At first glance, this channel may seem low-effort because the setup is so simple: post your job descriptions to your own website and to other job sites and watch the applicants roll in. But because it’s easy for people to find and apply for these positions, the bulk of applicants may not be relevant to what you’re looking for. In fact, while some applicants may be really interested in your company, many others may not be and may have applied to dozens of openings without looking closely at the company or role.
The candidate flow you receive will also be a function of your employer brand. While having a strong employer brand may help attract more candidates, it can also further increase noise.
Ultimately, it’s useful to think about the types of candidates that will find and apply to your job postings. Many of the best candidates may never apply to job postings because they are so actively sought after. But there might be a fantastic new up-and-comer applying for jobs who hasn’t been given a shot yet or isn’t connected to your networks. Inbound applicants can also give you a more diverse pool of candidates than relying solely on who-knows-who.
We do know some really great hiring managers who rarely rely on inbound applicants, but that’s typically because they’ve been around for a while and have built strong networks. Inbound can be a good way to supplement other channels if you approach it with the right strategy:
Try to get your job postings and company in front of a targeted audience. Think about where you can reach the types of candidates you want to hire: mailing lists, products, conference, or meetups. Will exposure in that channel increase your signal, or your noise?
Have a systemized way of easily screening applicants for appropriate technical knowledge.
Consider introducing some friction, but be careful about what this friction selects for. For example, if you’re a desirable company trying to hire new grads, asking applicants to complete a coding challenge can help filter out candidates that lack a serious interest in your company or the requisite technical skills. But not all friction is good friction. Extra steps might end up deterring desirable candidates as well. After all, they might be less likely to be willing to jump through hoops before you’ve even established a relationship with them. Some applicants will simply follow the path of least resistance.
Inbound applications can also help you gauge market sentiment and brand value of your company. You can add a brief survey to job site applicants asking about how they found your company, their opinion of your company, and asking them for feedback on your process.
An Intercom guest post by Oren Ellenbogen lists a few helpful suggestions for increasing your inbound leads, including:
Engaging with people online, through social media, and answering questions on StackOverflow, Quora, and elsewhere.
Writing about your product, team, and engineering practices—if you don’t have your own blog, seek out those that you think best attract your target candidates and ask to write there.
Hosting hackathons, giving talks, and creating public coding challenges.
Open sourcing some of your tools.
Filtering Inbound Candidates
Many companies don’t give inbound candidates as much time as their other channels. Because the market is saturated with candidates, the perception is that the most talented people do not need to apply anywhere—the jobs will come to them. But the better you can treat your inbound channel, the more leverage you can gain over competitors who neglect this source. Along with junior candidates, like those just graduating from college, the inbound channel is typically where you’ll find more nontraditional candidates who have typically been gatekept from tech. There are certainly diamonds to be found.
We cover this topic in detail in Connecting With Candidates, but while you’re here, these are the two most important things to look for when filtering inbound candidates:
Polish. The number of grammatical errors and typos in a resume matters more when it comes to job performance than a candidate’s pedigree.* Polish is one of the first things you can look for when filtering through your inbound. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but the ability to communicate well, especially in a document that has had the chance to go through multiple revisions, is a strong signal that this person is conscientious and cares.
How they talk about past work. How someone talks about their past work can give you a good indication of not only what the candidate has worked on but also how much they care about the work they’re doing or have done, how well they understand it, what actually matters to them, and of course, whether they can communicate complex concepts clearly to others.
The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market.Joel Spolsky, chairman and co-founder, Trello, Glitch, Stack Overflow*
Sourcing is a great way to find candidates who might not be actively looking for a job—many of the most talented engineers are rarely on the market. It can also be a good way to uncover candidates who may be overlooked by more brand-recognizable companies. But this channel does come with challenges. Many candidates may not be open to new opportunities, and so getting your timing right can be difficult. Additionally, so many companies have abused this method by spamming people that many have just learned to tune out the noise. At this point, most people you reach out to will never respond to your message, if they read it at all. And of course, the most sought-after candidates receive the most messages, and so are less likely to respond—that is, unless your message resonates and the timing works out.
Because of these significant challenges, outbound sourcing may seem like a numbers game: the more messages you send, the more likely you are to hit the right candidate with the right message at the right time… right? Perhaps, but getting them to then join your company is going to be an even more significant challenge—becoming a company or individual known for spamming the engineering community is not good for you. Every time you reach out to a candidate you are consuming some of your company’s brand equity. Unsolicited messaging is always a potential unwarranted interruption. But if your outbound sourcing is targeted and thoughtful, the less cost there will be to the brand, and the more likely the person will be to respond.
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