The inside story of how 382 recruiters pursued an imaginary engineer
In the fall of 2012, after reading about how Elaine Wherry set up a recruiter honeypot, we knew we had to invite her to our CTO Summit to tell us all the inside story - so here goes...
Within a two and a half year period post launch of the factious Pete London, Pete saw 530 emails from 382 recruiters, from 172 organizations. He was offered seven iPads, one Xbox, one MacBook Air, five $1,000 referral cash incentives followed by two $10,000 referral cash incentives, eight coffees, seven phone calls, and six lunch invites.
This is the story of Pete London and lessons learned in recruiting.
1. Going Guerilla
For weeks, the internet showed Pete London’s fake profile very little love, not that he was hard to find or that he had “weak SEO,”, as tens of thousands of spammers were able to locate his email address. However, when Wherry launched a LinkedIn profile for, traffic popped. At the time, Meebo had found a mere five percent of its engineering talent that way, so it was somewhat surprising to see so much activity.
Find a way to really differentiate yourself and make sure that you stand out -- not from the Amazons, the Facebooks and the Googles, but from all of the other start-ups around the Web.
3. "Does it Work?"
Inevitably, within a startup-context, you are going to have to hire external recruiters at some point when you’re looking to scale. The good news - they can work.
The graphic above alludes to the data -- if you separate out the external recruiters for large, established companies and small companies, it turns out that the external recruiters for small start-ups actually do a pretty good job. So until you can hire a recruiting team of your own, rest assured.
4. Be very, very careful.
The mentality that the more help you get the better (i.e. more external recruiters = more success) is a dangerous one. Consider that when you invite external recruiters into your organization, you share with them intimate details about your company: org charts and the like. This puts your company front of mind, specifically what expertise you have in-house. Thus, when they eventually go to another company to recruit, your startup might be their next target.
Wherry saw this firsthand at 2:20 on a May afternoon when Pete London received an email from a recruiter asking to consider some potential job options. A mere fifteen minutes later, Wherry, the engineering manager, got an email from the same person offering to help her find great talent. This external recruiter was pulling Wherry at both ends: literally saying, "Hey Pete, come out of Meebo," and then saying to the engineering manager, "Hey, let me help you find great talent."
Whenever you're working with external recruiters, ensure the "no poach" is clearly specified within the contract and be very specific about which external recruiters you work with.
5. "Time for Hoodies."
The graph above speaks for itself: starting in 2010 through 2012, the amount of recruiting activity for San Francisco increased about tenfold.
Regardless of where you are right now, whether starting and trying to figure out where your location is or if you are an established company, your San Francisco strategy should be clearly drawn up or figured out.
6. Build your cavalry & beat the manager
When you are working with your in-house or your external recruiters, there is the notion because they are recruiters, they should be your cavalry; they should be the people who come in and save the day and allow you to go back and spend your time doing engineering and other parts of your role. However, if you look at Wherry’s data managers they were consistently within the top 40th percentile of all recruiting activity... better than the people hired to do just that.
Ultimately, if you want to have a recruiter do a better job, ensure they include two out of three pieces of personalization.
7. Start on the right front
Make sure you start with a pro intro, which means putting personalization up front: rather than stick with a bland opening, try something specific.
Typical openings like “I was impressed with your profile,” “Sorry for the email,” and “Hi, my name is,” do not really help you stand out and thus are ineffective (63% of them looks fairly identical).
If you are really feeling incredibly lazy, one way you could probably easily make your email better is if you look at this. After your recruiter has written that first draft, take out the first sentence. That is it. It is usually much, much better.
8. Follow up, don't spam
Most of the emails directed to "Pete" came from an organization or came from a recruiter that he heard from previously. But a mere twelve percent acknowledged it was a follow-up.
Making sure your contact knows that it is your second time reaching out is critical as it helps to maintain a conversation history. As individuals, the longer the history we have with a given person, the stronger the relationship we perceive.
When you reach out to someone and say, "Hey, I wanted to see if you would be interested in this role," and then you reach out to that person again with, "Hey, I wanted to see if you would be interested in this new role. I’m really impressed with you," it implies ignored history and the candidate is not really worth their time. The outreach immediately becomes less sincere and is interpreted as spam.
9. You, Your, Yours
Out of the hundreds of emails from 300+ recruiters, there were a mere five that stood out. As it turns out however, they all shared the same thread: the use of the second person.
10. Do not do what I did
Outside of finding good recruiters, employing the right sourcing techniques, beating a hiring crunch involves hiring more managers and specifically managers who can help recruit. Their networks and expertise in reaching people in non-traditional ways will be beneficial, as opposed to bringing on individual contributors in a non-methodical fashion.
A final rule of thumb
Solving the hiring crisis is a lot like any other engineering problem: you break down each piece of the process and you say, "Where are we losing people within our funnel?"
A good rule of thumb is to double check. Generally, your recruiter should be getting about a 12 to 20 percent response rate from cold outreach. That is just a good rule of thumb, to double check.