How To Get a Job in a Different City

There are subtle nuances to job searches outside of the local area. Unless a candidate is considered superlative, non-local applicants are not always given the same level of attention as locals when employers have healthy candidate pools with local applicants. Why might remoteness impact interview decisions (even in a tight market), and how can the potential for negative bias be minimized?

We’ll get to that in a minute. Before we can apply for a job, we need to find it.

Finding jobs

Job sites – The usual suspects are where some people start, and those jobs will have multiple applicants. Googling to find regional job sites may help find companies that fly under the radar.

LinkedIn – The Jobs tab can create a search for new posts, but everybody may use that strategy. Try an Advanced People Search using one or more of the technologies or skills (in keywords box) that might be used by an attractive employer, and enter a zip code and mileage range using the desired location. Note both the current and past employers for the profiles, then research those firms.

Remote networking – Reaching out directly to some of the profiles found during the LinkedIn search will produce leads. Many fellow technologists will respond to messages stating a desire to move to their area. Finding a local recruiter on LinkedIn or via web search may bring several opportunities.

User groups and meetups – Some user group sites have job ads, and sponsoring firms usually have a local presence. Speakers from past meetings often live locally. User group leaders are often contacted by recruiters and hiring companies that are looking for talent, so contacting group leaders directly and asking “Who is hiring?” should be helpful.

or let the jobs find you… – Change the location field on a LinkedIn profile to the desired location and add language indicating an interest in new opportunities, and companies and agencies from that location may start knocking.

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Applying for jobs

Now that the jobs are identified, initial contact must be made. This is where things can get complicated.

Recruiters and HR professionals are tasked with looking at résumés and any accompanying material in order to make a reasonably quick yes/no decision on an initial interview. Screeners know an interview process is time consuming, and the decision to start that process will usually take valuable time from several employees of the organization.

There are several factors that go into this decision, with candidate’s qualifications being the most important and obvious. Another factor is the recruiter’s assessment regarding the likelihood that a candidate would accept the job if offered, which is based on any obvious or assumed barriers. Details such as candidate compensation requirements in relation to company pay ranges or current job title in relation to vacant job title may play a role in the decision.

Is someone making 150K likely to accept our job paying 110K?
Is a Chief Architect likely to accept our Intermediate Developer position?
And generally speaking, is this person likely to accept a job in another location?

For exceptional candidates these questions are irrelevant, as they will be screened. But if a candidate barely meets the minimum requirements, has a couple additional flags, and happens to be non-local, will the employer even bother screening the candidate? Should they?

Without additional context, it may be assumed that a recent graduate in the midwest that applies to a job in New York City is probably shipping résumés to Silicon Valley, Chicago, or Seattle. The HR rep could believe that they are competing with many companies across several markets, each with its own reputation, characteristics, and cost of living. How likely is it that this candidate will not only choose our market, but also choose our company?

How can we lessen the impact of these assumptions and potential biases?

Mention location -When location isn’t mentioned by non-local applicants and no other information is given, the screener is likely to get the impression that this candidate is indiscriminately applying to positions. An applicant’s non-local address is the elephant in the room, so it is vital to reference that immediately in a cover letter.

If a future address is known, it should be listed on the résumé along with the current address. Keep in mind that the screener may open a résumé before reading any accompanying material. When there is a specific reason for relocating to this location, such as a family situation or a spouse’s job relocation, that information will be additional evidence of intent.

Availability for interviews - Listing available dates for on-site interviews demonstrates at least some level of commitment to the new location. Screeners interpret this as a buying sign.

Availability for start – Candidates that relocate for positions may have to sell their home, sublet an apartment, or have children in the middle of a school year. A mention of start date helps to set expectations early.

Additional considerations

Cost of living and salary – Some ads request salary history and compensation expectations. Be sure to research salaries and market values in the new city, and state that committing to a future salary figure is difficult until all of the data is collected.

Relocation assistance – Companies may be willing to provide some relocation assistance even for candidates who are planning a move. Requesting a relo package in an application adds a potential reason for rejection, but negotiating relo money during the offer process is common. Since it is a one-time cost, companies may be more willing to provide relo if negotiations on salary or benefits become sticky.

