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Tales from the trenches, Of hiring and hired.

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My experience has proven to me that most recruiters I interact with these days are simply robbing a living. They take more than they deserve, they play games to get and keep monies for hires in any creative way they can concoct. With the economy and job market the way it is today I don't know if these people are more akin to the negative stigma associated with used car salesmen or human traffickers. Either way, I - as well as everyone I speak to today about the topic - find them to be an unsavory breed and a necessary evil.

I have yet to find a reliable recruiter that lives up to their promises, delivers quality, invests effort into their placements and has any loyalty to anything other than filling their own purse.

Recently, I came full circle and can state with absolute certainty that there is an abundance of careless recruiters out in the world today.

About three years ago I was a hiring manager at a large company and I was looking to fill seats on my IT team. I can remember one position in particular that I just couldn't fill and I can't tell you why. I was seeking a high end, Sr. Network Engineer with data center experience and I was willing to pay between 100 and 200k and the only real constraint was no sponsorship or visas. This is not a rare person and for that type of commission I don't know why recruiters wouldn't be beating down the door. This position did require some specific expertise, certification and experience but also, not rare.

This was one of those 'has to be the right hire' hires; the req was absolute, as this position was going to have a profound impact on my business. I interviewed some recruiters as I wanted this to be a quality hire and, as you can imagine since I was looking for help, I was short on how much time I could personally invest in identifying a candidate. One of the requirements for the recruiters was to screen the candidate before I spoke to them for the first time. I provided a list of questions, without the answers, for the recruiter to ask the candidate; 20 questions across 4 technical areas of which they had to randomly pick 5. I told the recruiter I didn't care what the answer was, I just wanted the answer so I could gage quality, thought process, and separate the wheat from the chaff. To my amazement, some of the recruiters refused; they outright wouldn't do it.

It made me understand that their process was simple, match a keyword then send a 'qualified' candidate to me. If a resume had the word 'computer' on it and the word 'computer', regardless of context, was in the job req, they were a potential candidate. Some of the recruiters agreed but wouldn't provide me the answers. Supposedly, and this wasn't isolated to a single recruiter, they asked the candidate the question and the recruiter deemed the question 'correct' and passed me the candidate's info. That I just don't get; how is it you expect me to pay you for not only not following the instructions but somehow evaluating the candidates answer as correct when the answer wasn't provided? I did have one recruiter try to convince me that he had his "technical person" answer all the questions for him so he knew what the correct answers were.

Beyond that, I was only submitted a small handful of candidates and though they were adequate and skilled, they weren't a good fit for this position. That may be splitting hairs but I still put that back on the recruiting agency. Just because someone is 'close' or maybe even lists a skill on their resume or CV doesn't make them the right fit, hell I would have even hired (2) 100k candidates if I could split the role so it was all covered! I discussed that with some recruiters but it didn't seem to resonate; perhaps that somehow translates to twice as much work or half as much commission, I'm not sure. At the end of the day, I have work to do and I need help to do it! I ended up phone interviewing less than 10 potentials and had 4 face to face interviews. After all of that, I never hired and I begrudgingly outsourced the work. I was frustrated with the candidate pool, the ill-response of the recruiters, the length of time, contracts, rules, BS; I just had it. Some recruiters require exclusivity agreements; I think these are a waste of time. Recruiting to me is a gladiatorial event; they who deliver the best candidate wins.

Occluding the competition only hurts the hiring organization. In defense of these agreements the same recruiters are also getting 'exclusive rights' to a candidate. If the perfect candidate exists and someone has them under some sort of representation contract and the placement agreement isn't between that recruiting agency and me; I can't hire that person. I still fail to understand how that helps anyone in any way what-so-ever other than filling the recruiters coffers. It obscures the candidate, it occludes the hiring organization, it lengthens the process and it throws the job market off kilter (by keeping some positions open longer than is necessary and keeping others populated longer than necessary which cannot in turn by filled by some other employed or unemployed candidate in a ridiculous chain)

About a 1 1/2 year ago I was an employed candidate looking to make a change.

All in all it is almost impossible to get a response from a recruiter today. If you are not looked at as the next greatest thing or a good fit for a high value opening you'll most likely get the silent treatment. I have watched the responsiveness dwindle over the past 20 years though I can't claim to know what it should correctly be. More than 15 years ago I applied to jobs, mainly with a paper resume mail through the post office, as any typical correspondence. Very often, even if I was contacted by telephone, I received a letter, very likely a form letter but a letter none the less, through the mail with the typical and expected '...thank you for applying...'. Ten years ago I would apply via email and posted letter and most likely I'd receive a response and often even if I was to get an electronic response I'd still see a mailed response often, though I found the trend was to mail a postcard '...thank you for applying...' Between then and now I haven't sent very many resumes through the carrier mail. With the boom of e-mail, job boards and recruiters becoming much more technologically savvy the preference has been set to electronic application or submission through email.

