At some point or another, every technical person will conduct a job search. And either by design or accident, they will encounter the nemesis of job searching: The Recruiter. These individuals are employed by companies whose sole purpose is to serve as an intermediary between job seekers and potential employers. Their marketing literature will say that they match you to potential jobs, and since they spend their days looking around for potential job openings, they have a better grasp of whats out there than you do. It’s their claim, anyway.
The big problem with recruiters is that they are typically paid based on two criteria: the salary of the jobs they put people in, and how many people they place. This might sound like a win-win, but really, it’s a win for the recruiter and a loss for the job candidate. What common strategies do recruiters use to lure job applicants, and why are they bad for you? Let’s take a look…
The Uninvited Solicitation
Anyone in the technology industry will eventually be solicited by a recruiter who found their contact information somewhere and decided to contact them about an open position, out of the blue. The conversation (either via email or telephone) usually starts off with some praise (like “I reviewed your resume and I think you have some fantastic technical skills that could apply to this position I have open”) and then a pitch for a job that they’re trying to fill. This is often a flattering proposition: someone found YOU, and decided that YOUR skills would match THEIR job. But it’s a scam.
How can you tell it’s a scam? There will often be tell-tale signs, some more subtle than others. Obvious ones include a recruiter who emails you, praising your skills as a match for this job, and then proceeds to describe a job in a completely different field from your background. That recruiter is bullshitting you, and is really not interested in finding “the best fit.” They just want to collect the commission. Other signs include jobs that are somewhat in your field, but not necessarily fitted to your skill set. Most of the time, if a recruiter says “I have a client who…” they’re lying. Most recruiters don’t have exclusive locks on jobs; they get their jobs the same way you do, they just happen to know who the hiring manager is and thus can make more direct contact. Submitting your resume the old fashioned way still gets it seen by the same person.
The Vague, Rewritten Job Posting
As previously mentioned, most recruiters working for staffing companies don’t have exclusive contracts to offer a job, actually screen candidates or are otherwise directly involved in the hiring process. Their role is largely self-defined, where they match candidates to a job posting; their success is dependent upon their network of contacts and their ability to get their candidates directly in front of the hiring manager.
As a result, most recruiters are pretty vague about the company they’re posting for when they write a job posting. They’ll usually write something along the lines of “My client…” or “We have a client who…” They won’t post any identifying information about the company in the ad, and for good reason: if you knew what company was hiring, you could go apply for the job yourself!
Recruiters will often post job descriptions that are vague, and more often than not, rewritten from the original. Recruiters are aiming to get the widest possible number of people interested in the posting, since that increases the applicant pool and increases the chances they’ll win a commission by making a placement. The result is that they will rewrite the job description, often adding keywords that they think might be related, and end up posting a job description that is vague, keyword-filled, and really useless for knowing what job they’re actually trying to find a candidate to fill.
This is bad for you because it means that you cannot target yourself to a particular position as easily. Most hiring managers want to know how you’re going to satisfy their needs, and a shotgun approach to providing such satisfaction will turn them off. If they’re looking for someone with Postgres experience they don’t probably care that you worked with MySQL, Oracle, and SQL Server, for example. Speaking of rewriting…
The Rewriting Of The Candidate’s Resume
Recruiters will often ask candidates to send them a resume in Word format. This is often for two reasons: first, because there is no contract in place between the company and the recruiter, the recruiter doesn’t want to have the company be able to hire the applicant directly, thus bypassing the recruiter and his commission. The Word-based resume allows them to remove the contact information of the candidate before sending the information along. But second, and more dubious, many times recruiters rewrite resumes.
That’s right: they’ll rewrite your resume to “match” the job description.
