6 Tips for Successful Tech Sourcing from Riot Games

January 28, 2015

Sourcer Jake Zerbe admits that when he started recruiting 10 years ago, he went about it all wrong. He jumped into projects with little or no planning, going after the easy win, the low hanging fruit.

After he had to completely retrace his steps on a few searches, he learned to think about the big picture.

Today Zerbe is Recruiting Manager, Engineering and Insights at Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game. Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Riot employs 1,700 in 15 locations globally. As of January 2014, more than 27 million people played League of Legends daily, with peaks as high as 7.5 million people playing at the same time each day.

The technology behind the popular video game requires Riot to turn up a steady supply of highly skilled tech candidates.

Zerbe, who’s currently building out Riot’s sourcing strength and now approaches searches with a carefully mapped-out strategy, offers the following six tips for successful sourcing.

1. Treat sourcing like it’s a product.

To ensure his team doesn’t end up reinventing the wheel as he did early on, Zerbe takes a page from software developers, who try to structure code in a way that makes it clean and reusable.

“Sourcing is the same,” he says. “If you do your research, you don’t have to restart every time.”

Instead, he suggests, setting it up like a product you can share with others.or example, his team regularly hires engineering managers who tend to be CTOs, directors or vice presidents at other companies. To hone in on the right candidate each time, they have to develop an understanding of the role, how technology ties in, and which geographies will be rich markets, then “attack with a formalized method,” Zerbe says.

Over time Zerbe identified the companies Riot tends to hire from, the skills that translate well to their particular world of gaming and technology, and personality traits that fit their culture. Armed with this information and a knowledge of the given role and market, his team approaches each search from a far more strategic position.

2. Source and hire for cultural fit.

People who do well at Riot tend to be startup folks who value culture and people from leaner companies where employees wear a lot of hats, Zerbe says. And, while Riot needs top tech skills, candidates must relate to their player community as well.

“If someone doesn’t have a passion for gaming, they don’t understand the impact of something like shutting down the servers,” Zerbe says. “It’s a matter of juggling the right tech fit with the right culture fit.”

In the end, new hires must level up the company across the board. If a candidate offers unmatched tech expertise but no industry knowledge or interest in Riot’s audience, they move on.

3. Avoid spam at all costs. 

“Too many recruiters use InMails to spam,” Zerbe says.

Riot recruiters do a lot of research before reaching out so they can connect on a deeper level. For example, they explain how a candidate’s profile meshes with the job in question or mention projects they’re doing on GitHub. The personal approach translates into a higher response rate and a better public image.

And don’t forget about hiring managers, who can be instrumental in reaching the right hire. Since candidates often respond better to peer-to-peer outreach, Zerbe recommends asking hiring managers to make introductions or contact certain targets to start a conversation.

4. Perfect your timing with a little digging.

Similar to the legwork Zerbe’s team does to customize outreach, they’ve also carefully thought through the right time to approach a candidate.

Zerbe researches target companies’ vesting cycles to learn when they update employees’ stock offerings. One company they typically recruit from offers two- and four-year bonuses. Zerbe times his outreach to those two points, as he’s noticed that’s when people are most likely to leave.

“People are more willing to talk if they’ve made enough from their equity, or if they’re not quite happy with what they’re doing,” he says.

5. Prep for conferences like it’s your job.  

Conferences can be fruitful, but companies tend to go in blind thinking they’ll bump in to candidates, Zerbe says.

Riot approaches conferences like a job, identifying prospects and lining up 1:1s before they leave the office. Then, they find creative ways to engage people on site.

At Amazon Re-invent, a massive conference for web developers, Zerbe’s team arranged 10 computers in a booth to let attendees play games and talk to their staff.

“People got excited about our game and our technology,” he says. Naturally, some asked if Riot is hiring. Others recommended friends or colleagues who love gaming. Zerbe returned home to multiple emails with some of the most spot-on resumes he’s seen.

“They’re passionate about gaming and can relate to our players,” he says. “That’s really the No. 1 thing here. The ability to relate to players adds value.”

Riot arrived at Re-Invent with 30 scheduled interviews and left with 149 leads. So far, more than 30 candidates passed the initial phone screen.

6. Train your people so they can love what they do, too.

A while back, Riot experienced some turnover in their recruiting coordinator role.

“A lot of people see recruiting as mind numbing,” Zerbe explains. “They don’t see the research piece, or realize the need to understand the market, to see which companies are growing or laying off, who was acquired and how that might impact the market.”

For companies like Riot with a high tech bar, “you have to look at these bits and pieces, and you have to know what companies have a similar culture. Once I was able to highlight that, people saw that recruiting was more of a career path,” he says.

Do you have any sourcing tips for your industry? Tweet them to us at @HireOnLinkedIn.

* Image by Jeff Jackowski