User groups, or clubs that focus on a particular technology, were on the forefront of the computing revolution. Apple and Osborne Computer both had their origins in the legendary Homebrew Computer Club of Silicon Valley.
User groups still thrive today, and new groups are regularly springing up to serve new technology and opportunity. In addition to being a valuable educational resource (and a great way to honor a computing tradition), user groups present an outstanding recruiting opportunity.
Related Article: 4 Things Your Startup Needs To Do to Recruit Talent
Finding a Group
The best approach to finding a group in today's internet-centric world is networking hub Meetup.com. Representing almost 20 million members in almost 200,000 groups in almost 200 countries, Meetup.com is the largest network of local groups. Solid search features and filters make it easy to find appropriate groups in your area.
For example, let's say you have an idea for a mobile app and are looking for a developer to help you bring it to market. You would search for something like "Mobile App Development" and specify your location and a radius.
If you are near any major city and interested in a popular technology, you are likely to have many available groups from which to choose. Read the group descriptions carefully – some will be very focused on your area of interest while others only touch on it. Look for the best possible match.
Planning Your Visit
Read the bios of the members that have indicated they will be attending the event. Try and find potential matches that you think could be a good fit – you don't want to go to the meeting and fall in love with someone that you won't be able to get. Focus on likely candidates, note their names and try to remember their faces—everyone should have a photograph.
Related Article: Can Your Business Afford Social Recruiting, Even If It's 'Free'?
At The Meeting
User groups often start with the organizer asking if anyone would like to make an announcement. This may be a good opportunity for you to stand up and explain that you are looking to hire someone. It may prompt the attendees who are looking for work to seek you out later, and it will almost always prompt them into being more active during the meeting.
That is what you want. It is also the real beauty of recruiting in this kind of scenario. You get to see how potential hires work and interact with both peers (the other attendees) and authority or "management" (the organizer). It's a valuable perspective that is very hard to get in an interview setting.
You also get a good sense of relative expertise. You will notice that some participants are highly respected and that everyone inches forward in their seats when those people speak. Others will clearly be more junior, and you'll see that most of the rest of the group answers their questions easily.
This kind of peer review is very helpful, especially if you are not in a position to judge someone's technical expertise yourself. And remember it's not always the most senior person you want. Senior often means expensive, and you may be better off with a less expensive and less experienced hire that can come back to this group and get answers when they need them.
Related Article: The 10 Golden Rules For Hiring All-Star Employees
After The Meeting
Most user groups end with a social period. Sometimes pizza is brought in and people mingle. This is your chance – seek out the people that interested you. It's OK to be direct – if you are looking for a freelancer it's fine to say something like, "Hi. I enjoyed your comments. Do you have any hours available?"
Always have a card ready give it to them even if they aren't interested or available. Things change quickly, and they almost certainly know other techs, so just ask that they keep you in mind if they or a friend ever has some time available.
Many user groups skip the pizza and move to a local pub. This can be a better place to approach a potential hire but try and catch them as the meeting is breaking up. Make sure they are joining the group at the pub. If they are, great – tell them you hope to speak with them there. If not get down to business right away. You don't want to miss the opportunity to speak and have to wait until the following meeting.