Why recruiting sucks

I’m a recruiter. Now, before you do the digital equivalent of pelting me with rotting vegetables or show up at my doorstep with torches and pitchforks, know this: I hate the way the recruiting industry works as much as you do. Before becoming a recruiter, I worked as a software engineer for almost 5 years, so I’ve been on the other end of the incessant spamming and the cold calls. In fact, the reason I’m posting is that I am convinced that the tech recruiting industry, in its current incarnation, is completely broken. The fact that I have to apologize for being a recruiter and skulk about in the shadows isn’t right. But, I get why you guys don’t like us. It’s because a particularly loud faction of tech recruiters out there don’t treat you or your privacy or your goals with any modicum of genuine interest or respect. Of course, there are some truly great recruiters out there, and maybe they have some thoughts on this, too.

In any event, as I see it, here’s what’s broken, in general:

1. Wanton cold calling/LinkedIn/email spamming
In my engineering days of yore, I had nothing but a visceral disgust for LinkedIn and the contents of my LinkedIn inbox. I didn’t give 2 shits about which investors were backing which companies, or how I could get in on the ground floor, or listen to the empty praises mashed together from the 2 keywords available in my profile. Now that I’m on the other side of things, I don’t really feel too differently about it. I still refuse to spam people (or cold call them on the phone, which is even worse) — I think it makes me look bad (spamming is, to me, a tacit acknowledgement that you don’t have the industry-specific knowledge to craft something more personal), has low response rates, and doesn’t really engage the candidates that do respond. A lot of people say that this industry is a pure numbers game, and maybe it is, but there still has to be a better way to engage with people than sending them spam.

2. Keyword matching
I can’t harp on this one enough. What programming languages you know or what IDEs you have worked with in the past ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT. If you’re a good programmer and you’re interested in the work the company is doing, for the love of god, you’ll be able to learn the new languages/environments. I hate when, during interviews, I ask candidates to describe some project they’ve worked on, and they start prattling off keyword after keyword. Sometimes this prattling is an indication that the candidate sucks, but sometimes, they’ve been so conditioned by past HR calls to just list technologies that they can’t help it. I’ve had several conversations where I’ve told the candidate to back up, that I actually want to understand what you built and why you built it, and sometimes there’s this palpable sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. And for the trolls out there, yes, I realize that there are outliers — if you are a pure Java programmer, there is probably no way you can easily work on a 3D game api team writing C++ and shaders. And if you are a C++ programmer with no front-end experience, you can’t just walk on to the Sencha (née ExtJS) team. I’d hazard to say that these are the exceptions more than the rule, however.

3. Communication breakdown between the recruiter & hiring manager
You get pulled in by a perfect-sounding job and ultimately realize that the company isn’t doing what you were told and that the job description itself has nothing to do with what you were promised.

I’ve been lucky enough to have enough of an eng background for keyword matching to not be an issue, and I have a great working relationship with the hiring manager at my company (I work in-house), so I’d like to focus on the issue of spamming. Without spamming, what am I left with? I still have to find people. There are some good options out there that have been working for me (job boards, InterviewStreet/CodeEval, StackOverflow, HN), but these options have not proven to be enough. My favorite thing to do is to have enough info about someone to write them a personal and relevant message. I like taking some time to craft these messages, and whenever I’ve been able to hit on a few personal subjects and match the tone to the recipient, I’ve always gotten a response. Recently, I reached out to a guy who had his own startup but was starting to look around for a job. I took the time to figure out what his startup did and thought it was really cool. When I sent him an email, I asked him about some implementation specifics and made a suggestion about an existing, somewhat similar product that his product could integrate with. It turned out that they were already doing what I suggested, which was cool because it means I’m not completely out of touch, yet, and also cool because he responded… and ended up being a really excellent candidate.

Anyway, I want more interactions like this — interactions where you’re not annoyed/full of rage/violated and where I get to help you.

I’ll end this post with an open question. What’s the best way to reach you in a compelling way without pissing you off and without exposing you to the drooling masses who don’t know big O from a big ass? How do we bridge this gap between (hopefully) good tech recruiters and engineers? Is there a good way I (and others like me) can find you when you want to be found without compromising your privacy and our souls?

TL;DR: I’m a recruiter, but I used to be an engineer. This industry is broken, specifically with the communication breakdown between recruiters and engineers (spam, cold calling, keyword matching, etc). Help me fix it by making suggestions on how I (and others like me) can find you without compromising your privacy or flooding you with irrelevant content.

Note: This content was adapted from a Hacker News post I wrote.

