Monday, 16 March 2015

An open letter to recruitment consultants, on their relationship with developers.

To: The incumbents of the IT recruitment industry

Recruitment consultants are a reality, it can be difficult for companies to find the right candidate, and for developers, particularly those who decide to work a series of short term contracts to find their next position. In this climate recruiters are regularly in contact with tech companies and programmers both searching for jobs and employees and attempting to find matches for them.

But it's not always a match made in heaven, often developers are not looking for work, and many happily hold a single job for a number of years. However my skills as a Ruby on Rails developer are currently in a lot of demand, so sometimes as many as five different agents, often more than one from the same agent, will get in contact and take up some of my valuable time attempting to tempt me into a new position.

Many people in the computer industry share the experience of being frustrated by over-zealous recruitment agents, often getting in touch during working hours, advertising unrelated jobs and using hyperbole to exaggerate the desirability of positions. In more extreme cases, recruiters can be patronising, unduly persistent or completely dishonest to both potential employers and employees.

I appreciate that recruitment is a goal-driven sector, and there is pressure to perform, but making more contact is not, necessarily, the best way to fill jobs, or find them.

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Allow me to give one example of the mistakes which recruiters make:

My boss works hard, he is a director of the company, and has worked hard to make it the success it is. He's a rails developer, but also handles database and system administration, as well as liaising with customers, regularly working to capacity.

One of my colleagues walks through the door with the phone, someone, giving their name, but not the reason for their call, has asked to speak to the head of Rails development. The boss answers, politely, and quickly becomes annoyed "No, I'm a director of the company, I can't just leave to do another job."

The recruiter has learned the piece of information they phoned to ask about, taking around 30 seconds of the time they are uniquely placed to know the value of. They've also told a director of the company that they want to poach developers from what is a small, tight-knit team, of course he's annoyed.

The correct response would be to give it up as a bad job, politely withdraw and cross his name off the list, permanently.

The next thing I hear is a raised voice "No, we are not currently hiring. Good bye!". It's hard to slam a cordless phone, but my boss had a jolly good try at pushing the red button with attitude.

Having phoned the office phone number in the hope of getting to a senior developer, told the boss that they're attempting to poach developers and persisting in a conversation which is clearly over. This recruiter decided to switch modes from "we need developers" to "we've got developers for you" without missing a beat. Besides a devious method of getting in touch, they're must be an untruth in there somewhere, or at least speculation. They're either lying to the developer in him, or to the director.

This having taken place, is it any surprise the boss didn't want to enter in to a business relationship with the individual on the phone?

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Here's another example, in which a lengthy and complicated bug fix was interrupted with a 30 second phone call which put my own thought processes back by at least half an hour.

The phone rings, undisclosed number, I step out of the room and answer, already expecting recruitment, PPI claims or some form of "get rich quick" scheme.

The voice comes through, "Hello I'm (name) from (company name, it was an acronym, unhelpful)"

I reply, "Sorry, I don't know that company, what do you do?"

"We're a company of IT specialists."

"But what do you do?"

"I'm looking for a developer for a job in..."

Enough of my time has been wasted, I raise the tone of my voice a little "I'm not looking for work at the moment, thanks."

Again, the conversation has clearly ended, but the killer instinct which recruitment agents all seem to develop kicked in, but uncertainly...

"But what if we could..." he pauses, "Offer you more money". There was a noticeable rising, uncertain tone to this last word. As if he'd only just realised that the word money might not be a magic bullet in his fight.

"No thanks", and I make another spirited attempt at slamming my mobile phone.

I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that this total stranger, who wants to start an actual business relationship with me, seriously thought he was going to tempt me away from my current position with a pay cut.

This fact, on it's own, was enough to distract me for some time, but in truth any interruption is disruptive.

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I don't just want to shout in the direction of recruiters, but to offer some genuine constructive advice on how to avoid alienating developers who aren't interested.

