Andrei Dobrinski's Blog

A Developer's Guide to Working with Recruiters

Intended Audience

Junior-to-intermediate developers that receive inbound messages on LinkedIn, emails, or other communication from recruiters regarding open roles. Developers looking to learn more about how to respond to tech recruiters.

The Scenario

Let’s say you’ve spent time building an in-demand skill set and recruiters have taken notice. Maybe you’ve updated your LinkedIn, published your portfolio, and shown off some side projects on GitHub. You’ve got a few recruiter messages in your inbox - congratulations! Leveraging these inbound requests can be a great way to find your next job. I have been through this process several times myself and I have a few tips to share about working with recruiters.

What are You Looking for?

Your first step should be to reflect on your current position and decide what you want your next career move to be. The main points to think about are your happiness with your current role, and your willingness to hear about new opportunities. Consider if you are:

  1. Happy with your role, and not open to new opportunities
  2. Happy with your role, but open to the right opportunity
  3. Unhappy with your role, and open to a new opportunity

Next, you should consider what you are looking for in your next job. Are you interested in working with a certain tech, in a certain industry, or with a certain title? Are you only interested in certain companies? There’s no right answer here. The goal is really to think about what you’re looking for in your next role, as this will help with knowing what to look for and ask about in your conversations.

Let’s start with the scenario where the position does not align with what you are looking for.

What If I’m Not Interested?

If you’re not open to new opportunities, let the recruiter know. Just make sure to be polite and respectful with your rejection. I like to thank them, decline their offer, and keep the door open for future communication. This is my standard reply:


Thanks so much for reaching out!

I’m not currently looking for a new role but let’s definitely keep in touch in case that changes.

All the best!


I’ll personalize the message if something about the pitch stood out - if the recruiter’s message made it clear that they looked into my portfolio or experience, or if the company’s mission resonates with me - I’ll mention it in my response.

Recruiters may reach out with positions that don’t align with your experience, career goals, or tech expertise. In this case, you can politely decline, and let them know what kind of positions you would be interested in for the future. Personally, I receive a lot of requests for technologies that I don’t work in. In those cases, I let the recruiter know and ask if they have any React positions instead.

If you’re not interested in the role but are working on your inbound marketing, you can also ask questions like “what search term did you enter to find my profile?” or “what made my profile stand out as a candidate for the role?“.

If you are interested, let’s review the types of recruiters so that you have what you need to get the conversation going.

Types of Recruiters

Not every recruiter will be willing to share all the information you’re looking for before an introductory call. It might not be in their best interest at this point, so it’s important to know who the recruiter is to know what questions to ask.

There are two main types of recruiters: internal and external. External recruiters can either have exclusive or non-exclusive rights to the position they are sharing with you. Let’s review each scenario and how it might affect your communication with the recruiter.

Internal Recruiters

Internal recruiters are employees of the company that they’re recruiting for. Usually this is someone in the HR department and their responsibilities include sourcing candidates for job openings at the company.

Internal recruiters are usually willing to disclose the company, role, tech stack, and job description early in the recruitment process - they may even include these details in their initial message to you. They’ll have more information about the company than an external recruiter will, so feel free to ask questions about company culture, mission, and what it’s like to work there.

Internal recruiters are usually salaried and may receive commission on hires, but it is not necessarily in their best interest to get you the highest salary possible, so keep this in mind during the negotiation steps.

External Recruiters

External recruiters work either independently or as part of a recruitment agency, focusing on connecting talent (you) with open roles at a number of companies. They may have multiple roles and may be willing to share them, so ask them if there are any other roles that might also be a good fit for your experience.

An external recruiter typically receives compensation when a candidate they’ve referred is hired at the company. The compensation structure varies, but it’s worth noting that an external recruiter might receive a percentage commission based on the salary you’re hired with, meaning that it may be in their best interest to get you a higher salary.

External recruiters will know less about the company than an internal recruiter will, so focus your questions on the role itself, rather than on company culture. External recruiters can operate on an exclusive or non-exclusive contract with the company which may also affect the information they share.

Recruiters with an Exclusive Contract

In an exclusive contract, the individual or agency is the only one responsible for recruitment of talent for the position. In this case, the company may not post the position on their own website or on job boards like LinkedIn. They will likely be relying on this external recruiter to bring in the candidates rather than reviewing inbound applications. When working with external recruiters who have exclusive rights to the role, expect more in-depth questions regarding your past experience as they will be using this to filter through the potential candidates.

