Main image of article Using GitHub to Land a Job

If you write any kind of code at all, chances are you know GitHub. Many of the site’s more than 10 million users make it a regular part of their day, posting their own work, commenting on the efforts of others, and contributing to open source projects. When it comes to job hunting, tech pros are routinely told that being active on GitHub gives them an advantage because it provides recruiters and hiring managers with a way to size up their skills. But are they listening? “I’m not sure candidates realize how effective a marketing tool GitHub can be for them,” said Robert Fleischhauer, senior technology recruiter with the InSource Group in Dallas. In fact, he added, reviewing candidates’ GitHub profiles is becoming a “standard protocol” for his clients. Some recruiters use GitHub to study a candidate’s interests and skills after they’ve identified a possible match. Others use it to seek out tech pros with very specific skills, or who’ve shown an interest in projects that are similar to their company’s work. For example, Casey Kugler, a tech recruiter for the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Va., follows users who have engaged with his organization’s repositories or communicated with members of its tech team. Such users, he noted, have demonstrated a direct interest in the Center’s projects. Of course, GitHub isn’t designed to be a recruiting ground, and many users actively avoid having any contact with headhunters there at all, Kugler noted. But in truth, good recruiters are careful in how they make an approach. Some will ask a member of their development team to reach out when they have a role that aligns with the candidate’s interests. Others will make an approach directly, but only when they’ve established that there’s some sort of common ground between a user’s interests and the company’s technology. “There’s a lot of information if you look between the cracks,” Fleischhauer observed. For example, by following the projects users participate in, he can identify areas of technical interest they may not have listed on their resume or social-networking profiles.

Attracting the Right Employers

For job seekers, this means that GitHub can be a powerful tool for attracting the attention of employers whose interests align closely with your own. Maybe your profile is dominated by work on JavaScript-based games and the several JavaScript-to-Arduino I/Os you’ve written. That alone tells recruiters a lot about where you’d like to focus your skills. By looking at your code and what you’ve tried to do with it, they can also get a sense of your abilities. “Someone who’s extending tool offerings shows that they’re more of an engineer than simply a programmer/craftsman,” Kugler added. “I'm interested in people who add functionality as opposed to just looking for workarounds.” GitHub can also provide recruiters with a sense of your reputation. Large followings and repositories that are highly rated through the website’s star system are good indicators of developers whose work is well-regarded by others; that makes it worth building up a following and soliciting reviews. Your readme files say a lot about you, too. Fleischhauer believes they provide a glimpse of the candidate’s thought processes, grasp of business problems and level of sophistication in attacking a problem: “They can almost be more valuable than a resume, since the developer is describing the problem they’re trying to solve with their code.”

A Search of Your Own

The nice thing about GitHub is it works both ways. Not only can recruiters use it to learn about candidates, but tech pros can use it to identify employers pursuing projects in a certain sphere, and learn about their teams and how they operate. One way to accomplish this is seeing who’s active in repositories that interest you. Though not all users list their employer, many follow fellow team members, so you can often glean organizational information by looking at the people to whom they’re connected. That, in turn, can lead you to the company’s repositories, where you’ll see some of the tools they use and what they do with them. For example, searching JavaScript Animation returns 671 repositories. Each result includes its originator’s username, the repository name and a brief project summary. Examining the originator’s profile page reveals their contributions, repositories, organizations, followers and who they’re following. Because GitHub’s search mechanisms are designed more to locate code and projects than people, you’ll have to do some clicking around. But that could lead you to opportunities in unexpected places. (That said, there are shortcuts: Get a look at them by reading through GitHub’s search documentation, located here.) Good recruiters do their homework on each candidate by digging into the details of their skills, experience and interests. Though GitHub’s a place to focus on code, your approach to coding is a big part of what makes you valuable as a tech pro. Since you should be using GitHub anyway, use it in a way that presents you as a complete professional: someone who's interested in solutions, able to communicate, and active in the community.