Monday, 19 December 2011

Assessing a Company: Questions you need to ask in an Interview

The following is a guest post I composed for the recent InterviewStreet CodeSprint 2

How to find the right company for you

Applying for jobs is easy. Anyone with an email account can fire off a resume to a company. What I want to cover is how to find a company that offers more than just a job, a company that will offer you a career where you will feel comfortable and valued. Unfortunately every company thinks they are a great company to work for but we all know that the reality is very different indeed.

The first step is research. This may seem obvious but research goes far beyond reading their ‘About Us’ page on their generic corporate website. Job specs give a surprisingly accurate insight into how a company operates. Take a look at some of the positions they are advertising, regardless of how relevant they are to you and you will find that the language used in the job spec can tell a lot more beyond duties & responsibilities. Some people enjoying being a small cog in a massive corporate machine and if the job spec is littered with words and phrases like ‘Proactive listener’ and ‘blue-sky thinker’ then you are on to a winner. Few people fall into this bracket and if you are reading this post then there is a strong likelihood that phrases like ‘blue-sky thinker’ make you want to punch your monitor. If you are the hacker type or simply someone who is truly passionate about technology then you need to avoid generic sounding job specs. If a company hires intelligent Developers then the spec should and will be written with Developers in mind and not a generic audience. If the job spec appears quite formal but is heavy on technical detail then chances are you are looking at a spec written by a Technical Director or CTO that remained untouched by the grimy, generic hands of Human Resources.

There is a trend, primarily among start-up’s to make job descriptions fun & edgy. I’m personally not a fan of the approach but what you find, more often than not, is that in these circumstances the organisation are trying to reflect their office culture and attitude in the most obvious way possible. If, on the day of the interview, you are dodging nerf missiles and being interviewed over a game of foosball then chances are the original job spec had less ‘blue-sky thinking’ and more ‘we build cool shit because all the competition build terrible shit’.

Whilst the latter organisation may sound significantly more appealing, if you are incredibly focused, not particularly out-going and have a clear career path you want to follow then in the long run you may see more benefit from a more corporate structure.

Interview time: What are they hiding?

There is a single piece of advice that I tell people over and over again and I sincerely can’t emphasise the point enough. People naturally assume that an interview is an opportunity for an employer to assess the suitability of a candidate for a job opening they may have and they are right, well, they are 50% right. An interview is designed to also provide the candidate an opportunity to assess the companies’ suitability for them and what they want from an employer. Employers know this, human resource personnel know this, recruiters know this, but far too few job applicants know this. Employers both want and expect you to ask questions during an interview. They want to sit in front of an applicant who makes the effort to learn more about the company as they want to feel like this individual is making the effort to learn everything they need to know in order to make an informed and appropriate choice if they are offered the job. There are two clear motivations for this, firstly, an applicant who digs deep during an interview to find out the nitty gritty of the company is less likely to turn around in three months and quit as the role didn’t live up to their expectations and secondly, the person who asks lots of questions is someone showing a legitimate interest in the business and not simply someone just interested in getting a job.

During an interview, a seasoned employer will do his or her best to find out all the things you haven’t included on your resume. It’s their job to scrutinise every date and every detail to ensure your resume is an accurate and reasonable representation of your skills and experience. Beyond experience they are also trying to get an idea of what kind of person you are as more and more unsuccessful candidates are hearing ‘you weren’t the right culture fit’ as the office culture is proving to be a key driver in motivation and staff retention. They don’t want to spoil it by hiring a socially awkward penguin into a team of insanity wolves or vice versa.

Question time

When was the last time you sat in an interview and the employer said ‘the reason we are hiring is because we treat our staff like shit, they get fed up and they quit’?

Every employer will sit in an interview and try and sell you their company. They want to ensure that you feel like this is a company everyone wants to work for as that makes life significantly easier when it comes to salary negotiations should you get offered the job.

Whilst it’s important to focus on your suitability for the job, never ever shy away from asking what can appear to be difficult and direct questions. The following are some examples which will help you figure out what skeletons, if any, are hidden in their closet:

Why are you currently recruiting for this position?

