Without a doubt, this is the single most common objection that we recruiters hear from prospective candidates when we make a first contact. My experience has been that many software engineers tend to view job-hunting as an “either-or” deal. Either they’re looking, or they’re not. No in-between. And that’s very understandable. Developing software requires a huge amount of passion and commitment, and you need to have your head and heart in what you’re doing.
But if you think about leaders in all fields – think CEO’s, CTO’s, VP’s of engineering, top actors, athletes and coaches, and so forth – they don’t operate this way. Instead, they tend to evaluate opportunities as they come up, and cherry-pick the ones that will be the most advantageous to them. And really, most engineers do this too at some level. If a software developer gets an email from a good friend or trusted colleague about a position that’s opening up at another company, which seems like a strong opportunity based on the friend’s knowledge of the developer’s background, personality, and goals, then most of the time, I think that developer will at least listen.
I’ll be the first to admit that, unfortunately, there are many recruiters out there who aren’t very knowledgeable about the software industry they serve, or are too pushy or aggressive, or bad listeners, or whatever. Recruiters like that don’t deserve to earn the privilege of building relationships with good engineers. So probably in many cases, “I’m not looking” really means something like “I don’t know you or trust you,” or “I don’t want to talk about this while I’m at work”, “You’re the tenth recruiter that’s cold-called me this week,” or “I’m right in the middle of trying to get a release out.”
However, the next time you receive a call or an email from a recruiter, if you like the tone of their approach, and they seem informed about what’s happening in the software industry, and are considerate of your time, you may want to at least hear what they have to say, even if you’re not “looking for a new job.”
Forming a relationship with a good recruiter can take a while, but can be invaluable to your career progress once you’ve got a few trusted recruiters that understand you and where you want to go with your career. You never know when that special opportunity is going to come knocking on your door. Will you answer?