How to Find and Engage Tech Candidates on StackOverflow by @VinceSzy

May 27, 2015

stackoverflowStackOverflow isn’t necessarily a primary source of candidates but a primary information source in your engagement and evaluation of candidates. Nonetheless, it’s still a good source of tech talent.

Here, I’m covering how you can:

  1. X-ray search StackOverflow and find software engineers
  2. Search in the subset of StackOverflow users who are registered on StackOverflow Careers
  3. Contact the potential candidates you have found

Searching all StackOverflow users

The internal search engine of Stack Overflow only let’s you search the usernames with no profile details. Fear not, since the user profiles follow the same URL and design pattern, you can use Google to X-ray search the user base of around 3.5 million software developers.

To understand how to do this, let’s check how the URL of a user looks and what can be present in a profile first.

The URL:

The structure of the URL makes it very easy to concentrate just on users, simply start your search with Already that search, without any further modification brings you just user profiles as seen here.

Obviously, you’re not looking for just any developer, so you’re going to need other keywords to specify your search. Let’s check the profile to see what other keywords might be used.


Important Elements:

  • Username
  • Bio
  • Location
  • Website
  • Other profiles
  • Profile picture
  • Tags contributed to
  • Information about Activity

For most tech positions, what you minimally need in order to think about someone as a potential candidate is the programming language and the location of the person.

Let’s start with the programming language. While, in theory, this information could be present in the free text “bio description” section, that section is actually often left blank. Thankfully for us recruiters and sourcers, the profile has a list of tags of the questions the user asked or contributed to, which are quite often programming languages or other software lingo which you can use as keywords as well. Simply adding the name of the tag as a keyword to your X-ray search will find people who are using that language. You can find a full list of tags here.

If you find a tag which might be interesting for you, the tag description of Stack Overflow has synonyms and related tags on the right side. Consider adding these to your search string with an OR statement.


Software engineers who posted or answered questions from these tags, will have that tag name on their StackOverflow profile. So to run a search for Java developers, use a string like this one below. jdk OR jre OR j2se OR java

You can see that some users (in the case of a popular language such as java “some” is actually “many”) have the programming language in the username. Since the reason for having Java as a username is because someone uses Java, I do not believe you should have any concerns with that.

The next thing you are going to need is the location where the candidate is from. You could assume you can just add it to search like you did with the programming language — arguing that the location is helpful wherever you find it on the profile. In many cases you would not be very far from the truth. But as we have seen with Java, people can put a location to their name as well. The difference is that often having a certain username has nothing to do with where a person lives — like on the picture.


If you have city or country names bringing such results, it’s a good idea to narrow down your search to those who have that information in the Location field. In the above example, you can do that with changing Paris to “location * Paris”.

Note: Don’t forget, sometimes users will only write the country as a location without a city.

Searching just StackOverflow Careers

The biggest challenge while searching Stack Overflow — or any other, not directly job search related site — is the connection and engagement with the found leads. The users of the site certainly did not register because they wanted to be contacted by recruiters, so you are going to need lots of patience to get through to them, and a good pitch when you can finally reach them. The creators of Stack Overflow recognized brilliantly the opportunity, and created a subsection of the site — Stack Overflow Careers. Those software engineers who actually might be open for a new opportunity can set up a much more detailed profile, and recruiters and sourcers who bought the access to the database can search and connect these developers directly.

The average response rate of these connection requests according to their data is well over 60%, which is an astonishingly high number in tech recruitment. This % alone justifies in investing in this service if you have enough positions, but those who do not have this opportunity can still benefit from the Careers section. How?

A natural reaction of a good sourcer who finds a paid site is to see what can be accessed by Google. If you run a search, you will see that actually quite many things – including user profiles! Browsing through the pages besides users you will see some company, city, meetup and job pages. To eliminate these from your results (while not eliminating those who simply use these in their profile description), add -inurl:cities|company|jobs|meetup. So your basic search is looking like this: -inurl:jobs|meetup|company|cities


Users on Stack Careers have a much more detailed, CV-like profile, which is linked to their “normal” StackOverflow activity. Essentially you can continue the search like you would search in CV-s: add any keywords and string you find necessary. The previous example of Java developers in Paris would look like this: -inurl:jobs|meetup|company|cities Paris java OR jdk OR j2se OR jre 

Obviously without the in-site contacting method which paid users have you will not experience the 60% response rate, but it is still bound to be better since there should be no “ultra passive” candidates here. Whichever free search method you chose (just the ~180.000 Careers profiles or the ~3,5 million total profile pool), you will have to look for external options to contact them.

Finding contact details of candidates found on StackOverflow

If you have searched in Stack Careers, users not only provide more information about their other social profiles and contact details, but also their full names. So you can use your full sourcing inventory of phone directories, people aggregators, social media and Google searches, and if everything else fails finding out their company mail address or cold calling in.

While having Email addresses on regular StackOverflow accounts is rarer than on GitHub, websites are relatively frequent. Once you have that, you can go, and use the search bar in the top right to find out details about the registrant.


If you do not have a website, Email, picture (for Image Search) or real name of someone, go for and see if the person with that username might use something else as well — and hopefully I should not even mention that, but try Googling the username as well :).

This post first appeared on

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