The answer to this will open discussions about current projects or maybe staff that have jumped ship.

How long has the longest serving member of staff (not management) been working for you?

This is more of a bridge question but if the company is only 4 years old and half the team have been with them since day 1 then you are looking at a company who have developed a great culture from the word go.

What’s the average tenure for your staff?

This is much easier to ask if it follows the last question. Keep in mind that the average tenure with most companies is less than 5 years. The only time you should be concerned about the answer to this is if they are talking in months instead of years and again, that is on the assumption that the company have been around for more than a few years.

What are the biggest challenges your team are facing right now?

This is a broad question and it’s designed that way intentionally. Some employers will talk about key technical challenges that maybe are relevant to the position you applied for, others will talk about deadline issues or budgetary issues that are impacting the progress of a project or product. The latter is one you need to pay attention to. If the teams biggest issue is strict deadlines then it will be worth investigating that area a bit further.

What technologies/languages would you like to see your team adapt to that aren’t currently being utilised?

If you are passionate about technology and the employer is one who shares that passion then this is a killer question. They will start talking about new technology that you may not have even heard of. Make notes, do your research and should you get the job, you have a sneak peak at what language you should be learning next in order to impress those that pay your wages.

Few companies, if any, are 100% satisfied with the way their business is operating. If you could simply flick a switch to fix it, what one thing would you change?

Most companies are relatively happy with how they operate but I have yet to see a single company that is 100% satisfied with how they work. The change may only be slight but again, it gives you a direct insight into what annoys or worries the person you will be working for.

If you struggle to fill the position I have applied for, what impact would that have on the business?

That last question is one of my personal favourites. The answer will get you a direct insight into how crucial your role is in their company. You’ll find that some employers will be quite apathetic in their answer which could lead to the impression that maybe your role isn’t considered to be particularly important whereas some employers will wax lyrical about how the company/project will be doomed if they don’t find the right person soon. They are either exaggerating or else you are about to take on an incredibly pressurised and crucial role.

When you do ask a question in an interview, stop talking. Ask your question and simply stay silent. It can be all too tempting to ramble on to fill an awkward gap but if you have asked the question, the onus is on the employer to fill that gap.

Don’t be afraid to take notes in an interview (with a pen & paper, don’t break out your Macbook Pro or iPad) but make sure to ask at the beginning of the interview if they are ok with you taking notes throughout the interview. Most employers won’t object but permission is essential as otherwise it appears rude. If you are taking notes, make them short and snappy and don’t sit in silence composing a sonnet when you should be asking your next question or elaborating on a question asked of you.


You got your foot in the door and you managed to get face time with people in a position to make a decision. That’s the hard part. From here, it’s almost entirely out of your hands. One point I need you to keep in mind; always, always ask for feedback. Even if you aren’t successful in being offered the job, pick up the phone and ask them why. Don’t be confrontational or defensive. Simply ask those responsible why you weren’t selected on this occasion and what areas you can work on to improve your chances further down the line. Regardless of whether you agree with the feedback or not is irrelevant. If you left them with an impression you don’t agree with, the fact of the matter is you did leave them with that impression so you simply need to figure out how to make the same mistakes next time round.

If you are fortunate enough to be offered a job with a company that truly excites you, don’t let them take advantage of your relatively inexperienced situation. If you are being offered a salary far below your level of expectation, tell them. Tell them that as keen as you are to join their organisation, you are also as keen to feel like your experience and abilities are being valued and ask them if they can re-assess the salary offer. If the answer is a flat ‘no’ then inform them you will need 48 hours to consider your position. Give it serious thought. If you join on a low salary, are you going to be motivated enough to make an impact? If the honest answer is no, then tell them exactly that and inform them that at this point you would prefer to consider other options and thank them for considering you. Sounds crazy right? Never, ever take a job because you need the money, unless of course you and your family are facing eviction from your home and you aren’t sure where your next meal is coming from!

