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Technical Recruiting Needs to Focus on Selling the Position (leerob.io)
151 points by leerob on Feb 17, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments

Can someone with any insight in the recruiting business help me understand how the bad recruiters think?

Typically you get a vague recruiter spam type message on email/LinkedIn which seems to deliberately avoid saying anything about the position. Based on this they want a phone call.

why do they write the messages in a way they must surely understand does not make any employed developer eager to change jobs?

Usually I answer that without more information up front I’m not interested in having a phone call, and I add some questions like “what in particular did you mean when you said I seemed like a good fit for this role?” or “what’s the role/seniority more exactly?”

Invariably the answer to that is: ”I can’t disclose this other than over the phone”


The recruiter now has to be 100% aware that they risk losing this candidate because they couldn’t reveal basic information about the position in an email. So why is that?

Are these some kind of low level minion recruiters who work on a commission based on how many phone calls they do, rather than by commission for the actual recruiting? That’s the only reason I can think of!

What actually is stopping recruiters from writing

- you’ll work language Z mainly. The team uses tools X and Y.

- The person they are looking for is a Senior back end developer

- the work is product based, not contracting

- the team is 40 people

- The position is in northern City X with occasional travel

WHY is it never like that? Why is it always some mumbling about “growth opportunities” and how I’m a “good match” and so on?

From my experience there could be different reasons:

1. They want to learn something they are not legally allowed to ask. Most likely your salary (not legal in California), but also citizenship (required for export license jobs but still illegal to ask in the US) , guess your age, gender, race etc.

2. They think they are very good at persuasion and will manage to sell you their crappy job if only they can get your ear.

3. As you said, some agencies have metrics they need to meet every month and those include number of calls. I learned this is from reading recruiters rants on Linkedin.

It is not illegal to ask about citizenship. It is illegal to discriminate on it where it is not a bona fide qualification, which it is not outside of jobs with legal requirements around it.

It is legally ill-advised to ask about it when it is not legal to discriminate based on it, because you have no lawful use of the information and asking about it is an action from which discrimination can be inferred.

There is a persistent myth that it is unconditionally illegal to ask about things that are usually illegal to discriminate on, but this mistakes both what is illegal and when.

Citizenship isn't a protected class so I believe a company is in their right to discriminate if it chooses so. There are legal and timing issues associated with authorization to work.

> Citizenship isn't a protected class

Citizenship status discrimination, outside of situations where there is a legal requirement, is generally prohibited. This is actually a firmer line than applies to usual protected classes.


OTOH, national origin is also a protected class, and it is very hard to do citizenship discrimination without also doing indirect national origin discrimination, so it's problematic even if you only considered normal protected classes.

Thanks for sharing, looks like I was very wrong.

Thank you for being wrong--I learned things that I would not have learned otherwise.

Incorrect. This falls under “immigration status”, a protected class under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Please consider reviewing your training material if you are involved in the hiring process.


Assuming the person is allowed to work, you're not supposed to discriminate based on how they got that right: native-born, refugee, whatever. However, I can't imagine that you'd be forced to help someone keep or obtain that authorization.

"Are you authorized to work in the United States?"

This is good enough. Citizenship is sufficient but not necessary. And of course, you can ask for citizenship if it is a bona fide job qualification (e.g. ITAR).

It's no surprise that we have a spying problem. That law is exactly backwards of what is required to reduce espionage.

AFAIK in California it is - I remember seeing citizenship status on those huge posters that every company has hanging somewhere in the dark corner because the law requires it. Not sure about other states.

> citizenship (required for export license jobs but still illegal to ask in the US)

Surely it cannot be illegal to ask about citizenship if it's a requirement for the job?

I am not a lawyer. Lawyers tell me that I cannot ask this. Citizenship is not a requirement for the job, having export license is. Obtaining it is correlated with being a national of certain countries and not being a national of other countries. Having a US citizenship, however, is a very high probability of success.

I'm not a lawyer, or involved in hiring, but I do work on an export controlled product. The training I recieved says that one form of "exporting" is conveying technical information to a non-citizen. The only reason export controls prevented us from from showing the material to an arbitrary citizen was our liability if they exported it.

Well cautious legal advice against is not the same thing as being illegal to do.

Sure. I am obviously not qualified to judge legality of anything. IANAL etc etc etc

I think in these cases it's simply a numbers game. I mean it's just spam but slightly more targeted. It's the same rules, though. The more of these they send out, the more likely that _someone_ is going to respond. And I don't think these types of recruiters care much about whether you are a good candidate for the position in question. They just want their commission.

And maybe you respond and tell them to remove you from whatever list they have you on because they clearly haven't done their research on you. Or maybe you figure "one phone call hurt just to see", and you chat with them. Well now you're in their database, only slightly more targeted for the next time around.

They don't want to tell you about the position details because they don't want you bypassing them and applying directly to the position yourself. They don't get paid that way.

It's no different than salespeople. They span the spectrum. Some salespeople are slimeballs who will tell you anything to make a sale. Some are actually good and will make sure you get a quality product and are happy. The vast majority are somewhere in between. It's just like any other type of business, frankly. These guys, though, are just playing a numbers game. They are basically the telemarketers of the recruiting business business. Or the shady car salesman. Or whatever parallel you prefer.

There ARE good recruiters. Particularly those that specialize in more higher-level positions. But unfortunately these crappy recruiters tend to drown everyone out, so it becomes hard to separate the good from the bad.

These people often call first and I insist on getting details in an email before talking. So mass-spam can’t always be the case. This is a recruiter who already committed to spend time calling me.

They can call 80-100 people / day, so it can still be a fairly scattershot process.

they probably feared that you may directly skip to the employer and they won't get paid for that.

