, recruiters had no choice but to go out there and meet people in person. They were seen at events. Social platforms are an amazing invention. However, they tempt recruiters to never leave their office, unless it’s about signing a very important client. Communities increasingly turn to in-person events. The personal touch converts low contributors to key members.

The good thing is that any platform can also be used to establish meaningful and deep relationships. I don’t expect that developers will bind themselves to a recruiter for life. The market is too tempting for that.

But they are more prone to recommend a buddy or a contact from their network if “their” recruiter currently has matching positions on offer. The old adage of “if you are good to me I am good to you” still holds true, especially when it comes to personal coaching. This ensures a better outcome and leads us to our next point — quality.

Quality over quantity

While it might make sense occasionally to reach out on a grand scale, it equally deters engineers! Individual approaches take center stage in well-led communities. And guess what — this even works when some forms of mass customization are employed.

Technical folks are smart. In the communities, ideal matches are emphasized. The Angular fanatic might go to the Vue meetup to learn. But will they change career paths? Probably not. If recruiters know what they are “selling” and who they are trying to convince they focus on the essential aspects. Developers take note if somebody actually looked at their online CV and/or projects and matches them up with the fitting employer.

Alumni Relations

One of the secret sauces of communities is that they keep close ties even to those who left them. In university jargon this is called Alumni Relations.

Every developer who went through a recruiter process “graduates” from it eventually. However, job changes are not unbeknownst to developers. Thus it could easily be feasible that the referred developer wants to move on to another project two years after that instance.

As it is now, recruiters try to match jobs with the current set of candidates they have and find. Keeping someone in their “books” is standard practice, but not yet exhausted to the point where this increases the overall quality.

Network on a global scale

Communities can take many forms — grand and small, local and global. When it comes to the latter, we have seen examples from communities who unite members from all over the planet under one banner.

While a tech recruiter won’t be able to drive an equally worthwhile mission they need to look beyond their own shores. Increasingly, the demand for developers in Europe cannot be met with European talent alone. The increase of foreign IT personnel was 18% in 2018 YoY in Germany, with a growing tendency.

Platforms and far-reaching conferences offer the unique possibility to establish a network that encompasses developers from other countries and cultures.

The human factor

Building a network takes time and patience. At least, that is the baseline when quality is of higher priority. A vast budget can help move things along. Yet it does not replace the human touch that we all crave for — commissioners and receivers of tech recruiting alike.

A genuine love for developers will shine through in everything recruiters do. Community managers and developer advocates provide fabulous examples of what happens when concerns are being taken seriously. Among those examples are better products, greater loyalty and ultimately, a better bottom line.

While we hear a lot of negative stories, I want to point out that there are amazing tech recruiters out there. I have met my fair share over the years and I was happy to be able to get to work with them.

If we manage to exchange and look beyond our own areas we will find that we can learn a great deal from each other. This, in turn, will lead to innovations where developers are concerned — both literally and figuratively. And in Corona times, this is exactly what we need.

tech (people) {code} is about all things human in tech.

From and for project and product people, engineering managers, developers, and all those curious about the people code.

tech (people) {code} is on anchor.fm and YouTube.

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