If you take a job simply because you need the money then you are compromising and that compromise will impact your resume, career choices further down the line and most importantly, your confidence. Would you marry someone simply because you’re lonely? Inevitably you will spend more than half your waking hours every week at work including commuting time. As uncomfortable as I am with the situation, the reality is that I currently spend more time with the people I work with than my family at home so why would you or I ever spend that much time in a job that doesn’t sit right with you. A career is an intimidating and complex animal. Be patient and think about what makes you happy. Good luck.

Monday, 19 September 2011

How to find a job for Hackers

The advice I'm about to impart won't work for everyone but if you are an above average developer (or at least think you are) then the following advice will work. There are a few fundamental facts that we need to address first:
  • When you first start looking for work do not upload your CV/resume to jobsites unless you want to be harrassed by average recruiters promising you the world and rarely delivering.
  • Put some effort in. You are looking for someone to pay you tens of thousands of pounds/dollars a year, don't go about it half-arsed. Put effort into your CV, put effort into researching the company prior to interview and put effort into your appearance.
  • Research. No-ones knows better than you about what job would suit you best. Despite the recent recession there are a massive amount of opportunities out there if you are willing to invest time and effort into looking for them.

There are a huge number of myths surrounding the 'Golden Rules' of CV/resume writing, most of which are perpetrated by corporate HR professionals who are too self-absorbed and process driven to care about creativity and personality.
If you are a hacker or simply one who loves to build stuff, chances are you won't be interested in working for a huge conglomerate where a perpetual battle with HR drains your soul before you even reach the interview stages, if you are looking for work with a major corporate then this blog isn't for you.

Do not limit your CV to one page. If your experience spans more than 3 years or more than 3 jobs then you need details and it's madness to limit yourself to one page in this situation. The reason for the '1 page rule' is down to HR laziness. They generally can't be bothered to read the detail on your CV and mostly just want a snapshot of your experience as well as a few keywords that match the job spec sitting in front of them. Most start-ups or relatively new businesses don't have a HR department and appreciate relevant and interesting detail which leads me to my next point.

If you see a job that sounds perfect for you, do your research. Look up the company on their website, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc and find out the relevant hiring managers name. In most cases you are looking for a CTO, Technical Director or Lead Developer. Once you think you have the appropriate person, send them your CV directly quoting the job title in the subject.

Put some time and effort into writing a brief but relevant cover letter. Don't include it as an email attachment; write it in the body of the email. Tell them who you are, tell them briefly why you want to apply for the role advertised and give them some bullet points on the key areas of your experience, a snapshot of your resume if you will. Don't forget to attach your resume. You would be amazed how many people forget. Never, ever include a stock cover letter. Make it relevant to the role and the company you are applying to.

Back to your CV. If you are a developer and you don't have a GitHub repo, get working on one. Even if it only contains basic examples of your coding ability, it all counts. The best hiring managers are the ones who know what GitHub is for a start and more often than not they will shortlist those candidates whose code they can see before inviting them for interview as it gives them an instant impression of your ability.
There is a large trend towards LaTeX CV's lately and that's great, I can't encourage them enough. The advice I would give you however is to send your CV as a Word or PDF document and include a link to your LaTeX version. LaTex may be cool on Hacker News and stack overflow but not everyone knows what it is.
If you don't have a personal website and you are in the business of building websites, make one. Don't think about it, just do it. Even if the only content is your name & contact details along with links to your CV, GitHub, LinkedIn, etc, it's simply worth it to have your own personal domain for email purposes. I've seen hiring managers delete applications off hand simply because the candidate had an AOL email address. Seriously. I'm not excusing it, I'm simply telling you it happens.

