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

By Susan Raskin, MIPS Technologies, Inc.


Part 2

[In Part 1 we discussed how to use abstruse terms to search newsgroups for good job candidates. Now we'll explore how to select potential candidates and how to approach them.]

Selecting newsgroup postings
I select postings by looking for certain "markers" or indicators that tell me I'm going in the right direction. In order to cut down on the time required to determine which are the potential candidates, I read the elements of the posting in the following order.

Country of Origin
Two letter suffixes denote the country of origin if the posting was made from outside your own country. This is a very informative marker. Examples are:

at = Austria it = Italy
au = Australia jp = Japan
be = Belgium nl = Holland
ca = Canada nz = New Zealand
ch = Switzerland pl = Poland
de = Germany ru = Russia
fr = France uk = England
il = Israel za = Africa

These are some commonly seen two-letter suffixes, but it is not an exhaustive list.

If you cannot sponsor for a visa, which is increasingly difficult, you may want to dismiss these postings immediately and go on to the next.

Domain name
This marker is very important. If the poster is from a university, the suffix will be
.edu. The .org suffix indicates a non-profit organization. If the poster is from any branch of government, the suffix will be .gov. If you are not interested in professors or students, in non-profit folks or government employees, dismiss these postings and go on to the next. (Note that the national laboratories have the .gov suffix. If you recruit computer scientists like I do, be careful about dismissing postings from those locations. There are a lot of great computer scientists working in our national laboratories.)

The suffix which yields the most potential candidates is .com. Most companies have a address which can be easily entered into a search engine or scanned for in the results of a net search. For instance, if you were interested in engineers from Sun Microsystems, Inc., you might do an Altavista search among newsgroups for postings from anyone @sun.com. Enter a few keywords, such as title words which might be found in an autosignature, and you may find a promising list of prospective candidates.

Posting Headers
The information at the top of the posting will usually tell you if the poster is posting from a corporate address, and will list an organization as the poster’s affiliation. I usually skip postings from posters who have no organization listed, or if it is a silly one. If you see a desirable organization header, you might scroll down to the bottom of the posting to see if there is an autosignature. Autosignatures frequently contain the poster’s title. Mine does.

The posting header will also give you information about where the posting physically came from. Don’t waste your time reading postings from cybercafe addresses or guest logins. You will have a hard time tracing the individual who made the comments, and most posters who are not posting from a home or work address are not worth time, either.

Mine gives my full name, title, phone and fax numbers, and web site address. Many autosignatures are as informative, so feel free to conduct searches based on words you think will appear in the titles of the people you want. Non-abstruse, readily understandable terms such as "software" or "marketing" will appear in a person’s title in their autosignature.

Subject Line
A good posting to continue reading will refer to a technical topic. Ignore postings whose subject lines do not refer to the discussion of a technical problem. Please read the next section for refinement of subject line interpretation.

Content of the Posting
Here is where the rubber meets the road. By noticing all of the markers identifying the posting, where it came from, and who authored it, you have narrowed down the number of postings you actually need to read to just a few. Once all of the identifying markers meet your specifications, the final judgment call on your part is to read the comments your prospective candidate has posted to the newsgroup. There are two kinds of postings to newsgroups:

People with Questions. These are usually the newcomers to a technical field. Ignore postings from these people. People with questions usually use their question as the subject line of their posting. Example: "How to read error message in ex.bat.config.sys.audio?"

People with Answers. These are the gurus of the field, many of whom are also very patient with newcomers, and good at explaining things. These are the true talents of their technical arenas, and definitely the people to develop relationships with. These are the people to whom you will want to send email. Their postings are readily identified by the prefix "Re:" For example, "Re: How to read error message in exbat.config.sys.audio?"

Once I identify by the "Re:" prefix that a poster is answering a question, I begin to read the content of the answer. Of course, since I’m not an engineer, I might not understand all of the content of the answer. But I can understand the general architectural concepts of hardware and software as well as many of the tools and terms – much as any senior recruiter can. I look for responses that display broad and deep understanding of the technology being discussed, a generosity of spirit from senior engineers toward newer entrants to the field, and a sense of humor. People who post to the newsgroups in a too-serious way come across as stuffy and not fun to work with.