The reasons this is bad for you should be obvious: lying on your resume is typically grounds for automatic rejection or termination, regardless of who was responsible (most employers won’t take “the recruiter rewrote it!” as an excuse). In addition, most recruiters are not technical but are convinced that keywords sell job candidates, so they’ll load up resumes with tons of bullshit terms, trying to match the resume to the job description to improve their chances of success. Finally, it’s possible you may not see the finished product, meaning you could get asked about something on your resume you’ve never even seen or heard of (that one is awkward).
The Pre-Interview Interview At The Recruiter’s Office
Car salesmen like to get people into the showroom. They know that if they can get people into the showroom, to make the investment of time in coming to the showroom, the sale becomes much easier. Recruiters are often car salesmen in better clothing, and practice the same philosophy. In recruiter world, this often takes the form of a pre-interview interview. It serves two purposes, both bad for the candidate.
First and foremost, it causes you to make an investment in the position you’re applying for. You’ve invested the time to dress up, keep an appointment, and answer questions. Recruiters will tell you the purpose of the interview is to make sure you’re sane and qualified, but I’m firmly convinced that it’s really designed to have you make an investment of your time and energy in the recruiter and the role.
The second (and often more dubious) reason is to get you to fill out paperwork for the recruiter. Remembering that the recruiter has no contract with the companies they’re trying to recruit for, many try and end run around this by making you sign paperwork (usually as part of a “job application”) promising not to accept a position with any company they put you in contact with, unless that offer comes through them. The goal here is to get one of the two parties in a situation where the recruiter can almost be guaranteed their commission; this has nothing to do with protecting the interests of the candidate, and everything to do with protecting the interests of the recruiter.
Now that the candidate is under contract, it’s time for the recruiter’s next trick…
The Unprompted Blasting Of Your Resume All Over Town
You applied for a single position. You sent the recruiter a copy of your resume in Word, came down to his office, spent a couple hours being “interviewed” and signed a piece of paper promising to inform the recruiter if you got a job thanks to their efforts. Turns out the role you wanted either got filled or you weren’t a good match for. You move on to your next job prospect. And then the worst thing in the world happens.
The next company refuse to call you in for an interview because they’ve already seen your resume. Seems that your recruiter sent it to them last week, but the company you’ve applied to doesn’t want to pay a 25% commission to hire someone. They know you’re under contract not to take their job if they don’t pay the commission. And so they aren’t able to work with you at this time.
Now that the recruiter has you under contract, he’s free to do whatever he wants with your information. This is a curse upon your house. Every place the recruiter now sends your information is off-limits to you if they decide the other candidate is cheaper. You’ve just lost control of your job search.
Sure, you can ask your recruiter to stop, but the damage has probably already been done. A recruiter’s success at their job depends on their ability to know pretty much everything going on in a given job field, which means there’s a chance everyone hiring for your field within 50 miles has gotten your resume and now can’t hire you.
Think this can’t happen to you? This is exactly what happened to me once upon a time. In fact, I had contacted two recruiters, and they had both submitted me for the same job. I had even interviewed for that job, but when they realized that two recruiters had submitted me, they pulled out of the process, out of fear that one of them would sue if the other got the commission.
The Complete Disregard For Your Preferences
By now we’ve established what recruiters are after in the process. This often leads to recruiters putting you up for a job that you have no interest in winning. The vagueness of the job posting, as well as the vagueness of most recruiters, means that you may not have a good understanding of what job you’re interviewing for.
For example, I had gone through the whole pre-interview interview (while avoiding signing paperwork) with a recruiter. I had spent a whole two hours in their office, expressing my preferences, likes, and dislikes. I had explicitly stated that I didn’t want to interview for Drupal-heavy jobs.
They scheduled a call with a hiring manager, that ended up being rescheduled. I had made a major investment of time and effort in this interview by this point. In the first five minutes, the hiring manager described the position as being “primarily a Drupal developer with a few legacy applications that will eventually be moved to Drupal.” I was furious.