Reading your CV from the point of the hiring manager should be easy and interesting. The text should be black & white and the formatting should be a uniform font. If you must mix up the fonts, keep it sans-serif and use sparingly. Your name & contact details including email, mobile, website & GitHub should be at the top followed by a very brief statement about you and the type of work you are looking for. This should be immediately followed by your work experience in descending order starting with the most recent. After your work details include your educational background and any relevant qualifications and certifications. At this point I always recommend including a list of the technology you have experience with including the number of years/months of experience. Never put reference details at the end of your resume. Recruiters WILL use this info to take references on your behalf without your permission with the intention of gaining an 'in' with a new company. Your old boss will hate you. Instead a simple line stating 'References available upon request' is more than appropriate.

Now you have perfected your CV, where do you find these elusive jobs? Ignoring job boards completely (I assume you already know how to use these), GitHub & Hacker News have a fantastic monthly announcement listing current vacancies directly from the employer. If the company are clued in enough to advertise their roles through these mediums then chances are they are a decent company who understand their target market as far as potential employees are concerned. Think about it, would you rather work alongside a team of developers recruited through or a team recruited through the monthly 'Who's Hiring?' posts on Hacker News? I know which one I'd prefer. Stack Overflow is also a useful resource. Get involved with the community, answer questions and frequent the job board. Build a reputation for yourself and eventually you will get noticed.

Despite the abundance of Beliebers, Twitter is becoming an increasingly useful tool. Connect it to your GitHub and follow everyone you find interesting through the mediums mentioned in the previous paragraph. Tweet regularly but instead of telling us what you had for breakfast, tell us about the latest development on your cool new web app. Hashtags are useful and if you are writing something in Ruby tell the world but ensure to add the #ruby hashtag so people can find your tweet. When you have a decent following, announce the fact that you are looking for work and ask your followers to retweet you.

Everyone is talking about LinkedIn and most of it is hype. For every Rubyist I come across on LinkedIn there are at least a few dozen recruiters. Recruiters know and abuse every trick in the book to connect with you on LinkedIn and at this point it has become more of a meat-market than a viable resource for finding work. That being said, it doesn't hurt to build a profile however I can't emphasise enough how stringent you need to be with your LinkedIn security settings. Hide your contacts and if you don't want to be inundated with Recruiters offering you opportunities at 'The next Google' then say so in your LinkedIn summary. Better yet, change your settings so the only people who can send you a LinkedIn connection request are those who know your email address.

If you've ticked all the boxes mentioned above then you are doing everything right. If you are still struggling to find work and you don't understand why, start making phone calls. Contact the organisations you applied to that have rejected you and ask them for frank and honest feedback. Explain that you simply wish to get clarity on what you could be doing better to improve your chances of finding work down the line and you will be surprised how many people will be truthful & helpful. The adage about never receiving constructive feedback applies mainly to big corporates and shoddy recruiters and I have always found that smaller, decent organisations are more than happy to give clear feedback. If you don't agree with the feedback, instead of arguing the point work out why they were left with that impression or what you could do different the next time to prevent leaving the same impression. Honest criticism can be difficult to stomach, more so when you are looking for work as you already feel vulnerable but decent criticism is priceless and every bit of feedback will help you to adapt so that the next time you apply for a job you will know what pitfalls to avoid.

Final bit of advice: Keep knocking on doors. Make every application personal and don’t lose faith.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

All that is wrong with the Recruitment Industry

Money & greed. It really is that simple.
Let's break it down to bare basics. A Recruitment Consultant should be an individual that helps speed up the recruitment process and take a significant workload of your plate. The better Consultants should be well connected and be able to provide you access to strong candidates that would be otherwise impossible to gain access to. The consultant should be transparent, honest and most importantly, non-intrusive. The way the model should work is that you will elicit the services of a consultant, fill them in on your current recruitment needs and the areas you have been struggling with, agree on a defined timeframe and budget, and then let them work their magic whilst you get back to doing what you do best.
If you currently engage a recruiter and they fit the description of the above to the letter then congratulations. What you have found is an individual rarer than a quark.

