Researching Developer Candidates Online

As a hiring manager the world has gotten easier with respect to getting some independent information on a given developer candidate. For many years now I’ve taken to doing a bit of googling for any candidate that passed the initial resume screening test.

Back in the early to mid 2000s this search often didn’t yield too much information. Back then Facebook and LinkedIn either didn’t exist or were just getting started. Blogging was popular, but still relatively rare, and Twitter was still waiting for ODEO to fail first. I often found the only relevant hits in some old USENET posts, but they were often at a time when the candidate may have been in college. I can’t even remember getting a candidate who had a blog or one who worked on an open source project. Today the picture is different.

Assuming the candidate doesn’t have a very common name you’re about 80-90% likely they at least have a LinkedIn page and very often Facebook or twitter accounts show up. I get really excited if I can find a blog for there or even better some source code from an open source project or so. As a hiring manager this stuff is golden as you can get a lot of background on a candidate to help decide if they’re meeting the bar for at least a technical phone screen:

  • Consistency: Does the LinkedIn or other information line up with the submitted resume. You don’t want to see a candidate who reports their job experience very differently online. Slightly out of date is fine, but when the employed dates are off by years, you’re probably not going to make the phone screen cutoff.
  • Passion: This is a critical factor in any hire. Do you really enjoy the career you’re in or trying to break into. Blogs and open source here are easy ways to see this in a candidate. If they contribute maven plugins or work on a build tool you can see they really care about automation and release management. Negative opinions of certain technologies aren’t bad here, techies are passionate about what they don’t like as well, but I like to see reasoned arguments and a passion for some alternative.
  • Learning: I only want to hire candidates who excel at picking up new technologies, tools, business domains, and practices. Seeing some tutorials, reading your twitter posts about messing with Clojure, or even seeing a list of books you’re currently reading along the side of your personal site can present compelling evidence that you enjoy keeping up with the software development field.
  • Communication: Written content helps evaluate how someone communicates and blogs are especially helpful here. Even tweets can give you a sense of how someone can string together punchy short sentences. Often all you can find are posts in forums asking for help with a product issue, but the person’s skill at asking for help and describing the issue can give you a feel for their abilities.

I haven’t mentioned other items that you come across like that their kid sister had breast cancer or that their favorite hobby is Ultimate Frisbee. Those facts aren’t relevant to how they perform on the job. I try to ignore them altogether when doing research.

Finally, I’d suggest that if you’re on the market, and a many developers are currently you might want to at least look at your online profile. As credit checks and drug tests have become regular screening items for a number of employers an online search of your name is certainly becoming almost a standard item. There’s not much you can do if there’s something unfortunate out there that shows up at the top of Google searches. By enhancing your online presence with relevant blogs, twitter, or other publishing sites you can build up a more recent history that’s relevant to hiring managers out there who google your name. You might want to just go ahead and include it on your resume as long as the majority of the content is relevant. And contributing to an open source project is a great way to stand out from many other candidates and worth pointing out on a resume.