Emily Blanchard is an experienced technical recruiter, primarily having worked with small and medium size tech companies.

She was last with Postmates and is starting a new role with Instacart.

In this interview we cover:

  • why technical recruiters avoid giving you feedback (whether you get an offer or not),
  • where recruiters get your email address from, and
  • how many applications did Emily receive for job postings (and how many would immediately go in the recycling bin)

For the full text transcript see below the fold:


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Max: Hi, guys!

Emily: Hi!

Max: We have the pleasure of Emily Blanchard joining us this evening. Emily is an experienced technical recruiter who’s worked with many different small to medium size tech companies here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Do you mind sharing what you were doing most recently and what you’re up to next?

Emily: Sure. Most recently I have been working with PostMates. I joined them a couple of years ago when the team was very small, about 20 engineers, and helped to grow that team to about 80, and I was very excited to see their success and accomplishment continue as a result of building a strong engineering team.

Max: So you’re now soon to be joining Instacart as well?

Emily: Yes. I just left PostMates last week, and at the end of the month I’ll be a part of the Instacart recruiting team, and I’ll be focused on similar activities and help them continue their success.

Max: You’ve primarily recruited for technical roles, is that right?

Emily: Yes. Primarily technical roles with some exceptions. I’ve worked at a lot of small companies, or I should use the word “tiny”, like five people, to begin with.

Sometimes they would need a CFO, office manager, or someone doing data analysis, but for the most part technology companies and for the most part focused on engineering. That’s what I love.

Max: One of the crazy problems that a lot of candidates face that I wanted to ask you on behalf of those candidates is the post-interview.

After interviewing somewhere for an engineering role or otherwise, oftentimes if the answer is gonna be “no”, that you’re not gonna get the role that you were interviewing for, there’s radio silence.

You’re not the only recruiter in the world, but from the recruiter’s perspective and from maybe a legal perspective: why don’t candidates often hear feedback about how they did in their technical interviews?

Emily: That’s a tough one for me, because as a person–knowing a lot about them as we get to the road of not hiring them–I feel like I’d love to share everything.

However, legal complications can come in when you share too much information or the way that the information is conveyed opens things up for debate.

For example I could say, “Hey, you did really well on the design portion. You did great. Your coding was fast, it was clean, readable.”

But then going to something like a con is, “Your communication skills weren’t quite where we need them to be.”

And then a question mark is, “Well, what do they mean by that? Where do they need me to be?”

And that’s an intangible. That can open up debate with the recruiter, not necessarily escalating to a legal issue at that point.

Some of the other issues include candidates thinking they’re great with algorithms or their testing or writing the unit test was amazing, but they’re not. But that’s based on what we think. So those kinds of things are very, very touchy.

Max: It sounds like, besides opening it up for debate, those debates are a waste of your time.

Emily: Thank you, yes. They’re also very time-intensive, because you have to be careful with the wording.

What I do is I let them know when they’re on-site: “We’re gonna have a debrief. Everybody’s gonna get together and talk about the feedback, and I’ll give you some feedback at a very high level.”

Verbally telling them, “This is to be helpful, not to be opened up for debate.” So then I have a way of quickly saying, “These are the pros. These are the cons.” For the most part they agree, so that’s a good thing. Things that are really, really bad that could happen?

Max: Yeah.

Emily: The code from their interview could end up on a site like Glassdoor–not just giving away the interview questions, it’s leaving them up to interpretation.

Bitter people are usually the ones to… I guess, I don’t know, bitter’s a good word, but overconfident people can tend to just take it way too far.

So we try to stay away from that, but as a person that is a recruiter I put a lot of thought into it.

Max: For candidates who are getting a lot of “no’s” and are not getting a lot of feedback or who may not even yet have tried to solicit the feedback from any of the companies they apply to:

What are some ways that people who are getting a lot of “no’s” can get some objective feedback about what it is that might be a straight up “no”? Something that they’re committing in error in the interview process?

Emily: That’s a really good question. I don’t address this directly with candidates, but I want to and am probably unique in some ways that I actually give some feedback.

Some companies you just never hear from again, and I can hear that something like that is awful.

You put a lot of time and we put a lot of time in. You might know where their weaknesses are and have realized that they could have come out in the interview, as opposed to just being this like, “Hey, I’m great. I did everything perfectly.”

But also when you’re in an interview, the engineers that I’ve trained in these situations, they’re trained very carefully to know how to hint and nudge, and a candidate should be able to pick up on that.

