Career: Recruitment

Understanding recruiters habits

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The more candidates get solicited, the more they get cocky.

Then came the “Internet bubble” with everybody looking for tech talents, and LinkedIn was born*. With such a tool and a steady demand for tech profiles, a lot of people decided to jump in the recruiting bandwagon, for better or for worse.

Since then, strange recruiters’ habits have emerged. After years of seeing them, I decided to asked the primary source.

First contact

Depending on how you get in touch with recruiters, their behaviors will seem more or less bizarre:

  • if you’re looking for new opportunities, you will typically screen job offers, then apply to the selected ones. As we’ll see, the public nature of the job offers will imply some confidentiality restrictions.
  • if the recruiters are looking for you, you will receive direct messages (through mail, phone or job board messaging). The private conversations implied here should not follow the same restrictions.

That was the first riddle I was trying to solve: while being in that second case, almost all the mails I received looked the same. Not that I expected any great originality here: the job role was there, the challenges were there, the technologies were there… but some critical info was missing, and it turns out that I was no exception.

Compensation

This the #1 in the least stated info. Most job offers (especially from European countries like France) were lacking salary info, or were just stating nothing but the obvious (the infamous DOE — “Depends on Experience” — or DOQ — “Depends on Qualifications”). Why?

Asking recruiters about this, the answers always fell into one of the following categories:

  • Confidentiality: Companies don’t want salaries to be publicized. Typically because their own employees might dislike the comparison. In such a case compensation cannot not be stated, or DOE/DOQ will stand as a pretext to maintain that confidentiality.
  • Negotiation: Even if you provide a salary range, candidates will always ask for the max, and good profiles might think they won’t be able to get more than that. So not stating anything allow to offer less to poor profiles and more to good ones.
  • Romanticism: Some recruiters think that candidates care more about the job role or the technologies than the salary.

However, one could find those reasons quite questionable, because:

  • Confidentiality make sense for public posts, not private mails. Direct approaches involve a one-to-one private conversation between a candidate and a recruiter, and there is no problem discussing such a matter privately. Indeed, the only thing you need to do to get compensation info is to ask for it (or state your own expectations). So why not specifying it in the first message? This looks more like a lazy cut & paste of the public job post.
  • Negotiation can fail too early by 1) the recruiter that will exclude a candidate whose salary expectations are way too above the client budget, before any opportunity to evaluate him/her as a unicorn ; or 2) the candidate will exclude a job offer that is too vague (remember that can receive a lot).
  • Everybody cares about money, even in countries where it is a taboo topic: The idea that some candidate would say “I’m dying to work using React, so I will move to a smaller flat” seems kind of crazy to me, but I cannot prove they don’t exist. Neither can I for fairies.

So I cannot see why on earth compensation info should not be stated in a first private message. Such info is not something anecdotal, or something we are interested to discuss at the end of the recruiting process. On the contrary, this is a filtering criterion to answer an offer in the first place. As a result this omitted info is actually more critical than stated ones such as the technologies or job role. So, please, dear recruiters, in the interest of both parties, include it in your first email. Numbers, a range at least. This will save time for everybody and probably will boost your response rate.

Company

The hiring client is usually hidden as well in job offers, or vaguely described (“a big actor of the retail sector”, “a pure player”, etc.). Why?

It turns out that this is for the same reason as compensations are not publicly disclosed: confidentiality. Recruiters are not willing to publish that information as they do not want their client to be contacted directly by:

  • candidates who might feel a better luck applying by themselves. Even if it sounds counter-productive to me, recruiters can testify that this happens, for example when the recruiter is actually an IT service companies that the candidate doesn’t want to work for.
  • recruitment competitors who could provide a matching profile to their client before themselves (I once thought clients and recruiters could agree on some exclusivity in their contract, but it appears this not the case).

However, once again, one could argue that this should not be justified, because:

  • For a few lost candidates, there is a lot more to be gained in terms of response rate (the more info in a job offer, the more answers it gets) and time saving for both parties: both recruiters and candidates wouldn’t have to enter a recruitment process that is deemed to fail because of client details.
  • competitors have little chance to get client info if stated in a private message. It would require sneaking into candidates emails (which is science-fiction) or getting the info from the candidate (which can be mitigated at worse by asking candidates to sign NDAs).

