BreakingNews: Hapless recruiter searching for LAMP developer; hires electrician

All joking aside, the current state of the recruitment industry is no laughing matter. It is a world lacking any form of entry barrier and as bizarre as something directed by David Lynch himself!

It’s not only the candidates who are getting fed up. Also HR departments are fending off hordes of thick skinned recruiter-goblins. And according to the folk in R&D, all recruiters waste the time of the productive and hard working.

Think I’m exaggerating? OK then try this technique, which is used in variations by all recruiters in the world:

  1. Cold call some HR professional of your choice …
  2. … tell them you’ve just studied one of their highly interesting job-descriptions online, and would like to discuss the position …
  3. … move on to ask whether they also work with external recruiting firms because you’re actually calling on behalf of agency-XYZ and …
  4. … “by coincidence” you happen to have a candidate which matches this role just fantastically.

My bet is they’ll go from total Zen to “Rage Guy” before you can say “Framework Agreement”!

rageguySure we could now go into the many ways of improving cold-calling techniques for fun+profit. But whatever variety you use, HR hears such lines every day. And they’re understandingly sick of it!

Once a recruiter has finally managed to get through to someone in a firm (often by using VoIP software to automate the finding of valid internal extensions), s/he won’t easily be told off. They’ll use every chance to emphasize their competence in your industry and that they’re heaps better than all others who have already called today 🙂

What most candidates fail to understand is that:

“In the eye of the recruiter everybody wants a new job! And what they offer you is always better than your current position (even if it pays 30% less or is on the other side of the country).”

But before whining further, … can we improve it!

Start of 2012 I’ve decided to get into technical recruiting. Until then my portfolio only consisted of technical consulting for ICT. Most of my friends and colleagues in R&D were sure I’d finally gone completely bonkers.
TBH, I had no idea where to start! From my technical background I understood how to plug things together. Writing code as solutions to problems is easy. So I set out to do what most engineers would. Looked for engineering solutions to support the business processes behind it:

  • set-up a website, blog, social networks, email, twitter, facebook, google+, Xing, LinkedIn, Viadeo, blogs  and …
  • connected everything with my applicant-tracking system,  in the cloud.
  • easy-peasy-japanesy I looked deeper at the LinkedIn API and Xing platform and wrote some scripts and dirty hacks to find out what the limits were on these platforms. In the process I discovered several bugs (some smaller security issues but also bigger logical flaws especially in LinkedIn).
  • automate, automate, automate, then simplify & repeat

Only it wasn’t “just” an engineering problem which you could solve by throwing new software or tools at. It was an “old economy” industry. To do business here you need solutions for tech, legal, social media, sales (including cold calls), marketing (yes indeed every “job-ad” is a micro “marketing campaign” that needs to be planned, budgeted, executed, tracked, improved …).

With an eye on future international growth (top-talent is geographically mobile) our start-up would also need an intelligent corporate/legal structure (e.g. cloud & business-process consolidated into a management-holding & several ops-companies doing the actual work).

The biggest hurdle though was coming up with ways of how to approach potential talent “cold” but in a “non-pushy” and respectful manner. Not that I don’t know how to be respectful. But to my surprise I suddenly was no longer seen as an engineer by new people I approached!

If you call yourself recruiter people will “put you in a box” and treat you according to their own previous experiences. “Once bitten, twice shy” – many won’t be kind to you, so better leave that big ego at the door! In fact if you look at a recruiters official job-title it often says something different to give a more positive first impression. “Recruiter”/”Recruiting” have become filthy words.

I made the mistake to think that people would welcome my idea because I understood the programming. Instead as soon as I donned my “recruiter-hat” I’d often become invisible to engineers.

My enthusiasm about bringing a fresh angle to this game didn’t help either. Intros like “Hey guys I’m an engineer like you. and so I fully understand your background and what you look for in a new job …” … or … “Hey Mr/s. client, I’m a technical recruiter who has previously worked in your industry as an engineer, so I fully understand your requirements …” … had no effect. Most people (at least the decision makers who maintained a public profile somewhere online) have heard it all.

So I tried several techniques on how to break the ice with new potential candidates/clients:

  1. start every email with a technical insider-industry joke (that got old quickly)
  2. wrote lengthy intros in emails pre-emptively explaining that I was an engineer and my company was first an engineering firm – and my heart was that of an engineer, etc. (most stopped reading as soon as they noticed I was a recruiter, … anyway who reads emails with more than 5 sentences? And even if they would read that much it kind of looked desperate, …)
  3. played around with different texts and measured which got most positive responses, this essentially brought my strategy back to keeping it short and avoid email altogether. Also I made sure to be as personal as possible when communicating with people via email. (this worked a little better)
  4. brought in an external recruitment consultant for 6 months to complement my pure technical side and to get the opinion from an experienced recruiter.

