1. Recruiters: why I’m kind of rude to them, why they deserve it, and how to fix it (IMHO)

    I’ve been dealing with recruiters for a long time. Not the good kind that offer you awesome jobs, but the crappy kind that mailbomb you with irrelevant positions. I’ve been receiving their e-mails and such for years and years now, and eventually I decided I’d afford them the same courtesy they afford me and simply write a form response for the ones that annoy me. I posted it on Twitter yesterday after using it to respond to a recruiter who offered me a junior PHP/C# position (tech I haven’t worked with for 5+ years) that required relocating to a crappy area for terrible pay. The response has been one of three things:

    The first two I expected, but I must admit, I didn’t expect the latter from anyone but recruiters (and trust me, three recruiters felt it their duty to let me know what they thought via e-mail; I can’t express how hard it was to not respond with my form response but I was civil :)). So, I felt like maybe I should explain some things about recruiting, because I’m not sure many of the people who were upset by it have actually experienced what a lot of people experience with recruiters.

    What “recruiters” do

    Disclaimer: The following doesn’t describe every recruiter on the planet. It does describe at least 90% of the ones I’ve interacted with, but I talk about some of the good ones later on.

    I put “recruiters” in quotes there because the modern day recruiter is little more than a spammer who has legal authority to spam you. I’m almost surprised some of them haven’t taken to appending male enhancement ads to their job e-mails to make a little side cash. Essentially, they have big databases of resumes that I’m guessing are usually purchased rather than built given how out of date some of the information is in there (we had an old cell phone number that we kept around for a while and we’d still get calls on it 2 years after I’d taken it off my resume). They’re probably tagged somehow or searchable by some means. Recruiters take a job listing, search for keywords in their resume database, and e-mail everyone who could possibly match those keywords. Everyone. Even people like DHH, who obviously isn’t looking for a job.

    So, why am I so offended by this practice?

    It’s invasive

    Never has a single industry disrupted the general flow of my life so much as recruiting. That’s probably an exaggeration, but honestly, it’s a bit much sometimes. Here are some examples:

    You can point to those and say “oh, those are the bad ones!” but frankly that’s how most of my interactions with recruiters go, especially when it comes to phone pushiness. The point is that this boorish behavior isn’t really abnormal.

    The worst part is that 3 for 3 yesterday in the recruiter responses, they all blamed me. “Well if you wouldn’t post your resume on your website, we wouldn’t e-mail you.” “If you didn’t mark yourself as ‘for hire’ on LinkedIn or WorkingWithRails, we couldn’t call you.” Are you kidding me? PROTIP: I am for hire. I run a consulting business. I’ve actually gotten 2 contracts from people pinging me from those mechanisms. I’m not going to act as if I’m full up on work just so you won’t spam me. That’s just ridiculous, self-absorbed martyrdom. Even further, just because I post some information publicly that doesn’t give you the right to spam with tenuously related information. I mean, what if I spammed you with some recruiter related product? Or what if I started a recruiter recruiting firm and just totally bombed you with e-mails about positions in it? I guarantee you’d cry foul then.

    It’s not very effective

    Recruiting as it’s currently practiced can’t possibly work very well. Maybe it does. Maybe they have enough resumes built up that they’ll get a few hits that are actually viable. I doubt that happens most of the time given the amount of repeat job spam I get, but it’s always possible.

    But even so, they’re not doing their job as it’s supposed to be done at all. Part of the job of a recruiter is (theoretically) screening candidates on some surface level. I did an experiment a couple of years ago by responding to 3 job spams I totally wasn’t qualified for: one was a position using R or SAS or something like that at a financial firm, one was a C++ position at a games company, and one was a low-level network engineer position at some MegaCorp™. Every time the recruiter merrily passed on my information to the client, selling me up as a great candidate, and so on. My resume said nothing about any of this stuff. No experience, no education. Nothing. So, not only are these people not good at screening candidates to spam, they’re also terrible at even telling whether a candidate is legitimate. I felt bad telling the firms they’d been duped into accepting a lead on a crappy candidate. Two of the companies never responded at all, but the MegaCorp™ HR person told me they never expected high calibre candidates from recruiters anyhow.

    It’s a useless industry

    The way it’s currently done, recruiting is totally useless. What do recruiters offer beyond what a job board posting would offer? I’d even venture to guess that a job board posting would have a better return since the people looking at it and applying are actually looking for another gig. Spam recruiters are simply leeches, middle(wo)men who take a big slice for being a reverse job board.

    What recruiting is supposed to be

    Recruiting isn’t always like this, though. In Real Recruiting™, recruiters actually spend time evaluating candidates (not just e-mailing anyone who matches some keywords), searching out people who fit the position they’ve been tasked with filling using information gathered from their own experience and their network (not just doing a Google search for a resume and passing it on), getting to know the candidates (not just merrily passing them along after the first response), and then making an informed and pointed recommendation to their client.