This is not only very convenient for the recruiting organization but for the applicant as well. However, with that I have observed the dwindling courtesy of a response. Most often, regardless of applying through a corporate job site, a public job board or email in response to an ad seen, you will not get a '...thank you for applying...' message of any type. Perhaps, I would guess, that recruiters believe the confirmation message you get from Careerbuilder, Monsterboard or any other of the thousands of Internet job boards is sufficient; from my perspective it is not.

Simply the degree of separation leaves plenty of doubt. Just because Careerbuilder notifies me that I have 'sucessfully applied' does not mean that the recruiter received the application. Neither does it mean that my resume or cover letter was attached, properly or at all, or that I am in the running for the position compared to the rest of the pool of applicants. Radio silence is the norm now. I also find it a bit unsavory that a recruiter will turn you away if you have 'ever applied for a position with that company before' This is something else I understand and to me it comes down to greed - but I'm not a recruiter, and I think it should get sorted out. From a candidate's perspective, even if they applied for the exact same position on line as the one they are talking to a(or any) recruiter about, candidates are told that more touch points are better and the human interaction & personable recommendation from the recruiter to the hiring organization seems like a good thing. Essentially candidates are being forced to put all their eggs in one basket very often. If you're unemployed, I am not sure that would be a tactic you'd put a lot of faith in; couple that with the mismanagement you'll probably get from the recruiter and your children will go hungry for a long time.

Here is an illustration that should illuminate how far we've slid. I'm a mason and not just the vanilla, lowest level 3rd Degree Mason, I'm a 5th generation, 32nd Degree Mason. Mason's, among other things, believe in a sense of philanthropy and fraternity and we preach that we should treat other mason's as 'better men'. We hold each other to a higher standard than non-masons and we believe we should act in a manner that should be exemplified by all mankind; regardless of truth or opinion of the organization - that is a delivered message.

Mason's have a retirement community here in Pennsylvania in Elizabethtown, it's where retired and aging masons go to be comfortable and be around others of a like mindset. Elizabethtown advertised an open position for CTO to which I applied. I don't live far away, I am qualified as far as the job description and when I applied I played up the fact that I am a higher degree, highly involved, 5th generation mason. That's the equivalent of applying to a job at Harvard as a legacy alumni of 5 generations yourself and your Harvard Alumni lineage were all on various business development committees at the school, I'd estimate. Not only did I not get the job or even brought in for an interview, I wasn't contacted at all. It baffles me to this very moment but it's true. To try and describe the conflicting messages here ires me completely.

Another issue that is perceived as universally common today is the thoughtless petitioning of candidates for positions they're not appropriate for. This is wide spread and I am wholeheartedly sure that if you ask anyone who has applied for a job or posted their resume through a public job board they will describe a similar experience. I'm a Certified SAP Technology Consultant. I've amassed experience through the years working with or on SAP, I took some exams, I got a piece of paper. I am not, however, an SAP programmer of any sort.

My SAP expertise is in a very specific part of SAP technology and for those of us that know about SAP understand that there are many and they can be as broad in some areas as narrow in others. However, because I have SAP on my resume, and whether it because I have it listed under professional experience or certifications, I get calls and emails weekly concerning positions in areas of SAP that I am nowhere near qualified for. Very often the email reads similar to:

"...I came across your resume and I have a consulting opportunity for an experienced SAP ABAP developer that's a perfect fit for you..."

I have no idea how that is possible. I'm not an ABAP developer nor have I ever been. I know as much about ABAP as I do speaking Aramaic (which is that I know it's a language that I don't know) and no where on any profile will you find that listed as a skill of mine. You will also not find any desire of mine for consulting work. I'm not a consultant, I'm not looking for consulting work I don't know ABAP, or SAP FI or SAP HR or anything else not listed on my resume and I won't claim to either.

If you are recruiting for this position, you should have an understanding of what these things are and how they apply to recruitment. It's like recruiting a valet as a pastry chef because he once worked for a restaurant or asking someone who makes dog leashes to be the CEO of a public zoo because they both 'have something to do with animals'. Maybe like claiming I'm a recruiter because I've posted my resume on line...

On the Candidate side my peers and I recognize these commonalities in the general quality of recruiters seeking to place you as a candidate:

  • Recruiters send smatterings of jobs at candidate without actually matching up skills
  • Recruiters don't call back any more; you have to chase them
  • Recruiters have terrible follow up skills
  • Seemingly using the shot gun methodology of placing candidates
  • Many think that they can place for any position in any industry
  • Will use you to make money with no benefit to you. They get paid for placement but you get nothing for it. They take your referrals to make money and don't share
  • Don't represent a candidate any longer, they represent a virtual black book
  • Are not helpful tuning or tailoring the candidate
  • If they don't get what they want or demand they move away from you but 'keep you on file'

Today I am a hiring manager trying to fill seats on my IT team at a smaller company.

