Behind the Scenes Recruiter

Technical Recruiting with Liz Hall

During orientation I reminded the class that this was our first attempt at the The Fog Creek Fellowship. Mentors and fellows alike have been providing us with constant feedback allowing us to mold and shape the details of the program as it unfolds. Continuous tweaking allows us to make the experience better, not only for them, but for future fellowship classes as well. We’re one month into the program and as predicted we’ve learned a few things. 

1. You don’t need to supply a physical desk.

Each fellow has received their own desk at the Fog Creek / Trello office. We have the space to do so and it’s been a nice perk but what we’ve learned is this - if you don’t have the extra desk at your office it’s okay. Just providing a place to sit in one of your open areas (kitchen, conference room, library, etc.,) works just as well. These fellows are BUSY. They aren’t in your space 9am-5pm. They are attending job fairs, going on interviews, working on their projects, and keeping up with Flatiron events. They’ll be by to meet with their mentor, join the team for lunch, and even stay to work now and then, but will not need that desk as much as we originally thought. 

2. Our mentors love to teach! 

Early on our mentors pinpointed where they could help the most and brainstormed how to address these topics as a group. They came up with the Flatiron Algo Crash Course Trello board to organize and plan short teaching classes. Every Friday fellows from both Stack Exchange and Fog Creek are invited to attend these lessons and so far the feedback has been nothing but positive. 

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Make sure you pick mentors that really enjoy and value teaching. This addition to the program has really been a hit and I strongly recommend including a version of this of your own. 

3. Have a recruiter at your company be a floating mentor. 

Navigating interviews can be stressful and confusing. Your recruiter will have insight and a point a view from “the other side” of the process that will enlighten the fellows. I’ve loved hearing about the interviews our fellows have had and offering advice and feedback. Make this part of the process less of a mystery! Plus you’ll learn a bit about how other companies interview which you can benchmark yourself against. Win win. 

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Today marks day one of the Fog Creek Fellowship. Thanks to Stack Exchange and Trello a total of 16 fellows are to be mentored in this first class - Pretty awesome. Fellows arrived to a kickoff breakfast (eight at the Trello / Fog Creek office and eight at the Stack Exchange office) to meet their mentors and discuss project ideas.

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They were shown their desk, met everyone in the company, and went over the itinerary for the next few weeks. As with any new endeavor I’m sure there will be a few bumps along the way but with such passionate and dedicated participants I’m confident we’ll get them smoothed out as soon as they pop up.

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This means - It will be easier than ever for you and your company to hit “copy” and get involved. Let us figure out if it makes more sense to have the program be 8 weeks or 10. Let us figure out the most beneficial number of pair programming sessions. We’ll work out the nitty gritty details now allowing you to have the most perfect fellowship program at your company later. 

If you are interested in starting a fellowship program of your own with The Flatiron School click here.  

Other companies and organizations you can get involved with are:

Code2040 - Providing Blacks and Latinos the skills they need to enter the tech workforce. 

Hacker School - Free for everyone and providing grants for living expenses for underrepresented groups in tech.

Skillcrush - Providing an affordable way to learn to code plus creating a supportive community for female coders. 

Women Who Code - Providing an avenue into tech, empowering woman with the skills needed for professional advancement, and providing environments where networking and mentorship are valued. 

Girl Develop It - Empowering women of diverse backgrounds from around the world to learn how to develop software. 

Black Girls Code - Empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.  

The list doesn’t end there, those just happen to be the ones currently on my radar. A quick Internet search should bring you a ton more information and resources. 

You don’t have to do a fellowship program if that’s not right for your organization but do something. If you need help convincing the powers that be, you can point out that this is great for your company’s recruiting, marketing, and PR purposes. 

Please take a truthful look around your organization and the tech community at large and get involved. 

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It’s true, our fabulously talented interns are busy at work but we’re also making sure they get to explore and discover New York City. Since the program began they’ve taken archery classes, went on Scott’s Pizza Tour, saw the Broadway show All The Way, went on a fishing trip, and attended a few quiz night / game night / welcome party events. We use Trello to manage all our intern events. Here’s the board:

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Coming up: Lunch at our sister company Stack Exchange, a night of karaoke, trapeze lessons, a comedy show, rock climbing, a trip to the New York Aquarium, and our famous end-of-summer beach party. 