Lots of recruiter I met are kind of these people, talking to them are pretty much waste of time. The best approach is to talk to them just by phone in a very short time, which won't cost too much if you eventually found it's waste of time.

Recruiters/agencies often try to keep the client information secret from competitors. The competitors may send fake emails/resumes and try to find more info about the clients and the billing rates for the position.. and use that information to contact the client directly and promise them better candidates with lower price.

Another reason is that more often, the recruiters don't add any value except connecting the client and the candidate (and take 30-50% cut for that service !!). Also, often there are multiple layers of sub-contractors (sub-vendors), who supply candidates and take their cut. There is nothing stopping candidate from walking directly to the client or the prime vendor and talk to them, and that's one of the reasons the smaller vendors hide as much info as possible and force you to sign various agreements before revealing the client name. I have seen this happening for 20 years and nothing much has changed. Smart guys learn to escape this in couple of years of contracting, but unfortunately, even some very tech savvy people may not be aware of all these shoddy business practices of recruiting industry. Many years ago, I helped a fellow programmer to raise his pay from around $75k to $160k (literally.. not exaggerating).

Often, I think about creating a service/product that changes this business model upside down. The reduced margins can be balanced by attracting more candidates who prefer simple, straight forward pricing for contract jobs.

I have the feeling, most projects/jobs are just bad...

Recruiters tell me what they know, but most of the time there isn't much to say, it's just some boring standard 9-5 stuff

It is so bad that is makes me suspect it's by design. Just like 419 scams evolved to be ridden with errors because that efficiently filters out non-scammable people and captures the prime slice of the most gullible, maybe these are designed to capture only the most desperate and unselective.

A second theory of mine: by being vague, the recruiter can hide the fact that they have maybe 10 different roles with nearly the same description. Get my ear and they can probe which I’m best for and try to sell me that.

This doesn’t explain why someone would use these recruiters though. As an employer I’d insist that even for a $1k recruitment fee, the contacts weren’t actively scaring off any reasonable devs. Remember I’m not asking for “personalized” - I’m just asking for “minimum job parameters up front”. To recruit a decent dev, this shouldn’t be a cost at all.

1) Crooting is, more or less, the same racket as a dating service. The job of the crooter is to introduce the desperate to the undesirable, hope that both sides decide there's a match, and if so skim a little profit off one side for their matchmaking services. For that reason they don't want to drop role specifics (company name, details about job) until they think they have your ear.

2) Crooters are afraid that if they tell you the company name in their initial contact email, you will attempt to snipe them by applying for the job yourself without their help. Once they have you on the horn, they can instruct you to only deal with the company through them. Most (especially young) developers will be good little do-bees and do just that.

> Why is it always some mumbling about “growth opportunities” and how I’m a “good match” and so on?

3) You think a crooter actually reads your résumé? Bahahahahaha... Oh, you sweet summer child. Crooters only ever come across your résumé. Translation: Their ATS snarfed it up while crawling the big tech job sites (Indeed, Dice, LinkedIn, etc.) and returned your name when they did a keyword search. When the crooter says "I think you might be a good fit for the role" that's all it means -- your name came up when they plugged keywords in for that role.

As others have pointed out, it's spam-o-nomics: do this enough times, and eventually there'll be a candidate who'll bite, be a match, and go on to work for the client netting a sweet fat commission for the crooter. All they have to do is keep farming the system.

This doesn't explain why any firm would delegate their recruiting to a firm that does this. If they find a candidate it will be a terrible one (any decent candidate won't fall for it). I have a dev job. I do some recruiting. If I were to select a recruiting firm, my first question would be "how do you find candidates?" or "what do your first contacts look like"? If they wouldn't answer or I suspected they used the "I have a great opportunity I think you'd be a great fit for", then I wouldn't use that recruiter.

So there has to be more to it than that.

A theory of mine is that companies usually don't go to these firms, but other recruiters do.

My company goes to a good recruiter and offers $X to fill a role. They have a good track record and demonstrate a good network and good practices. We sign a contract. But what this HR firm does is start off by hedging their bets: they subcontract the recruitment to a lesser HR firm by offering $X/2 to fill the role. The firm below has less info about the position (because the top firm doesn't want or need to say, they just want leads) and because they get less pay, all they can do is spend a minimum of effort on candidates. This theory is at least plausible in the sense that it explains what we observe: that someone pays these firms money to do this.

Do older developers often go around the recruiters? What's in it for you to do that?

Older developers rely on their networks. What's in it for you is a better job, often working with people you already know.

Very much this. If I'm looking to know about a job somewhere, the first thing I do is check my network to see if anyone who knows me and has worked with me works there. Otherwise I'll see if people I'm close to know someone who works there.

Then I'll set up a chat with either an internal recruiter for that company or a hiring manager. The chat is to discover if the company would be a good fit for me, and on their side to see if I'd be a good fit for the company. If both of those things are true then interviews come very quickly afterward.

Having someone who works there means that you already have someone internally who can vouch for you. If it's already determined that you'd be a good fit from internal discussions then you generally have a leg up in the hiring process. And again it's also really great to figure out where you definitely don't want to be working.

That's a separate thing to sniping a recruiter once you find out the company name though. When I was hiring I don't think we'd have wanted candidates sniping our recruiters. They did a useful job and we paid them for it.

I've started giving formulaic recruiter responses to recruiters that send formulaic inquiries. My response is along the lines of

> Dear PERSON. Thanks for reaching out. I'm happy where I am but for $Y base salary with SOME_OTHER_BENEFITS I would consider a move. Let me know if that sounds reasonable for your team otherwise I will be in touch if anything changes. Feel free to reach out again in 6-12 months either way.

This is a bit cold and focused on the money, but recruiters are usually sending the same emails anyway - as the article points out. Ultimately why waste everyone's time if you wouldn't really consider a move anyway? In the 4 months since I've been doing this, almost every recruiter that has responded has responded with "thanks for responding and thanks for being up front."

