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Mining Candidates:
How top recruiters really use the Net to fill jobs

By Susan Raskin, MIPS Technologies, Inc.

Note from Nick: Susan's article is a bit dated (1999) with respect to web sites and search engines. But I think you'll get the idea, and find your own online tools and sites to capitalize on her excellent suggestions.

Part 1 of 2

Ask The Headhunter has given me the opportunity to share with its readers a technique I use for mining potential candidates from technical newsgroups. While I recruit primarily technical people, this approach can be used in other fields — but please see my comments on this below. I’ve been using this technique for about three years, and it has provided me with the candidates for over 75% of the engineering positions I have filled during that time.

Job hunters may find it illuminating to see how some employers go beyond the traditional "job and resume posting sites" to find good candidates.

If you are a recruiter or a hiring manager I’m sure you will find this technique fun to employ, and it may also net you the kind of positive results I have achieved. This technique does work best, though, if you set aside a few hours per requisition to use it. If you try it just once or twice, you likely will not get great results. Each time you use it, you’ll learn something about how to use it more effectively.

A bit about newsgroups
There are thousands of newsgroups on the Internet. There is a group for the discussion of practically any topic you can think of, whether it is fit to discuss or not. The newsgroups are arranged according to a naming hierarchy in which the general topic – let’s say "recreation" or "computers," comes first, with a more specific topic appended, as in:

  • rec.film
  • comp.sys

for the form of recreation known as film, or the field of computers with a focus on computer systems, or hardware.

More suffixes are added to further refine the topic, as in:

  • comp.sys.ibm
  • comp.sys.sgi
  • comp.sys.tandem

And even more suffixes will denote areas of extreme specialty:

  • comp.sys.ibm.architecture
  • comp.sys.ibm.architecture.parallel

It is within the "comp-dot" hierarchy of the newsgroups where we can find our expert candidates.

Accessing newsgroups
I have two primary ways of accessing potential candidates on newsgroups. One is to use a search engine to identify individual candidates who are posting to newsgroups using the terms I enter into the search engine. The other is to identify the newsgroups which are inhabited by the kinds of engineers I want to reach, and then to "lurk" in the newsgroup, reading postings and responding to postings from the most knowledgeable experts.

Using abstruse terms to search
There are more than 200 search engines on the net, but Altavista is my favorite. Click on the "usenet" link below the box, and you can enter keywords. (Usenet is another name for the newsgroups.)

Next, I enter some key words. Here’s how I go about choosing my words: I ask the hiring manager for some abstruse technical terms that would only be used by an expert talking to another expert. In other words, terms that would only be used by the perfect candidate for the job. If the manager gives me terms that I readily understand, I tell him or her that those are the wrong terms. I need words that are harder for me to understand. Sometimes the manager cannot come up with any terms I don’t already know. In this case, I ask to speak to the technical guru for the department.

My goal is to find words that are not being used by other recruiters. I don’t want my search to turn up hundreds of references for my key words and have them all turn out to be job postings from other recruiters. The best terms to use will not appear in job descriptions or on candidates’ resumes. They are terms that are used in day to day technical situations, rather than to describe an entire architecture. That is why it is necessary to speak to the technical experts to determine which words to use.

Once I have a list of about six really abstruse words to play with, I try different combinations of them in the search engine, using the syntax provided in the "Help" menu. I get great results using the "Simple Search" method. I don’t see major advantages for recruiters to use the "Advanced Search" menu as yet.

An example
Here is a true example of how I've used this technique. I once worked with a Manager of Internationalization Software, which is a real specialty in the software world. He told me that he had not seen half a dozen good internationalization candidates in a year. I asked him for some abstruse technical terms that would only be used by one expert internationalization software engineer to another, and he gave me two: "I18N" and "L10N".

Armed with only these two new words, I found about thirty people discussing those topics on the newsgroups. I contacted all of them, and twelve were interested in my opportunity. I delivered twelve candidates to the hiring manager; he said all twelve were qualified. We went through the interview process and hired three.

Lurking in newsgroups
In net parlance, "lurking" is reading the postings to a newsgroup without actually posting anything there yourself. In recreational newsgroups, this is considered living vicariously, but it is a necessity for us since recruiters are forbidden to post to most "comp-dot" newsgroups. However, we can identify the groups which are inhabited by the kinds of engineers we want to reach, we can read individual postings to identify qualified potential candidates, and we can send email to a select group we’ve pre-screened through reading their technical discussions.

Let’s say I’m looking for a Manager of Software Quality Assurance. I discover, through the use of some keywords supplied by the Director of QA, that the people I am interested in post frequently to a group calledcomp.software.testing

Or, in the internationalization example above, I discover that most of the postings my search engine turns up are in a newsgroup called comp.software.international

I go to the group and read at least part of each posting, to identify the ones I'm really interested in.

Go to Part 2: How to select the candidates

Please tell us what you think of this article.

At the time Susan Raskin wrote this article, she was Manager of Human Resources for MIPS Technologies in Mountain View, CA, at the time the world's leading architect of 32- and 64-bit RISC microprocessors. She was also a member of the teaching team for the ProQuest Internet Recruiting Course.

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