Over the years I’ve seen several complaints about the way agency recruiters write job posts, so I thought it might be useful to explain the motivations behind a recruiter’s actions. Job seekers become particularly frustrated by a lack of transparency, and understanding the reasons may benefit recruiter/technologist relations.
First, a couple quick definitions.
Agency Recruiter – AKA “Headhunter” These recruiters represent several hiring companies, so at any given time they may work for anywhere from five to fifty firms (AKA ‘clients’).
Company/Internal Recruiter – The recruiter employed by Google is only trying to hire people into Google.
Contingency Recruiting – This is the most common arrangement that agency recruiters have with clients, and the competitive nature of this model accounts for most of the complaints about recruiter ethics (and job posts). A hiring company signs a contract to work with an agency, and when hiring someone referred by the agency they pay a fee that is usually 20-30% of the new hire’s salary. Companies may work with 20+ agency recruiters, and only the recruiter that fills the vacancy gets the fee. The other 19 recruiters get nothing, regardless of their effort. In this model, the recruiter absorbs all of the ‘risk’ of the search.
Retained Recruiting – There are several variations of how retainers work, but basically the hiring company pays an agency recruiter in advance to initiate a search on their behalf. Some companies reserve retained agreements for executive level searches, and retained search is still relatively rare for engineers and tech pros. In this model, some or all of the ‘risk’ is absorbed by the hiring firm.
Now that we have the definitions…
Job seekers who gripe about recruiters and their ads refer almost exclusively to agencies on contingency. Below are three common issues cited with job ads, and an explanation as to why recruiters write what they do.
Agency recruiters working on a contingent basis rarely post company names. When posting a client’s name, they have now made it public that COMPANY is seeking candidates with a specific skill set. Now other agencies who may represent similar talent can call on COMPANY’s HR and hiring managers to offer their recruiting services. Also, it makes it possible for an applicant to apply directly to the company which results in no fee for the recruiter. The fear of both is significant.
Withholding the name is not always a recruiter’s choice. In many cases, clients require recruiters not to use their name in ads. Part of the reasoning is managers and HR expect that if the name is used, they will be inundated with inquiries from agencies.
Listing company names also makes the client more likely to be sourced by other recruiters. If I’m a recruiter searching for Scala talent, the easiest way to find firms to poach is to see who is looking for Scala talent. Ads are arguably the most effective way for agencies to identify potential new clients as well as sources of talent to poach, so posting names gives competitors some useful information.
Recruiters may intentionally post inaccurate location information, perhaps using the nearest big city or an adjacent town instead of the actual mailing address. This tactic is also primarily rooted in protecting the identify of an agency’s clients.
When a job description lists the name of a city or town as well as some other identifying details, it becomes rather easy for experienced recruiters from other agencies to figure out who the company behind the ad. In San Francisco or New York it isn’t easy, but when an ad mentions the name of a suburb and some description of the business or industry, knowledgeable recruiters can guess the client.
Prepare to disagree. When a job ad lists a salary or hourly rate range, the only number that most candidates retain is the upper end.
GEEK WANTED (PHILADELPHIA SUBURBS, PA) – MUST HAVE SKILLS. PAY IS 75-110K.
“I found this job online today, looks like a good fit and the starting salary is 110K!”
We can’t blame a candidate for trying to negotiate the best offer, but a listed salary range introduces irrelevant data into the negotiation process that creates false expectations. Let’s look at a hypothetical:
My client wants Scala Developers, and are open on experience level as long as the candidate is solid. We may hire someone two years out of school for 70K or someone with ten years that might be closer to 130K. We aren't going to list "Must have at least X years with Scala" in the job spec, because it looks petty. We list a rather wide and generally unhelpful range of 70-130K, interview applicants, and decide to hire the one who is two years out of school. Our candidate's market rate is at the low end of our range, but our candidate also realizes we were willing to pay 130K for someone. Our young candidate is also a bit new to the world of job search and negotiation, and decides to ask for 130K and see what happens.
Sounds far-fetched? Unfortunately, this happens much more frequently than one would expect.
The salary range problem is aggravated when junior level candidates go from entry-level to experienced and get large increases which they expect will continue. This is common when switching employers in the first years of a career. Salary ranges also cause headaches when experienced candidates in the scenario above get an offer for 115K. Why not 130? I’ve been snubbed! The candidate might have estimated their market rate was 100K a month ago, but now that 130K seemed possible the number is entrenched.
I’ve written before about the emotional attachment that job seekers put on certain dollar figures. You can be sure that a candidate will have a hard time rejecting the first 100K offer of their career due to the perceived status of a six-figure job. When a salary range is provided, the applicant may develop an immediate attachment to the maximum regardless of their qualifications.
Listing a salary range almost exclusively benefits a subset of highly-paid candidates, but it could be useful to all when considering potential time loss in interviews and dialogue. Most recruiters want to discover salary expectations and then let you know whether or not the numbers are reasonable for the position available.
Whether posted via agency recruiter or hiring company, job descriptions are intended to provide enough information for candidates to decide to investigate further. It’s not a detailed employment offer, just as an application is not an acceptance.
The competitive nature of contingency recruiting creates the incentive for agencies to disguise valuable information such as exact location and client name, which can be to the detriment of job seekers. The publication of salary ranges can potentially muddy the waters regarding market rate, but could save time for job seekers above range.
This article is not a defense of these tactics, but rather intended to explain the motivations that result in these tactics.