Making contact
Once I have identified a helpful question-answering poster who seems technically adept, articulate, and patient, I will send him or her email. I usually treat a poster who has passed all the screens described above as a person with very high probability to be either a candidate or an influential contact in their area of expertise. I want our first interaction to be positive and of some benefit to this expert.

My emails, while unique for each person I am contacting, usually follow a set format. The format has three main components:

  • The Compliment. I begin by saying something like, "I read your comments on parasitic back-end annotation in the comp.cad.synopsys group, and I am really impressed with your grasp of the topic."
  • The Introduction. Next, I introduce myself and express the purpose of my email. "I’m recruiting for MIPS Technologies, and I am working on filling a position which requires just the type of expertise that you have."

With these two statements, I have just told my prospective candidate the equivalent of "Gee, you’re smart! Want to work here?"

  • The Call To Action. Next, I request some action from my prospective candidate. "I’m going to append the job description to this email. Please look it over and let me know if you or a friend would be interested in an opportunity such as this one."

Results with this method
If I send ten emails of this type, I will generally get about seven responses. Four of these are usually from people who are interested and are sending a resume attachment, or people who are interested and are writing to say they will prepare a resume over the coming weekend. Another two are usually from people who say they are not interested for themselves, but that they are forwarding my email to a friend. Some times they will mention the friend’s name in their email. Usually one email out of the seven is from a person who states that they are not available at the moment, but will be available at a defined point in the future.

This method generates a lot of candidates for me, and seldom generates any unqualified ones. Why? Because the prospective candidates’ use of the abstruse technical terms works like a technical screen. A person would not be using these kinds of words if they were not deeply involved in the applicable technology.

This is not spam
I have never been flamed doing this. Why? Because people are flamed for sending spam, and this is not spam. It isn’t spam because I am writing to people individually about jobs available in their particular field of expertise. Even if they are not going to be interested in the specific position I mention, I have given them information about an event which is occurring in their field of expertise. They can use this information whatever way they choose, or not at all. It’s a very different scenario from sending someone information about FREE LONG DISTANCE SERVICE or MAKE MONEY FAST. Those kinds of emails push information at a person who has never posted anywhere expressing interest in obtaining free long distance service or making money fast. No wonder people get upset by them.

When this technique works best
This technique works best for technical disciplines which have a rich language to describe them. The more technical the discipline and the more abstruse the language used to describe it, the better this technique works. I have not observed this technique to work in finding marketing, sales, or field customer support people. The professionals in these industries do not have a unique technical language, nor do they spend much time discussing technical issues on the Internet.

The biggest advantage of this technique
Headhunters and internal recruiters commonly use the phone to recruit people. But when a phone call is over, it’s over. With an email, the recruiting pitch may live on and produce surprising results. Recently I needed to find a standard cell library expert for MIPS. I identified some abstruse terms, plugged them into Altavista, and began corresponding with some engineers who had the expertise we needed. One engineer wrote back to tell me he was in Seattle and would not be able to consider relocating to our area. I wrote back thanking him for his time in replying, and I was fairly sure I would never hear from him again.

I did hear from him again, though – about four weeks later, on the occasion of his company closing its doors and laying off all its employees. I was copied on an email he had sent to every employee in his facility. His email to his departing colleagues said "I believe that for every door that closes, another opens for you somewhere. Here is an email from Susan Raskin at MIPS Technologies. You might want to contact her." And there was my original email to him. He had saved it and now he had forwarded it to everyone in the building.

In closing
I offer up this technique as something recruiters can employ for their own searches. How well it works is partly up to you and partly a function of the kinds of people you are seeking. Try it, have fun, and if you learn something new doing it, you’re ahead of the game.

If you are a job hunter, I hope the detailed description of how some of us recruiters use the Net to find good candidates suggests how (and where) you can make yourself more visible to us online. While the resume and job posting sites seem to dominate the career content on the Net, I find my best candidates in the places where they go to meet and talk with one another about their work. It’s the sharing of knowledge about their work that reveals the real experts my company wants to hire.

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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