May 10th, 2018

What technical recruiters want from engineering candidates

Things change quickly in tech, and technical recruiting is no different. After being heads down at one company for months or years, it's easy to lose touch with what the startups of today are looking for.

To shed light on what companies look for in candidates, I asked different technical recruiters and talent managers for their insights. Here are their responses to the question we'll always be asking:

What makes an engineer stand out from the applicant pool?

Emily Ten Eyck

Head of Talent at BuildZoom, previously at a headhunting firm.

Talent teams and/or hiring managers often have to sift through hundreds of applicants a week. Even if your experience is amazing, you have to present it in a succinct, eye-catching way — especially when you can’t rely on brand name recognition on your CV.

I recommend designing your resume to highlight promotions and long tenures (both are desirable), and make sure you’ve included the same language as the job description if at all possible.

Lastly, keep following up until you get an answer, even if it’s a “no.”

Tammie Vu

Recruiter at Remix, previously at Clover Health.

EQ and self awareness. I enjoy working with people who have depth of thought, so it’s important to me to find engineers who can self reflect on how previous work experiences have shaped what they value now, and what they are looking for next. Anyone can do generic lip service wanting a collaborative, transparent, no BS environment with “cool, smart people working on cool, hard problems.” What makes a candidate more authentic is a backstory with examples. This gives me confidence they’ll be a positive and collaborative contributor on the team. At a small, collaborative start-up like Remix, these traits are critical whereas they may be less visible at larger companies.

It may seem like common sense, but having a deep, enthusiastic, and genuine interest in some aspect of the company (whether it’s the company’s mission, product, technical challenges, or its work environment) is important. For example, most engineers at Remix have a deep love for cities and public transportation. It’s obvious to me when someone is spamming applications everywhere and lacks intellectual curiosity about the work we’re doing. Finally, ASK HARD QUESTIONS — I enjoy being asked a question I’ve never been asked before, since most candidates ask the same thing over and over again.

Itamar Goldminz

Director of People at Grammarly, previously at AltSchool and Opower.

Do your homework and come prepared. Study the company, its history and what it’s trying to accomplish right now. Study the people who will be interviewing you (ask if you don’t know who they are), and prepare questions that are relevant to their role.

Study the role and brush up on the knowledge and skills that are likely going to be needed.

And finally, prepare to interview well and be interviewed. Try as we must to create an interview experience that mirrors the actual work experience, the time constraints will always mean that interviewing will be a little different. Help us see that you are the perfect fit for the role by being the best version of yourself.

Sarah Arcoleo

Talent Partner at Rainforest QA, previously in operations.

I first always look for alignment to the skill sets and level of experience we call out in the Job Description. If I see that, or something very close, I consider the “tone” of the resume. It’s important to me and our whole team that we are bringing on new team members who align to our company culture and values.

I like a straight-forward, one page resume where it is obvious that the candidate has spent time conveying his or her skills and experience while also talking about who they are. This comes across in formatting, word choice, summary or objective statements, conciseness, continuity, attention to detail, etc. A short cover letter that conveys a candidates enthusiasm for the specific role at Rainforest, and helps me better understand their interest can also go a long way (provided they have the skills and experience).

Think of your resume like a poem. Edit out what is not necessary. This includes words that are fluff, jargon, saying the same thing multiple ways, and tasks and responsibilities that are table stakes. Also, connect the dots for the recruiter. If you're looking to make a career change, took time off, are looking to relocate, etc. call that out for the recruiter and give some rationale.

Greg Banks

Recruiting Manager at Digit, previously a technical recruiter at CourseHero.

Candidates stand out if they clearly define what they designed, developed, and/or contributed to the projects they either owned or worked on. Say what the team did as a whole to show that you understand the bigger picture of what your team was contributing to the company. Elaborate on the work you have done to demonstrate your ability to communicate your thoughts to others. Both of these are vitally important for startups.

Also, candidates that pay close attention to the visual representation of their experience/resume set themselves apart. Besides your LinkedIn, your digital/physical resume needs to stand out on your behalf. Clear, concise, and organized descriptions of your experience speaks volumes about you. Watch for spelling and grammar. Written communication displays an engineer’s ability to code cleanly. In the past, I partnered with managers that would pass on candidates with sloppy, unarticulated resumes. After conducting my own A/B tests on this matter, the data showed that candidates who had untidy resumes faired less than those with well written ones.

Lana Herzig

Technical Recruiter at Dia&Co, previously at Quartet.

Passion and Purpose. I talk to many engineers that are qualified for our roles in terms of skill set and tech stack mastery. However, what really makes an engineer stand out is having passion and enthusiasm for making a difference in the world or affecting change. Here at Dia&Co, we’re successfully disrupting a vastly underserved market of plus-size fashion (67% of women in the U.S.). Our Engineering and Data teams play a critical role in our company and their work ultimately helps us to positively change the lives of plus-size women all over the U.S!

Michelle Cheng

Head of technical talent at Alto, previously at Cisco Meraki.

The most important thing I look at is a candidate’s most recent work experience. What company or role are they coming from? How detailed are their descriptions? Do they note quantifiable or impactful outcomes that demonstrate strong ownership?

Our hiring philosophy at Alto leans on hiring for experience as opposed to potential. Thus, an engineer’s most recent projects and responsibilities are most applicable to what they would bring to our team today if they joined. We are less concerned about a person’s education or work from 3, 5, 10 years ago.

For instance, if we’re looking for a senior engineer to be a hands-on individual contributor, but a candidate has been a pure people manager for the last 2 years, that candidate likely (of course, there are always exceptions) won’t be the right fit because they’ve been removed from day-to-day coding. In another example, if a candidate decided to switch careers and has become a high-performing engineer working on similar challenges in the last 3 years after graduating a dev bootcamp, I’d love to chat with them!