To be "honest" with this approach, put a number in $Y that would really really make you consider changing jobs. 1.5x your current salary? Double if you're super happy where you are? Maybe SOME_OTHER_BENEFITS becomes "really high equity percentage" or "fully remote" or "work 3 days a week"?

I put my $Y pretty high so most companies can't afford me, but I've got 1 or 2 companies that may be able to pay it in the pipe. Win-win.

I don't do that, but what I do do is:

The recruiter:

"Hey, I saw your profile on LinkedIn and I felt you'd be perfect for a position I have for BLAH, a very established BLAHBITY BLAH, looking for someone like yourself who can do BLAH and BLAH. When are you available for a call?"

My response:

Hi, <Recruiter>. Thanks for reaching out! It sounds interesting but I'm going to need more info, can you kindly provide a salary range and location? Also, <additional question here>?


The Recruiter will answer one of two ways:

a) with the raw data

b) with an additional request for a phone conversation.

Folks, I can tell you one thing - b usually means the pay is below what I'm looking for, almost every time. So b I ignore and let them come begging (at least in this current climate where the market is strong).

I have always found recruiters incredibly reluctant to pass on any useful job info/specs without a gating phone call. I dont actively want a new job, so the conversations always stall on "when are you free for a call".

Salespeople has this stupid mentality.

They’d rather lose sale than talk over email to customer.

I was on the market for brand new luxury sedan and certain dealership was insisting of me coming in rather then disclosing their price.

I took my business elsewhere.

I'm working on the sales side of the company these days - basically, it comes down to a phone call giving you a much better way to develop rapport with someone than email does. You can ask some questions in a way which wouldn't work well via email.

With that said, you can tell pretty early on that some folks prefer talking over email to phone -- and that's OK too!

I feel uncomfortable with sync-style communications with sales people that demand 100% of attention to their persona.

To me the sale is a matter of clear equation: success=min(price). If I have extra questions - i'll call or schedule appointment and come to talk.

Otherwise I am not interested to listen to the other guy's sales pitch and his life stories. If dealer is unwilling or incapable of answering simple question over email - this leaves a perception of some sort shady character and I move on.

And likely so others too.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to max(value). :-)

Basically, I agree with you. If you don’t want to talk with me, I don’t want to waste your time and mine. Generally, I’ll try to supply whatever I can to you via email and propose a phone call or f2f if there are some things which need clarification. If my product (semiconductor manufacturing equipment) isn’t a fit, it is usually apparent pretty quickly and everyone can move on with their lives.

Most people wanting a price in writing are doing so as a negotiating lever with another dealer.

Good to know.

Hence, the reason dealers are unwilling to give a price in writing is because they know they're asking too much and will likely be beaten by the other dealers.

Clear sign to move on to other local dealers.

The only answer I've ever got for "why" is "I don't email specs out without a preliminary chat, because fake profiles can lead to specs being stolen and used to take clients".

I can accept it's a thing that could happen and be true. vOv

I don't think that is a good assumption. I can think of plenty of other reasons.

1. The answer depends on how well your interview goes. The salary range would have to include everything from a borderline beginner to a highly experienced person with all sorts of extra skills. You might focus on the end of that range which doesn't apply to you. The difference could be a factor of 5 or more.

2. They legitimately haven't been told.

3. They have been told, but they can't tell you. This is sensitive information that can be used by competitors.

In California at least, an employer is legally required to disclose the salary range of the role upon request.

To be honest, almost all the recruiters in NY tell me the range. Some try the 'what are you looking for' attempt at opening bid. But many just want to get on the phone to massage a mediocre pitch, in my experience. Mediocre can mean an annoying location, or below market salary.

Sure thing, $40,000 to $900,000. Useful?

Suppose it isn't yet decided if you will be a "Junior Tester" or a "Senior Fellow Distinguished Engineer". The decision will be made after the interview. What does California law say about such a situation, where there isn't just one neatly limited slot into which you must exactly fit?

I’ve used this strategy before, but I find recruiters do not respond politely and I end up getting increasing amounts of spam over time; I suspect from recruiters sharing email addresses and especially addresses that are linked with any kind of recent response.

When recruiters do respond to these types of messages, my usual experience is that it’s an even more aggressive hard-sell on positions based on some poorly copy / pasted sections of a job description, incoherent lists of buzzwords or technologies that make no sense as skills belonging to one single person (e.g. years of machine learning experience as well as expert in rails), and various all caps or bolded promises that they are paying a lot of money.

This comes from every type of recruiter too, from giant big box headhunting looking for contractors to the latest and greatest stuff like cybercoders to boutiques like phaidon / huxley / other finance crap, on down to lone individual recruiters who have been doing it for 20 years and only got my email because a friend highly recommended them as a legit recruiter.

Truly, in over a decade of working with all types of recruiters, I have never seen a recruiter add value for any party at any time. It’s pure loss to engage with recruiters.

> Truly, in over a decade of working with all types of recruiters, I have never seen a recruiter add value for any party at any time. It’s pure loss to engage with recruiters.

Strong disagree.

Good recruiters work for employers by maintaining a strong network of candidates across a number of fields, and also by finding candidates for roles that are cheaper/better than others because they come from recruitment pools outside those traditionally used for the role. Example: a company might be looking for a Sales Engineering role - typically pretty difficult positions to recruit because there's a small pool of candidates. But, if you can find someone in consulting or traditional development/engineering that has the right skills, they can be brought on relatively cheaply. Good recruiters know this, and they know how to find and evaluate those candidates so the company doesn't have to.

By the same token, recruiters that I maintain a relationship with have made my last three job searches significantly quicker and easier - I know them, they know me and they know who is looking for what. They've added significant value for me, and for the employers that I work with.