One thing that is unanimously agreed about utilising a recruiter is that it is incredibly expensive. I'm not going to waste my time trying to justify the costs, we all know it's expensive and I'll address the reasons why later.
Here's the bottom line: If you engage a recruiter to source an employee who will cost you an annual salary of £50k then in all likelihood you will end up paying said recruiter anywhere between £5k and £15k depending on what agency you engage. That's a lot of money for an introduction.
The significant sums of money involved have caused a drastic shift in how recruitment companies approach their clients. Most have abandoned the mature, well informed consultative approach and instead replaced it with a high volume, sales orientated approach. If you were to walk the floor of any decent agency it would feel like you stepped on to a trading floor in the heart of Wall Street. You will be surrounded by young, sharp salesmen & women with phones glued to their ear whilst admin staff run around frantically processing CV's & contracts and when you leave, your ears will be ringing from the intense volume of people shouting frantic orders to their support teams. Those that own and run recruitment companies know that the consultative approach gains them respect however the sales approach pays the bills.

There are a number of reasons clients get a dozen calls a day from recruiters. It's generally the same reason job-seekers get calls from recruiters who haven't taken time to have a proper look at the CV. Targets. Most recruiters are heavily targeted to the point where they have to speak to at least 10-20 potential hiring managers and 10-20 job-seekers every single day.
The old adage stills rings true in this industry, 'It's a numbers game'. If you speak to enough people, someone will eventually listen to you. When I first started in the recruitment game I was a victim of a heavily targeted environment. My bosses couldn't care less about how much trust & respect I've built up with potential clients, the fact of the matter was if I hadn't spoken to 15 different hiring managers before close of business then I was in trouble. I made great money with that employer but I hated every minute of it. I had to sacrifice my dignity in order to generate business and I was calling CTO's & lead developers and pissing them off simply because they didn't have the time to speak to another recruiter and I would then have to insist why it was worth their while talking to me specifically which generally only enraged them even more. I used to be a developer. I used to work for these people, I know how busy they are and I know how often they got pestered by people just like me and like I said, I hated it. So why stick with it you may ask. Refer to the first line of this post. Money & greed. I soon discovered that if I was willing to sacrifice dignity and allow the abuse and hatred to roll off my back, I will eventually speak to people who are in desperate need to hire new staff. If I fill those roles, I fill my own pockets with commission. There was zero monetary incentive for me to build a relationship of trust & respect, the short term gain was far more appealing. Every single one of my colleagues felt the same. We were all hired because we stated that money was what made us get out of bed in the morning.

I blame Hacker News for pushing me over the edge and making me want to take a stand. I got involved in the community originally because, as I mentioned, I used to be a Developer. Deep down in the dark recesses of my slowly withering heart there was still a flame burning for emerging technology and cool, inventive, ambitious start-ups. Tuning into the Hacker News community opened my eyes to the level of disdain for recruiters and like every good hacker, I saw an opportunity. I realised that if the vast majority of the industry is seen as a necessary evil then surely there is a gaping hole for a Recruitment Company or even a lone Recruiter to take a stand, make themselves known and try and build a successful business based primarily on trust and respect. My partner had recently given birth to a very handsome baby boy and it was simply too much of a risk to go out on my own and launch my own business with no solid income given my personal circumstances. I came incredibly close to ditching the recruitment industry when out of the blue I was contacted by an agency that had noticed my activity on Hacker News as well as Twitter & LinkedIn and asked me to come work for them. During the interview I figured I had nothing to lose so I made it impeccably clear that if they wanted me on board I was to be let do things my way. No intense daily or weekly targets and I needed them to trust that I was capable of building a recruitment desk based on the original concept of what a recruitment consultant SHOULD BE. They agreed on one sole condition, that I generate a certain level of business on an annual basis, the bottom line is that they were hiring me to make money but were willing to let me make money my way instead of the 'used car salesman' way.