Here I had wasted more than two hours in their office, plus travel time, plus scheduling and rescheduling the interview, plus actually having the interview, only to find out I had no interest in the job. I could have found that out in five minutes if they had simply been up front and saved all of us a lot of time and energy. But recruiters are typically selfish and don’t care about your preferences – they care about their commissions!
And this focus on commissions leads to the last recruiter strategy that hurts developers…
Playing Mr. Positive Until They Don’t Need You Anymore
If you ever had a girlfriend who broke up with you after you wrecked your really nice car, causing you to realize it was the car and not you that she loved, you’ll understand how a recruiter behaves when you tell them you’re not interested in the job they have open.
They’ll drop you like a hot potato.
Oh, it’s not personal. It’s just that you’re not useful to them anymore. They’re after a commission, after all. They’re not social workers, they’re capitalists. Their product is you, and you suddenly have no value to the goal they’re trying to achieve. And so, they’ll stop returning calls. Until they need you again, that is.
Recruiters are not really interested in taking a candidate, finding the best position for them, placing them in that position and making sure they’re happy. If they were, they would work with a candidate to find them a role that fit their experience and preferences, and go the extra mile. To date, I’ve never seen it.
Telling You Things To Boost Your Ego, But Being Full Of Lies
A recruiter will tell you lots of things, aimed at boosting your ego and also convincing you to work with the recruiter. They’ll tell you things like “I want to help you get the highest salary possible” or “I’m working on this for you.” All lies. Recruiters’ commissions are based on salary, so of course they want to get you the highest salary possible – for their own benefit. But remember: the commission a company pays to hire you will inevitably reduce the available cash for a given position, reducing your salary offer. And since a starting salary is often the place companies start from when giving raises, you will permanently reduce your lifetime earnings.
As for a recruiter “working on this for you” that’s bullshit too. The recruiter is working on it for themselves. They’ve been tasked with filling that job. They don’t care if it’s you that fills it or the next guy who applies; they just want to get the job out of their portfolio.
Working with recruiters is also a lot of bad news. Recruiters have three lines that they like to give candidates after interviews. The first is “the company has decided not to hire for this role at this time.” The second is “the company has already filled the position.” And the third is “the company has decided you’re not a good fit for the role.”
The first line is the biggest amount of bullshit of the three. The company never decides not to hire; they decide the commission would be too expensive and so that’s what they tell the recruiter they’ve decided. Either the recruiter is too stupid to know he’s being lied to or doesn’t care; that’s what he tells you.
The second line, about filling the position, may well be true. It may also be a knee-jerk reaction of the company to being contacted by a recruiter. Most companies will bite on a recruiter if the resume they get is top notch, but since recruiters take a shotgun approach to getting folks hired, most of the time this is not the case (you may well be the finest resume he has; but then again, if he’s rewritten it, maybe it sucks now). Either way, working with a recruiter is going to feel a lot like always being late to the party.
Finally, and the most honest of the lines, is the company talking with you and then deciding to go an entirely different direction. This happens often, and at least you find out, but be prepared for this to happen more often with a recruiter. The company knows that they’re going to have to pay you the same as other candidates but they’ll also tack on an extra 25% for the recruiter, so if they’ve got qualified candidates who aren’t tied to a recruiter, you’re going to get this line from them almost instantly.
The Bottom Line
What’s the upshot of all this? I strongly recommend you avoid recruiters at all costs. While many people find jobs every day using a recruiter, the reality of the job market for developers is that good developers don’t need recruiters to find good positions. Recruiters do nothing but make it harder for you to find work, and their commission (which is based on your salary on hire) often drags down your pay package. Finding a job without a recruiter may take a bit longer, or be a bit more stressful, but is more rewarding, provides more flexibility, and ultimately improves the odds of getting hired in a great position without strings attached.
Are there any honest recruiters?
Of course! Sadly they are few and far between. However, it is possible to find a job with the right recruiter. Lonnie Brown is one such honest recruiter; give him a shout if you’re in the PHP job market!