Skip to main content

The HR Hobo Technique

Sometimes I really debate writing about some of our more successful techniques. What if someone actually takes our advice and does something with it? Make our competitors smarter? Then I remember that there really is enough work for all of us (I absolutly believe that) and I unclench my ass.

The fact is that starting a conversation with a stranger is uncomfortable for most people. For the developers I know, it is often more so. After all, they did not choose a people oriented career. The problem we often face when recruiting: How do you make small talk with developers in a public space, get them to come out of their shell and talk to you? Our solution: Hang a sign around your neck.

Most people are quietly wondering “what do you want from me” when you start talking to them out of the blue. It is a fair question. We all usually want something, perhaps friendship, perhaps influence, money, direction or a piece of gum. The easiest way to disarm people is to simple make it obvious what you want. If your interests match theirs, an instant form of trust is built. If not, then no harm no foul, you can quickly dispense of the awkward dance.

So here is how we played it. We went to Google I/O in 2007 looking for developers and hoping to learn a thing or two. Day 1: 37 aborted chat attempts and 2 business cards. Definitely the least social conference I had ever attended. We almost didn’t come back on day two.

You live in Santa Cruz long enough and you eventually figure that our homeless population must have some insight into things. Their sheer volume alone attests to that fact. Downtown has people lined up every 100 feet or so with “Buy me a beer (I’ll buy my own sandwich)” cardboard signs. Perhaps that will change some day, but at the moment, it is a part of the scenery.

So where am I heading (as if you hadn’t guessed from the lead in photo)? Most great inventions are simply taking a successful pattern from one part of your life, your industry or technology and applying it unexpectedly to another.

Peter climbed into my car the next morning with two manilla folders and four pieces of paper on which he had printed “Need Freelance Work?” We taped them together and off we went. We each took one and held it in our hands as we navigated the halls and sat in events. People consistently ask us what we were looking for. We didn’t initiate anything. They approached us. “You looking for Developers?”; “I freelance!”; “Can you tell me more?” and for us, the unexpected “What kind of work are you looking for?” After all, it didn’t occur to us until that moment that the sign read both ways. Day 2: 200+ successful dialogs, 47 cards worth keeping, 3 solid clients leads and 5 prospective devs got interviewed. In short, one good day.

And since then we have used it time and time again. It works. Just make sure you have a pile of cards and have a short spiel ready to go.