It's working! As a result of this blog, Hacker News, Twitter, client recommendations and extensive face to face networking, I have reached a point where the majority of my business is based on companies and hiring managers approaching me and asking me to help them out instead of me pestering them on a daily basis trying to convince them I am not another soulless recruiter. This isn't intended to be a self-aggrandising post, my purpose is to highlight the fact that the original recruitment model still works. I have no doubt that there are plenty of other recruiters who take the same approach and I have no doubt that a lot of them are more successful than me but unfortunately the vast majority of recruiters out there are still money-hungry, greedy, self-centred sales people. I can play a very small part in changing that however the readers of the post can play a bigger part. If you encounter the sales driven recruiter then refer to my previous post 'Questions from my experience as a Recruiter on Hacker News' on how to deal with them and still get the job done. If you come across a recruiter who actually knows his Ruby from his Perl, embrace them, recommend them and encourage them to keep fighting the good fight.

The current recruitment model is dying a slow death. The global recession played a large part in eliminating the fly-by-night recruiters and retained those in it for the long haul however there is an underlying feeling within the industry that we are on our last legs. It was my new boss of all people who highlighted the shift. More and more companies are developing internal recruitment teams to tackle the increasing recruitment costs and more companies are reaping the benefits of having a team in-house that know the business inside out and can do an infinitely better job of selling the company to prospective employees than what any 3rd party recruiter could ever do. It takes a lot of initial investment, time & resource to set up in internal team but those that invest the time and effort are now in a position where they very rarely have to engage a 3rd party ever again. Start-ups can't afford this luxury, however I for one have noticed that start-up organisations are becoming more aware of the poor recruitment model and are investing more of their time in learning how to make their recruitment process more efficient. Gone are the days of the dreaded 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years' questions and instead clued in hiring managers are investing time into digging through candidates GitHub repo's and design portfolios and focusing more on treating prospective employees as a fellow human being rather than just another payroll entry. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Questions from 'My experience as a Recruiter on Hacker News'

Off the back of my recent successful post on Hacker News, a number of people, job seekers & employers alike, had questions on how to improve their experience dealing with recruiters. This post is designed to address the most common questions I was asked. I hope you find it useful.

How do I stop the constant calls from recruiters?
This applies mainly to employers but the advice is the same to candidates who experience the same issue.
I have spoken to so many employers who say they receive an average of a dozen calls every single day touting the latest 'Rockstar Developer', god I hate that phrase.
If you employ people then recruiter calls are a fact of life that you will always have to tolerate but there are ways you can make a drastic impact to the number of calls and time wasted every day.
Start making notes. Create a spreadsheet with 'Recruitment Company', 'Recruiter Name' and 'Date' fields. Every time you get a call from a recruiter, stop them in their tracks and obtain the info for those first two elements. Once you have that info, instruct the recruiter to no longer call your business as you do not take unsolicited calls from recruiters and politely end the conversation. When you eventually encounter another recruiter (or possibly even the same recruiter) from a company that is already on the list, stop them and ask to speak to one of their superiors, when put through, politely point out that you had previously requested that you requested to have your company details removed from their books and re-itterate the fact that you don't want them calling you again. At this stage most managers take steps to ensure that you are placed on a 'Do Not Call' list. If the recruiter insists they don't have a superior (a lot are self-employed), highlight your previous request and instruct them directly to ensure you are not called again.
I admit this whole process may seem a little time consuming but I am adamant that in the long run you will spend less and less time having to deal with shoddy recruiters over the phone.

How do I make my CV/resume stand out above the rest?
Portfolios. I don't care if you are a developer or a designer, the fact of the matter is that you create something for a living so show it off. If you are a developer, start using GitHub or similar platforms that allow prospective employers to see examples of your code. Go to Stack Overflow and start answering peoples questions and build a reputation. Be creative but meticulous.
If you are a designer or front-end dev then a portfolio seems obvious but so many portfolios are incredibly basic, some are down-right ugly and a lot are difficult to navigate and comprehend. Ask for feedback on your portfolio at every given opportunity.

