Looking Back at a Year of Recruiter Emails
Most recruiter emails won’t land you a new job. But they can provide insights into the current job market.
I’m lucky to work in an industry where people are in demand. Like most software developers, I receive a couple of emails from recruiters every week about some really, really exciting opportunities. Most roles aren’t particularly attractive. Once you have picked a niche for yourself, like GIS and maps, or if you have specific values, the overlap of jobs you want with the ones recruiters offer is remarkably small. Here in London, it’s mostly fintechs, closely followed by marketing tech and crypto, with the occasional oddball in-between. I once received a posting from a startup that offers customisable dog food.
Recruiters are not that useful for finding a new job that I would care about. But the job specifications can be helpful as an indicator of the current job market. Recorded over time, you can develop a personal and reasonably accurate picture of salary ranges, when to find a new role, your seniority level, and the technologies that are currently in demand.
To paint that picture of the job market, I collected data from recruiter emails throughout 2021. The resulting dataset is pretty simple; it includes:
- The date I received the recruiter email.
- If provided, the salary of the advertised role. Salaries are usually advertised as “up to” — the maximum price a company is willing to pay. If a salary range was given, I recorded the upper end. It’s safe to assume the salaries paid are actually a bit lower.
- The type of role. I kept this simple and only distinguished between lead and individual-contributor roles. Role titles are hard to compare across organisations. In one company, you’re the lead developer; in another, you’re the Head of Engineering, and in some early-stage startups, you might be the CTO. Any role that includes some formal leadership responsibilities is classified as “lead”, resulting in a catch-all category for lead developers, tech leads, engineering managers, and roles advertised as “lead dev who can become the CTO next year.” All other roles are grouped as individual contributors.
The data only includes permanent roles. I did not consider emails mentioning “several roles at all levels with a compensation between £40,000 and £150,000.” Also not included are duplicates from recruiters who think you might change your mind when they send you the same email three times.
Overall, I received postings for individual 283 roles; we can draw a picture of the 2021 job market using this information.
From the 283 postings I received, 129, or 45.58%, included a salary. That’s a much better ratio than a couple of years ago.
Seeing that the vast majority of roles advertised isn’t that appealing, a hefty salary for an average job is the one thing most likely to lower an engineer’s guards when they don’t actively look for a new position. How else would Facebook attract talent? Recruiters, provide the salary range on first contact, otherwise you’ll miss out.
Half of the salaries offered land were between £80,000 and £100,000, with a median of £90,000. This is the range I would use to negotiate a salary today. I consider the wages on either side of the two middle quartiles unrealistic. The salaries on the top end, especially those above £130,000, are exceptions; I’d have to sell my soul for this kind of money. The wages on the lower end likely result from the recruiter’s misjudgement. Either the company headquarters are located in rural Kent, or they were looking for a developer in earlier stages of their career.
Unsurprisingly, the more money is offered, the more likely you will lead a team. Then, on the other hand, I received lead roles for about £60,000, which is in the lower quartile of offered salaries.
When to look for a new job?
Most positions seem to be available earlier in the year; I received the most enquiries in February and March. Teams’ budgets are usually confirmed during that time, and it’s the time when people follow through with their new-year resolutions and change jobs. After the first quarter of the year, the number of posts declines towards the end of the year, with a dint in August, presumably because of the summer holidays.
So if you’re looking to make a change later this year, consider updating your CV over the holidays instead of fixing your parent’s printer.
Job levels are difficult to compare across organisations. The advertised levels and corresponding position descriptions (if provided) don’t allow for an objective comparison. Hence, I only distinguished between lead roles, including any positions requiring team-lead experience, and individual contributors.
105 roles, or 37.1%, were lead-level roles. This isn’t in any way surprising, given my background. I have led teams before, formally and informally, and have been swinging back and forth on the engineer/manager pendulum over the last couple of years.
A couple of aspects are missing from this admittedly brief and basic analysis. It would have been interesting to also look at the type of business. Whether it’s a fintech, health, or just a bunch of crypto bros. What tech is required for the roles or what parts of the stack I’m expected to cover; is it backend, frontend, full-stack, or something entirely different like data engineering or deep learning? And how do these aspects relate to pay? I didn’t collect this information and only realised this after a couple of months into the year.