Recruiters, you're doing it wrong

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Once upon a time a corporate recruiter for a company I really wanted to work with sent me on an interview with a Ruby developer for a design position. Beforehand, I spent time on the phone making sure that I understood the position he was trying to fill. The jobs page description he sent me to made it sound very UI-oriented, that perfect blend of design, UX, and front-end that makes my heart sing. I made sure he even checked with the manager in charge to confirm that he was interested in having me on the team. So I assembled my résumé, cleared time on my packed schedule, and prepared myself for my first department interview. I was surprised and alarmed when the developer began asking me programming puzzles.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I thought this was for a design-oriented position?”

“Oh, it is. We want a Ruby programmer who can design.”

This has happened more times than I care to admit. I’ve gotten to the point where even if it is a position I want, I don’t take it seriously because I’ve had so many bad experiences like the above. I don’t bother replying to most recruiters, but sometimes one drifts over from one of those shiny companies I would like to be a part of.

But it always goes awry. And afterward, I always blame myself. I blame myself for buying into the the bullshit of the recruiting system.

This has got to stop. Either I need to stop paying attention to recruiters entirely, even when they dangle a seemingly choice bit of opportunity under my nose, or recruiters need to get their act together. I’m going to bestow the benefit of a doubt and assume recruiters fail so much because no one has ever sat them down and told them what they’re doing wrong when it comes to recruiting in the web development industry. Listen up, recruiters. I’m not going to sugar coat.

Don't tell me you think I'd be a perfect fit. Tell me why you think I'd be a perfect fit.

This is like when a guy is asking you out. He says, “I think you and I would be great together.” Some girls will go for that. But with others, your chance of securing that first date increases if you’ve done your homework and know a thing or two about her. “I think we’d be great together because we both have dogs,” is good. “I think we’d have a lot to talk about because you love Shiba Inu and I used to breed them,” is even better. When you bother explain your reasoning behind contacting me, I know three things:

  1. You know the position. You've done more than glanced at a spec sheet. You know what the company needs.
  2. You know what I can offer. You've done your research on my skills and experience, and it aligns with the above.
  3. You're not a sleazy pick up artist, hitting on every girl in the room. Recruiters have a reputation for throwing everything against a wall to see what sticks. If you show that you've taken the time to properly evaluate me for a position, I'll feel like I have a better chance of getting it, and I might reply to your letter of introduction.

It's not a "great opportunity!" until I say it is.

“Great opportunity with up and coming Fortune 500 startup in Las Vegas!” Everyone has a different definition of “golden opportunity.” Mine requires working from home, Portland or Brooklyn, and comic books. It doesn’t matter how much money you offer me, unless you can top the hand of cards I’m currently holding, I’m not going to trade in. Instead of blathering on about the company’s funding or work environment, ask me what my ideal job is and then see if you can make it work. Maybe it’s in Las Vegas, but they share a workspace with a comics publishing company or you can arrange to let me work from home two days a week. Or maybe you have another position coming up that’s distributed, and you should prime me for that.

I’m not desperate. I’m not going to roll over in joy just because someone wants to dance with me. Maybe I’m perfectly happy with my current dance partner, or maybe I like sitting next to the punch bowl. Don’t act like I should be overjoyed over your paycheck, ‘cuz I’m not.

You do the work. (I know you're getting paid.)

As far as I’m concerned, a recruiter is a person who slogs through LinkedIn accounts, firing off form letters for a living. As a person who makes things for a living and grew up with people who labored for wages, I don’t feel pecking at a keyboard entitles you to a meal. So when you send me a little form letter about a “great opportunity!”–or worse yet, “I know you’re not looking, but do you know anyone?” (answer: No, I’m not a dating service.)–I immediately know what kind of person you are. You’re the kind of office plankton that sits idly by, feeling “busy” for having talked on the phone with some candidates you barely know before shunting them off to interviews they’re unprepared for because you didn’t bother to research them or the position. If you’re lucky–and it’s all about luck here, because you surely haven’t applied any skill–the sucker company involved will hire one of them and you’ll get your money. Hooray!

I’m not going to do your work for you, and no self-respecting, hard-working, genuinely busy person has the time or energy to do it for you, either. Research the position and my background before you go in. Spend your time on me. If you think I’m such a great fit, coach me before the interview. If you think I’ll be awkward during the interview, see if you can come in and prompt me to highlight the things I might forget in my nervousness. We’re developers and designers, not marketers. This isn’t the shit we’ve been trained and bred for. The reason teams groan every time a position is filled via a recruiter is because almost invariably the person filling it is all talk and no game. The recruiting process favors people with lots of time and who talk big–losers in our world. You are bringing us losers because you are lazy. (And you still get paid!) Of course we hate you.

Don't waste my time.

I’m a pretty fuckin’ princess. Everyone wants my time. I have people asking me who they should hire and if I can vouch for others. I have meetups to organize and conferences to attend. I have presentations to prepare, comics to draw, code to write, and interfaces to design. I get generic emails from recruiters like you every week. You all look and sound the same. You come to my inbox with your “great opportunity,” and all I see is hours of my life spent on someone else’s paycheck that won’t get me anywhere further than where I’m at today. Those are hours I could spend making presentations, strengthening my community, drawing comics, writing code, or even just having a lovely evening with my husband and a bottle of cider. When you’re hitting up so many other people and my chances are so low, why should I waste my time on you? Why should anyone?

A recruiter pokes his head around the corner to tell Princess Programmer he has a great opportunity for her. She tells him to get out of her kingdom. Twilight Sparkle whinnies nearby.

Don't look at my LinkedIn.

