Tips on Recruiting NUS Hackers

The NUS Hackers mailing list is moderated pretty aggressively by coreteam, to ensure that the amount of unsolicited offers sent to our members are kept to a minimum. We receive a large amount of recruiting offers, far higher than an average mailing list. Naturally, this leads to a situation in which we can be reasonably picky about the ads we forward to the our members.

Here are some tips to ensure your recruiting ad passes a minimum standard of quality. The better your recruitment email, the more likely you’ll get the right kind of responses from our members.

  • Keep it short: If your email is longer than a paragraph or two, it’s probably too long. As a rule of thumb, less than 200 words is probably a good idea.
  • Make the offer right away: Your first or second sentence should, with as much clarity as possible, explain what the opportunity is and who it is targeting. People tend to be looking for a technical founder, part-time intern or employee, summer intern or full-time developer who may have a particular skill-set. They tend to also be looking for people within some reasonable range of compensation. Are you looking for a first technical employee or do you already have a team? If we can tell the email targets people like us from the start, we’ll keep reading it. If after the first paragraph there is still some doubt as to what you’re looking for, your email will probably get deleted.
  • Be specific: Your idea may be one-of-a-kind, but for engineers it’s one of many that we’ll read that day. Please explain your project, startup idea, or proposal as cogently as possible. Your value proposition should be clear and specific.
  • This also applies to compensation: Way too many emails explain that this is “something we can discuss” or that the compensation is “competitive.” Competitive means different things to different people. While it makes perfect sense to offer more or less money or equity depending on the calibre and experience of the potential candidate, if you don’t at least give a range, you’re making it way too easy to ignore an offer that could have been a great fit. In case you’re wondering what reasonable compensation might be: at least SGD$40/hour is reasonably standard for this type of work.
  • Do get your (technical) facts straight: Don’t ask for somebody with at least 10 years of Ruby on Rails experience. Don’t mix up web design with web development. If you haven’t invested the bare minimum of time required to do your research, that probably says something negative about your approach to technical work.
  • Be humble and straight-forward: Engineers are by and large no-bullshit people. The best way to avoid tripping their bullshit-meters is to stay away from buzzwords (e.g. ‘synergy’, ‘SoLoMo’). Simple and plain-spoken is always better than obfuscated and pompous.
  • Proofread. Complete, grammatically correct sentences are a minimum requirement.
  • Avoid attachments. Don’t send your offer as a doc or a pdf: send the offer right in the body. We’re not sure what percent of people open attachments on our mailing list, but it’s less than 100%.
  • Why should ‘I’ work with you? The most painful class of emails we get is the “I’ve got a great idea, shouldn’t be so hard, I just need somebody to do it in a week or so” email. This sounds like you’re asking us to do something for you for free, just because it’s an awesome idea. Fair enough; but why should we work on your awesome idea and not ours? There’s one of several ways to convince us:
    1. Money: If you’re willing to pay at least a reasonable rate (SGD$40-50+), that’s fair. The idea or job might end up being terrible, but at least it won’t be a waste of our time.
    2. Credibility: If you sold your last start-up for $XM dollars or you’re well known to be technically-competent and willing to mentor people working for you, you’re an appealing person to work with and can get away with a far smaller pay-scale or even get somebody to work for free as a learning experience or a way to get to know you. Ironically, people with credibility tend to be willing to pay for work, since they value their ideas enough to not want to easily give up equity in them. Having other people already on board also helps and is worth mentioning.
Thank you for reading this. Spending more time on your recruiting email helps us save time, which in turn helps you get the right kind of reactions you want for your recruitment ads.

(revised with permission from Recruiting Penn Engineers: Getting Intro Emails Right by Alexey Komissarouk)