Steve Grunwell

Open-source contributor, speaker, and electronics tinkerer

An employee sitting across the table from two other people

Honest Feedback for Technical Recruiters

I received the following email a couple weeks ago, and unlike a good 90% of emails I get from recruiters I couldn’t bring myself to throw this one away:

Greetings Steve!

I hope all is well. I was wondering if I could pick your brain for a moment?

As you may have noticed, I’ve been scouring the ends of the earth in attempts to hire a Sr. Web Developer and well frankly…I’ve had little to no luck. In my opinion this is an amazing opportunity working for a fantastic client that is local to Columbus, OH…and yet still…no luck. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again with hopes of gaining a different outcome, I’ve decided to break the pattern and actually do something different.

With that, I’m calling on you to provide me with feedback from a candidate stand-point (be nice…haha!).

As a Developer or a candidate who plays a heavy role in an IT capacity, what is it that I can be doing better? If you have a second or two, could you address the following for me?

  1. What is the best way to contact you? (i.e. email, phone, text, etc.?)
  2. What makes you engage in conversation with a Talent Manager such as myself?
  3. Why do you believe developers (in general) are so hard to recruit?
  4. If you had to give me one piece [sic] feedback (good or bad) what would it be?

I know you are very busy so please know that I TRULY appreciate your time.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Now, I have nothing against recruiters; my job at Fahlgren Mortine started as a contract-to-hire position I landed through a recruiter. The frequent emails, invitations to connect on LinkedIn, and referral requests don’t both me; in fact, it’s a nice reminder of how fortunate I am to be in a field where opportunities are abundant. Sure, there are some “bad” recruiters who will misrepresent you or the position they’re trying to fill, are trying to fit round pegs in square holes, or are making unseemly amounts of commission on their placements, but for every shady recruiter I’ve met I’ve also talked to a dozen who are just trying to help me advance my career while making a living themselves.

In the interest of helping the good recruiters, I’ve decided to answer this email by way of a public blog post, in the hopes that my answers to this particular recruiter can help others (both on the talent management and development sides) build stronger relationships and find better placements.

What is the best way to contact you?

I prefer all recruiter communication happen through LinkedIn, where I can simply reply “not interested” (as is often the case). If I’ve given you my email or phone number directly, then and only then you can try to reach me by those methods (though I’ll rarely answer my phone during business hours, so email is your best bet).

Please don’t dig me out of your company’s database and call me to see what I’ve been up to. The firm that placed me with Fahlgren started doing that within the last year or two until I finally had to ask that they please remove me from their candidate database. If/when I work with a recruiter, I’m building a relationship with a person, not with a firm.

What makes you engage in conversation with a Talent Manager?

First and foremost, I need to feel like I’ve been selected because I’m truly a good fit for the position. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been “the ideal candidate” for a Java or .NET position (I’ve never touched the former and my one experience with the latter made me want to flip a table). Pro-tip: Java and JavaScript are entirely different languages.

Once I can see you at least understand my technology stack, the details you give me about a company are crucial. I don’t want to hear vague terms about how “they’re a great place to work” or “full of web dev ninjas/rockstars/another meaningless term meant to make ‘engineer/developer’ sound sexier;” if I want to read about the company I’ll visit their website or check them out in-person.

Obvious copy+paste jobs are a pretty surefire way to guarantee you won’t be hearing back from me. If there’s a job posting that’s been posted elsewhere online–especially for a senior-level position–what benefit are you providing me that would justify 5-15% of my salary? If your relationship with the employer can make me more money than I’d be able to by working my own personal network to get into that position, then you’ve justified your commission.

Why do you believe developers are so hard to recruit?

Software development as an industry is in an interesting position right now: exorbitant IPOs from Silicon Valley startups seem to indicate that we’re in a bubble (and I’m not the only one who seems to think so), so people are wise to consider long-term stability before making a move to a new position. Start-ups are constantly hiring ninjas, gurus, wizards, and other such nonsense titles, but a fun title doesn’t necessarily scream career growth potential.

David Shing, Digital Prophet, AOL

No comment.

Developers come from all sorts of backgrounds, some getting started as children and others find the field after spending decades doing something completely unrelated. The stereotype of young men working late nights fueled by pizza and beer merely scratches the surface of the engineering community. Plenty of developers, especially in areas outside Silicon Valley, have partners and families to worry about; software development can be a lucrative career, but for many of us no amount of money is worth missing out on the time we spend with family.

If you had to give me one piece of feedback what would it be?

The following is the mental checklist I run through before considering responding to a recruiter. I’d recommend you put yourself in the candidates’ shoes and ask these questions before sending the initial contact:

  • Does this person actually think I’d have an interest in and be a good fit for this position, or is he/she just trying to cast a wide net and hope that someone bites?
  • Does the company sound like a place for mature, career-minded engineers or is it a flash-in-the-pan shop that would close immediately if VC funding dried up?
  • Would this position actually be a step up in my career or would I be doing the same (or less) than I’m doing now?
  • Does this person have any connection with the company that I may be able to leverage to get a better job, salary, or benefits or are they just trying to play matchmaker?

What would you add?

Obviously different engineers have different career aspirations, motivations, and feelings towards recruiters. Whether you’re new to the field or an old pro, what are things that you would like to add to this letter? Please add them below in the comments!


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  1. Great thoughts Steve.

    For the placement fees that I’ve seen floating around I’d hope that we would see a little more effort from some recruiters. I have 3-4 that I don’t mind talking to and are doing a great job here locally.

    My selection criteria is pretty similar. I’d also add in pay scale, remote options and flexible/core hours. As someone who has been burnt by worthless stock options and nonexistent profit sharing on a couple of occasions, those things aren’t too appealing to me any more. Situations that help me be a better parent and spouse are.

  2. Emily

    I agree heartily. I almost never reply to recruiters because I can tell they haven’t read my resume. They never seem to have considered me at all. I feel like a number to them.

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