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Ask HN: How can I be a recruiter and still have a soul?
19 points by leeny on March 29, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 8 comments
TL;WR: 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.

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 (some very good anecdotal evidence to that effect here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3301667). 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 and resulting communication breakdown between recruiters and candidates (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. More good stuff on keywords in job posts/interviews in the comments for this thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3689383 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 (nee ExtJS) team. I'd hazard to say that these are the exceptions more than the rule, however.)

3. Communication breakdown between recruiter & hiring manager when it comes to candidate requirements (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 (2) 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 ask you guys for help with the first one. Without spamming, what am I left with? I still have to find people. There are some options out there that have been working for me (job boards, InterviewStreet/CodeEval etc, StackOverflow's active candidate pool, engineerapplication.com), 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. Right now, as I mentioned, I'm an in-house recruiter, so my target audience is a bit more limited (if you're not interested in the kinds of stuff we're working on, that's pretty much that), but this is more of a general question and hopefully one I'll be able to revisit more comprehensively when I start my own agency. 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? LinkedIn is so noisy that it's pretty much useless, GitHub (and its various scrapers) is better, but I still have no idea if you're even looking or have any good context about who you are (the last thing I want to do is accidentally email DHH about a Rails job, like so: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3108229).

So, what do you guys think? 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?

I want an agent, not a recruiter. Yes, sort of like the ones hollywood actors have (but hopefully less sleazy).

Let me describe to you the what I'd like to see out this hypothetical agent, named "Sam":

* Sam knows me and my personality, not just my resume bullet points.

* Sam of course knows the technology more than just the buzzwords and has at least dabbled in writing code in the domain for which he recruits.

* Sam has a sensitivity to the fact that I would like to progress in my career. I don't want a gig for which I'm "well-qualified"; I want a gig for which I am barely qualified, and can grow+learn in.

* Sam will keep tabs on me even when he doesn't have anything for me, and I don't want to move, just to learn what I'm working on, what I'm excited about or would like to work on, and how I feel about my career at the moment.

* With the above knowledge, Sam can be my advocate and will not try to wedge me into jobs that are clearly dead-ends, either from technology or career perspective.

I readily admit that this might be too much to ask. However, both the demand and pay are quite high for good developers at the moment, so I think there is room for an ongoing relationship, and a more personal touch.

If you had this relationship with your developers, word of mouth might be a satisfactory means of getting more.

However, short of that, there might be some opportunity in promoting your developer's work (as much as is possible, at least) on a blog or somesuch, and become a brand that other developers would like to be part of.

Hope that helps.

I think having an agent would work if you're doing contracting, or consulting.

That's why we have agents for Hollywood---the deals are so big, but they're transient. No one expects to get signed onto a TV show, then still be there 10 years later.

Also, agents help renegotiate contracts year to year.

I completely agree.

I think there's too much in the way of recycling canidates because we can't look past their past work.

That is very helpful, thank you!

To me, the good hypothetical recruiter would be like a talent scout in the sports industry, and have the ability to find quality players. This is easier said than done because even many technical people cannot spot true talent. Further I don't think the market is completely there to incentives such a scout. A good deal of the large companies still view developers as a replaceable resource that can be shuffled in and out. As such even if you could identify quality, the demand is not their and the quality does not want to work in that environment. So you would have to specialize in the few companies that do want quality and build a reputation among them. When one evaluates the reality of that it becomes easy to see why it is just easier to sling questionable quality individuals into organizations that do not demand quality.

i hire people.

the vast majority of people calling themselves recruiters are actually just sourcing. they do no filtering, vetting, etc and have been uniformly a waste of our time.

not sure how to change this.

I'm in a somewhat unique position, in that I can comfortably run the first technical phone interview, in addition to filtering resumes before candidates even get to that point. However, this is definitely part of the problem, overall, because most recruiters weren't engineers at some point or another. InterviewStreet et al address this issue to some extent, but I wish there were other, more universal solutions, too.

That's probably what sets you apart.

I think another problem is that I have met people with previous experience in engineering who aren't as "consultative" as they could be.

Most recruiters hide behind the infamous line of "well, it's what my client wants and they pay the bills." Just because they pay your salary doesn't mean they are always right. If your client has the hiring expertise and time themselves, why are they hiring you? I'm not saying to completely ignore their needs, though. I am saying that the recuriter has to be more than a paper pusher and just simply tick boxes.

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