I’m so busy. I’m so damn busy. My LinkedIn is out of date. I couldn’t find the time to update it unless I was unhappy with my current employment situation (which I’m not, because I’m awesome). And how could I possibly convey the depth of my community involvement, what I’m working on this weekend, or the many connections I have who simply don’t play the LinkedIn game? And why should I play the LinkedIn game myself? Since I’ve been on LinkedIn, not one good thing, not one job, project or connection, has come of it.

If I removed my LinkedIn account, I’d get far fewer contacts from recruiters. The only reason I haven’t removed it already is because I have two a few very nice recommendations on it. But those were from a long time ago, and now I operate in a sphere of people who do not use LinkedIn. We judge each other by portfolios, works in progress, and community recognition and involvement. This is stuff you need to learn to seek out, weigh, and understand, because HR won’t and I don’t have the time to lay it all out for you since I’m so busy and so happy.

Rachel asks two developers if they'd recommend her on LinkedIn. One scoffs that she's lost cool points while the other offers to endorse her on Coder Wall.

To cut down on the amount of trash connections and recruiter emails I get, I’m thinking about shutting down my account. Then recruiters would have to visit my site and send me an email through my contact form. Then I could rest assured they’d at least seen my handiwork.

You shouldn't need my résumé.

As I alluded to above, the best people are often happy at their jobs because their employers try hard to keep them happy. If you want to hire the best people, chances are they’re not preoccupied with keeping their résumé and LinkedIn up to date. They’re probably all blissed out on some code and company-provided beer. The only people who are going to make your job easy on you are the green horns and the fuck ups and the happy accidents. You’ll have a hard time getting anything current out of a happy, hard worker. So do your own sleuth work first.

Bypass HR and office managers

Some companies and/or recruiters think they can “sort the wheat from the chaff” by sending candidates through HR or an office manager to make sure they have a pulse and tick off the right number of boxes on the “skills chart.” Don’t do this. You’re wasting my time (see above). I know how to talk to developers and artists, not normal office people. I’ve heard of team leads going out on a limb to retrieve excellent candidates HR rejected. These people are not qualified to judge the talent you’re looking for, nor are they an appropriate middleman between the department and talent. Stop being lazy and sort the sheep from the goats yourself. When you have a winner, do everything you can to bypass the office plankton and get them to the people they’re going to work with.

Your reputation precedes you.

You guys need to stop making each other look bad. Every time a recruiter messes up any of the above, it makes the prospective employee much less likely to respond to any recruiter’s advances. You’re all the same to us, be you corporate monkeys or guns for hire. You’re remoras, attaching yourselves to the Great White Shark of our skills and availability, hoping for scraps. You need us. So stop dicking us around and be professionals. Do your research. Do the work.


Rachel, you should be happy anyone is approaching you about a job in this economic climate! I can’t get a job :(

I worked at a place where we had CSRs and a development team working on the same floor. They’d drag us into the same room to give us the bad news after a bunch of layoffs and tell us how lucky lucky lucky we all were to still have our jobs in “this economic state.” Afterward, my teammates would complain of having wasted their time, which was costing the company a small fortune to use for a one hour pity party aimed at guilting everyone into working longer hours.

Our jobs are safe. There is no job crisis for us. If you’re having an employment crisis, you’re either in a different industry or doing something wrong (see also attitude and/or aptitude). Recruiters need to remember that not everyone is fresh out of college or caught up in a wave of economic despair. You have to handle happy, well-employed people differently from the desperate and disconsolate. Otherwise, you’re wasting our time. Which, last I checked, is worth a lot more than a recruiter’s.

Hey, I’ve had great experience with recruiters! You’re off the mark!

Do tell! But first, consider that usually companies turn to recruiters when they:

  1. Have shit where they eat so much that anyone who knows they’re hiring stays away.
  2. The job is so terrible/menial/cursed no one internally wants to fill it.
  3. They’ve not bothered to ask their employees to find someone or
  4. Their employees know better than to drag one of their colleagues into point 1 or 2 (and are probably considering leaving as well).

There is a fifth: The company is growing so fast that they’ve exhausted local talent and have to start pulling in people from other tech communities. If, on your first day of work, your coworkers don’t look at you like a broken racehorse being lead to the glue factory, you’ve probably fallen into this category. Congratulations!

Otherwise, I suspect, I deeply suspect, You’re Not All That. Recruiters are notorious for misleading managers who have no idea what their teams actually need, thus providing under-experienced or socially unstable coworkers. There’s a longer period of adjustment for you to be accepted by the herd, and if you’re a Total Wreck, you will feel alone and outcast until you finally return to that recruiter and beg for a “change of pace.”

I am a recruiter, and this sounds awful. What can I do to get better?

Specialize. Don’t place marketers and tech people. Go to the meetups. Buy us a beer or a round of nachos. Take a few classes. Learn to talk the talk, and crack open a text editor from time to time and make something. Don’t saunter off into a corner to be with Those Marketing Guys and giggle about the nerds. (If you want to work with those people, specialize in those people and leave us alone. We can smell your disdain and ignorance. It smells like bacon.) Be like the cheetah, walking casually through the herd of ambivalent gazelles. They know you aren’t one of them, but they respect you (and know they can’t get rid of you).

But above all, do your research.

When I was a teenager, I had a litmus test for suitors. I had a successful web comic, business cards with my comics on them, mini comics in local bookstores–comics were a big part of who I was, and I was actively flaunting it. If, on the first date, said suitor failed to ask me about my comics or take an active interest when it came up, there was no second date. My reasoning was that anyone who wasn’t into me enough to do his homework wasn’t worth bothering with when I could spend my time on my next graphic novel. You’re that guy. Don’t screw it up.


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