And if they can’t pick up on hints or nudges, then they’re repeating those mistakes–like Groundhog’s Day–interview after interview after interview.

I ask in my various first [phone] calls, “How many interviews have you been on? What have the results been like?”

If they say something like, “I’ve been in 10 interviews, and, you know, nothing’s worked out,” I’ll say, “What do you think about that?”

Some are very thoughtful answers, others: “Oh, I don’t know, you know, screw the company.”

So a constructive way is for them to pick up on cues.

Max: Are there good ways to practice?

Emily: Yeah. There are a lot of good ways.

If somebody’s less experienced, there’s a site called LeetCode. There’s some basic exercises you can do there just to hone your skills and to freshen up.

If it’s somebody that’s been in the same job for a couple of years, they can make the mistake of just start interviewing, thinking they’re fine because they’re really good at what they do where they do it now.

They need to step back and think about it and map out, “Okay, I’m at this company now. Let me look at what this company does”—because I wanna hire people. I don’t want to say no, but somebody who’s more experienced can make mistakes.

In terms of keeping sharp, there are a ton of GitHub projects out there that some might resonate with you that you can contribute to.

If you don’t have time for that, but you’re serious, “I’m gonna switch jobs. I’m gonna get a new job,” then maybe you have not worked with algorithms for a very long time.

Maybe you code in Java and not Python, and you’re not gonna have to code in Python.

But why not get a better understanding of the questions to ask and the things to ask? Or maybe databases, writing queries, understanding tables. Knowing about databases is important, but they might not have had that as part of their job, so brush up, figure that out.

Max: It sounds like there’s a lot of candidates who may be unaware of where they’re at in the marketplace.

Somebody who’s been in a job for two years–despite having these new two years of experience under the belt–they may not be practiced in the interview format that they’re gonna encounter in applying for jobs.

Is that what you’re saying?

Emily: I look to work at companies that have interview questions that reflect the context of the real-world problems they are facing, so it’s less studying for quizzes.

But when you stay somewhere, you’re exactly right, you stay somewhere for some time, which is great, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re ready to interview.

Interviews are stressful.

Even role playing or interviewing with companies you know you don’t want to work for in order to get that experience under your belt. But, yeah, and then other people are just naturals.

Max: You grew the team at PostMates, the engineering team to 80 people headcount?

Emily: That’s correct. I hired about 46 engineers while I was there in the last 2 years.

Max: That is a tremendous amount of people!

What kind of volume of candidates did you see in your role as the recruiter there, the senior most position recruiter for technical hires? How many applications a week did you guys get?

For example, you were telling me that inbound applications you guys received are not as high fidelity as some of the other techniques that you guys used to find candidates.

So, for people who are sending out their resume via company careers pages on their websites–what are they up against? How many of their applications do you guys see?

Emily: Number one, they’re up against themselves, because for the most part they’re not reading descriptions, they know nothing about the company.

They’re just like, “I want a job. I want a job. I want a job.”

The other thing they’re up against is levels of experience.

So many inexperienced people apply without reading the job description. This is gonna be one more, “Oh, somebody else doesn’t want me.” But we do, but not now!

Every Saturday morning I would go through working on 4 or 5 different positions at once, we call them “reqs”. The back-end req would have at least 80 applications. I didn’t do it during the week because I have to plow through.

I’d say, out of 80, there are probably 5 I’d want to talk to.

Max: That is a very small percentage.

Emily: Yeah, another 5 I would forward to an engineer to look at their GitHub profiles because I can’t look at a profile and tell what were their commits were about, or was there real, consistent activity.

If that’s the case, then I’ll have someone look at it. Usually it’s like, “Yeah, but nothing remarkable,” so the other sources [of applicants] are lower numbers but far better results.

Max: Of the 40+ technical hires that you brought into PostMates, how many of them came in through inbound, through them applying for jobs? Just ballpark.

Emily: I think two were really, really great ones. Probably six in two years that applied.

Max: So 6 out of 46. I guess the takeaway for people who are job searching is that, if you’re senior enough, you’ll be reached out to. Is that a fair thing to say?

Emily: Oh, no–a lot of senior people coming from certain types of companies are not gonna be what we would be looking for.

Max: So even candidates who you guys reach out to may end up not being a good fit?

Emily: I don’t reach out to anybody that doesn’t seem like a good fit. But the [inbound applicatns], somebody gave 10 years at Oracle or 5 years at Visa or a career at Salesforce–it’s like there are certain companies that just don’t translate very well to web services or marketplaces.