What common mistakes should I avoid on my CV/Resume?
To this day I still come across at least one or two CV's a day that contain spelling & grammatical mistakes. Please, don't rush your CV. IF you really want the job, prove it by investing your time into perfecting your CV.
Aesthetics play a big part. Employers want CV's that are easy to read, easy to follow and relatively lightweight. If you are a contractor then no doubt you will have dozens of companies in your employment history. List them clearly and concisely. Something along the lines of the following:

MegaCorp - January 2011 to Present - Python Developer
BlueChip Ltd - June 2010 to January 2011 - Python Developer
DevHouse Inc - March 2010 to June 2010 - Python Developer
Conglomerate & Co - January 2010 to March 2010 - Python Developer

Follow this list with 'Key Achievements/Projects' and this is your time to shine. Highlight the main projects you have been involved in and what part you played. You don't need to quantify every single project you have ever worked on. If an employer wants more info they will ask.
Avoid page borders, use one sans-serif font consistantly throughout the document, leave out company logos and certification logos and stick to one font colour, black.
If you want to highlight your creativity, keep that to your portfolio/website.
DO NOT list references on your CV. The only time you should provide these is when you are at the point where you have already interviewed for the job and they are keen to progress to the next stage.

How do I find a 'good' recruiter?
Hacker News member edw519 sums it up pretty eloquently right here:
Honesty is key. Never, ever consent to a recruiter submitting your details if they haven't disclosed the company name. Most will only do this at the end of the conversation as at that point they will be clear on whether or not your CV is suitable for submission.
If you have the time to meet with the recruiter, take it. Generally a recruiter can sell you to their clients much more effectively if they have met you face to face. If you invest your time in them, more often than not they will invest more of their time and attention in you.

As for employers finding good recruiters to work with, that's a different ball-game.
Referals are great. If you know someone in your industry who has used recruiters, ask them for a recommendation. I can personally guarantee you that if you approach the recruiter saying they came recommended, that recruiter will bend over backwards to try and impress you. If you encounter a decent recruiter, recommend them. Linkedin recommendations are useful currency for recruiters so five minutes of your time drafting a paragraph on your positive experience with that particular recruiter can have a profound impact on their career.
If you are in a situation where you have no choice but to enlist the services of a recruiter, screen them thoroughly. Find out what their technical competencies are, don't try and baffle them with science, give them a chance to be honest with you. Find out what other companies they have placed with and don't be afraid to ask them for references from other companies they have done business with if you plan on using them more than once.

How do I get recruiters to send competent candidates?
The biggest bugbear most people have with our industry is 'buzzword bingo'. Where you give us a requirement and we select key words and use those as the basis for our searches. The only way to counter-act this phenomena is to ensure the recruiter understands the role fully from the word go. Help them understand the more technical elements of the role and make sure to give them a list of what you DON'T want to see as well as what you do want to see. This will save you a whole world of time down the line.
One very effective method that I have witnessed is where the employer implicitly requests to see one CV and one CV only from each recruiter and using that profile to gauge how well the recruiter understands the requirement. Good recruiters will send you a profile that's either extremely close or spot on the mark, request two or three more CV's from these guys. Average recruiters will send you someone who isn't quite right but they appear to have the gist of what you are looking for, inform these people of what you did and more importantly, what you did not like about the CV and request only one more CV from them. Poor recruiters will miss the mark completely, inform these people politely that you no longer wish to see anymore CV's from them.

As I mentioned, the above questions were the most common and popular questions I was asked as a result of my previous post and I sincerely hope you find this information useful. Our industry is riddled with sub-par recruiters and both employers and employees have the ability to affect the methods recruiters use. Good luck and please feel free to email me or comment if you want any further assistance or advice.


Monday, 11 July 2011

My experiences as a Recruiter on Hacker News

Allow me to preface this post with some caveats:
  • I have not, nor ever will attempt to solicit business on Hacker News
  • This is not a 'pity me' post

Here's a little bit of background on me: I studied Software Development in University and worked as a (very average) Developer for a few years and it just simply wasn't for me. I was young and eager to travel and meet new people so I wanted a job that would afford me the luxury and finances to facilitate such a lifestyle so I moved into sales which eventually lead to recruitment and never looked back. My experience as a Developer does provide me with the edge over most people in my industry and I think this is the key to changing the face of Tech Recruitment but I will cover that in my next post.

