The Curse of the Tech Recruiter

I recently took a client company’s team out for drinks – someone I’d worked with for a while and where I’d placed good candidates; someone with whom our track record was good. The more the beers flowed, the more opinionated certain team members became about the behaviour of recruiters, and it made for interesting listening.

I have a kind of paranoia about this anyway. I got into recruitment with very little idea about how the industry was perceived and, being a bit of a people-pleaser by nature, the idea that some people were cursing my existence before I’d even finished saying my name really bothered me. I got obsessed with trawling the web for articles and comments by developers about recruiters. Initially, it was market research – I wanted to understand the inner thoughts of the people I was trying so hard to work with. I wanted to avoid the mistakes that other people had made, and be a better kind of recruiter that worked in the way that made most sense to candidates and was helpful. But the more I dug, the more I realised we’re commonly looked upon as ignorant, arrogant and careless, with no loyalty or sense of decency, and that’s the stereotype I now arm myself to battle every time I pick up the phone or write an email!

The problem was that, when a member of this company’s team started reeling off his dislikes, many of them were understandable yet largely unavoidable. Two main points he made that I’d like to discuss are:

1. Linkedin has become a free-for-all for unwanted cold contacts

2. Receiving an email at your work address from a recruiter is disrespectful

Both fair points – for a good developer, who is perfectly happy where they are, recruiter contact is unneeded, unsolicited and unwanted. When we argue that Linkedin/an email to a work address we know is valid are sometimes the only way to make contact with somebody we really wish to speak to, a developer might argue (and he did) that there’s a reason we can’t contact them and we don’t have their details – they don’t want us to get in touch.

The problem with this is that it’s not always the case and, once you’ve had a success story from using one of those methods, you tend to feel that the slight annoyance caused to the majority of people is worth it if a few people get to advance their career in a way that really benefits them, taking an opportunity they’d otherwise never have known about. It’s a kind of reverse utilitarianism in a world (recruitment) where you’re used to the majority of your effort coming to nothing, but I’ve had many candidates thank me for making contact, even though it was unsolicited. Many didn’t even consider moving, until they saw what they could be moving for. In fact, most of the placements we make are people who weren’t actively looking; that’s the nature of the current market.

That’s not to say that all recruiter contact will be like this and yes, probably, in most cases, the contact goes unreturned. And of course, another problem is the volume of emails you get which are long AND mailshotted (and I get them too so I know how annoying it can be – I’m currently being spammed by some dutch company where all the writing is in dutch (which I don’t speak..)), but some of them will be genuinely well thought out and targeted towards a specific person and their career history. True, I can’t know what a developer wants before we’ve spoken, so I do have to guess based on past experience, but if they never reply to me then I never will know I’m wrong.

And if somebody replied to me and told me never to contact them again, I wouldn’t. So I guess what I’m trying to say, in a very long (though not mailshotted) way, is that I’m sorry if anybody receives an email or a LinkedIn message from me and it pisses them off, but it’s my job, and I do it because there are many people who, as a result, get a fantastic new job that they love. And also – if it pisses you off, I’d love you to tell me it does, and tell me why!

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