Dave Fecak

About Dave Fecak

Dave Fecak has been recruiting software engineers for start-ups since 1998 and he has served as the founder and president of the Philadelphia Area Java Users’ Group since 2000. Dave is often cited and published on career topics for technology professionals, and he blogs at JobTipsForGeeks.com.

Recruiters Are Pretty (and How to Find One)

You would need to be blind not to notice that tech recruiting firms are now tending to hire young and attractive female rookie recruiters, which is an obvious strategy (similar to the so-called “booth babes” at trade shows) to get the attention of the predominantly male tech audience.  Some of the LinkedIn recruiter profile photos border on racy, and perhaps sad.  I should confess here that I too use a LinkedIn profile photo, which is probably best described as smug (included below, for science).

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Since I started blogging I have been regularly approached by readers living hundreds of miles away asking if I know a recruiter in their geography that might be able to help them find new work.  For every ten people that hate on recruiters, there are at least a couple that see value.  Many tech pros complain that they are only being approached by the aforementioned 22 year old crowd with an average six months of recruiting experience, sending canned messages with a pretty LinkedIn profile photo.  How much solid career advice can you get from a new liberal arts or PE grad who was waiting tables until a couple months ago?  Very little, and I should know – because that was me 15 years ago (except Economics and bartender).

I deal with internal recruiters that work at my client companies, but readers want intros to people who do what I do.  These internal recruiters only represent their company, whereas agency recruiters like me can provide several job opportunities.  Instead of just replying with “Sorry, I don’t really know anyone in your area”, I thought I’d provide some thoughts on methods to find someone you will want to work with in your job search.

Actually finding a recruiter should be quite easy, but how do you know if that recruiter is any good?  Let’s start with the search for a recruiter, and then talk about some positive and negative indicators that might give some insight into their ability to help.

How To Find Your Recruiter

Referrals from other technologists

The most obvious way to find a recruiter is to ask around.  Who to ask?  Start with former (and current if you trust them) co-workers or friends in the industry.  Another source may be local user group and meetup leaders, who are regularly approached by recruiters and could know a few that are ethical and helpful.  The more veteran among technologists, and particularly independent contractors, should have a wider recruiter network than most.

Referrals from HR/internal recruiters/hiring managers

If you are lucky enough to have some contacts in HR or internal recruiting, they could be the most effective resource.  HR pros who have been in the business for a while will know which recruiters and firms are best and which may be cutting corners to make a buck.  Your former manager, or any hiring managers that you know, will have some historical anecdotal data on their success rates with certain firms or individuals.

LinkedIn

Recruiters use LinkedIn to find you, so why can’t you do the same?  Not only can you find the recruiter, but you can also discover some valuable information on their background – not to mention, PRETTY PICTURES!  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Click on Advanced at the top of the main LinkedIn screen (just to the right of the search bar)

    advanced-copy

  2. On the upper left side of your screen you will see several fields.  Make sure you are doing a People search (and not a Jobs search).

    people-search-copy

  3. Type ‘Recruiter’ and something else that you feel is specific to you in the Keywords field.  Try ‘developer’ and the name of a technology that a recruiter might lazily use to brand you, such as a language.  Recruiters typically will fill their LinkedIn profiles with the technologies sought for their clients, not unlike job seekers who populate their tech skills section to catch the automated eye of a résumé scanning system.

    keywords-copy

  4. Enter the zip code of the area where you wish to find work and consider setting a parameter.  Some recruiters work nationally, but local knowledge goes a long way if you are seeking to work in a specific geography.  Once you start entering the code, a box appears with a dropdown menu.  Depending on where you live, you may want to select 25 or 50 miles (probably good for northeast or mid-Atlantic US), or up to 100 miles (for midwest).

    location-copy

  5. On the right, make sure you have 3rd + Everyone Else checked under Relationship.   This will maximize your results, particularly if your LinkedIn network is not large.

    3rd-copy

  6. Click Search
  7. Repeat, and vary the words you used in Step 3.  You should see a few different faces as you adjust the keywords.

How to Evaluate Your Recruiter

We’ve found some LinkedIn profiles and viewed recruiter pics (some pretty, others smug). Now what?  What methods can we use to eventually choose which recruiter(s) we want to contact?  Are there any indicators as to who might be best to use?

Just like recruiters do to find out more about you, a simple Google search or looking up the company on Glassdoor might lead to some useful info.  It also just might lead to more pictures.

As recruiters today rely heavily on LinkedIn, you can be sure that any serious technical recruiter pays close attention to their profile. The LinkedIn profile IS the recruiter’s résumé. Thus, we can assume that everything we need to know about a recruiter should absolutely be included there.

Here are a few things to consider

Industry experience

This will indicate quite a bit.  For one, agency recruiters with many years of experience will have witnessed most scenarios imaginable, and should be a valuable guide throughout the search.  They should also have deep networks, loyal clients, and insight into the local market.  The job market turbulence of the first dot com boom/bust and the more recent recession have served to cull the recruiting herd, so those that survived through must have been successful.