Sourcing means I’m reaching out to people, and that can be 50 a week?

Max: That’s via email, LinkedIn messages?

Emily: Via email. I don’t really do LinkedIn messages, because it’s too much noise on them. But I have a way of getting email. I’d say, out of 50, 40 open it.

Max: That’s a pretty high open rate! That’s an 80% open rate.

Emily: And then maybe 10 will say “thank you so much”, 4 might say “check back later”, and then another 5 or 6 want to talk. Usually the 5 or 6 are interested but not necessarily looking.

So about three a week that you talk to from sourcing turn out to be really good.

Then you have employee referrals, and then you have things like Hired.

Max: I know this is kind of your magic sauce, and feel free to punt on this next question.

You mentioned this number of 50 people you may email a week.

Where do you find these 50 people? How do you get their email addresses and whatnot?

Emily: I used to go on LinkedIn, and use Connectifier. Connectifier is this Chrome plugin and it shows email address, GitHub, social networks, multiple email addresses if you need them. But now Connectifier got bought by LinkedIn.

I don’t know what they’re doing, but there’s this thing called Entelo. Entelo is another search tool where you can put in Boolean searches or company searches and keyword terms, and then pull up people. You can send emails within Entelo, so that you don’t have to copy paste it. Yesware is another way to send emails.

Max: For people who are not aware of this, there are a lot of tools available to people in sales roles, or recruiting roles, or any customer-facing role–however you define customer–that allow the email sender to track whether you have read the email they have sent you.

Emily: And if you’ve opened and clicked the link and if you opened it again.

Max: Yeah. These are all positive signals that you might give off to recruiters if they email you.

So if you wonder why they’re following up with you, it might be because they really are interested in you for one, but it may be also that they can see that you’re engaging with their solicitation about a role that they think you might be a good fit for!

Emily: Yeah, and you can automate follow-ups.

Max: What types of personalizing are recipients on the other end of your recruiting emails getting? Like, how do you get personalization in people’s emails?

Emily: When I’m reading through a profile some profiles have nothing, meaning there’s no descriptions under what you did, just company names.

Then I have to map that to what I know about the company or look at the company stack. For example, somebody at Lyft has experience with highly available distributed systems, because they’re scaling so quickly, they’re beyond a monolithic code base. I could say, “Hey, I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing over there, but I know that there’s some very complicated interesting things that you must be working on.”

If they do describe what they’re doing and it’s React and JavaScript then it’s a lot easier, because you can craft personalization around the keywords.

Max. You’ve described some of the conversion rates of people who receive emails or who applied through the job site.

With the rate at which they get a phone screen, one of the hard things about technical recruiting is getting people to agree to spend their time on different stages of a technical hiring process, particularly the skills test.

What does the conversion rate look like, or do you worry at all about the conversion rate of convincing candidates it’s worth their time to do a skills test?

Emily: Yeah, it’s a big worry. You’ve got to frame it as something interesting and fun. It has to be something interesting and fun.

If they have three other things going on and an offer on the table then I’m gonna be creative and figure a way to bypass that.

I prefer not to work with tasks. I prefer the technical screening be a selective group of questions that make sense for Skype and CoderPad, so that it’s more interactive.

If I get push-back on any kind of a task, then I’ll go talk to somebody about it. But pushback is also an indication like, “how interested are you?”

It’s our sanity check, and we don’t wanna waste your time coming in for five hours if you couldn’t get through this.

Max: One of the things that I encourage candidates for technical roles to do is, if they’re gonna agree to doing a technical screen or skills assessments of some kind, make sure that an employee of the company you’re looking for employment from is also spending time with you while you do that test.

That’s a good way to guarantee that they have skin in the game, that they sink a cost into you as a candidate versus the alternative, which is using recruiting tools like HackerRank, where you go and you do a skills assessment, where the employer has no skin on the game.

Emily: And it takes the person out of it, “Oh, here, take a number.”

Max: Yeah! Well, this has been extremely educational. I think we all wanna say thanks to Emily for joining us!

Emily: Thank you. And feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or are interested in finding out more about what Instacart’s up to and the types of things we’re working on and how you might be able to make an impact and contribute in positive ways.

Max: Awesome. So, yeah, check out Instacart’s jobs page, and perhaps try reaching out directly to Emily!

Emily: And if you do look at the jobs page or any other jobs page, just read it before you apply! Don’t be a front-end engineer and accidentally apply to a back-end position!

Max: All right. Thanks Emily!

Emily: Thanks! Bye!