The beach party is a great end-of-program fiesta. We board a chartered ferry which takes us to an on-the-beach restaurant where breakfast, lunch, drinks, and activities are provided. It’s an all day event where friends and family members are encouraged to join. We can reflect on the program, swim in the rooftop pool, play volleyball, or just zonk out on the beach.

I recommend working with one of your designers on fun beach-related swag items as a surprise for your employees & interns. In years past I’ve done frisbees, tote bags, golf balls, but the fan favorite is the personalized beach towel.  

Speaking of beach towels… want in on a secret? Shhhhhhh - don’t tell anyone, but the proof just came in, and it looks good to me! Here’s our 2014 beach towel!

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**Update**

The party was a hit! Look at all those adorable rolled up towels, poolside, near the fireplace :)

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You’ve spent the last five months doing résumé reviews, phone interviews, and in-person interviews, for that open Internship / Developer / QA / Support Engineer role. You finally found a suitable candidate, and their first day is right around the corner. As a recruiter, you’re entering the home stretch; all you have left to do is make sure everything is in place for their first day.

This onboarding process is one of the least frequent things that you will do, because it happens right at the end of the recruiting funnel. However, it may actually be one of the most important steps because it sets the new hire on the right trajectory from day one and gives them a great first impression of the company. 

Read about how I use Trello for all our onboarding needs. Complete with images of Fog Creek’s real onboarding board, like this… 

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AND

A public template I created that you can use for your own company’s onboarding process. Just copy the board and start editing it to align with your company’s history, employees, and onboarding process. 

Read the full post here! 

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A few times a month, as a Newhouse alum, I receive the Newhouse JobOps email filled with marketing, advertising, broadcast journalism, magazine, photography, public relations, television, radio, and film job listings. I always look forward to skimming this amazing resource to get a glimpse into my past life within the entertainment industry. 

A few weeks ago though, I saw this job ad:

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I thought we had moved on from the “office mom” metaphor in startup culture. 

Apparently not.

One quick google search and a slew of other current job listings popped up all looking for a “mother”. 

This inspired me to write an open letter to all job description writers with the goal of ending this counterproductive and sexist trend. I hope to never read a job listing like that again. 

Read the full post here

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My last post talked about where you might want to list your internship: If you don’t know where to begin here’s a good rule: only target colleges that admit less than 30% of applicants. That will give you a head start on being selective, especially if you have limited spots available in your program”.

This sparked an interesting discussion on the difference between being elitist vs. being selective.  

If we only looked at where an intern candidate went to school, not only would that be elitist, it also wouldn’t be very useful for us in terms of hiring the best candidates. So, we don’t . The school you went to can, at most, get you one point in the initial resume screening process. That’s it. We look at seven different areas when reviewing internship resumes.  The resume screening step is primarily about reducing the overwhelming number of applicants to a reasonable and manageable size. Here are the guidelines we use to whittle down the large pile of resumes we receive each recruiting season.

Passion.  We look for a proof of passion for technology. What elective classes has the student taken? Have they worked on any side projects? Have they participated in extracurricular programming (e.g., hackathons)? Are they a teaching associate? Do they have an interesting GitHub profile? How long have they been programming? Did they tear apart their parents’ toaster as a kid and re-assemble it into a microwave? Do they belong to any programming/Computer Science clubs? Do they write a technical blog? This is the “gets things done” part of Smart and Get’s Things Done.

Communication.  The cover letter is the first insight we get into how well a candidate can communicate. Did they include one and was it well written? Were there any egregious spelling or grammatical errors? Communication between team members is crucial.

Creativity.   How much thought did the candidate put into their application? Was it personalized and created just for us, or was it blasted to the top 1000 job listings on a job board somewhere? Did they spell the company’s name right? No, seriously, we’re not Frog Creek or Fog Greek. If the candidate has personalized their application, not only does it show attention to detail, but it also indicates that they’re serious about getting hired by us specifically (and therefore more likely to accept an offer if they make it through the rest of our recruiting process).