So please state the client name. The candidate will not have to wait long before knowing it anyway, and this may be a reply booster (if the company is prestigious typically).

Location

Sometimes I receive job offers located in Berlin, Geneva, Luxembourg, etc. All these locations are wrong (i.e. not matching my preferences, as I don’t plan to move), but they are still better than the ones with no location at all.

Along with the salary, location is the other critical information that will make a candidate decide if the offered position can be considered or not. This is less about the attractiveness of the district or offices (if it’s a co-working area or a fun campus for instance) or the accommodations (restaurants, sports hall, etc.) than because of the distance (or more precisely commuting time). In any case, it is critical to know where you gonna spent half of your life, including if this place is your home. This makes location a basic criteria for filtering jobs offers.

Resume

This one is not missing but on contrary apparently weirdly superfluous: some recruiters who found you on a resume database (LinkedIn or whatever competitor) asks you about… your resume! They even used to be more specific: they want it in a Word format. Are they paid by Microsoft or what?

Aside the problems in the problem (there are multiple Word formats, this is requiring candidates to have a Word licence), I initially thought this was because they were looking for something they can search full text: this could have been useful for searching skills for instance. However, thinking about it twice, job boards such as LinkedIn already allow this.

Asking recruiters, they provided a few other reasons for this. What they’re actually asking for is:

  • your approval for storing information about you: sending your resume is an implicit approval for recruiters to use it and put it in their professional databases.
  • a modifiable format, mostly for bad reasons such as IT services company showing you as a fake employee to win a contract or recruitment companies adding their logo as a watermark. Anonymization can be argued a good reason (to avoid discrimination) but is also a way for recruitment agencies to avoid their client calling the candidates directly.
  • up-to-date information: Usually you will be asked for an “up-to-date” resume, which is understandable.

So does this (still) make sense? I don’t think so, because:

  • your approval is implicit as you are the person that published the resume on the job board. Nobody can update it but you.
  • Modifying a resume is a bad practice as it provides false information to the client. It is also illegal, by the way.
  • Resume update is kind of implicit: updating your resume is the first thing you do when you start to be open to new opportunities. Even if you forgot to do it, the recruiter was interested by what’s already in it, not what you forgot to add.

So in a better world, recruiters should stop asking for your resume. We’re in the Internet era, and your resume should be nothing but a hyperlink to a document that only you can update, anytime.

Should some recruiters be stuck in the 20th century and insist to download a document, they can still get a PDF export from LinkedIn. If you’re asked for more, for obscure and possibly unjustifiable reasons, it should the responsibility of the recruiter, and candidates should not take part of it.

Target

There are many criteria to match a candidate with a job offer: technologies, experience, job role, business domain. Though, most of developers complaints about recruiters are about offers not matching their skills or expectations.

The worst recruiters actually don’t even care about this: they spam a large number of candidates like fishermen throwing large nets, just to retain a few good fishes. This is why from time to time candidates receive job offers that don’t match their profile at all, and the best action is probably to report them as spam.

Some recruiters can also be as bad as targeting nothing, that is, some skills that don’t exist, as they don’t seem to have any idea of what they are talking about. Even if you’re a meat seller, you should know about meat.

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The fact that you wrote a phonetic transcription of a product name shows that you don’t care about candidate skills and so no more about client satisfaction.

Should you have time to loose in sneaking into the LinkedIn profile of those people, you might find — with no surprise — that their own experience in the recruitment business is less than the unrealistic experience they require for a job.

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This job post was spotted in 2020, while Figma was released in 2016, and Adobe XD in 2019.

Should you want to do a better job as a recruiter, you’ll have to match a more complex spectrum:

  • the past experience of a candidate seem an obvious set of skills to match, but does (s)he still want to do this? Some candidates voluntary delete some of their experience in order to avoid recruiters offering similar jobs, and this doesn’t make sense.
  • the candidate future expectations: this is less stated in resumes, and can be challenging: a candidate might want to work in a domain (s)he has no experience yet. For instance I had a hard time getting a job in the frontend/JS world after working 15+ years with Java.