Consider the overall market – Before committing to an opportunity in another city, research employment prospects beyond the target company. How healthy is the job market, and how many other local companies have specific demand for the same skills? A strong local tech market does not always indicate a strong market for certain specialties.

Who Needs Side Projects?

The topic of side projects or personal projects for software professionals (commonly in the form of mobile apps, websites, various GitHub repos, and even technical blogs) has been fairly well-documented in the past few years. The concept of side projects as hiring barometer is still a relatively nascent industry phenomenon that emerged in parallel with the rising popularity and eventual ubiquity of open source software, web-based repository hosting, and usable blogging platforms. I distinctly remember the first time a client of mine indicated a preference (however slight) for candidates that could demonstrate coding from outside their employment. It was 2004, still a few years before GitHub.

The growth of SourceForge and then GitHub provided the opportunity to collaborate easily and effectively with friends, colleagues, or even strangers. Some engineers chose to code off-hours and some chose not to. As has been written before, others may not have had the time. Whether engineers did or did not contribute to open source or create side projects, all eventually became aware of the trend, and some likely predicted that the landscape for job search may be changing.

Flash-forward to today, where we commonly see job advertisements requesting a résumé and links to GitHub or personal projects. College seniors scramble to assemble a code portfolio while balancing internships and coursework in their final semesters. Highly experienced engineers with 20 years of stable employment and a formidable list of professional accomplishments still wonder if their work alone is enough to compete for jobs. Even high school students ask questions about starting to build things in preparation for a job search several years down the line.

It’s clear that many engineers are concerned with the perceived necessity for personal projects, regardless of experience. Blogs like mine are probably guilty of unintentionally feeding fears, as career advice is not one-size-fits-all. It’s a useful exercise to clarify the benefit of side projects for different groups.

Who benefits most from side projects?

Entry-level candidates, new college graduates – When a group of largely homogenous candidates compete for positions, side projects are a differentiator. Typical résumés for new grads list GPA and select courses. Without internships or projects, they are virtually identical in every way. Even a link to rather mundane GitHub repos might give employers a bit of insight into ability.

Recent industry entrants without marketable experience - Many professionals are forced to accept undesirable jobs due to personal circumstances, while others make poor career choices early on. Two or three years of professional experience in the wrong shop might not lead to any real accomplishments. Side projects may be the best method to demonstrate skill early in a career.

Stagnant employment history - Candidates who have held the same position in the same company for many years are subject to somewhat unique scrutiny, with the most common theme being the concept of whether someone has “ten years of experience or only one year of experience ten times“. Showing some other skills gained outside work might shed the one-trick pony image and demonstrate an interest in learning.

Dated skill set, limited technical environment – For some engineers, side work might be the only opportunity to play with the new and shiny toys that other employers use. If the day job only allows archaic languages and tools, future marketability may depend upon side projects.

Those looking to change their path - Similar to entry-level candidates, professionals attempting to alter career direction may look to side projects as their most powerful strategy to gain some credibility. A good example of this is the large number of budding engineers who accepted QA positions while intending to move into development roles, or web developers who seek employment in mobile.

Conclusion

Side projects are often effectively used in lieu of work experience and tangible accomplishments in order to establish credibility and demonstrate skills. Their importance fades over time for professionals in ideal technical environments, defined as places where engineers are productive, learn continuously, move between projects and groups, and are able to develop a varied set of marketable skills. The value of side projects may vary over the course of a career depending on factors in the workplace, which are usually beyond the employee’s control. The groups outlined above derive the most benefit from side projects. For established and highly accomplished professionals, side projects can be completely unnecessary.

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“…but I’m negotiable”

I review many emailed job applications each week that include a salary expectation, usually in the form of “seeking $X,000 per year“. Some continue with a phrase that has become trite, not to mention quite costly to job seekers everywhere.

“but I’m negotiable”

What these candidates are telling us is “I have a target number, but I want you to know in advance that I’m willing to accept less.

This phrase is also a common response during live conversation with candidates, whether in speaking to me or in interviews with my clients.

INTERVIEWER: What are your salary expectations?nicubunu_Emoticons_Silence_face
CANDIDATE: I’m seeking 80K, but I’m negotiable.

But usually it goes more like this

INTERVIEWER: What are your salary expectations?
CANDIDATE: I’m seeking 80K…
INTERVIEWER: [Silently takes a note for five seconds]
CANDIDATE: …but I’m negotiable.