Screening.  This is the selectiveness I was talking about earlier. Has the candidate already been through a well-known selective process via a rigorous school admissions process or previous internship at a selective employer? This factors into the “smart” part of Smart and Gets Things Done. While correlation does not equal causation, seeing a candidate who went to a selective school or was accepted into a difficult/popular internship in the past is usually a good indicator as to the candidate’s abilities, drive, etc. Again: Smart and Gets Things Done.

Brains.  Have they taken difficult courses or won any awards? What about their GPA? Are they strong in their major, but weak in their overall GPA? We’re looking for people who can tackle whatever problem they might be given, not just the 4 things they’ve studied in depth. This is another aspect of the “smart” part of Smart and Gets Things Done.

Graduation Year.  What year are they expected to graduate? Juniors are slightly preferred for us because they are usually closest to graduating and therefore able to work full time the soonest. Remember, one of the goals of your internship program is to ultimately find your next full-time hire. If the candidate rocked their internship, we want to make them an offer that will hopefully have them saying “yes” before they even head back to school.

+’s.  We use +’s when our other criteria don’t necessarily apply, but a candidate should clearly get a phone screen from us anyway. Basically, is there anything else about this applicant that makes them unique and/or amazing? Should we interview this candidate even though only some of the above apply? The person doing the resume screen can add on as many +’s as they want during the resume review.

We’re not looking for just one type of intern and we make sure our resume review process lets us look at the bigger picture of each applicant while allowing us to be selective. The same is true for our full-time developers.

Speaking of full-time developers, all this conversation about schools got me thinking about our current full-time staff and where they happened to have gone to school.



Of course, this list is constantly evolving as we hire new developers.

The more interesting part though, was what our current development staff majored (or double-majored) in. Computer Science is (unsurprisingly) the most common answer, but our developers also majored in: Philosophy, Mathematics, Quantitative Economics, Business Administration, Drama, Physics, and Electrical Engineering. We also have one developer who clearly is an underachiever with a mere PhD in Nuclear Engineering.  

In the end, where you go or went to school doesn’t really matter all that much to us. But, if you’re a small company (or have an internship program with significantly fewer spots than the number of applicants you’re getting) you can use a school’s rigorous admissions process to your advantage and use it as one of the ways you narrow down the large pile of applicants into something more manageable.

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* Map courtesy of Lucas Pattan

“One good way to snag the great people who are never in the job market is to get them before they even realize there is a job market: when they’re in college.” All the way back in 2006, Joel Spolsky knew that a competitive and rewarding internship program was the best way to acquire top engineering talent. Yet even in 2014, in the midst of a talent crunch, surprisingly few technical companies have internship programs.  

Here are some answers to questions you might have if you don’t have an established internship program at your company.

When Should You Begin Intern Recruiting?

If you are trying to compete with the Googles of the world, then the answer is early. Large tech companies have hundreds of internship spots available and swoop in at the start of the school year to start filling them. If you only have eight or so internship spots open at your company, and you want the best applicants, then you need to begin early.

At Fog Creek our recruiting efforts begin just a few short weeks after our summer program ends in August and last until February. By March we hope to have our class finalized so we can begin making housing arrangements and planning our outings and parties.  We are always accepting internship resumes but are actively recruiting for our summer internship program September through February.  March through May, we spend planning for our interns’ arrival. June through August, the program takes place. We break for a week or two, then BAM, we start recruiting again in September.

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Our final eight 2014 interns applied no later than December; two in September, two in October, one in November, and three in December.

Which Career Fairs Should You Attend?

I only take Fog Creek to tailored events: STEM fairs, start-up events, or programs put on by CS departments, specifically. This year we attended three New York Tech Talent Drafts at Princeton, Brown and Columbia. We also attended the Yale Innovation Fair, the Stony Brook CS Fair, Princeton’s STEM Fair and we were Platinum Sponsors for OUTC.  

