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Why you should answer every single recruiter InMail

Ask anyone in tech about LinkedIn, and it usually won’t be long before you hear about a constant barrage of messages from recruiters.

Truly, the best kind of spam is the one that’s constantly offering you jobs, but it still usually evokes a negative response from folks, even though I actually view them as an opportunity.

Not an opportunity for a new role though - they’re an opportunity for some market research.

The reality right now is that it’s a candidate’s market, and recruiters have targets to hit, so they’re usually willing to get into a conversation, and you should use that, even if you’re not looking because you should always try to keep up to date on the state of your industry, so you know (with data) if your current job is as ideal as you may or may not think it is.

That’s why I respond to every recruiter InMail I get, even if I’m not in the least bit interested in a job with their company/client. So what do I say to all these recruiters? Well, I find that three questions is usually enough to get what you need.

What those exact questions are will depend on you and your job, but they should fall under 3 topics

Why these ones?

Well, compensation and other perks both relate to what you are materially getting out of the job.

Look, I love what I do, and I enjoy near enough every day I go to work, but I’m absolutely doing it primarily for the money. If I’m going to let someone else tell me how to spend a quarter of my week, then I’m going to get everything I can from them, and as valuable as experience and upskilling definitely are, my local grocery store doesn’t take those things as payment for food, so if those two topics aren’t up to scratch, there’s no point worrying about the company culture.

Assuming the perks and money side of it is well tended to, I ask about company culture because it speaks to how happy I’ll be there.

For me, here are the questions I ask for each topic.

Compensation

For compensation, I don’t go overly fancy and I think regardless of your role/industry, this question is the same. I just ask for a salary range they’re targeting. You could also ask about stock, but unless they’re a publicly traded company, stock compensation is as good as magic beans and should be treated as such. For this question, there’s usually three types of answer.

“The salary range we’re thinking is between X & Y”

This answer obviously gives me the range, but it also tells me some other things -

  • Is this role financially viable for me? I gotta pay the bills no matter how good the job might be.
  • If the range is absurdly broad, it could be a sign that they have no idea what level they’re hiring for and are just throwing numbers at the wall. They might also be full of it and the range is much lower.
  • If they range caps out pretty low, it’s a sign for me that it’s junior position and might not suit, or they’re undervaluing me.

“We don’t have a salary range and we build a bespoke package for each candidate”

You don’t get the range from this, but again, you can read into the answer -

  • This, frankly, is either not true, or the company is so mismanaged you should run a mile.
  • They might not have a bottom end of a range, but you can be damn sure they have a ceiling. That ceiling could be 50k under what you want, or 50k over, but you won’t know if they don’t tell you.
  • Even if a company is well managed, but still doesn’t have salary ranges, it means they’re not investing in their employees careers, because if they don’t have ranges, then they don’t have career ladders that are documented and are likely a minefield of bias when it comes to reviews and performance management

“We don’t share that data”

Again, no direct compensation data, but more you could imply -

  • Be wary of companies who won’t even talk ballpark figures, because they’re potentially trying to low ball you and/or waste your time.
  • Even more worrying is companies that won’t share ranges internally, because they are absolutely trying to lowball their staff.

Other benefits / perks

God there’s so many potential questions here, and it’s really a movable feast. It could be any of

  • What’s your 401k/pension/retirement scheme.

    • I don’t care what age you are, 401k/Pensions should always be on your mind
  • What’s your healthcare plan?
  • What’s your bonus structure?
  • Do you fly your staff business class for long haul travel?
  • What’s your commission structure?
  • What’s your remote/hybrid/office policy?
  • Do you provide onsite snacks/meals?
  • What software / hardware do you provide? Can I deviate from that?

Regardless of the question, what you’re looking for here is some kind of material benefit that isn’t immediately spendable. That could be long term compensation like savings or preferred stock purchases, or something less tangible like giving you more time to spend how you choose, or traveling comfortably.

For me, currently, I’m asking the question about remote work. Pre-COVID, I used to spend a minimum of 70 minutes per day of my own personal unpaid time traveling to/from the office. That’s about a full 24 hour day per month dedicated to my job for zero pay.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working in an office with people, bouncing ideas off each other, getting stuff done, and obviously having some fun, but damn, a literal full day a month just to get there and back?

COVID really opened my eyes to what a time sink that was, so I don’t know that I’ll ever want to do a full time office job again. But equally, I don’t want to never meet my co-workers in person, so in terms of an answer, I’m usually looking for some version of “we have an office, you can come if you want, but if you wanna work from home, that’s cool too. But we do have budget to get everyone together in-person every 6-12 weeks.”

One gotcha answer here which I’ve seen lately is “well your contract says you have to come into the office, but we don’t enforce that”. Don’t buy that for a second. The only reason a company puts something in a legally binding document is to give them the option to enforce it. This applies to so many contract clauses - if they won’t strike it off the contract, you need to assume they plan to enforce it.

Company Culture

Like I said, whilst the first two questions speak to a mix of tangible and intangible benefits (sometimes called “total compensation”). But this last one is more about your mental health. Do you think this job will make you happy. Will you operate in a creative environment, is there a lot of office politics, are you being set up for success, etc etc.

Like the “other benefits” topic, there’s a pretty wide spectrum of questions here, but to give you some examples, think about

  • How do promotions / career laddering work?
  • What’s your turnover rate?
  • How often do you release code?
  • Where in the company org chart does this team sit?
  • Will I be a people manager?
  • How many people are currently on the team?

With such a wide spectrum of questions, I can’t possibly provide insight into all the answers, but I will say that I’m currently asking about the org chart, and that’s entirely a personal preference thing. In my profession, you usually sit under engineering, product management or marketing, and I have a preference for the first two, so if DevRel sits somewhere else, that gives me pause about how happy I’ll be long term.

But for you, the question and answer could be totally different.

Remember, this too shall pass

It’s a golden age right now to be a person working in tech. Your skills are wildly in demand, and there’s a lot more of that demand than there is supply.

But as with all things, this too shall pass, which is exactly why you need to use your leverage while you have it. Maximise for whatever it is you want, be that money, happiness, influence, whatever.

Just remember, you can do this market research without being a jerk to the recruiter, so when you’re asking these questions, do it politely, and if they refuse to answer them, that’s their prerogative. They’re a person, trying to do a job, just like you.