She helped me a great deal understanding how this (usually secretive) industry went about getting clients or find suitable candidates. But there was nothing new and it all boiled down to spamming candidates with automated mails, using tools like Monster (which firms don’t need recruiters for) or hassling HR departments.

It implied that in order to grow we’d have to create boring positions for people who do nothing but cold-call all morning and spend the afternoon with data-entry. I’d spend all my time trying to motivate them for something that was boring+mundane and that they could get a fat bonus, if they only did enough calls. Some recruitment companies even have a policy for employees to email 10 CV’s to clients every day regardless if they have open positions or not (-> imagine the stupidity!?) I disliked everything about this approach and felt it was a dead end.

As a start-up, our process was highly “creative”. E.g. we disagreed a lot mainly because we came from different professional universes. We eventually managed to combine a technical + sales driven perspective and derived some fresh ideas.

So below is what we concluded should be a “basic” set of values in technical recruiting, or any type of recruiting for that matter! (Simply substitute the word “engineering” with “law” or some other domain if you’re operating in some other field.)

§1 No automated job offers! Everyone hates SPAM! So why close doors by emailing your contacts when 99% of recipients would mark it as junk? It only takes 1 email catching them in the wrong mood and your (maybe relevant future messages) never see the light of their Inbox again. This rule is not as strict for contracting engineers and freelance consultants who have a new project every 3 months. These are used to staying in contact with head-hunters on a more regular basis. (so apply common sense)

§2 No newsletters! This may have worked in the late 90ies but not any more. The constant drivel of companies announcing how good they are and what they have achieved over the last year is again just SPAM.

§3 Recruiters should have an industry background in the world they are recruiting into! When it comes to matching the applicants skills to clients requirements, only recruiters who know both -the job AND the applicant- should pass judgement in regard to technical suitability! Sounds like common sense, but reality is that most recruiters have no idea what’s the difference between C and C++ or the difference between agile or waterfall. So this results in a world where industry-outsiders peddle CV’s to HR professionals (who at least in tech-recruiting lack any understanding of their employers core business). Overwhelmed HR is looking to the software industry for help to address this. And our sad solution is only more automation via better key-word matching & file format parsing. But this gets us nowhere because people started putting every key-word on the planet on their CV, just to make it pass the automatic key-word matching algorithm from the Applicant-Tracking-System (ATS). The resulting quality of the CV is a sterile document which tells virtually nothing about the individual behind that paper. Kafkaesque! There is no technology in the world which can solve this unless we look at the actual cause of the problem: Recruiters must have an industry background (and we assume HR will work closely together with their internal specialists).

§4 So before jumping into the magic world of recruiting, any young warlock should first spend a couple of years walking in the sandals of those which they place. Wait, …. what? How do I get an engineer to work in recruiting? Obviously turning engineers into capable recruiters is wizardry in itself, … But there are many capable engineers -who now in their 50ies- are looking for work! Many of them are told that they’re too old and wrinkly to be part of a fast paced agile software team. So would it be completely outrageous to suggest that some of them might make very good recruiters simply because they have “walked the walk”?

§5 Sex sells! That’s right, but instead of relying on young hot recruiters with photoshop’ed profile pics, while lacking any life or technical job experience, let’s assume “geek is the new chic”, m’kay?!

§6 Those who know me from my rants & raves in social networks might remember that I take every opportunity to leash out at individuals who have fake pictures of young women in their social profiles. And so should you. Because since when is it OK to fish for personal information by lying?  It’s also wrong to learn about somebodies identity (grades, recommendation letters, etc ..) and collect the complete professional documents of an job-seekers life – and then pass it all on without your consent or knowledge. This ties in also with the next point:

§7 Never work for clients who haven’t signed a contract with you! This is more common than you could possibly imagine: Recruiters take your CV then without your knowledge or consent send it to some HR contact in a company you’ve never heard of, in the hope of getting their foot in the door! 0,1% of the time HR then calls back & says they’re interested. Recruiter then informs the candidate about a new opportunity and asks whether they’re interested. 99% of the time it’s a NO from the candidate, so the recruiter sends out a SPAM email to 1 gazillion contacts telling them they have a new fantastic but urgent opportunity that needs to be filled yesterday. And then recruiters wonder why they’re ignored or even hated – go figure 🙂

§8 Only work for clients which you would like to work for yourself. Again this ties in with knowing the actual job. How is a sales-driven recruiter going to judge if client XYZ would be an interesting or fair employer? My personal rule is to actually meet every client on their turf face2face. Visit their office and feel the vibe. Anything fishy? Check why the client needs outside help! Why did Monster, LinkedIn & Co not cut it for them? Are they too cheap to pay proper wages and think a recruiter will be the silver bullet? Please have the guts to walk away from deals if you think the workplace isn’t fantastic! This point should be hard if deciding which clients to work for is out of your hands and your superior doesn’t agree (on the upside, with the help of these few rules you can start searching for a more ethical employer).