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Three of our 2014 interns came from schools we specifically targeted while the other five were already familiar with our brand and products.  Remember, you’re not just recruiting for this season but for all future seasons. You may have a fantastic conversation with a freshman, and perhaps they get halfway through your process but aren’t quite there yet and just need another year or two at school. Keep in touch with them! Let them know when you’re attending another event at their school. Three of our 2014 interns were applicants who applied previously.

Where Should You Post Your Internship?

This season we posted our internship job listing on our own careers page, HireBrite and UCAN.

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If you don’t know where to begin here’s a good rule: only target colleges that admit less than 30% of applicants. That will give you a head start on being selective, especially if you have limited spots available in your program.

How Much Does Intern Recruiting Cost?

Registration fees, travel of a recruiter and two developers to each event, brochures, swag, job postings and in-person interview expenses totaled $33,323.41 for our 2014 recruiting season.  If we get a single awesome developer out of the internship program, the cost is well worth it.  

If you want to keep costs down attend local recruiting events only, produce one swag item instead of five, or bring one developer with you instead of two.

I should mention that it also costs time. Our developers are highly involved with our recruiting process, as you’ll see in a moment, and we recognize  there is a cost associated with that as well. You’ll need to make sure your organization is on board for this type of hidden cost to the company.

What’s A Competitive Program?

We happily spoil our interns. If you’re a rising senior you’ll get: $6,000/month, a $1,000 signing bonus, free housing in New York City, Unlimited MetroCards, free gym membership, two New York City events planned per week, catered lunches, and the chance to work with the amazing people at Fog Creek.

New York City events mean: Broadway shows, baseball games, a pizza tour of the West Village, a fishing trip with our Co-Founder, a sushi and Karaoke night out, trapeze classes, archery classes, MoMa scavenger hunts, rock climbing, movie outings, a comedy show, Coney Island, and more.

You should provide a comfortable work environment and treat them as you would any new hire. For us that means height-adjustable desks , Aeron chairs,  30” monitors and the computer environment of their choice. 

Create a fun summer lineup while providing them with quality work and a nice salary and you’ll be competitive.

How Many Interns Should You Hire?

You want to consider a few factors to find the right internship class size that fits your company. How many developers do you have? How many can dedicate their time to being meaningful mentors? What projects do you have in mind? How much office space do you have?

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We found that our optimal class size is between six and ten interns.  This allows us to have a 1:1 intern to mentor ratio.  Our interns work on real features with the goal to ship frequently. Last year three of our interns worked on Kiln and seven worked on Trello.

We currently have 9 desks in our “intern area” with room to expand into our library if needed.  Our eight interns this season will fit comfortably in their allotted space.  

What Kind of Recruiting Process Should You Use?

Here’s what we do at Fog Creek:

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Initial Resume Review: Anyone can do this, it’s making sure the intern candidate has shown basic communication skills, is currently enrolled in a four year academic institution, has answered our automatic reply which includes a few questions, and has legal right to work in the United States.  We received 776 resumes for our 2014 internship program. We were able to filter out 152 applications right off the bat during this very first step.

Resume Review:  At Fog Creek, we think it’s important to have the resumes reviewed by the people that will be working with the interns, the developers. But be mindful of your developers time. I assign 10-15 resumes for review in bulk.  This allows each developer to choose when they want to switch gears from coding to recruiting vs. being interrupted with fewer resumes but more frequently.

Code Screen 1:  Conducted by a developer, this step usually takes an hour and takes place either by phone, Google Hangouts, or Skype if the student is currently studying abroad. Our intern candidates can pick whichever coding language they want.  We are not looking for any particular buzzwords, but we are looking for knowledge in the language they do end up choosing. Our developers conducted a total 137 Code Screen 1 interviews for our 2014 recruiting season.

Code Screen 2: This step is the same as Code Screen 1, with the exception that it is conducted by a different developer who asks a different coding question. We did an additional 53 Code Screen 2 phone interviews for our 2014 recruiting season.

In Person Interview: Starting at 10:00am and typically lasting until 2:00pm, our intern candidates meet with an additional four developers and join us for lunch. We held 29 in-person interviews for our 2014 recruiting season. And yes, we prepare all our in-person travel itineraries for the candidate and cover all costs. We also present them with a nice gift bag when they arrive to our office.

