Signs of Triviality

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(Some) Recruiters are People, too!

Clueless recruiterRecruiters don't have a particularly good reputation in the tech industry. Turns out, not only are not 100% of them use- and careless, but a skilled recruiter may actually be able to help you find an actual job - who'd have thought?

Like most most people in my field of work, I regularly receive emails from recruiters. They range from the entirely inane ("Looking for somebody to teach CCNA and MS Excel classes, willing to pay top-$$$, up to $40/h!!") to the useless ("My client located in Dallas, TX is in need of 5 Java developers / DBAs."). Examples like the previous are from obviously lazy individuals who just cast a particularly wide net. More likely, they are completely automated responses to bots trolling LinkedIn etc. and responding to keywords with no human element in between.

Other wonderful examples of recruiting facepalm include "I found your resume on the internet. [...] Please send me your resume in MS Word format." (if you read my resume, you wouldn't need me to send it to you; also, you'd get an idea that MS Word might not be the best choice of format for me) and "Would you or anyone you know be interested?" (Why yes, I'd gladly do your job for you and troll my network for that DBA opportunity in Texas.).

Throughout the years I've received my fair share of these, and dutifully deleted them one by one. Every once in a while, I'd also receive inquiries from recruiters directly employed by a given company, and those were, generally speaking, slightly better attempts. However, even there it was obvious that not a whole lot of attention was given to the idea of actually reading a candidate's resume or profile versus skimming it for keywords. All too often I got approached for openings that only remotely matched my skill set or interests. However, depending on the company, such recruiters actually receive a response from me. Sometimes even a friendly one!

Imagine my surprise when I was contacted by a recruiter for an independent staffing firm who -- gasp! -- actually had read my resume! Her email noted a few things on my profile that caught her interest and listed not specific jobs but rather companies she worked with and technologies and areas of expertise they are hiring for. So I figured "What the heck." and replied, agreeing to a phone conversation to discuss any possible opportunities she might have.

Having "looked around" without really job searching actively for a few months, I had already come to the conclusion that this time around my job search would be rather different than 6 years ago. Back then, I was able to find plenty of openings that seemed suitable, and my interview approach was mostly to convince whoever I applied with that I'd be good enough for the job. Now, I wanted not so much apply for a job as interview a company to see if it would be a good fit for me.

This time, however, things were a bit different. It turned out quite difficult to find a job description for the position that I was looking for: jobs offered were either too junior, or went into a direction that I didn't care to make my main professional focus. Nor did I want to be pigeon holed into a specific job just because I had had that title in the past.

Snoopy applied for
the wrong jobYou know how every single company in the world claims to look for "rock stars", only "hire the best" and that they will "create" a job for the right candidate if the position they are hiring for is not a good match? Yeah, that's bullshit. It just doesn't work that way. We used to say that at Yahoo!, too, and I don't think I've seen this actually be done once.

The reason is that candidates usually apply for a specific position. Companies and departments have budgets. They have job openings for these very specific positions that they need to fill. If you're not the right candidate for that particular job, they have to make a decision: if they want to hire you, they have to change the job description and then lose the slot they had for the position they still need somebody for. Alternatively, they can pass your resume over to the other department where they think you might be a better fit, but since you applied for the first job, odds are that you won't be a perfect fit there, either.

Small companies might be able to do this, but they still have the problem of advertising for a specific job with a specific skill set and actually finding people for that position and then having to hire yet another person. Budgeting at a small company will likely play against you once more.

(Note that if a friend at a company refers you internally with a "Hey, this guy is looking, hire him.", chances are you actually can get what you're looking for. The trick is not to apply for a posted position that's not a good match for you and hope you can convince them to create a new one for you.)

Aaaaanyway. I'd come to the realization that finding the perfect job description for me -- or even a reasonably desirable one -- would not be easy and require significant effort and, more valuable to me, time. So my thinking was that I could flip this around and have somebody else find the job for me, based on my skills, my experience and, most importantly where I want to go, what I want to do in the future. It's a platitude to describe the interview process as not only you applying for a job but also as you finding out if the company is right for you. But I distinctly felt that this time around this was entirely the case.

And so I decided to talk to this recruiter. We talked for a while, and I described where I was coming from and where I wanted to go professionally, what personal restrictions I have, what kind of job and company I would want to work in etc. etc. She then put me in touch with companies that seemed to match. Sometimes there was a distinct position, but frequently there was not a specific job opening the company had. In other words, she was able to get me "in the door" without me applying for a specific opening.

I interviewed a lot. As it turns out, NYC has a rather thriving startup scene -- I had explicitly excluded large companies from my search -- and for every interview, my recruiter would handle the setup, tell me who I was going to talk to, send me the LinkedIn profiles of the people I would talk to and afterwards get their feedback as well as get my feedback on them. She would make sure that I felt I was getting to know them as much as they me.

Another notable advantage of going through a recruiter was that my salary expectations were already made clear. That is, the recruiter knew what I was looking for and whether or not the company in question would be willing to offer as much. This avoids the awkward part of the interview process where you've invested several hours or days of your time and energy before you do the "let's talk compensation" dance only to find out they are not even in your desired ball park. All discussions surrounding money were done by proxy.

Finding the right recruiter isn't easy.After three months and quite a few interviews with many companies, I have to say that my recruiter did a fantastic job and I appreciated her help all the way. I wasn't the easiest candidate to place, I'm sure, and I can only imagine the frustration when I turned down in the last minute an offer that she had managed to get raised from the initial proposal. It was a good offer, but it just didn't feel right, and I walked away. I'm sure she cursed my name, but she remained supportive and was immediately ready to start talking with other companies.

So here was a recruiter who actually helped me get a job that fit me, who didn't push me to accept something that I wasn't comfortable with, who helped prepare me before the interviews and followed up afterwards, who made sure that I was comfortable with the people and the companies I talked to. She was understanding that I had other opportunities outside the ones she presented to me and helped hold out a company after they made an offer to let me wait for another one and give me time to weigh the offers against each other. As it turns out, recruiters can be incredibly helpful -- you just need to find the right one.

January 9, 2012

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