5 Responses to “Why recruiting sucks”

  1. Joy Kaufman

    I enjoyed your blog. I am sort of in the opposite situation of being a developer-turned-recruiter: I am a recruiter who has gotten some technical certifications and was then assigned more techie and less recruiting based work.

    I think a lot of the problem is that not only do recruiters not understand technology, hiring managers don’t. It has rapidly come to be such a large part of what western society is like nowadays, but it isn’t understood one iota as widely as it is used. And that is partly a good thing, and why technical professionals are generally well compensated.They understand things and can do things that most cannot. Ideally though (and this has started happening a little, with learn to code apps and IT ed for students K-12 available some places) a well rounded modern education would probably have an IT representation. I would argue that my time spent dubiously deciphering Shakespeare would have been better spent learning some command prompts, or troubleshooting fixes. Education and understanding has not kept up with the way tech manifests in society.

    Ideally, there would be a threefold relationship: Recruiting, Hiring Manager, and SME. These three would put their heads together to hunt. The HM provides the budget, and the housekeeping items for the search. The SME figures out what technological attributes a candidate needs to solve the problem the new position addresses. And armed with that knowledge the Recruiter starts their hunt. This isn’t always the case though.

    The other problem I see (at least from my own experience) is that when you demonstrate you have professionalism and you pick up enough technical knowledge you typically don’t stay a recruiter. I’ve gotten some CompTIA certifications and ITIL intermediate, and nearly immediately opportunities arose to do things other than recruit on that basis. (I know those certs aren’t inherently meaningful, but they are baby steps towards technical knowledge at least.)

    The other problem, and it is no excuse for recruiter misbehavior, is that candidates (some, not all) approach the process of finding jobs with equal abandon. Most people when they job hunt hit the apply button to tons of jobs, because why not? Most people who apply online to jobs I’ve recruited have not been qualified for them. Weeding through this process further degrades the process and adds to any angst caused by recruiter failures.

    Just my two cents. My hope is that the bad apples of recruitment weed themselves out eventually.

    • The unhappy recruiter

      My story is similar to it but somewhat different. I been on the recruiting field since 2015. I started recruiting when I was in the military and I spent my recruiting assignment in the Texas. While in the military I earned an Associates degree in computer information systems, A Bachelors degree in Management and a Masters degree in Criminal Justice. However, for some reason I keep getting jobs at staffing agencies as a light industrial recruiter where I have to work with people that do not know left from right or have a very low IQ. This is the kind of people that staffing agencies use in order to squeeze every dollar out of them by putting them to work in miserable factory jobs (slave work). For some reason I believed that I been part of this abusive system for a few years now and I am not too happy with my current position. I am trying to get out of the staffing industry by getting a job in the Higher Education field. I hope this will happen soon.

  2. The unhappy recruiter

    correction to the last post: I been in the recruiting field since 2005.

  3. Jesse Greathouse

    Developed with over 10 years of experience laying down some opinions. At first I hated recruiters because I was overwhelmed by the number of bad recruiters and I had an underwhelming history to sell to potential employers, and so I had to play ball. These days they need me more than I need them and so it’s very rare that I see a job worth showing any interest in. I don’t dislike recruiters and I’ve become quite good at identifying the grest recruiters and ignoring the rest. In my opinion even good recruiters are stuck with the task of selling bad jobs because… well that’s their job. I have empathy for recruiters because they’re much more chained to this horrible machine than I am. When I meet a great recruiter I network with them in good faith, and I ignore the rest. I’m strait up honest, and picky about what kind of jobs interest me and if a great recruiter is trying to sell me on something that doesn’t sound interesting I’ll tell why. Sometimes if it sounds like a decent job I’ll blast it on my LinkedIn and twitter to help them out.

    The point I’m trying to make is that a balance can be struck and networking is a 2 way street. Talented people should always be looking to see if there’s better opportunities out there and recruiters are doing the legwork anyways so developers should use their work to help with that task. It’s easy to say oh I can’t stand recruiters and trash all emails and never reply to your linkedin, but I submit that doing so would be at greater cost then spending a little time networking with the recruiters who are legitimately making a good faith effort.

  4. Sharon

    Interesting! I am a recruiter with 20 years recruiting experience and would lov for some to address the managers with hiring mangers. I speak for recruiters
    Ike myself who have enough understanding of the requirements to match up resumes by hiring managers today never have time to interview and push you off until the candidate has been gobbled up by another corporation. these hiring manages also complain about not getting good talent after they have a proven track record of running good employees off. they expect recruiters to be miracle workers and throw them under the bus at all costs. why don’t you address this issue. Recruiters keep candidates warm because they are stuck and don’t have feedback.


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