I discovered Hacker News through Reddit/r/Programming and having seen it mentioned a few times, I took the leap and created a profile under the name KoZeN.
My first impressions were shock & awe. I was blown away by the quality of submissions and I am still perplexed by the almost non-existent presence of trolls and small-minded, ill informed script-kiddies.

Having read the Guidelines & FAQ I tentatively started to contribute my opinions, albeit limited and basic and eventually I discovered a significant air of disdain towards the recruitment industry so now and again I would weigh in with my opinion that we are not all that bad. Most of us are terrible but more on that later.

I eventually hit breaking point and decided to actively try and help the community and maybe even change some peoples perception that we are money hungry, clueless idiots by offering to critique CV's/resumes for people on Hacker News who might potentially be looking for work. In my post I stated categorically that this was not an attempt to harvest CV's or generate leads. My intentions were entirely altruistic and remain so.

Here's the post I am referring to:

Within an hour of posting I had received 22 CV's and within the next 24 hours I received a total of 408 emails and 341 CV's from all sorts of candidates from all walks of life. At that point I had to ask the staff at HN to remove my email and replace it with a general apology that I was no longer accepting CV's as they were still coming in at a rate of about 5 or 6 an hour. Even after removing my address people were still sending CV's having obtained my info from my profile and previous posts.

Unfortunately I only managed to get around to about 80% of the CV's. I spent an average of 20 minutes on each CV so as you can imagine, it was a pretty laborious task, more so considering I had a new baby to look after and a partner who was fed-up with me spending every weekend on this particular charitable act. At this point I wish to apologise to those of you who didn't receive a reply. I simply didn’t have the spare time.

The remaining 67 emails that had no CV attached contained a few messages from people thanking me for offering my services free of charge, even one or two offering to donate to my PayPal as thanks (which I politely declined) as well as 2 from potential clients in London who asked me to help them recruit for current vacancies (one offer I rejected on the grounds that he wanted me to recruit from the pool of CV's I had just been sent). The rest (about 45 in total) were hate emails.

45 people had read my post, ignored the statement where I told people to remove personal details proving my intentions were genuine, and emailed me all sorts of abuse. One of which even went to the extent of finding out the company I worked for, phoning them and threatening to report them for illegally obtaining personal information?! Fortunately I had told my boss at the time what I was doing and he happily sent that particular gentleman on his way.

It was easy at first to ignore the hate mail but they kept coming. Eventually it reached a point where every time I commented on HN I would get a flurry of emails from people who were inexplicably monitoring my activity and had their pitchforks sharpened and at the ready.

I gave in. I reset my HN password and deleted the email with my new password. I took a break from HN for a few months but I missed the community. I was, and still am, working on my own tech start-up with my best friend (who isn't a recruiter!) and I always found the community engaging and inspirational. Time to start from scratch and create a new profile.

My new profile, username 'Peroni', was simple; focus on the start-up community, resist the urge to try and change the world of recruitment and absolutely no more random acts of kindness!
As well as getting involved with the community online, I started to attend the amazing #HNLondon meetups and I have fallen truly and completely back in love with Hacker News!

I've learned a lot over the last year and I still think that I have the ability to change people’s perception, even if it is only a very small percentage of people, that recruiters aren't just a necessary evil and some of us are passionate and actually quite good at what we do.

The purpose of this post is entirely cathartic. I needed to let the community know that even if we aren't one of the 'cool crowd' some of us are still capable of making a valuable contribution. I even play my part in staving off the decline in quality on Hacker News by patrolling the 'New' page on a daily basis and flagging the spam and irrelevant content.

I don't want an apology on behalf of the very angry minority, not even close. I actually want to thank the community. You have taught me more about the current state of technology than any news site in existence and you have helped me no end understand what struggles candidates face when trying to find work and also the struggles clients face when trying to find good staff.

So, thank you HN. Keep doing what you’re doing...oh, and bring back the comment points! ;)