We should keep in mind that, by definition, most people that are open to new opportunities are looking for something new: they might just want to change (because they didn’t like what they did, or are willing to learn new ones, evolve toward a different role, etc.) and the easy criteria of past matching might not be the best one.

Unfortunately, only a few job boards are able to capture those important traits (what you want to do in the future and what you don’t) yet, in a form that can be searched by recruiters and most often only a candidate interview will allow to collect such information today (this is another reason why the first contact should be successful — i.e. contain all expected info — so that the candidate will answer and agree to such an interview).

Conclusion

Running a recruitment business became harder in the job board/LinkedIn years, as almost anybody can claim to be a recruiter. Competition became harder and harder, and most recruiters started to:

  • fear to loose clients or candidates (by stating client name). As a result, they started to retain some information as longer as possible.
  • spam (mass mail) people. As a result, candidates are overwhelmed by job offers that may not be complete (quick cut & paste of public offers) or not suited to them, and the reputation of recruiters as a whole gets degraded.

This situation is worsened by a huge deficit in tech talents which makes difficult to succeed in recruiting. As a result, clients negotiate harder the recruiters fees (up to “full success fees”, where you get rewarded only if the recruitment is a success, no matter how much you invested in it) which leads recruitment agencies to hire cheaper, less qualified recruiters (who don’t grasp IT well).

As a result, some recruiters adopted strategies to be better spotted among the mass of messages candidates receive:

  • being warm and friendly: this should not be something new, as long as this does not get too familiar. It can we awkward to receive messages from unknown people talking to you like if you’re decade-years old pals.
  • being funny and original so you remember them and might want to reward that.
  • follow-up messages: even if you don’t answer, some recruiters will send you other kind messages to give you an opportunity to answer eventually. This can get quite effective, as the candidate can feel more and more uncomfortable to not reward such tenacity.

However the better technique to get an answer is probably, aside providing salary and client info, to fit to the candidate profile and say something that proves that you have read the resume.

Now, what can we do to fix that as candidates? My 2 cents would be:

  • keep our resumes up to date to avoid questions about it ;
  • answer to good recruiters to let them know your preferences, even if you are not looking for a job. It is the same rationale as accepting cookies or not on websites: you can’t complain to receive non-personalized offers if you didn’t provide info about yourself.
  • mark bad recruiters as spam to discourage their bad habits by making them unsuccessful. This can be set on mail like Gmail, and even on job boards like LinkedIn.
  • keep in touch with good recruiters: If you had a good experience with a recruiter, it could be a wise idea to contact him/her again when you need to look for a new job. This will be a win-win situation where you benefit from a good service and the recruiter is rewarded for having performed a good job. Unfortunately if recruiters are working in agencies, it is likely they will have moved after a few years.

But I would be interested in any other suggestions or corrections. Feel free to comment, and I may update this article accordingly.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank both recruiters and candidates who helped to write this article by answering my questions: Manon Abaziou, Hélène LY, Mathieu Lebreton, Liam Seddaoui, Louis-Guillaume MORAND, Emmanuelle Colpin-Quérou, Maxime Ponsinet, Fabien Lemoine, Caroline Vega, Arnaud LAHY, Benjamin Gaillard, Yaëlle M., Alexandre Vovan, Daniel Desplaces, Arsene Kevin KOUOMEU, Baptiste Galéa, Thomas Haessle, Hammouda M., Sebastien Lorber, Chi-Fai WU, Bertrand MANGANO and Sylvain Lareyre (who also wrote the article “Les salaires dans les annonces sont-ils vraiment utiles ?”, in Les Déconfinés de l’IT, 2020–04–09). While being french, some had recruitment experience overseas.

*Actually Monster was there since 1999, as the result of merging The Monster Board (TMB) with the first job board Online Career Center (OCC), started as a BBS in 1992.

Software engineer for three decades, I would like to share my memory.

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