Offer:  A candidate needs to receive all hires in order to receive an offer from Fog Creek. Two phone screens and four in-person interviews means all six developers need to agree. We made only nine offers during our 2014 recruiting season, eight accepted.  One more thing, don’t give an “exploding offer”. Let your candidate think about this important decision without ridiculous fake deadlines. Treat them like human beings trying to make a choice, not just a number.

So, that’s 776 applications to 9 offers made within five months. It’s an intense five months. We make an effort to move the process along as quickly as possible.  However, in the end, it depends on the school schedule of the individual candidate and our developers schedule.  I’d say on average it takes a candidate five weeks to get from application submission to receiving an offer.

Again, be mindful of your developer’s time. I only schedule three recruiting events per developer per week, that’s three hours a week. Anything more and their heads starts to hurt. Anything less and your pipeline isn’t moving quickly enough.

Sounds Like A Lot Of Work. Is It Worth It?

Yes.

Imagine after just three months you had eager, extremely talented, computer-science students returning to school to talk nothing but good things about their experience at your company to their peers. And, by the following May, you would have new hires joining your team who were already familiar with your company’s values, products, and work ethics. How could they not? They passed a three month interview! Hiring an intern as a full-time employee will be the single most sure-fire hiring decision you will ever make.

What if you make no offers at the end of your internship season? Well, if you gave them quality work and trusted them enough to work on your real products then you should have awesome new features rolled out to customers or perhaps even the beginnings of a whole new product.


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* Graphics courtesy of Lucas Pattan

When Brett moved from New York City to Honolulu, where he continues to work for Fog Creek, we didn’t anticipate a very serious problem: What to do on a remote employee’s birthday?!

Typically, birthdays are celebrated with our caterers delivering a cake to the office. However, seemingly overnight, (more like over the course of a year), we went from all employees working out of our New York office to having 37% remote employees worldwide. So the cake delivered to office thing wasn’t gonna suffice.

Did you know it’s actually really difficult to get a cake delivered in Hawaii? It is. The lovely owner of Sweet Revenge pointed us to the Seamless-of-Honolulu called Room Service in Paradise, which had one dessert cupcake vendor listed. So, Brett enjoyed snickerdoodle, cream cheese-filled red velvet and salted caramel cupcakes on his special day.

Battling the birthday crisis wasn’t the only adjustment we needed to make when incorporating remote employees to our once in-house only company. We jumped headfirst into interviewing remote candidates before realizing some changes needed to be made to our well-oiled interviewing machine.  

It wasn’t a smooth transition; There were bumps along the way.

Here’s what we learned:

Adapt Your Process

Our recruiting pipeline used to look like this:

Resume Review → Recruiter Phone Interview → Coding Phone Interview 1 → Coding Phone Interview 2 → In Person Interview

It’s very difficult to see how people handle communication as a remote employee if the bulk of your interviews are in person. So we switched things a bit. Our pipeline for remote candidates now looks like this:

Resume Review → Recruiter Phone Interview → Coding Phone Interview 1 → Coding Phone Interview 2 → Block of Google Hangout Interviews

The nice thing about utilizing Google Hangouts is flexibility; we can do them all in one day, or split them up. The candidate can decide. We save a lot of money too, as we no longer need to book travel to New York. Plus, we get to see how the candidate communicates using one of the main remote employee tools out there, Hangouts.

Show Them You’re Passionate

You lose the office atmosphere when conducting interviews solely via Hangouts. A candidate no longer gets to join us for lunch, pick up bits of conversations taking place in the hallway or see other aspects of the company and the overall bigger picture. They now only meet a select handful who have the burden of representing the entire company online. We did a poor job during the first few Hangouts we conducted and failed to convey our passion for the company, our products and each other. It’s still tough but what I do now is send over some links prior to their day of interviews like the Fog Creek Blog, Trello Blog and a Tour of our office. Our interviewers are more sensitive to this aspect as well and try to turn up the energy a notch or two.

Overcommunicate

I wasn’t giving the candidate enough information to make them feel comfortable about this style of interviewing.  I knew that we were planning on providing them with breaks whenever they wanted one but they didn’t know that. How could they.  Share, share, share, share, share.

