So, a recruiter wants to chat with you? Congratulations! You're on the first step to finding a new job.
Even if the idea of a phone call fills you with dread, know that thousands of developers feel the same way. Recruiters want to find people to fill their openings. You're going to be OK. All you need is a little preparation.
"Hi Foo, I hope this message finds you well. I have a wonderful opportunity for you. Can we get on the phone sometime this week to discuss it?"
At this stage, you probably don't know much about the job, and the recruiter doesn't know much about you.
Before getting on the phone, you should learn as much as you can about the position you're considering. Preparing to talk to a recruiter looks a lot like customizing a resume for a job. First, you outline the employer's needs, and then you fill in how you have successfully met those needs over your career.
If you have access to a job description, start there. Begin a new note, and as you're reading the job description, write down any concrete facts related to the job. Distill out only the relevant items; you can skip any word salad about dynamic teams and exciting opportunities. You only want their requirements and "nice to have" skills.
If you see they want Objective-C experience, write that down. If the job description mentions specific frameworks or methodologies, write that down.
Once you have an outline of what the job needs, fill it in with evidence that you're a good fit. The evidence might be as simple as "I used this when I worked at Acme." When a requirement indicates a more advanced or expert-level knowledge, then you'll want more detailed evidence: when, where, how, and why you have demonstrated the skill. Your proof doesn't have to fit the job description exactly; metaphorical evidence can also work.
Sometimes a recruiter won't share the job description when they ask for a chat. Before you schedule a call, ask the recruiter for a job description, and the name of the company (if the company name wasn't shared).
The recruiter may not wish to share the company name (third-party recruiters can be secretive), but they shouldn't have any reluctance to share the job description.
Once you have an outline of how you're a good fit for the job description, it's time to write a short story. You'll use this story when the recruiter asks you to say something about yourself.
A good career story has a theme relevant to the job description. Since you're (probably) a mobile developer, mobile computing might be that theme. The theme helps to connect your story to the job description at each step along the way.
As you write your story, it is OK to omit or gloss over events or jobs that don't fit the theme. A tale feels stronger if it has a focus, even if it skips over events you consider important. If sticking with a theme makes your story feel too thin, then expand it. If the story takes more than a few minutes to tell, consider narrowing the scope.
You'll also want to share your motivations. Perhaps you've always wanted to create something beautiful that people carry with them. Maybe you want to make tools that people use to make their lives easier. Perhaps a former colleague wanted you to join them at a new company. Sharing what drove you to make each change in your career helps to explain why you made changes.
Explaining your motivations also helps recruiters avoid the thought that you are chasing higher salaries or "job hopping." While I won't judge you for wanting a higher salary, recruiters worry that either you won't stay at a new role long enough for them to keep their commission, or that they won't have a good story to tell their hiring manager.
Finally, you'll want your story to touch on each achievement you've made relevant to the job description.
When it comes to managers and recruiters, evidence of a talented developer looks different. Developers want to talk about the details of the technology. Recruiters and managers have more of an interest in business, project, and team success. In other words, they're judging your app development skills by the app's impact on the world.
Recruiters respond more if you worked on a project that has a million downloads a week than a project that has a million lines of code. They'll be more impressed if you're current project is 99.9% crash-free than if you're good at removing crashes. The might be even more impressed that you worked at Google or Apple as an intern than if you're a lead developer at a little-known company.
Some rules of thumb you can use:
Most recruiters don't have a deep level of technical knowledge, so be prepared to answer a list of "have you worked on X technology?" questions. Some of these technologies may not be in the job description. To them, these are yes/no checkboxes. You should treat them as fill-in-the-blanks questions.
The truth is, you never want to answer "no." If a recruiter asked me:
"Have you ever worked with Metal?"
I would answer, "no, but I have experience with SceneKit, C++, and I have a strong interest in learning it. Metal has some similarities with C++, and SceneKit is a simpler 3D rendering framework."
If you want a job, always expand on any answer that might disqualify you. Answer the questions honestly, and express interest in learning skills missing from your experience. If possible, share your expertise in related technologies.
