The Right and the Wrong Kind of Recruiters

Maybe it’s hiring season, but I had a particularly bad day today fending off tech recruiters.

I count:

  • 4 LinkedIn requests
  • 2 random emails[1]
  • 23 unsolicited cold calls

Sadly, the increasing volume of spam no longer even constitutes as humblebragging; when non-existent engineers get enough attention to produce some pretty interesting analysis.

From an engineer’s perspective, there are two types of recruiters: company onsite, and position-based contract. I’ve found those recruiters employed by the company, full-time to be the most pleasant to work with; they provide unique information and context about their employers and are up front about expectations. In sourcing, interviewing, and dealing with the logistics of getting new hires through the door, I can validate that good company recruiters care about prospective hires, that a good relationship can pay for itself across companies for both sides.

Conversely, I’m struggling to ratify the value add that contract, position-based offsite recruiters are supposed to provide. I would have thought that proactive, flesh-and-blood, attractive loudspeakers for fledging companies would have been replaced by pure software solutions by now[2], but professional staffing firms coexist with job boards and career sites. Despite the high turnover, the industry seems to be doing great.

The cynical part of me thinks that the survival of the volume recruiter rests on similar principles as email spam. (they do call it LinkedIn recruiter spam, for good reason) One technique that I posit is the idea that an introduction is so sloppy, so riddled with cliches, grammatical errors and faux warmth, that it was explicitly designed to weed out candidates who wouldn’t want the job anyway. Like email spam, the small number of people who do end up responding are about right about for the position, and so the recruiter can concentrate on closing those who’d realistically take the job; they reap what they sow.

I also wonder about the thinking behind asking for referrals. These requests are asking someone – who the recruiter does not have a relationship with – to give up their friends and acquaintances, typically for free, so the recruiter can pitch them and hopefully pocket the five-figure placement fee for landing a hire. The recruiter is literally asking me to throw people who I do have a relationship with, who I couldn’t convince to join my company, onto a job opening I myself did not bother with.

Given the impersonal treatment I’ve been shown in mass emails, I’m beginning to think that the best course of action is to refer people I don’t like.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. One deserves a special mention: the recruiter guesses my work email at Square to pitch his startup, one poised to be the next…Instagram.
  2. Particularly the ones who get laughably cagey about which companies they’re representing, as if the software engineering candidates they’re sourcing are incapable of Googling.