Your comment reads like buzzwordy double-speak. Private recruiters _absolutely_ do not know sophisticated nuances of the skill set for different organizational sales engineering needs. Hardly any of the managers or executives in that company would even know the skills or experience they need for sales engineering, let alone how to recognize them in someone not already working in that position.

It’s frankly crazy to hear this, just knowing how incompetent even the most prestige-dripping boutique recruitment firms are, how many totally inappropriate candidates they foist onto firms (I used to run all recruitment for my team at an asset management company and know very well how unhelpful recruiting pipelines are).

The other thing is that these types of recruiting pipelines are exactly the well-worn, used-by-everyone pipelines. You mention various times that this approach somehow draws up unusual or untapped recruits, but it’s exactly the opposite. You’re just playing musical chairs with the same pipe of recruits that everyone else is looking at.

As a final note, I appreciate how you blow right past the idea that recruiters are supposed to be negotiating in good faith on behalf of the candidate, even going as far as to suggest the recruiter would disingenuously represent a job to someone who shades outside that skill area just for the sake of “getting them cheaply” and not getting them a salary that would more fairly reflect the actual labor value they would be adding.

You’ve pretty much made a great case for exactly why nobody should be working with these recruiters.

The employer’s going to end up with a wrong-skills / wrong-experience candidate who is sold on one job but walks into the real job and quickly sees they didn’t want it, while earning below market compensation, and everyone’s unhappy in a year.

I got my most recent gig through a recruiter/staffing agency, and while they no doubt take a big cut I'm currently making about $60k over any salary I've been offered anywhere else. Also, every person they have sent for newly opened positions on the team have been great, and trying to find the same caliber of developer through job postings would have taken weeks or months. But yeah, most recruiters are terrible and provide far less value than they take in commissions.

I've not encountered any recruiters responding aggressively. My standard email does have a couple additional sentences in it explaining what I like about where I am and what I would stand to walk away from (RSU/equity wise), so perhaps that gives enough context about why I want what I want.

> I have never seen a recruiter add value for any party at any time

I don't agree with that at all. I've worked with a handful of really great recruiters over the years who have really treated me like a human being with a career path. One placed me at my last gig by asking the company to create a special role for me. I recognize that's a bit rare but I don't see recruiters as being a waste of time. It's fair to treat them the way they treat you but I don't put them all in the same bucket.

I really like this idea and I think I'm going to start using a similar approach. Thanks!

If every recruiter has responded "thanks for responding and thanks for being up front.", it just means a wasted opportunity. Some of them could probably give you the $Y, but might think that the only thing you consider is money - and you know how HR is.

I know the game sucks either way, but I'd rephrase your answer a little and use it as a second e-mail, not first.

It depends on how formulaic the recruiter inquiry was. Like the article I have a few things indicated on my profile and writings of things that I do and do not want to do. If it's clear they've done little work I will in turn do very little work. If they seem like they've taken a bit of an interest in me and are seemingly pleasant I'll be a bit more personalized and maybe not break out the salary requirements until the second email.

This matches my experience too. In my opinion, the way to sell the job is to explicitly mention all the advantages - the company name, the tech stack, why it is a great place to work etc. The most annoying recruiters are the ones that have "a fantastic opportunity" and want to set up a phone call to sell it. I work in Stockholm, Sweden, and I have noticed that recruiters from England often try to talk to you instead of simply listing the position(s).

Extra points for the recruiter if they write something indicating why I would be a good fit - only happens rarely.

Also, checking back later (a year or two) to see if I am open to a change, even if I wasn't before, is OK by me. Sometimes you don't want to change, no matter what the offer is.

We developers should not complain too much about recruiters though - we are extremely lucky to work in a field where there is such high demand. Most people aren't so lucky.

I also think being contacted by a recruiter puts you in a great bargaining position: You are in a much better position to negotiate salary and benefits than if you applied directly. You already have a job, so if the offer isn’t interesting enough or good enough, you can just say no.

I wrote a post similar to this a few years ago, making the above points: https://henrikwarne.com/2015/11/22/recruiting-software-devel...

Thanks for sharing your post. You make some similar points, but also a couple I hadn't hit on.

> We developers should not complain too much about recruiters though - we are extremely lucky to work in a field where there is such high demand.

Absolutely - That's something I wish I would have touched on in my post. I didn't want it to sound too "woe is me" that I have people reaching out to offer me a job.

> I also think being contacted by a recruiter puts you in a great bargaining position

I'll echo your points and salary and benefits, but also mentioned that sometimes recruiters will have an in with the hiring manager, versus going through HR when applying directly (which could get lost in a pile).

Exactly this. Same experience with vague spammy UK recruiters, also in Stockholm. Not sure what it is in particular about UK recruiters and why they are so hellbent on getting a phone interview without revealing any information. There has to be a reason behind this (such as some weird quota/bonus system for phone calls made) and I’m very curious what the reason is.

UK recruiters are frightened of losing their client (the company) to other recruiters. Unless the recruiter has managed to agree an exclusive deal on a particular role, every time they give out the name of that client they risk another recruiter calling the client and saying "I see you are recruiting for X, we have some great candidates, would you like to see them?"

And some UK recruiters play very dirty. They post fake CVs and fake job ads to mine the market. They pose as candidates to get info from other agents; and ask real candidates what other jobs they have applied for.

I can see how business practices and contract obligations get in the way. I'm not asking to know the exact address or company name. Or even enough info to know which job it is (such as company age, company size, product type).

All I'm asking is basic things like "what tech are they ussing" or "what type of role is it" etc.

