Scouting for unicorns: powerful tools for sourcing tech talent

HR team | Workable features |

My Workable recruiting career began on December 14th, 2015. I was the company’s 53rd hire. Fast forward to January 2018 and we now have 174 employees at offices in Athens, Boston, Crete, London, San Francisco, Portland and Sydney.

Being a technical recruiter in a rapidly growing software company with a hiring plan of 40+ engineers is a challenge. The pool of active job seekers is limited and top talent (those sought after ‘unicorns’) can be off the market in as little as ten days.

According to Stack Overflow, there are five jobs for every one developer, which means you need to stand out as an employer and as a recruiter. You also need an efficient, streamlined hiring process to ensure your best candidates don’t disengage at a crucial time.

In a 2017 survey of developers, referrals and passive candidate sourcing emerged as the best routes to finding the right tech talent in this competitive, fast-moving market. If referrals don’t bring the volume you need, you head to sites like Linkedin, Twitter, Github or Stack Overflow to find your ‘unicorns’.

Simple, right?

Diminishing returns

In the past, LinkedIn was seen as a valuable source of passive candidates for tech recruiters. Yet today, 22% of developers surveyed by Stack Overflow say they no longer have a LinkedIn account.

In short: spam.

In his article ‘Why so many developers hate recruiters’ coding teacher Quincy Larson says:

“Recruiters are widely reviled among developers, who often delete their LinkedIn accounts just to escape recruiters’ clutches, or fight back by trolling them.”

What do candidates think of recruiters? Google search terms about recruiters.

Having been approached by a recruiter on InMail asking if I’d apply for a Java developer role, just because my LinkedIn profile said that I was looking to hire Java developers, I can see their point.

So, how do developers want to be contacted by recruiters? Rating methods of approach from ‘Great’ to ‘Hate’, 65% of global respondents in a Developer Hiring Landscape Survey said they’d prefer to hear about new job opportunities through a personalized email. Professional networks (Stack Overflow Careers, LinkedIn) rated higher than a phone call, but social networks (Facebook, Twitter) rated lowest of all.

The best methods for technical recruiters to contact candidates

Knowing the best form of communication to use is a good start. But how do you find candidates in the first place, and then approach them with an email that’s meaningful and personal enough to tempt a unicorn?

Testing Workable’s People Search Chrome extension

Having recruited for high growth companies, I’m familiar with passive candidate sourcing via the usual networks. I’ve got a good understanding of what works. But I’ve often been frustrated when my efforts weren’t as effective as I’d hoped.

One of the perks of being an internal recruiter for Workable is getting to use beta versions of all our recruiting software. When our developers approached me with the beta version of a new candidate sourcing tool (a Chrome extension called People Search) I jumped at the chance of being able to test it on my active positions. I quickly saw how powerful it could be in my hunt for unicorns.

So what does People Search do? Let’s start from scratch.

People Search launched as a Chrome extension in 2016 and since then it’s become a natural part of my sourcing strategy because it’s there whenever I’m online. If I see someone with potential I use People Search to scan millions of trusted online profiles and data sources in one go. This search doesn’t just cover Github or Stack Overflow, but AngelList, Facebook, Medium, WordPress and more. In the few seconds it takes the search to complete, I get to learn the full scope of my prospect’s publicly shared story. Using the detailed candidate profile information gathered by People Search I can verify my first impression and then add them straight to my open job in Workable. Armed with information from the candidate profile I’m able to write and send a personalized mail (which we know most passive candidates prefer) inviting them for a call.

Using People Search within Workable

Since launching as a standalone Chrome extension, People Search has also become available to use directly inside Workable. So you can source candidates as part of your standard recruiting workflow.

I got to test the beta version of this too. Trialling it in a live environment helped us identify and develop useful enhancements to the tool, like Skills Search.

I use Skills Search to find candidates based on my required skills or keywords in a target location. It supports Boolean search, so I can be as specific as I need to be. I can also search for alumni of a particular university or company. It works in the same way as the extension; gathering all the information you need into one detailed candidate profile.

Yet more powerful stuff to help in the search for those unicorns.

Sourcing hard-to-find technical candidates

Javascript. Ow… yes. If you’ve ever tried to hire a Javascript developer you probably know that we recruiters have a love/hate relationship with Javascript. It can be one of the most challenging roles to fill; I’ve often thought that learning Javascript myself might be faster than hiring someone who already does it.


For three main reasons:

  1. JS is a liberal, hacky language that allows everything. Good engineers know how to tame it. Mediocre ones usually apply mediocre solutions that don’t pay off in the long run.
  2. People think JS is just jQuery. However, modern JS usually involves advanced programming concepts that require a solid computer science background.
  3. The JS ecosystem is evolving so fast that it makes it difficult to filter out the noise and focus on what really matters.

My point? Within the last three months we were able to hire a Javascript developer in Athens (Greece) and a Web Optimization Manager in Boston (USA) using People Search.

Learn more: Workable integrates with co-hire for sourcing tech talent

Planning for future hiring

So. You’ve used People Search and found a unicorn, but don’t have open role you can match them to… yet.

Since it launched in Oct 2017, I’ve been using Talent Pool to track and nurture candidates who don’t quite fit into the jobs I’m currently recruiting for. I’ve usually discovered them using People Search and now that I’ve found them I don’t want to lose sight of them. In one click I can save their profile to my talent pool and get in touch to ask if they’d be interested in talking about roles in the future. If so, I can snooze, set reminders, and then move them over to a job, at an appropriate stage in the pipeline, when the right role becomes active.

How to set reminders to nurture and contact candidates

As software engineer and writer Joel Spolsky says:

“The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market. The average great software developer will apply for, total, maybe, four jobs in their entire career.”

Be a better technical recruiter

We recruiters need to be open to using new and emerging industry tools to compete in a competitive market and source top talent. We need to grasp every opportunity to test out new systems and approaches. It’s no longer good enough to rely on the ‘usual networks’ – especially if you’re a tech recruiter. There’s always room for improvement. Since testing People Search I’ve progressed from a beta tester to a convert; keen to use whatever tools lead me to more great candidates, and to play a part in how those systems get developed.

If you want to find out more about People Search, Talent Pool, or Workable in general (and also find yourself a unicorn or two) get in touch.

This post was written by Recruiting Manager, Eftychia Karavelaki.

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