    That’s how it works in corporate America. Do you think when a big corporation decides they want to hire a new CEO that their recruiter mailbombs everyone who has CEO experience? No, they have an informed process to make educated recommendations to the board. For example, when Apple recruited John Sculley to be their new CEO, they spent a lot of time evaluating his effects on the company, what he would bring to the table, how it could shape Apple, help tame Steve Jobs, and so on. Now, granted most developer positions don’t carry that much gravity in a company, but a little consideration of the position and background of the candidate would be nice.


    When I’ve shared some of these thougts with recruiters, I often get back, “But that’s not sustainable! I don’t get paid enough for that!” Then let me be clear: Maybe you don’t have a real business. It’d be great if I could sit on the side of the road and sell small carvings I make from the rinds of watermelons, but hey that’s not sustainable either. The hard truth is that you don’t make enough to do that because you don’t offer any value beyond a job board, and job boards are cheap. I posted a job on one job board, got 20 credible leads (and about 10-15 not-so-credible ones). Would a recruiter have turned that around for less than $300? I doubt it.

    In this Era of the Internet, a lot of “connector” businesses are finding themselves replaced by websites these days. Phone companies are finding stiff competition requiring staff reductions for things like directory assistance, driving directions, and so on. The Internet has democratized information access and inter-personal connections to the point that middle(wo)men like recruiters are a fading industry. Want to save yourself some cash? Want a programmer that does Java? Post the job on a board and do some searching on a community site. You’ll find people who are doing interesting things and probably looking for work.

    Doin’ it right

    So, I hate blog posts that just complain the whole time and offer no concrete solutions. How can recruiters start actually offering value?

    Learn the industry

    Anyone can do what I just described above (Google and e-mail someone). The CTO, the team manager, the little HR lady who always offers you a peppermint when you visit her office, they all know how to do that. The value a recruiter can offer in knowing the tech, actually being able to evaluate candidates, talk intelligently with the client and candidates, and so on is nearly immeasurable. I really think a firm of tech-educated recruiters who have real chops (or at least some knowledge), who can connect with both sides, and can actually make educated recommendations would be a real winner.

    Don’t have the time or inclination? OK, understood, but then hire someone. I tell you what: Arcturo will pre-screen all your candidates for $500 (i.e., toss out actual crap) and technical screen them for $100 a pop. I’m sure a number of other firms would do the same. Even better, talk to the client’s current team or leadership about people and things they’re looking for outside the job description. I talked to a recruiter at Square who was totally doing it right. She had dug up a few people to talk to, and then she went to the team there (who would know who has good technical chops) and said, “What do you guys think?” They helped her narrow her list down, and she contacted each of these people personally. That is doing it right.

    Contact me like a human

    Don’t form e-mail bomb me. It’s just offensive that you can’t be hassled to at least compose at least a semi-personal e-mail. That carelessness was the genesis of my form response: they’re taking less than a second to compose a message to me, so I’ll afford them the same courtesy while also registering my displeasure. I’ve only gotten a single response to my form e-mail, and that was simply “OK.” Usually they don’t respond, which, to be fair, is the intended effect.

    But had they reached out to me like a person, made me feel like they had done any degree of research at all, had actually evaluated whether I would even fit the position at all, I would respond differently. If a recruiter has any familiarity with me at all (even “I saw your Github account” is passable in some cases), I’d be a lot more civil. The CTO at Mixbook did a great job with this. He’d looked over my blog, seen my Github, and contacted me because he thought I’d be a good fit (I’m guessing he didn’t have much success because they’ve now hired a recruiter who is spamming people like DHH). But even so, I thought that was a great approach, and were I looking for a job and to relocate, I’d have definitely responded to him.

    Use common sense

    If my resume says nothing about SAS or SAP, then why are you e-mailing me leads dealing with those technologies? If my experience listing tells you that I haven’t touched C# in any real capacity in years, then why are you e-mailing me about a “C# Expert” position (well, I’ll you why, because they’re not reading the resume, but still). Evaluate the information you have available to you before you even reach out. It’ll pay off for you.

    I also can’t tell you how irritating it is to get an e-mail with something like “We need a developer for a Rails project. It pays $27,000 a year with no benefits and requires at least 4 years experience with Rails and 6 in web development. Oh and you’ll need to be in (Atlanta|NYC|San Francisco|Seattle)” (not an exaggeration). Who would take that position? Sometimes recruiters need to learn to say “NO” to crappy companies trying to hire like that. Candidates would respect you a lot more if you wouldn’t toss this utter crap our way. I know right now the economy is still pretty unstable and some people would be happy to have that job, but if the requirements and the compensation don’t match up at all, then that’s a huge red flag for candidates.


    So, that’s my speel on recruiters. I’m sure I’ll be “blacklisted from [another recruiter’s] extensive network” as I was yesterday. I’m totally sure I’ll “regret saying such things in public.” OK, not really. I feel like I’m being fairly reasoned here given the amount of stupidity and abuse I’ve put up with over the years.

    By the way: I’m on vacation right now (thanks Tumblr post-queue!). If you e-mail, comment, tweet, etc. and I don’t respond, I’m not ignoring you. Well, I sort of am, but only because I’m probably on the beach or floating in the middle of the Caribbean. Sorry, the Internet reception’s not real good out here.


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