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How to make technical professionals not hate your guts: A guide for technical recruiters

Clueless Recruiters1928 words10 minutes to read

I’ve been accused of not knowing how to do a Technical Recruiter’s job, so I have no business telling them how to do it. That’s a fair assertion. What I do know, however, are all of the things that Technical Recruiters do that drive me absolutely crazy.

Not all recruiters do these things so I don’t hate them all, but generally speaking, the entire technical recruiting industry has made a very bad name for itself amongst the people they’re trying to recruit. Speaking for myself, and a number of people I’ve worked with over the past 10 years, here is a list of things that drive us nuts as well as suggestions for how things could be better between us.

The key to this business is personal relationships

For those who have never seen Jerry MacGuire, Jerry is a sports agent who one day has an epiphany about how to radically improve the way his company works with its clients. Thinking back, he recalled what his mentor had to say: “The key to this business is personal relationships.” Fewer clients, less money. Jerry wrote up a manifesto, delivered it to everyone in his company, and was fired the next day.

He was mocked and abandoned by everyone he knew except for a single client who decided to stick with him. In the end, Jerry’s new philosophy pays off in spades for himself and his client. Instead of trying to be the biggest, he decided to be the best.

This is precisely what the technical recruiting industry in desperate need of — to re-focus on building personal relationships.

Who’s the customer?

I believe that this is the reason why relationship-building has fallen by the wayside: Who’s the customer? Who’s interests are the recruiter’s aligned with? Technical people or companies? The answer for most recruiting firms is the companies who write the checks.

This is how they make a living, so it’s not unreasonable, but it tends to cause a breakdown in how recruiters and professionals see each other. The companies are the customers, and we technical-folk are the products. You procure products for the customers, and let the customers pick and choose which products they want — kind of like picking out the apples you want to buy at the grocery store.

But we technical-folk don’t see ourselves as a product to be collected and sold to the customer. We see ourselves as the customers, looking for the right products (i.e., companies) to invest in.

Speaking from personal experience, there was once a recruiter who was very nice to me when I approached her about companies that may be hiring. She had one hawt startup that was looking for a rock star, and sent me some information about them. I read through it, called her back, and told her that I didn’t think it would be a good fit because they were looking for someone who did things that I didn’t, and I wasn’t particularly interested in their problem-space.

She then told me that I would never get anywhere in this industry if I wasn’t willing to grow, and decided to schedule an interview for me anyway. She asked me when I could talk to them, and I naïvely said “in about an hour” thinking it would be a phone interview. She scheduled an in-person interview instead, even though I lived two-hours away. I caved, told her to push out the interview by an hour, and went and talked to them. After the interview, I still felt like it wasn’t a good fit. I called her back, told her that I wasn’t interested in pursuing this company any further, and asked if she had anything else. I never heard from her again.

Because of who writes the checks, recruiting agencies typically align themselves with the companies they’re hiring for instead of the people they’re trying to recruit. Out of necessity or not, this alone puts technical people at odds with technical recruiters.

Should you send that email or not?

One of the things I learned in college was how to put together a quality résumé, and how to apply for a professional job.

We had the opportunity to have a chat with an HR/Recruiting manager from a local business who explained that businesses get tons of résumés every day, and that a lot of people were applying for positions that they were clearly not qualified for. So she explained to us:

“Do your homework. Don’t apply for a job where you’re clearly not a good fit with the hope that maybe you’ll have a chance.”

I really wish technical recruiters would have taken that same course.

There’s a game that’s played during the recruiting process called “Buzzword Bingo”. Both sides play it, but because technical-folk have the skills that the companies are looking for, technical-folk play it a lot better than recruiters do.

A technical résumé might explain a process by which a very large dataset was iteratively filtered down to a singular result. The hiring company knows that this process is called MapReduce. The technical person knows that this process is called MapReduce. Recruiters don’t typically know that this is called MapReduce. So, technical people will explicitly list “MapReduce” on their résumé so that it can get matched in recruiter databases.

Unfortunately, some recruiters will simply search their databases for “MapReduce” and send messages to everyone that matches. The hiring company may be doing MapReduce in Java in a traditional datacenter, while a technical person may be doing MapReduce in Python in a cloud computing environment. The hiring company is not a match for the technical person, and vice-versa.

As a result of last week’s Clueless Recruiters piece, there was a little more conversation that happened after I had stopped writing, where it was explained that that firm’s thought process is, “Well, what’s the harm of sending the email? If it’s not a good fit, most people just ignore it. But not you.”