Don’t do that.

The mistake here is that the candidate willingly dropped their request before hearing any objection to the number provided. In the first instance, they have altered their negotiating position before even giving the interviewer so much as an opportunity to say no.

The Fix

IN APPLICATIONS – When providing a salary requirement in writing, there is the option of using a single number or a range. Supplying a range could be potentially useful, as a range may account for variation between what companies offer in time off, benefits, bonus, or perks. When providing a range, expect employers to start negotiations at the bottom.

Providing some brief context along with the number (“assuming competitive benefits and working conditions”) will provide an opening to negotiate above the provided number/range when necessary. Usually there will be some part of the package that can be cited as below market to justify raising an offer.

If the recipient of the application feels the candidate is qualified and at least in the ballpark for the budget, contact will be made and the flexibility topic may come up early.

IN INTERVIEWS – Prepare a number to ask for along with any context before the interview. It’s quite a common question, and having an answer available should provide the best results. Improvisation on this question is usually where things go wrong.

When the question about compensation expectations comes up, reply with the number along with any brief and necessary clarifying context. Then, stop talking. Don’t say a word until the interviewer responds. Even if the stare down lasts a minute, say nothing.

Interviewers realize you are probably a bit on edge and slightly uncomfortable during an interview. Any silence, even for just a few seconds, is commonly interpreted by candidates as a negative sign (“Uh oh, why did she stop asking questions???”). Some hiring managers or HR professionals actually have a pause built into the script in order to determine possible flexibility without having to even ask.

Conclusion

Never start negotiating downward until some objection is provided, and don’t mistake the silence of an interviewer as an objection.

How to Evaluate Job Offers

At some point in a career, many will be in a position to decide between multiple job offers from different companies – or at worst having to decide between accepting a new job or staying put. When starting to compare offers, it is common for the recipient to focus on the known quantities (i.e. salary, bonus, etc.) and perhaps a couple additional details that are generally considered more subjective (work environment, technologies).

In order to make a truly wise choice it is also useful to include less obvious factors as well as future considerations, as those generally will have a much stronger influence on career earnings and success. These are harder to predict, but must enter into your decision unless your sole objective is to meet some immediate short-term need.

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The easy part

The most common components factoring into gross compensation are:

Cash compensation (salary, bonus, sign-on) – If the bonus is listed as guaranteed, the figure can be lumped into salary. Most bonuses are not guaranteed, but rather are tied to personal and/or company goals being met. Some firms or individual employees are willing to provide data on bonus history. Sign-ons are used to sweeten an offer or to rectify a potential cost the new hire would incur by leaving their job, such as an unpaid bonus.

Healthcare premiums and contributions – Offer letters typically do not list employee out-of-pocket insurance cost, and personal circumstances may weigh heavily on how one values health insurance. Employer contribution can vary from 50-100% while other companies offer employee-only contribution (no contribution towards spouse/partner/child), which can result in a total compensation difference of a few percent.

401k or retirement plans – Employee match and contribution to these plans can be significant. Consider both the dollar amounts and the vesting schedules.

Education reimbursement – If considering a return to school this policy could make a difference.

Paid time off – Although the real value any employee places on time off will vary, the dollar value of each day of PTO can be estimated using a formula.

(Annual salary / estimated annual work hours) x work hours in a day

Many candidates make the mistake of basing their decisions with too much weight placed on base salary. This may be attributed to our emotional attachment to numbers and compensation “milestones” (usually round numbers), the perception of status that results from salary, and the inability of candidates to accurately gather and calculate the details of a comprehensive package.

A friend might tell you about her 100K salary, but how often do you hear someone independently offer up that they pay 10K per year for health insurance and only get one week of vacation?

Additional considerations

The details above are all easily obtained, quantified, and require no interpretation. Everything from this point on will require a bit of investigation as well as some educated guessing.

Expected hours – To put a value on time for offer comparison, a quick calculation to convert salary into dollars per hour can be a telling figure. All else being equal, that 80K offer with a 40 hour work week is more per hour than the 100K offer at 55 hours. Estimates of work hours may not be accurate, so multiple data sources can help.

