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! ;)