I have been trying to work with recruiters and agencies to fill a couple of positions. I'm surprised how difficult it is in today's economy, when IT workers are crying the employment blues, to hire someone. It surprises me that when I contact regular staffing agencies I can't get a candidate. I contacted a very prominent temporary technology staffing firm, a company I have been working with for nearly a decade, and they told me they had none one available for me for either temp or temp-to-hire. I have no comprehension of how that is even possible. Most recently I spoke to three recruiters. One turned me away as they were 'too busy' (Wha!?!?). The second told me that they didn't work in the IT space, which is fair, and referred me to the third. My interaction with this third recruiter was very disappointing. I understand placement fees, I'm not a big fan of them in the state they are today, but I'm not against paying them. This recruiter has a standard placement fee of 25%, I was able (ha!) to get him down to 20% but I think that high for a generic, non-executive placement.

If I am hiring a $50k/yr Jr. Programmer a $10k fee does not seem a reasonable percentage to me, but that's me. I explained to this recruiter that I had a finite budget: $50k and that's it, not a penny more. The recruiter insists on a face to face visit - not what I need but it's acceptable if he's to use it as a recruiting tool. When he's at my office I get the sales pitch and he peddles for more business in other departments. I explain to him that we have a large call center and if he helps me find a good candidate and the experience is positive I'd introduce him to that hiring manager.

He leaves and sends me one, that's right - a single resume with the asking salary of $50k, of someone they have ready to start immediately. At this point I contact the recruiter and explain, again, I don't have $50k + his 20%, I have $50k. He asks if I can use part of that for his fee. While thinking to myself that I already explain this to him, I say yes. He later contacts me with the same single resume, now with a salary of $42k. It churned my stomach that he immediately took the cut out of the unemployed work's salary at the full 20% rather than trying to work something amicable out. I agree and the recruiter sets up a face-to-face interview; not a phone screen, not a phone interview, a face to face. Perhaps this is how smaller companies work and I have a larger company hiring mentality.

The candidate arrives, a hour+ late and COMPLETELY flubs the interview. This person didn't even have enough skill to pass for a programmer of ~2yr experience, which was the requirement; almost to the point that I am not sure if they had programmed at all. After the interview I provide feedback to the recruiter and it is obvious to me that this was blind from every respect. The candidate applied to a different listing the recruiting agency had on line and didn't get that position. The agency kept the candidate on file, did a keyword match to my description and sent them over for a face-to-face. The candidate wasn't screened, wasn't prepared and, get this, didn't even know what the recruiter's name was as they had never actually spoken. Now, if that's the case I am not sure what 20% pays for; I was expecting it covered some sort of effort.

Later that same day the recruiter again sends me a single resume and asks when I would be interested in interviewing. I tell them that I need a week to review it. Then it's radio silence for almost 2 weeks when I get another email requesting the face-to-face interview. At this point I am frustrated and I tell the recruiter I am no longer interested. I just fail to see the value added in that scenario. I put in all the work and the recruiter gets a 20 or 25% commission

On the Hiring manager side, my peers and I would categorize all placement recruiters we have dealt with as such:

  • Looking to chiefly to get money off or from you and nothing else
  • Losing the art of networking, becoming more annoying than helpful
  • Aren't willing to put real effort into placement, it has to be easy for them
  • Fees are unreasonably high compared to the market or candidate pool today
  • Are becoming combative or not cooperative when it comes to placement
  • If they don't get what they want or demand they move away from you

So, with all my ranting and raving that doesn't go to say that there aren't quality recruiters out there. I am positive that there is quality out there and I am not insinuating that the recruiting industry, as a whole, is broken. These are, however, my honest experiences and though they may be raw, gritty and opinionated, everything I described is real and actually happened or is happening and is agreed by my peers. Perhaps my words in the beginning are harsh and biased but they are my side of the story none the less. With the high unemployment rate there is no shortage of opinions or stories about the interaction of public or corporate recruiters.

The candidate pool is vast and I believe that it has beget a community of unqualified recruiters trying to make a quick buck. If I had to weight it, somewhere between 75 and 85% are less than quality. At that rate it makes sense why I haven't recently met one I respect or would recommend to a peer.



About the Author

With 10 years in the US Army under his belt the article's author has worked in the public sector for 15 years for large public and small private companies in the verticals of technology and manufacturing. The author writes from a position of holding the offices of CTO and SR. Director for a Fortune 100 company as well as a job seeker searching to find positions over the past 15 years ranging from exiting the military to senior executive placement.

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