Of all my theories for why they can't say up front I'm now leaning towards this one: they need to gather my info so that if the 5-10 minute phone call is fruitless, they'll have enough candidate info on ME to be able to pay for that call, when they say that info in bulk. If they gave away the big parameters first (location, pay range, tech, ..) they know that's when most conversations will end. I haven't tried, but I'm guessing that if I just tell them enough about me first, they'll eventually allow the call to contain details about the position. At that point I'll just say "no thanks, I can't move to city Y", but they are happy they got some good info.

Being able to say no thanks is great in general.

You always get the best deals when you don't need that "something" right now.

I'm not a recruiter, but I spend a lot of my time building up teams so I figure that makes me a de facto recruiter.

I've personally gone both extremes:

1. Spamming linkedin, message boards, etc.

2. Seeking out specific candidates, emailing them, offering to grab coffee or do a call.

I've had more success hiring with #2, in which regard I agree with the article. But it comes with a perverse side-effect: I am ignoring 95% of potential candidates, likely a similar group everyone else is ignoring. I am mostly contacting people with years of experience at good companies with a decent web presence. Because if I didn't, I wouldn't have time to do my other job duties. When I (or our internal technical recruiters) spam out a job we are giving more people a chance at the job, and are introducing fewer personal biases.

I'm not saying either approach is right or wrong, I just think there's room for both. Maybe the ultimate solution is a single centralized marketplace for jobs, but it doesn't seem like there's been a clear winner in this space.

Thanks for the insight. Some really good points here, especially:

> When I (or our internal technical recruiters) spam out a job we are giving more people a chance at the job, and are introducing fewer personal biases.

That is something I didn't even consider, but you're absolutely right. You're naturally going to be more attracted to candidates who fit your profile (unless, of course, you're _really_ aware of your unconscious bias).

I think spamming LinkedIn can have success if you properly target and give ample information on who, what, and why. Something I didn't even consider until this was posted on Reddit was the fact that even though I have Java listed in "do not want", it's still going to be picked up as a keyword.

Maybe you stumbled on an honest reason why recruiters exist?

> Good recruiters focus on building relationships versus solving an immediate need.

The problem is they get paid only when immediate needs are met. A placement is hard to do, but results in 25% of an annual salary when done. This results in two kinds of strategy:

1) Spammers. I get this all the time on both sides (as a hiring manager and as a potential hire). The worst is when I get forwarded someone's actual CV out of the blue. It's happened a couple of times recently: a guy who works at Google or Amazon at a high level has his CV sent to me by a recruiter who's never spoken to me. In both cases I found the person on LinkedIn and told them, much to their surprise. Of course there was never a conversation on the other side either. Normally it's not as egregious as this, but it's still not a way to do business.

2) Relationship people. These guys will actually take the time to meet with me and talk about what kind of stuff I do. Both as a hiring manager and a potential hire, there's no sense that they are bucketing me in either, we can potentially do either business. There's no sense of urgency either, just two people discussing the market. I've made business contacts through recruiters this way, nothing expected in return, no hard sell. I've told them we're not even using recruiters, and they still check in for a coffee now and again. I do try to throw something their way, esp when it comes to giving them candidates.

The big problem for the good guys is they somehow have to get paid while maintaining all these low probability relationships. Not only that, they actually need to speak intelligently about every technology and business in the market. They need to know what kind of thing c++ is, how it's different from JS, and what kind of function it might be useful for. This is no easy task.

You can easily see how someone needing to feed themselves could get desperate and go for some version of spamming.

> The big problem for the good guys is they somehow have to get paid while maintaining all these low probability relationships. Not only that, they actually need to speak intelligently about every technology and business in the market. They need to know what kind of thing c++ is, how it's different from JS, and what kind of function it might be useful for. This is no easy task.

Very good point. I have a few friends who are recruiters (with no technical experience before starting) and I had to give them the 101 on programming languages and how they differ ("No, C and C++ are not the same thing. There's also C#"). I can imagine a recruiter in today's landscape probably spends a decent amount of time learning about the tech industry just to keep up.

I'm not sure I have a solution for monetizing the good relationships, though.

For #2. I’ve had a recruiter that I first spoke to in 2012 after I was laid off. We kept in touch over the years and he didn’t get a chance to place me until 2018. I think the $30K he made off of me was worth the few emails he sent over the years.

You only need about 6-10 placements a year to make a decent income.

Corporate doesn't let you stop. Even if you hit the 2 placement a month kpi, your other ones don't go away (candidate calls, manager calls, cold resume sends). And I'd you hit all the kpis, they just give you higher ones.

This particular recruiter was a partner at a small company where he owned it with another recruiter.

I worked with another guy in both sides, from getting a job and hired people through him. He was definitely under corporate pressure. He would routinely send job descriptions with salaries and they were well targeted.

I was actually placed at two different companies by the same recruiter, almost 10 years apart. Between the first and second time, she went from in-house recruiter to running her own successfuly staffing company.

Personal relationships do matter.

I’ve had recruiters try to set up a call before even telling me the name of the company, big red flag. Last time they did that it was because they wanted to hide that the position was machine learning to make murder robots

There's also legal reasons why they don't advertise the company names. There's so much engineers don't know about recruiting. I'm an engineer and spent a lot of time talking to 100's of recruiters to understand what and why they do what they do.

It's a) expensive for them b) they have a lot of legal things they must worry about and c) Engineers can be very very crappy to speak with when you are an recruiter. They will treat you like crap based on job title only.

What are the legal reasons?


If a recruiter tells you the name of the company up front and you are really interested, you might ignore their message and just apply to the company in which case they don’t get their referral fee.

Will you? Why would you avoid a person that is doing all the paper work, has some knowledge of the position already, and will have much more selling time with the employer than you could get? Just to save your future employer some money?