Keep in mind that recruiting is highly competitive, revenue-driven and results-based, and recruiters are primarily compensated on a commission basis.  Staying employed in the agency recruiting business is dependent upon results (getting people hired).  However, some of the successful recruiters might just be the best at selling snake oil.

Consistency

There are a few different items to consider when we evaluate consistency.

Has this recruiter remained in the industry throughout their career or did he/she have some unrelated experience somewhere along the line?  For someone who leaves the industry and returns, recruiting is probably a job and not a career.  Some recruiters might change areas of focus and switch from technology to finance, in which case the depth of specific industry expertise may be questionable.

Has the recruiter moved between agencies on a consistent basis?  The recruiting industry has job hoppers too, and often this can be due to lack of success with different firms.  Since recruiters compensation is commission-based they are cheap to hire, so taking a chance on a job hopper poses little risk for the recruiting agency.

Has the recruiter bounced back and forth between the agency side and internal recruiting?  This one is important, and perhaps a bit controversial.  In case you didn’t know, successful agency recruiters make a very good living.  To put it in relative terms, a top agency recruiter can make two to three times (or more) as much as the typical salaried internal company recruiter at most firms (exceptions, of course), and agency recruiters often earn significantly more than the tech pros they represent.

So why would a recruiter leave a lucrative agency job to go work as an internal recruiter for a hiring company?  Stability is one factor, as the promise of a consistent paycheck with no risk is attractive to many.  The desire to build a company and actually help create something big is another cited reason, and even though I’ve been successful on the agency side for my entire career I’ve given consideration to internal roles on occasion.

Some agency recruiters jump to the internal side because they couldn’t survive on the outside, and sought the safety of an internal recruiting job.  Some will revert back to agencies, as even the most experienced recruiters can be hired by agencies for cheap.

Credibility

Does this recruiter have any details that stand out above the others?  A list of LinkedIn endorsements is a bit of a joke, but you can give at least some credence to a recommendation that required effort and thought.  Are there any extracurricular activities listed that may give some evidence of expertise?

A professional blog or writings can provide insight into the recruiter’s attitudes towards industry trends.  Is the recruiter involved with any industry organizations?  Has the recruiter actually worked in the technology industry, where it is assumed the recruiter would have greater understanding?

There are a few certifications that recruiters can achieve, but their value is questionable due to the fact that most are virtually unknown even within the industry.  There is no degree in recruiting that I’m aware of, so education isn’t usually a valuable indicator.

Conversation

The best way to evaluate a recruiter is to talk to him/her.  Your career is important, so partially entrusting it to someone requires a level of mutual respect.  If you find a recruiter immediately tries to sell you on all open jobs he/she has regardless of fit, chances are this person isn’t very concerned with your best interests.

Find a recruiter who shows curiosity in your goals before trying to push every job on you.  Is the recruiter even paying attention to what you are saying?
 

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2 Responses to "Recruiters Are Pretty (and How to Find One)"

  1. Ken says:

    Hi Dave -

    I tend to agree with your assessment that technical recruiters nowadays seem to be predominately 20-something “booth-babe” types. This is rather disappointing.

    Personally, I would rather see technical recruiters who understand the difference between Java and Java Script and can intelligently explain their client’s job requirements to me without sounding utterly clueless.

    But, I cannot criticize them too harshly. Given that they are ill-prepared, they are only trying to do their jobs as best as they can. Some technical recruiters have obviously given up trying to understand their client’s requirements and have resorted to spamming potential candidates in the hope of finding one that “sticks”.

    David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails, had this to say about technical recruiters who just don’t “get it”:

    You’d think that the job of the recruiter would be to narrow down the field of suitable candidates by actually doing some research on them. If they’re just going to spam people from emails they find on tech sites, why not just pay some shady Russians to do it?

    The problem with this kind of hackery is that it has bred an outright animosity to recruiters in large parts of the tech world. The gut reaction of programmers to any recruiter interest is that they’re just as clueless as all the others that went before them. And that’s too bad, since I’m sure that there are companies out there who could actually use good recruiters to screen and find talent for them.

    As things stand right now, though, I would never recommend the use of recruiters to anyone for a technical position. You’re much more likely to be associated with the incompetence of the recruiter than you are to find highly skilled technical talent (See URL below for full text)

    http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2598-why-are-technical-recruiters-so-clueless

    So, I am hopeful that someday (in the not too far distant future), technical recruiters will finally “get it”. Until that day comes, I plan on writing a “Technical Recruiting For Dummies” book. Obviously, it is badly needed.

    Cheers

    Ken

    • fecak says:

      The bigger problem is the incentives of the recruiters to play the numbers game. This is a function of contingency recruiting, where recruiters compete with so many other agencies that they are inclined to gather and throw as many resumes to their client as possible. If hiring companies simply used fewer recruiting companies and paid them some money up front, this takes away all the competition and incentive to ‘cheat’ in many cases. My business model requires some payment up front and some upon hire, which eliminates many of the negative incentives of contingency recruiting.

      I’ve read DHH’s post about recruiters before and referenced them in a couple articles. I disagree with his final thought on candidates having a negative association with the recruiter that brought them, unless the recruiter has an incredibly bad reputation.

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