Recruiters without an Exclusive Contract

A non-exclusive recruiter works alongside (or competes against) other recruiters and/or the company’s internal HR to source talent. This may also mean that you are part of a larger pool of candidates who are interviewing for this position. A non-exclusive external recruiter may not be willing to disclose the company and the full job description before a phone call, as there would be nothing stopping you from applying independently, and circumventing their commission. They may share a pared down job description to communicate the expectations of the role without releasing all the info up front, like sharing the company’s industry and not the company name.

Now that we’ve discussed the types of recruiters, let’s get into how to prep for your introductory call.

Before the Call

You have an idea of what you’re looking for and you think that the role might be a good fit. The next step is to ask yourself, “what information do I need before I get on a call?“. Don’t be afraid to get on the call with a recruiter, but feel free to do an initial screen to make sure that the call is worth your time.

The decision around what information you need to know is up to you - just keep in mind that not every recruiter will be in a position to share all the information before the call. I like to keep a short list of things I want to know before I’m willing to jump on a call.

Here is what I make sure I know before the call:

  • Company
  • Role or title
  • Tech stack
  • Job description

Build your own list based on what is most important to you. Also, if you don’t have all the information prior to the call but other aspects of the role sound interesting, it might be worth still taking the time to learn more. Use your list as a guideline rather than as a hard prerequisite.

The list works differently with recruitment agencies, since there could be multiple companies or roles that they’d consider you for.

In addition to getting all of the information from your list, you’ll want to plan questions that you ask during the call. Let’s take a look a what those might look like.

Questions to Ask

Asking good questions helps to paint a more accurate picture of the company. They also help to establish you as someone who takes their career seriously, hopefully aligning you with the type of candidate they’re looking to hire.

I recommend keeping a document with a list of questions that you might want to ask on this initial call. Prior to meeting with the recruiter, you can duplicate the document, and modify the list depending on the role. You can use this as a reference during the call, as well as a place to take down notes from your conversation.

Here are some ideas for questions to ask during your first conversation. I like to keep separate lists for internal and external recruiters. I also may re-ask some of these questions at the technical interview, however, asking the recruiter can give you early insight into the role and help you decide if it aligns with what you’re looking for. I’ll share some of the questions I ask and my rationale behind each one below.

How would you describe the company culture?

Applicable for: Internal Recruiters

This is one of those questions that’s good to ask at every step of the interview. Hearing the same answer multiple times means the company has a consistent culture. You should be looking for an answer that aligns with a culture that you see yourself working in.

Are you hiring for a specific project or to join the team in general?

Applicable for: Internal or External Recruiters

If the company is hiring for a specific project, it’s helpful to know ahead of time what that project is to see if you’re interested in that type of work. This is also a good question to ask if you are applying to an agency. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s helpful to know what to expect. External recruiters may not have the details for this question.

Are you looking to fill a new role or fill a vacancy?

Applicable for: Internal or External Recruiters

A new role means that the company is expanding their team, while filling a vacancy means the candidate would be replacing a team member that either quit or got fired. It’s helpful to know why they’re hiring, especially if it means that the company is growing.

How big is the team and what does the reporting structure look like?

Applicable for: Internal or External Recruiters

This question would also be good to ask the technical interviewer, but having an early idea of the company’s structure means that you can make sure it aligns with what you are looking for. You may get a less detailed answer from an external recruiter.

Is the team mostly junior, mostly senior, or split?

Applicable for: Internal Recruiters

The answer to this question, combined with the title of the role that they’re hiring for, helps indicate possible mentorship or leadership opportunities. Are you an intermediate or senior looking at a company with mostly junior developers? That may provide you with the opportunity to mentor others. Are you a junior or intermediate joining a company with a fairly mixed team? That means there will likely be developers to both teach and learn from.

Is the team mostly recent hires or have a lot of the developers been there a while?

Applicable for: Internal Recruiters

This can be a good indicator of the environment in the engineering department. Lots of new hires at a new or growing company? That’s expected, and may be a good sign for advancement opportunities in the future. However, high turnover may be a red flag for an established company who is not in a growth phase. If you prefer, you can rephrase this question to something like, “How long has the average developer been with the company?”

Final Notes

When talking with recruiters, always be polite, respectful, and speak with positive intent. They want to find the best fit for their role and recruiting is no easy task!

Approach the conversation from a place of curiosity; you’re learning more about the new role and they’re learning more about your experience and career goals. Be aware of their role and ask them questions with that in mind.

At the end of the message or call, remember to thank them for their time and for reaching out.

Best of luck to anyone going through a job search right now!

Further Reading

Talking with a recruiter is just the first step of the interview process. There’s lots great info out there about how to handle the interview process - I’ll share some of my favourites here:

A must-read for salary negotiation.

A great list to help you work on yours. I have a similar list except I group questions by who I’m asking them to, in addition to category of question.

A good mix of career advice.

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