I can imagine people going through the extra work of avoiding the recruiter if they think it will increase the odds of they getting the job (what means they think the recruiter is incompetent or dishonest), or if working with the recruiter is even more work than going without (what again means the recruiter is incompetent). But I can't imagine people doing that without a problem by the recruiter part.

I can also imagine many developers sending the emails directly to the trash, and latter finding out about the position and applying by themselves. That could give one the wrong impression.

Actually, they do get their fee if they show they initiated the relationship. Goes both ways: if the company is already working with the candidate, then recruiter doesn't get their fee.

So, not a legit reason not to share their client's name.

That’s not a legal reason

Recruiting firms don't publish the company name to avoid any legal issues with the content about the particular job. There's a great deal of legal concerns recruiters need to be mindful of when posting. e.g, anything that can be considered a form of discrimination.

Most recruiting firms simply avoid publishing the companies name publicly. Companies are very protective of their branding.

For all of those people who say it's about money are only going off of what they think. If these people tried to do recruiting they would learn the following:

1. Companies won't just accept candidates from any firm. In fact, there are legal contracts in place between the agency and company. 2. Agencies know that submitting your resume to the company isn't very productive. Recruiters have direct access to hiring managers and it's one of the "perks" of using a recruiter.

I know recruiters come off pretty "disrespectful" or "uncaring", but there's another side to the story. I'm an engineer and I decided to do recruiting for a year and learned a great deal about it. I thought my engineering experience would play a huge factor in finding the right people, but what I come to learn was people are very difficult to work with; especially us engineers.

I'm curious too, and you didn't answer his question. What specific legal reasons/issues would prevent a recruiter from disclosing the name of the company he or she is recruiting for?

If someone approached you on LI to build "machine learning to make murder robots", do consider the (99%) possibility you're just a sample point in some social science "research".

"murder robots" is most likely just parent's translation of the job description, for purposes of getting their point across.

It wasn’t social science research, the recruiter was working for an actual robotics company with almost exclusively military customers

Always be suspicious of anything like that. Probably wasn't the case here but nothing prevents one setting up a network of fake profiles to appear legit and get data from others. The Internet is a scary place.

That may be true but considering the job was based around where I live and the company has many news articles written about it and lots of publicly verifiable funding, I don't think it was fake. Of course like I said it's not like the recruiter was like "hey wanna make killer robots??" it's more that in doing research for the company and my own job description that's what it seemed likely I would be partially working on

I've had this happen a handful of times actually. I could be wrong, but I think their fear is that you would directly apply and bypass their services.

The thing is, when they do that you have no idea if it’s some shitty bodyshop looking for people with pulses or a cool company that you’d love to work for, so you have no opportunity to do research into the company before dedicating time to call someone. I don’t see the benefit of bypassing their services since recruiters are usually a decent foot in the door, but maybe I’m missing something

The recruiters I've known would document their outreach to you, and notify the company that'd we'd spoken. If they'd specifically contacted me, the I bypassed them, they may still get paid somehow (but I'd lose whatever bargaining skills they might bring to the process)>.

>If they'd specifically contacted me, the I bypassed them, they may still get paid somehow

This is not true at all

I've talked with a number of recruiters - 2 specifically indicated that they had arrangements with the end client - essentially an exclusivity deal. Once they revealed the client name to me, they'd let the client know, and if I made contact outside the recruiter, it was still an 'introduction' they'd get paid for if/when I was hired. Both of these were from a job search in the mid 2000s.

I've spoken with many more generalist recruiters, none of whom ever indicated this sort of system. I don't think it's overly common, but it was an arrangement that 2 recruiters indicated they had. Perhaps they were extreme one-offs?

Good to know. That makes sense.

That job sounds amazing. Lots of people would take lower pay and/or live out in a miserable location just for the chance to work on something like that.

Clearly they didn't really hide anything, because you now know. Perhaps they wanted to hear your reaction on the phone to see if you'd be enthusiastic about the mission.

good, that means I saved that job for someone else who wants to do it I guess

Yes, spamming is bad, and yes, recruiters should read your profile prior to messaging, but for practical reasons the actual outreach message is gonna be largely not personalized other than with your name. Reading an individual developer's Medium posts and then crafting an individualized message based on that is, like, the definition of unscaleable. It's like insisting that cars not be manufactured in factories anymore, but instead be lovingly hand-crafted for each individual owner, one car at a time. This is obviously economically impossible. Also, in practice, the actual response rate for way-personalized messages isn't much higher. It just doesn't make sense in practice.

If there are say 500 Node.js developers with the right amount of experience & CS degrees in a given metro area, the amount of time it would take to research each individual and craft a personalized message based on their Github or Medium posts or Stack Overflow answers or Twitter is literally 10,000x what it takes to just shoot each of then an InMail or e-mail. Again, a recruiter should read each profile to make sure they're on the right track, but the messages are likely going to be mass-produced

/u/rm999 had experience with both spamming and personalized messages and had more success with the latter.


Without quantifying anything it's kind of meaningless. The point is that recruiting is a business process and that we should treat like any other type of process, by being systematic.

The information we need is how many interested people responded with a generic message vs. how many responded to the personalized message, and the amount of time spent on each approach. Note that 'responded' here is defined as 'I'd like to pursue this opportunity' or 'I'd like to learn more' which then leads to them pursing the opportunity. Not social niceties like 'I'm not looking but it's wonderful that you took the time to read my Medium posts, you're so different from the other recruiters', etc.

It often seems that recruiters think they are doing one a favor by offering you this shiny new job.

I am so tired of the mono directional process where you have no idea really, what you are getting into before you have been working somewhere for at least 3 months.

Recruiting is about personality and knowing how people thrive in a certain environment.

They are so low in the food chain, IMO, that I find it really difficult to take any of them serious.

> It often seems that recruiters think they are doing one a favor by offering you this shiny new job.