How many people will they be meeting with? If the answer is unknown, then let them know the end time is an estimate. Can they take breaks? Of course: Coffee, bathroom, lunch, just like the candidate would get if they were in our office.  How do they join the call? I’ll set up a calendar event, just for them, with the link provided.

Never Leave Them Alone!

Do not leave a candidate alone in a Hangout session, ever. Thinking you’ve been abandoned is a terrible feeling, (ever been lost in a mall?).  When one interview is finished a developer keeps their session open and does not leave the Hangout until the next developer arrives. Even during a 30 minute lunch break we tell the candidate to please keep their session open and our developer does the same. When lunch is over that developer hops back into the active session and waits for the next developer to arrive.  We’re with you, every step of the way.

Team Accountability  

What happens when your current remote developers are interviewing a remote candidate and someone is running late? Chaos, that’s what happens.  Well, that’s what used to happen, but we fixed that. We created an internal chat room just for recruiting where every single person involved with that day’s interview is active until the Hangout session is closed.  It’s the whole team’s responsibility to make sure everything is running smoothly.

I can post useful reminder information in the chat room like the candidate’s FogBugz case number, who’s interviewing at what time, and the Hangout link for easy access.  If an interview is running long or short, that can now be easily communicated to the next interviewer. If we need to switch interviewers, that can now be communicated to the whole team quickly.

Remember how we never leave the candidate alone in the Hangout? Well, each handoff is now documented in the chat room. I’m not satisfied until I see, “handoff complete!”, to which I typically respond with the :thumbsup: emoji. An interviewer has not missed a single interview since creating this new chat room.

We’re still learning and adapting our process along the way but we’re getting better at it. Maybe I should order us some cake to celebrate.

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Technical recruiters are the executive producers of the software industry. I’m sure you saw some of the Oscars last night, either on purpose or by social media default. Who’s the first person Steve McQueen thanked? Producer Brad Pitt, that’s who. The person who brings everyone together. Who handles the personalities, processes and minute details required to create the Best Picture of 2013.

Yes, recruiters are similar to casting directors in that we get the right people in place, but we’re so much more - we create the best place to work.

Recruiting is a series of delicate communications. It’s about managing a candidate’s experience and expectations throughout the interview process. It’s marketing and PR: everyone you talk to leaves with an impression of the company. A recruiter creates the company’s brand, and, if done right, leaves a candidate still wanting to work for you even after they’ve been rejected.

The wonderful thing about recruiting, though, is that it isn’t an isolated skill. I became a technical recruiter by way of television, radio and film production. I was also a photography teacher, wedding and events planner, executive assistant to many, and skilled karaoke singer*. I’m not sure if there is a traditional path one takes to working at a software company, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t on it.

A technical recruiter needs the ability to manage the wide variety of personalities that come along with software developers, sysadmins, QA testers, designers, customer support engineers, interns, and the rest. Specifically, knowing how to handle a quiet, introverted candidate is crucial. You have to fight the urge to fill in the silence and allow the candidate to do so instead. That is the only way you get to truly learn who they are.  So, even if you’re on your second cup of coffee, energized after your morning CrossFit class and can’t wait to talk about your company’s awesome catered lunch and health insurance benefits, zip it, just for a moment. Listen. They might have something important to say (I’ll write more about recruiter phone screens in a future post).

One needs an arsenal of skills to be a successful technical recruiter: compassion, communication, an unhealthy habit of checking your email to make sure you haven’t missed a time sensitive correspondence. All to get the candidate to the final event: the accepted offer.

Yeah, I think technical recruiters are worthy of a Recruiting Producer credit.

Stick with me to learn more about in-depth technical recruiting. I plan to write about the full recruiting pipeline process at Fog Creek Software, what tools we use, what makes a good internship program, when to begin your recruiting season, how to attract the best technical talent, how we adapted our interviewing process for remote candidates, the challenges we faced along the way, and more.



* I’m actually a terrible, off-key singer, but the willingness to grab the mic and sing your heart out is, in fact, a skill worth having; at least one summer intern event always involves karaoke.