This is exactly what’s wrong with technical recruiting agencies — they don’t do their homework first before sending an email. In doing so, they waste everybody’s time and attention with what ends up being tantamount to spam.

Don’t ask for my colleagues’ information

We technical-folk are very aware that the way recruiters make money is by matching people with companies. It’s pretty ballsy, and quite frankly rude, when you ask “If you or anyone you know is interested…“. We don’t believe that you’re trying to help anyone get a job. What we do believe, however, is that you’re trying to get paid. True or false, this is what we believe. When we read this, we can’t help but think ”Wait, you want me to do your job for you? No thanks.” You clearly didn’t bother to do your homework when you contacted me. Why would I think that you would treat my colleague any better?

Stop being lazy and do your own job.

Don’t call me at work, or email me at work

If you do, you are a particularly stupid person. For obvious reasons.

Stick to professional networks

There are plenty of social networks that are geared toward professionals. LinkedIn, Plaxo, Zerply, and good ol’ email. If you’re going to try to recruit someone, stick to places like these. Even Twitter is tolerable.

You know what’s intolerable? Here’s a message I received this morning on Facebook from someone I don’t know.

Hi Ryan,

i have a JAVA position in Santa Clara,CA,PLZ Send me your updated to resume to [email],if you are interested.

I swear I can’t make this shit up.

But you know what will earn you an I-will-punch-you-in-the-throat,-bitch reaction? Trying to recruit me on Match.com.

Over the summer, I was meeting girls and going on dates. There was one girl who was cute, and we seemed to have a lot in common. We were talking, trying to figure out the details of our first date together. After we settled on the time and place, we had the following conversation over text message:

Her: So, do you know Java, JBoss or Spring?

Me: ’scuse me? No. Why?

Her: Shoot! I have an open req’ to fill, and it would make me a lot of money. Do you know anybody who does?

Me: Hold on — you’re asking me to pimp out my professional network to you before we’ve even had our first date? Are you a recruiter or something?

Her: Yeah, why?

Me: I’m sorry. You seem like a really nice girl and I wish you the best of luck, but I don’t think this is going to work out.

I was so completely appalled by this woman’s behavior, that I just sat there with stunned speechlessness for about 20 minutes. Now, granted, this was a pretty extreme abuse of social networking, but it does happen.


I generally find that whenever I talk about my distaste for technical recruiters, to technical recruiters, the responses typically fall into one of two camps:

  1. Defensive: These are the people who defend what they do, come Hell or high-water, and then turn around to accuse me of not knowing anything about recruiting so I should just shut-up. These are the recruiters who think that they’re doing us all a service and we should be thankful for their work.

  2. Understanding: These are the people who know that the recruiting industry is a mess, and are actively trying to change the reputation their industry has developed with technical-folk. These are the people I’m far more inclined to work with.

Recruiters claim that they don’t have enough time to Google each and every person they send messages to. That’s… unfortunate. I’m certain that if more effort were applied to ensuring that the messages that recruiters sent to technical-folk were a likely fit instead of simply blasting out cattle-calls, people wouldn’t hate recruiters so much, and there would be a better working relationship all the way around.

See Also…

Here are some similar thoughts by other people, which bear a striking resemblance to the qualms I have with the technical recruiting industry:

Update (2012–02–28)

Speaking of people who send out emails without actually bothering to do any homework first, here’s a great example of the kind of idiocy that these people portray. While this person isn’t a technical recruiter per sé, he has shown the same sort of neglect for the details that the majority of technical recruiters do.

In case you’re not sure what you’re looking at, this person emailed Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon.com, about promoting Rackspace on his personal blog. Rackspace is a direct competitor to Amazon Web Services in the Cloud Computing market. If Zach Burton had bothered to do even a few minutes worth of homework before opening his mouth (or keyboard), he wouldn’t have made so much an ass of himself.

These are the kinds of people that I enjoy skewering in my Clueless Recruiters pieces — the people who are simply too lazy to do a good job.

Update (2013–03–23)

Matt Youell has some very similar thoughts on the matter.

“Tech companies seem to be having trouble finding good technical talent. Maybe I can help. For you, the hiring person who is having trouble finding programming talent, I’ve created this brief hiring guide. It is based on my experience over the years both as a prospective employee and as a person doing the hiring.”

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.