Exactly. The people they're trying to recruit already have a job. So they're going to need to sell us on the position. _Especially_ if I've never heard of the company.

This is about scale. Technical recruiters sometimes need to be able to reach out to hundreds and maybe thousands of candidates at once, and making "personal connections" does not scale in this case.

Even if they automagically parse the keywords and plug them into a template, sometimes things are missed and mis-placed (Java vs JavaScript, etc...).

I understand the current recruiting ecosystem is largely the way it is due to scale. Companies need a lot of talent and they need it last week. Hence, blasting out thousands of emails (e.g. the Amazon recruiter I mentioned).

I’m simply trying to challenge that status quo. There has to be a better way. I’ll admit I don’t have the answer, largely because I’ve never worked as a recruiter, but it seems like the process is broken for recruitees.

But sending vague initial messages to hundreds of candidates and saying they are a great match and that they want to discuss over the phone can’t scale! It must be much better to just give the basic info (level, tech stack, location, salary range, job description ...) so that you don’t waste time calling people who will realize 10 minutes into the call that the position is in the wrong city or whatever.

If such a message actually leads to a phone call, then it’s bound to be with the most desperte candidates and not with the best match candidates.

If they send out a more detailed message to 1000 people, and get responses from 25, then there should be time to research these candidates further to build a personal connection, including having a phone call.

I'd like to see you read the Medium posts of 1000 developers and develop a personalized message for each person based on that, and see how long that takes and how that scales. No defender of the current recruiting system, but I think the expectation of extreme personalization is a bit much. Like my example below of scrapping factories and having Toyota craftsman handmake each individual car for the buyers

What I said was they should spam 1000 devlopers and then read up on those that actually respond - exactly because they can't be personal with 1000 people. Personalized would be great and costly. However, being mass produced spam doesn't explain why critical info is left out, such as

- in what city is the position?

- what job would I do in this role? Developer? Project owner?

Details like these are deliberately left out, so I'm wondering why that is. Theories I have seen that don't quite fly are:

- They think they are so good they can convince me if they get my ear in a phone interview (Phone interviews are expensive if 99 of 100 calls end with the person realizing after 5 minutes that the job is for a skill they don't have, or in a city they can't move to).

Theories that are more plausible, still don't seem likely:

- There is a 419-scam element where the emails are crafted to attract the most desperate candidates, and actually repel any qualified ones which would likely reject the offer anyway. (This seems like bad economics even at scale since no one will do good business recruiting bad candidates, but together with the above theory it might work)

- The recruiters are incompetent. They actually do waste time in phone interviews with peoplethat could have been filtered away because of e.g. the wrong skills or location. They actually thought that being vague and talking about "great opportunity for personal development" would attract devs more than "Backend Go gig in Boston". This is plausible (explains what is observed) but it seems far fetched that a large fraction of the industry would be this incompetent.

Curiously, even when the first contact is a phone call the details are hidden!

"Hi this is Bob from X recruiting, I want to talk do you about vague vague thing, when is a good time to talk?"

If they already have my ear what makes them reluctant to use the info then? They have to spill these details at some point so why not open with "Hi, I'm Bob from X recruiting. A client of mine is looking to fill a position as a Go Backend dev in Boston. Not sure what your status is right now, would you be willing to discuss this?"

The most plausible theories if you ask me:

- There is recruiter subcontracting going on, where a top level "good" recruiter uses spam-recruiters for leads, and don't give them more than a minimum information and compensation to get those leads. Possibly even with multiple levels so that the top level firm doesn't even realize what goes on at the bottom.

- There is no position at all, or there is a position but filling the position isn't what drives the recruiters business since these are low-level recruiters (see above). Instead they want a 5 minute chat where they can ask me questions and build a profile with info they can't find in e.g. LinkedIn. This info they can then aggregate sell to other recruiters for good money, way more for a good money than the cost of a 5-10 minute phone call.

If the numbers being thrown around are accurate (e.g. $30,000 for a single hire) then the amount of time it’s reasonable to expect someone to spend on a single job is on the order of months. That time needn’t be spent all the end either. Someone could work his way up to knowing most of the several hundred experts in whatever technology in whatever city and have a nice little thing going.

Of course that doesn’t scratch that get rich quick “scaling” itch that spamming my inbox with an automagic template does.

"Executive recruiting" basically works this way. They talk to you about your history and interests and then follow up with a dossier of possible projects/GMs that they will introduce you to in order to see if there is a fit. The whole process is very personalized.

This is basically the terminal point of engineering recruiting, though.

> Good recruiters focus on building relationships versus solving an immediate need.

This is exactly the focus of the startup we're launching in London this summer. I'd love to chat to people from HN about their experiences with this. Contact details on my profile.

Thank you for setting a positive example of how recruiting should be done!

The business of recruiting has changed in the last two decades. In late 90's, recruiters used to know candidates in person, and know what they were doing, etc. Now recruiters work like assembly line workers or offshored workers, who have no clue beyond buzz words. If your profile matches with one of the buzz words, you get spam.

The author of the OP lists in his LinkedIn profile things that he wants and does not want in a job, but saying "I am not interested in X" is a little counterproductive if that causes your profile to come up in keyword searches for "X".

For related reasons I no longer mention on my resume that I have Magento experience. :)

To be honest, without getting the salary range up front or within the first email exchange, I typically end the interaction there. I've had way too many days and weeks wasted only to find out the company can barely pay 2/3 of my current salary. I don't care how great the perks are or job is, if you can't pay competitively, I'm not wasting my time. The rest is just details including tech stack etc. The right amount of money for the right job could easily make me overlook such unimportant details (pretty much never happens). You want to sell the position? Offer a ton of money and the position sells itself. Don't have that? Offer a competitive salary with remote work. Don't want to do that? Fuck you, no one will shed tears for your bankrupt business.

