An engineer's view on what works and what doesn't in headhunting

Niniane Wang
June 23, 2005

I mentioned to a few Google recruiters that I find some headhunter emails very enticing and others not at all enticing. They asked for some examples, so I put a few up here.

From my experience, I've found there are a few guidelines that will make the headhunting email 10 times more effective:

  1. Describe the job position in detail. Which company? Which product? Which group? Just saying "I have full-time programming jobs available" is not as effective as "I have a lead position at Expedia on the best fare search."
  2. Butter up the candidate. Make them feel that they'll be valued. You'd think this would be obvious, but many recruiters contact me out of the blue and then act as though I owe them something.
  3. Show that you read the candidate's resume.
  4. Ask for the minimal work initially from the candidate. "Are you interested?" is the best. "Please send an updated version of your resume along with your compensation needs and available times for a phone interview." is too much for the initial contact. Hook them in first!
Onto examples!

Bad -- Too Vague

  Hi -
  Please send your resume if you would be interested in java or C++ work 
  We have contract and full time opportunities that may be  of interest to you.
  What are your compensation needs these days....hourly and annually?
The job description is too vague. Listing all the details of one particular position (company, product, group) is much more tempting. If you don't want to be too narrow, start with that one position, and then state that other positions are also available. (See MSN example #3.)

Also, it asks me to do a bunch of work right away -- reply with updated resume, compensation. It's much better to just ask for a quick reply.

Bad -- Too Aggressive

This is the FIRST CONTACT by this company:
  Subject: Niniane Wang --- XXX Phone Interview April 26, 2005

  We found your resume online .  ...  If you are interested, our Staffing
  Consultant, XXX XXX, has the following time available to speak with you:

     Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 at 11:00am PDT
Several problems:

Bad -- clearly did not read resume

  Subject: Seattle / .NET / long term contract

  I found your resume posted online and was hoping that you or someone you know
  would be interested in the following contract position.  The contract could
  last 1-2 years.  If you are interested, please send an updated copy of your
  resume along with your hourly wage requirements and we can schedule some time
  to speak.
My resume shows that 1. I no longer live in Seattle, 2. I have stayed away from .NET during my career, and 3. I have always chosen fulltime jobs rather than contract positions.

Also asks for too much work off the bat.

Good example

  Subject: Development Lead position with Expedia

  I wanted to drop you a line in regards to an excellent opportunity we have
  here at Expedia in Bellevue, WA.  We are currently looking for a development
  lead for our best fare search group.  Our best fare search group is
  responsible for developing and implementing the search and pricing engine to
  support our award winning travel site.  The group has some extremely
  challenging project ahead of it and we are looking for a passionate engineer
  to step in and lead the team.  Your background is very impressive so I wanted
  to see if you knew of anyone that might be qualified for this role.
This describes the position well, butters up the candidate a little, and requires just a simple response. Good work!

3 ways to sell the same position (MSN Search)

I've been contacted a number of times to join MSN Search. This was one attempt:
  Subject: MSN Search Opportunity 

  I located your resume during a Google search (!) and, if you are currently 
  looking for a new challenge,  I would like to discuss new opportunities with 
  one of the largest software development companies in world with you. 

  [..job description..]
This doesn't sell the job very well. It also seems the recruiter did not look at my resume long enough to notice that I worked for Microsoft for 5 years, and would therefore probably be aware that it's one of the largest software companies in the world.
  My name is XXX and I'm with Microsoft Staffing.  I am writing you regarding 
  an SDE opportunity we have available with Microsoft's Search team.   
  I came across your resume on the internet and noted that you're a previous 
  Microsoft employee and thought you may be interested in having conversations 
  about possibly returning. 
This is better in that it shows the recruiter actually read through my resume. But it is pretty indifferent in asking whether I want to return.
  I'm currently recruiting for a few companies and your resume came up in a
  web search I'm doing for Microsoft.  I fully realize you've done the
  Microsoft thing and I understand if you have no interest in exploring
  opportunities with them but I can tell you outright, if you did want to
  consider going back, they'd treat you like a rockstar.  They'd love someone
  with your experience.
This one is better, since it considers things from my perspective -- it considers that people usually have a reason for switching jobs, so they usually don't want to switch back. Then it attempts to combat that with golden promises and flattery. Flattery works! But you probably already know that, since the fact that you're reading this page shows that you are exceptionally driven to knowledge and improvement. (See?)

A great way to be persistent

Usually after I say no, the headhunter replies with "If you know other superstars who may be interested, let me know." and I reply (mentally or actually), "If they're looking for jobs, I'm going to recruit them to Google."

In this case, a headhunter did something extra:

  If a truly outstanding opportunity came up - would you take an honest and
  open look at it?  

  The project can be summed up in the following:

  [..particular subfield of search domain...]

  The initial customer had a 6X increase in profits with this system and from
  this proof of concept, round A funding was completed.
This is very clever. It asks for very little -- just to take another look at the opportunity. It also reiterates the strong points of the position -- the field, the stage of the company, the potential revenue. Well done!


Best of luck to the recruiters out there!


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