When talking to any representatives of a company that might hire you, you should have a series of questions prepared in advance. Almost everyone will ask you if you have questions for them. Always have good questions!
Prepare questions covering these areas:
If you are a more experienced developer, I believe it is appropriate to challenge the recruiter with your questions. If the role seems to junior for you, I think it's fine to ask why they feel they need someone with your level of expertise. If the company has a tarnished reputation, it's OK to express concern over that fact and ask what the company is doing to address it. If the app looks like a mess or crashes, you could ask what they're doing to fix it.
You should use caution when asking a challenging question -- it could backfire. On the other hand, you may not wish to work for folks who can't tolerate a little challenge.
Recruiters will want to know first whether you are a fit for their client. What this means varies but in general they will want to know:
Here's the tricky thing...
Recruiters sometimes wish to negotiate a low salary with you even before you've been through an interview. They will try to pin down your salary early, and later hold you to those numbers if they make an offer.
I once foolishly volunteered a salary range in my first phone call with a recruiter. When I received an offer, that recruiter insisted that I had to accept the bottom of that range; otherwise, I was "not serious about taking this job." The recruiter threatened to "move on to the next candidate."
Don't disclose your current salary, or your salary needs if possible.
One tactic you can use is to ask the recruiter first:
"Hi recruiter, this position sounds exciting! I have one concern that I'm sure you're concerned about too. So I don't waste your time, what is the expected base salary range for this position?"
To work, you need to ask early in the conversation, which may feel intimidating or strange. If you wait too long, the recruiter will ask first, and it can be challenging to convince a recruiter to disclose a salary instead of you.
Caution: popping the salary question can backfire, especially if you don't have much experience. Some companies and recruiters might think you are "greedy," even if they have no reluctance to ask you about your salary needs. One way of softening this question is to attribute it to someone else: "My partner/parents/significant other/mentor/financial advisor would kill me if I didn't ask..."
On the other hand, if you are quite senior, you may need to ask about salaries to ensure you don't waste time talking to companies that can't afford you. And trust me, it feels like a colossal waste of time to make it through the interview process and be offered less than you made four years ago.
If the recruiter beats you to the salary question, don't lose hope. Here are a few tactics to deflect the question:
Brace yourself for pressure to answer this question. Prepare yourself to wait through silent pauses in the conversation, a common tactic to extract more information when negotiating. You can read more about it in my article about negotiation. Don't disclose a salary number to fill in the silence!
Anticipate the recruiter might insist that they need a number to "move forward" in the process. In that case, you can ask them to fill in $1 for now, and offer to revisit that question later once you both know more. I stole this idea from Patrick McKenzie, who has an epic guide to negotiating salary.
Recruiters sometimes play games with salary numbers. When you discuss numbers, always precisely reference which number you refer to: base salary, bonus, equity, or total compensation.
For instance, "a $160,000 base salary should work for me" is better than "$160,000 should work for me."
Treat the base salary as the number that has to cover your living expenses. A bonus might not come, and equity (probably) won't come into play until more than a year after your start date. If the company isn't publicly traded, the equity may have no value ever (or it might be worth quite a lot).
Find a private, comfortable place before your scheduled phone call. I prefer to take recruiter phone calls at home, but sometimes that isn't possible.
Here is a list of awful places I have taken recruiter calls:
Once you've reached where you will take the recruiter's phone call, take a few moments to collect yourself. I tend to pull out my notes, breathe deeply, pace around, and finally imagine all the ways the role excites me. I try to transform any nervousness into excitement and curiosity for the position.
Keep your notes handy during the call, and be prepared to write down anything you learn. Try your best to listen carefully without interrupting, and to express optimism for the position for the most part.
Unless you need the job, I feel it is best to express any issues you see with the role -- politely. If the pay seems too low, you can raise that concern. If the timing of the job or the title isn't a good fit, you can say that also.
Expressing concerns early has two advantages:
As the call wraps up, be sure to thank the recruiter and get a clear idea of what the next steps are.
When you hang up the phone, write down any notes or questions you might have. It's also an excellent time to send the recruiter a quick "thank you" email, attaching a customized resume if you haven't already sent it.