Perhaps what you really mean is that technical recruiting by Big Companies is broken?

Not really. I get way more horrible, poorly targeted recruiter spam from crappy SV startups than I do large companies. In fact, the large companies usually actually read my profile.

Edit: It does depend on the "class" of large company though. I get truly shit-tier spam from C-list companies like GE, Boeing, or Panasonic ("Hey, interested in relocating to Missouri for a $18.27 hourly Java contract!?") Tier A companies like FB, Google, etc. always send great recruiting messages that suggest they read my profile and did at least some due diligence matching it to an appropriate position.

Not necessarily. Yes, as a company grows and it works to hire faster, it’s probable the quality of hiring/recruiting will decrease. That doesn’t mean that startups or small company have recruiting perfected.

I get much more inappropriate recruiting advances from startups and small companies than I do by big ones.

In my most recent job search, I was really surprised to find that about half of my initial calls were with engineering managers, not recruiters. They're certainly in a better position to sell the company, but I found that I was uncomfortable asking the basic "how much, what are the benefits, what's the work life balance" type questions that I would generally want to get out of the way before being sold.

"genuine, personal connections"

Isn't that kind of a high bar to jump over for this?

Isn't the hiring process too? Standard today seems to be

- 1-2 phone screen interviews

- 1-2 remote coding exercises/interviews

- 4-5 45-60min round of interviews, on site

- Optionally, and extra interview day for culture fit

Is asking the recruiter to actually look at your profile and take an interest too much to ask, given what they're asking you for, and given how the market, at least in SV-like areas, is today?

It's great to work in this industry, don't get me wrong. But if some candidates don't want to even acknowledge automated requests, that's just how the market works.

This isn’t my experience. I have never done more than two interviews for a position. None of which involved coding or exercises. Perhaps this is the standard for businesses in the valley.

If as a recruiter, a job role that is 100% predicated on your ability to work with people, and sell people on why they should ostensibly hire other people, if you can't make even a basic personal connection with someone (you don't have to be their best friend and offer to give them a ride to the interview and wait outside in the car for them to come out-but I can tell the difference between someone who's interested to have a conversation and someone just trying to hit a goal and I bet you could too), probably the recruiting industry is a poor fit, career wise.

It's the product of time and experience, but I can smell a "quota" recruiter a mile away. I do not want to work with them.

Absolutely agree. Plus, I’d rather set the bar high for hiring than settle for mediocrity.

Tell that to the mid level exec who's got 200 seats to fill to hit his bonus pot, after which he's outta there. Leaving the company to deal with the 190 terrible coders he hired, naturally.

Extending the metaphor to the most possible extreme of course allows us to make the endlessly convenient counterpoints, but I think this skips over a big portion of necessary nuance to why someone may feel a bit turned off by a robotic, starched and ultimately dispassionate experience with recruiters.

My name is Mark. I work with C and C++ in computer graphics.

I often receive 'Hey David, I was impressed with your marketing & sales skills'.


The real problem is the signal-to-noise ratio in legitimate, well-focused recruiter emails to the typical recruiter spam one receives on a daily basis. I sometimes miss the legitimate emails, and although I am not usually looking, I like to respond with a friendly reply asking to keep in touch.

Can we get rid of recruiters altogether?

Yeah, I know that's an absurd idea, and I don't know any way we could really do that. But we are always going to have problems if we continue to insist on having non-technical people serve as the initial point of contact for technical positions.

Met with a company at a conference last year. They were there at a booth saying "we're hiring people". Met, talked some, they indicated I wouldn't be a good fit. Got a call from a recruiter last week, and... have already had and passed a first call screen, another tech call set up for this week. I realize a lot can change in a 6 month period, but... it's also slightly frustrating. If I was paranoid, I might say it's ageism at play (I have visibly gray hair and certainly couldn't pass for late 20s anymore). But I suspect there's multiple factors at play here which still make 'going through a recruiter' somehow feel like a safer bet for some companies.

As I see it technical people don't want to do the mundane repetitive and boring tasks that a recruiter does. And introverted technical people, which many are, especially don't want to spend significant time socializing with random other people.

You can try to automate the whole process, which various companies are doing, but keeping the spam out is difficult. And bad automation is also even worse to deal with than a human recruiter.

I don’t need them to be technical. I just need them to put me in contact with companies, tell me where I am in the process and tell me the salary range. The last is the hardest to get from job listings.

Better yet, take the %age that goes to the recruiter and give it to the candidate. Seems like a better way to close new hires.

Oh Please. Anytime someone tries to hard sell a position, I'm usually just impressed by their sales skills but I know that it usually sends a red flag for me.

Psst…you might want to blur those names out more (or even put boxes over them), since it’s possible to make them out if you squint.

Thanks - I could see how if you really zoom in you might be able to make out some letters. Just deployed new images that are more blurred.

At the moment they focus on 10 years experience in a job that didn't exist 2 years ago.

This is why I deleted my LinkedIn profile.

title is a bit click baity. It's not broken just poorly done. I agree with a lot of the thoughts though.

I'm not sure why the title of the posting was changed. The title of the article is "Technical Recruiting is Broken".

Personally, I found the (more specific) current title very helpful in deciding to click through. "Technical Recruiting is Broken" is awfully vague -- not to mention that I'm pretty sure I've seen blog posts with that title before -- and (for what it's worth) I would have continued scrolling right past it.

You have a distinct, concrete facet of recruiting that you're talking about -- which is great! -- and the current HN title accurately reflects that.

"Technical Recruiting is Broken" is very click-baity IMO, as the "is broken" bon mot has become rather popular and reveals absolutely nothing about what the article is about.

True - perhaps my overly simplistic title was not the best choice. Well, thanks to the mods for rephrasing it.

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