If you’re looking for tech talent, you need to find highly qualified and specialized candidates in an incredibly competitive market. Now, you’re probably already (plenty) familiar with GitHub. To those familiar with the site, we say, “welcome.” To those of you who are only starting your journey into this great destination for tech pros, you’re just as welcome here. Whether seasoned or fresh, this article on how to source candidates from GitHub may be just what you need to make sure you’re getting the most out of the site.

Let’s walk through GitHub, the type of candidates that you are most likely to find using it, and how to assess these candidates before reaching out.

What makes GitHub special?

GitHub is a site that allows developers to collaborate on projects combining features that are common on most social media platforms, like feeds and groups, with features designed to make code collaboration as streamlined as possible. The site has enterprise categories that allow teams within an organization to collaborate privately, but other plans enable users to view and work on open-source projects together. Many use the site professionally, but most also use it for pastime projects, using it as a way of turning to other developers to test ideas and work with their peers informally.

As for the name, a “git” is a version control system, which is a system that allows developers to organize and store changes made while working on a project (such as a website or app). It helps developers manage and track changes as multiple parties work on a project – almost like a CRM or ATS does for recruiters.

GitHub itself was launched in 2008, and the site now boasts of 21 million users (that’s a lot of potential candidates in one place). One of the major differentiating factors of GitHub is the sense of community that the site has fostered among engineers, coders, programmers, developers, and others who are responsible for creating code and developing software. The site is designed to make it easier and more efficient to work together on this type of project, and those in the industry have clearly taken advantage of it.

I need to recruit a tech candidate, how will GitHub help?

Sure, GitHub will be most effective for those who source tech-centric candidates. There is a lot of software and coding standouts on the site and it’s more technical than most social media sites. So directly sourcing from GitHub is a natural solution for your sourcing challenge.

GitHub is also great for educating yourself on confusing job requirements and unfamiliar keywords. Plenty of coders, designers, and engineers work on a variety of projects with diverse ranges in work required (whether those projects are for work or pleasure). GitHub is a great educational resource for seeing what specific people can do beyond their resumes. You can learn what’s trendy, what people are doing with their time and what you need to learn to understand the industry.

How much does GitHub Cost?

You can access many of the projects on GitHub without an account. However, when using GitHub for free, the site may limit:

  • the amount of information that you can see about projects
  • features
  • information about other users

Fortunately, access to the site is much less expensive than other gated versions of your most-used social sites. At $7 a month for an individual account, you’ll receive access to public and private repositories, which should be enough to get you up and running. More advanced accounts focus on making sharing code easier. The added capability won’t necessarily hurt you, but the extra cost won’t really give you any more benefit than what you get with the $7 account.

Basic research requires very specific keywords

When sourcing on GitHub, you’ll need a strong job description to ensure that you understand the candidate’s required skill set. Things quickly become very nuanced and granular on GitHub; to keep you from becoming discouraged by the massive amount terminology and languages mentioned on the site, make sure to ask your hiring manager about the role’s specifics during the intake session. Make a list of this information and key skills that may not be required but might be a bonus to use as a reference.

Commit enough time to the dig

The site’s interface is not completely user-friendly if you’re not using it all the time. GitHub is built and designed for specialists and it has an abundance of features and tools to prove it. Nonetheless, the talent is worth the time and effort. If you can learn the interface and carve out enough time, you have millions of tech-focused, active professionals waiting for you.

How to find candidates on GitHub

After parsing out the job description and notes that you have from the hiring manager, you’ll want to start narrowing down your candidate search. You can use Boolean to do this, but Vince Szymczak points out that GitHub only allows you to use up to 5 operators and strings are limited to AND, NOT, and OR operators. An additional downside to using Boolean on GitHub is that your string can’t exceed 256 characters.

Luckily, GitHub has wonderful search capabilities built into it, including the following search tool:

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 8.25.07 PM

Note: You can access this search feature here, and will have to scroll toward the bottom of the page before finding this “Users Options” search box.

If this isn’t for you, you can also check out GitHub’s field commands, which can include:

  • Location
  • Full name
  • Language (code language that is)
  • Email
  • Organization

Here’s a full list of GitHub’s commands to help you to craft your search.

You have a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to sourcing on GitHub, but it will take some trial and error before you come across the combination that’s right for you.

Now that we know how to find candidates, what should we be looking for on their personal pages?

Look for the right languages

You may have included this in your search, but you may also be on the prowl for a candidate with auxiliary skills and want to check those out as well. To do this,

  1. Take a look at a candidate’s personal page.
  2. Click on the “Repositories” tab.
  3. Look in the right corner for the drop-down box labeled “Languages” to see a list of languages that interest the candidate.

Find their location

Some candidates will list their location in their contact information. If this is the case, it will appear under their profile picture. If they’ve chosen not to list their location, many often include links to their personal sites on their profile pages; this may give you a better sense of where they are located.

PRO TIP: If you still can’t find their location and it’s critical, give our Chrome Extension a whirl to pull up hidden candidate data. If it can’t locate an address, you may be able to discern their location based on a phone number the extension is able to find.

Trace candidate activity

Digging into a candidate’s activity is a great way to learn about their personality, work style, career interests and more.

First, take a look at a candidate’s profile overview. Are there any overarching themes or interests here? If so, this can help you to determine if the role that you have to offer is likely to gain the candidate’s interest. Will your role allow them to work in a sector that seems to truly interest them or in a language that seems to include their best work? These small details make great conversation starters during the outreach process and will show your candidate that you took the time to research them.

Take a look at their contributions

GitHub tracks users’ contributions and creates a helpful chart like the one below to show candidates’ activity on the site. A sudden jump could indicate that they are looking to take on new challenges and more responsibility, perhaps indicating that they will welcome a new role.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 1.34.45 PM

You can also look at their contributions to see their style of work – do they seem to dedicate themselves to one project or bounce around offering bits of advice on several topics? This type of observation can help you glean a sense of the candidate’s workflow to determine if they would work well within the new team.

Learn from the candidate’s following

You can see the number of people that the candidate follows and the number of people that are following them on their user profile, just like on Twitter. Candidates with a large following are likely to have a great deal of expertise in their field which may help you gauge their seniority level.

This is also helpful as you can see who follows the candidate and who the candidate is following, allowing you to quickly find lists of candidates with the same interests and the same skill sets.


Whether you’re just starting your journey or you’re sharpening often-used skills, we hope this overview of sourcing on GitHub helps you use a great site that’s full of valuable information. It’s a tremendous resource with seriously good talent (and plus, it works brilliantly with your Jobjet Chrome Extension for discovering hidden contact info and refreshing outdated resumes with verified candidate data).

Stay tuned for more sourcing tips and ideas as we use the next few weeks to explore different sourcing sites.