There are three principles I'd like to suggest you bear in mind when contacting developers.

Concision

Recruiters will often provide a lot of extraneous information about a position, for instance, that it has investment, inflated perks (office furniture and powerful work computers are not perks, they're necessities), or who their clients are. Developers are busy, we don't have a lot of time to read emails in detail, especially when we haven't decided to change jobs at all.

We are not likely to be tempted away by the fact you've taken more time to fill out some of the unimportant details of a job, and to exaggerate the benefits, and quite possibly hide some negaitve points.

Mostly, we'd like to find out who the job is for, so we can do our own research, and bypass all this text.

Okay, so there's a business case for keeping that piece of information secret. Although it does try to start a real business relationship by openly showing a lack of trust in potential clients.

Here's what developers actually want to know:
  • What's the job, don't just say "may be relevant to you", what does the successful applicant have to do? 
  • Where is it?
  • Is it a contract? (this isn't always a good thing), how long will it last?
  • How much is it? We're not completely money obsessed, but it's a good guide for the level a job is at, if we can go for it, and if it's worth the considerable disruption of changing a job. 
How about a bullet point list of this information, instead of paragraphs and paragraphs of nebulous, imprecise information?

Relevance

A javascript developer will rarely be interested in a java position.

A new developer will not be interested in a highly responsible job which doesn't provide some amount of training and employee development. (Senior developers don't happen without being juniors first).

If a CV has not been updated for years, this is probably because it's owner is not looking for work.

Recruiters tend towards a scatter-shot approach to recruitment, the theory being that recruitment emails have a hit rate, so a higher volume of emails lead to the same proportion of a higher number of people. Keywords don't always result in candidates who fit the bill.

I have personally blocked a number of recruiters from contacting my email address when I get more than one email from them a week. I have been known to reply tersely when I get multiple emails concerning the same position from multiple recruiters belonging to the same agency.

Try to gain a little more understanding of the industry you are working in, be a little quicker to take names off the list, or at the very least wait a year before getting back in touch.

Remove hyperbole and patronisation

Developers are intelligent, hard-working people who understand our work affects the public image, productivity and stress levels of our clients. We are professionals, we've worked hard to develop our skills and persist in improving skills to the benefit of our employers.

We do not need to have our egos stroked in order to begin a serious business relationship with an agent. We do not need to be called ninjas, rockstars or jedi to pique our interest. In around half a decade, there will be many programmers who are actually twelve years old, presently, however very few are.

Please don't tell me the job you're representing is an exciting opportunity. Near enough every email from a recruiter starts this way. It's a job, I can decide for myself whether or not it's an exciting prospect for me.

Any other hyperbole says so much more about the author than the subject, facts really are more important.

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So how would I like to be contacted?

Dear Mr Faraday

I'm currently looking for a Ruby developer for my client, a digital advertising agency based in Rotherham. It's a 6 month, contract, which may become permanent, and a £150 day rate.

Let me know if you're interested and I'll send over a job spec.

Kind Regards

Ms Joan Q Recruiter - Doohickey IT

As a prospect, that's really all I want to know. It's not hard to ask for more, and initiate a dialogue, but it's very off-putting to be fed lots of information outright.

Just let me know who you are and what you're representing to me.

Oh, and you'll rarely get a good response by phoning my mobile during work hours. Interrupting my job to try and take me away from it is not a considerate thing to do. It's like an estate agent saying "It looks like you have a home, would you like a home".

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In conclusion, think about who you're talking to, and how this unsolicited contact will be received.

Thanks!

Andrew Faraday



1 comment:

  1. I am still laughing at the recruiter who phoned - years ago now - and tried to offer me a candidate who was "very experienced in the tee-see-pip programming language". To your tips above, I would add: don't even try and deal in recruitment in the tech sector if you aren't even vaguely familiar with the technologies. ( http://stackoverflow.com/a/1143108/104863 )

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