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Why Tech Recruiters Suck, and What You Can Do About It

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Why Tech Recruiters Suck, and What You Can Do About It

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Question:  When is the last time you read a tweet like this?


Answer:  Never, because it’s never happened.

I’m a tech recruiter.  Please, hold your applause.  In the past few weeks I’ve read quite a bit of chatter (tweets, blogs, etc.) from technologists being hounded by recruiters, and the mention of these incidents is never framed in a positive way.  It would seem that most in the tech community view almost all recruiters as a collective nuisance more than anything else.  Knowing what I know about some others in my profession, and after hearing hundreds of anecdotes (read: horror stories)  from my candidates over my 14 year career in recruiting software engineers, I can’t help but agree.

The good news is that when recruiters are calling, it is the one definitive sign that the job market is hot.  So you can all be thankful for that silver lining.  The bad news is that when the job market heats up, recruiting companies start hiring more recruiters, and let’s just say that the standards for hiring new recruiters are not terribly high for most companies.  I was lucky to be hired for my first recruiting job by a firm that screened new hires thoroughly and invested heavily on training new employees, but it seems that these days the ability to dial a phone and send an email are enough to get you hired (ethics are a nice to have, and a pulse is considered a big plus).  Training may consist of a couple three word phrases.

“Smile and dial!”

“ABC – Always Be Closing”

I’ll admit, it sucks for those of us recruiters who are truly good at what we do.  To be in a profession that is viewed with such disdain from our customers (candidates and companies alike) can be quite depressing.  Politicians, injury lawyers, and used car salesmen have nothing on us, except they are known to a wider audience.  I rarely hear “I don’t work with recruiters”, but when it happens it always seems a bit odd, especially if you think about what a recruiter’s goals should be.  If I do my job properly and successfully, it is a ‘win-win-win situation’.

Win 1 – You get a new job that you want (or you wouldn’t accept the offer).
Win 2 – A company gets a new employee that fills their need.
Win 3 – I get a few bucks, as well as the satisfaction of helping further your career and assisting a company to achieve growth goals. (Please don’t overlook or dismiss this satisfaction element)

The problem with many recruiters, it seems, is that they simply don’t pay any attention to the desires of candidates.  This results in lost time for all involved – candidates waste time reading about jobs that don’t apply, hiring managers read résumés and interview candidates that are not qualified or interested, and the recruiter is wasting time with activity on both sides.  Many of the complaints I hear about techies getting bombarded with emails from recruiters would be easily avoided if the recruiter would simply do a little reading, or (God forbid) thinking.

If a resume says that a candidate is only looking for work in Philadelphia, recruiters should not email you about positions elsewhere.  This is probably the biggest complaint I’ve seen, and it is seemingly the easiest to avoid.  I’m stunned how often I hear this one.  NOTE: If you are one of those that possess a very rare technical skill, you should probably expect that you will hear from some recruiters trying to draw you to a new geography.

If a resume says that a candidate is only looking for work as a Ruby programmer, recruiters should not email you about their Sys Admin job.  Recruiters, is it really that difficult a concept?

The last issue seems to be ethics.  Recruiters are infamous for lying to candidates about their clients, salary ranges, job responsibilities, etc.  They just want to get you (first your CV, then your body) in front of the manager.  The ethics issue is not as easy to solve, but as someone who has survived two economic downturns, I can attest that being ethical and honest as a recruiter is your only chance of having any long term success.

One major influence in a recruiter’s behavior can be traced to how some recruiters are judged.  Many recruiting firms apply simple metrics to evaluate a recruiter’s performance.  The more candidates a recruiter submits and the more interviews a recruiter generates, the more favorably that recruiter will be viewed by managers, often regardless of the outcome of said interviews.  This is the ‘numbers game’ you hear about, and the attitude that if you ‘throw enough spaghetti against the wall, some of it will stick’.  Recruiting firms that still use these types of metrics are doing it the wrong way.  Clients (hiring companies) are using recruiters to save time, so a much better metric for those that manage recruiters AND hiring managers at client firms is submissions per hire.

As much as I dislike economic slowdowns that result in lower hiring rates, I have learned to appreciate the fact that I know many of the worst recruiters do not survive these periods.  Only the best in the business can stay afloat when companies are laying off workers.  Ironically, times of economic downturn are also when technologists truly learn to appreciate a good recruiter.

So what can the tech community do about bad recruiters?

  1. If you don’t want recruiters to waste your time contacting you about every job order that comes across their desk, politely let recruiters know what type of job would interest you.  No matter how happy you are at your job, I would guess that there would be some rare opportunity that you would at least want to hear about.  Keep a little blurb handy (call it ‘dream job’) to cut/paste into a response that lays out the type of job that would interest you, locations, perhaps even a bit on compensation.  “I’m only interested in permanent Senior Python positions in NYC paying over 120K”.   If that recruiter continues to ask you about jobs that don’t match the criteria you sent, simply block them from contacting you.
  2. Tell recruiters that when you decide to look for work, you will call them (and actually follow through and call the one(s) that you like).  As a recruiter, I would much rather have you tell me when you are ready to hear about opportunities than to try and guess what events (birthdays and bad company news/acquisitions are most common) may cause you to open your ears to a new gig.
  3. Support recruiters that give back.  If a recruiter takes the time to review your resume or to provide you valuable career advice without having any financial interest in your decision, that should be someone you contact in the future when you look for work.  Do you know any recruiters that spread useful info on the industry?  Refer friends to this recruiter.  Supporting the good recruiters keeps their service available, and should help to eventually put the bad firms out of business.
  4. Let a recruiter know if you feel he/she is not providing a valuable service.  Maybe even tell them which other recruiters you respect.  Perhaps a shot to the ego will give them incentive to try and improve.

The Bottom Line

As a tech recruiter, I want to have positive relationships with as many of the best software professionals as possible.  If I follow you on social networks, blogs, and try to ‘link’ to you, it’s because I feel I can probably help your career down the road (and again, create a win-win-win) and I can learn about industry trends by reading your posts.  There are recruiters that are less skilled/ethical just as there are software engineers with the same qualities.  To completely turn away from recruiters based on the actions of some many in our industry is to do yourself a disservice.  Have faith, there are enough good ones that you will eventually find one that works for you.

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