How to decide if a certain recruiter fits to your company.

There are plenty of articles outlining the importance of finding the best head-hunter which is right for *you*. But from the perspective of a hiring-manager,

§1 ensure you trust the filtering of applicants to somebody who knows the job and your industry!

§2 Remember that this recruiter will be advertising your business and hence be the first contact and impression a prospective candidate receives from your company!

§3 ensure you agree with their philosophy and test if they really understand your business and requirements! Don’t just assume that they understand your industry, but

§4 interview them as you would interview your applicants! Selecting a recruiter that understands the applicants previous achievements and also comprehends the complex work-flows and processes within your organization can save you and your team a lot of time and money. Failing to do so can cost you more of your reputation than you could possibly imagine!

The question still persists how one gets engineers interested in technical recruiting?

The answer is to make it “technical”. Many seasoned SW architects will not only know how to design or implement systems but have gathered the required soft-skills in order to be successful. Don’t place them in some sales-driven hamster-wheel, telling them that it’s actually a career-ladder. Don’t tell them they need to compete as employee-of-the-month, or compete with their colleagues over the best sales-figures … This won’t work. Here are some points which worked well for us in order to maintain our technical edge and to keep the activity interesting for engineers:

  1. go deep by harvesting, interpreting and correlating info from technical papers, publications & research documents to find talent in a certain field (MIMO, LTE, ConnectedCar, SON, SDN, InfoSec+Privacy, …).
  2. avoid silo thinking such as “our speciality is Telecoms”! Old economy industries (like telecoms, automotive, energy, …) are converging and often inherit the problems and processes of IT. Therefore focus on the lowest common technical denominator. Support this convergence and identify cross-industry opportunities rather than adopting an old-fashioned industry centric approach.
  3. bridge the field of industry+research/academia by collaborating with universities in selected areas of interest. This also strengthens the connections to more junior engineers (who will be the senior guys of tomorrow)
  4. bridge the area of technical consulting & recruiting: instead of offering just head-hunting we also deliver specialists for time-boxed assignments using outsourcing contracts (this only makes sense for firms with a strong background in tech and able to properly assess+manage the associated risks).
  5. bridge the field between research+standardization (IETF, IEEE, ETSI, ITU, W3C, …) by active participation in workshops to stay abreast future developments. Check which proposed changes in Open Standards or changes in existing standards may affect your client industries.
  6. don’t hire people who say they are recruiters or want to be recruiters, because most of it actually isn’t about recruiting! It goes without saying that it takes an extroverted person who is not scared about picking up the phone. E.g. tech consultants who can think on their feet and had a client-facing career are a good choice!
Joachim Bauernberger
Passionate about Open Source, GNU/Linux and Security since 1996. I write about future technology and how to make R&D faster. Expatriate, Entrepreneur, Adventurer and Foodie, currently living near Nice, France.

Valbonne Consulting provides Research & Consulting for emerging technologies in Internet/Web of Things (WoT/IoT/M2M) and Emerging-Tech. We specialise in decentralisation, security and privacy. We work across a variety of traditional industry verticals (Telecommunications, Automotive, Energy, ...). We support Open Source and technologies built on open standards.

4 thoughts on “BreakingNews: Hapless recruiter searching for LAMP developer; hires electrician

  1. Unfortunately, most recruiters barely speak English or are work from home moms who have better things to do than search for articles about how be smarter and work harder at their recruiting jobs.

  2. Damn! I came here thinking this was going to be a humorous tirade against the waste-of-time-money-and-space called Recruiting/HR. Please, if you won’t do that, just go back to software engineering — not everyone is afraid of wrinkles, surely.

    1. @Martin, Probably my “wrinkles” metaphor could be easily misunderstood? I tried to emphasize that life experience is a great boon to somebody in the head-hunting/recruiting profession and healthy environments have a balance of all ages. I was NOT suggesting that younger people in tech are better at their work!

  3. It’s almost amusing that an article talking about how to be a successful recruiter and promotes ethical behavior was titled with a joke disguised as a fact.

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