Commute time/cost and possibility for remote work – Distance may not be a reliable predictor of commute time or cost, and mundane details such as gas efficiency will quickly add up when you consider the trip is repeated 400+ times a year. Mass transit inefficiencies and delays have a cost to commuters as well. The ability to work remotely, even for one or two days a week, makes some difference.

Travel – This can be viewed as a positive or a negative depending on the worker. Consider any hidden expenses that may not be reimbursed, such as child or pet care costs.

Perks – Company provided phone or internet, gym membership, and office meals/snacks are not things job seekers expect, yet could provide thousands of dollars in value.

Self-improvement budget – Some companies may be willing to foot the bill for training or conferences that the employee would have paid for anyway.

Forecasting and speculation

The most vital characteristics contributing to a job’s long-term value are often hidden and unsupported by reliable data. Establishing the present day value of any one job is somewhat complex, and trying to forecast future values requires speculation.

Future marketability – This is a key factor in career compensation, yet is often overlooked when the temptation of short-term gains are presented. The consideration of future marketability is most critical for new grads or junior level employees, who are (unfortunately) often in debt and easily influenced by short-term gains and cash compensation. What skills will be obtained in a job, and to what extent will these new skills increase market value? Will having a company’s name on a résumé (whether by associated prestige or number of direct competitors) create some additional demand for services? If a goal is to maximize lifetime earnings, one could theorize that a year of unpaid work at a place like Google or Facebook is preferable to two years of paid work at many other companies.

Promotions and raises – Job offers only include starting salary/title. How, and how often, does a company evaluate employees for salary increases, and what amounts might be expected for performers? Do they tend to promote from within or hire from outside? Is there a career path and is there a point where compensation plateaus?

Stress and satisfaction – It’s impossible to place a hard value on work stress or job satisfaction, and the amount of either is difficult to predict. Satisfaction, work/life balance, and stress can impact both health and productivity, which could also contribute to marketability.

Stock/stock options  – The number of factors that influence the potential value is too long to list. Vesting schedules may have substantial impact on perceived value if a long tenure isn’t expected.

Environment, team, management – Companies try to make a strong positive impression during interviews, but that image doesn’t always accurately reflect day-to-day operations. Younger workers should place considerable weight on whether there are team members to learn from and mentors who are both available and willing to guide. Employees with long tenures will have insight, though the opinion of more recent hires may be more relevant to anyone considering an offer.

Conclusions

Job change decisions are complex, and tough choices usually end up coming from the gut. The immediate results of a choice are easily identified and quantified, but the more important long-term ramifications require research, interpretation, and a bit of conjecture. When combining all of the smaller elements of a compensation package, the highest salary will not always be the most lucrative offer.

So You Want to Use a Recruiter Part III – Warnings

This is the final installment in a three-part series to inform job seekers about working with a recruiter. Part I wasRecruit Your Recruiterand Part II wasEstablishing Boundaries

In Part II, I alluded to systemic conditions inherent to contingency recruiting that can incentivize bad behavior. Before proceeding with warnings about recruiters, let’s provide some context as to why some recruiters behave the way they do.

Agency recruiters (AKA “headhunters”) that conduct contingency searches account for most of the recruiting market and are subsequently the favorite target of recruiter criticism. These are recruiters that represent multiple hiring firms that pay the recruiter a fee ranging anywhere from 15-30% of the new employee’s salary. This seems a great deal for the recruiter, but the downside of contingency recruiting is that the recruiter may spend substantial time on a search yet earn no money if they do not make the placement.

Contingency recruiters absorb 100% of the “risk” for their searches by default, unlike retained recruiters who take no risk. Hiring companies can establish relationships with ten or twenty contingency firms to perform a search, with each agency helping expand the company’s name and employer brand, yet only one (and sometimes none) is compensated. When we combine large fees with a highly competitive, time-sensitive demand-driven market, the actors in that market are incentivized to take shortcuts.

Please don’t confuse these revelations as excuses for bad behavior. Recruiters who either do not understand or choose to ignore industry ethics make it much more difficult for those who do follow the rules. I provide these warnings to expose problems in a secretive industry, with hopes that sunlight will serve as disinfectant.

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All recruiters won’t act this way. Many will. Keep these things in mind when interacting with your recruiter.

Your recruiter may send your résumé places without your knowledge – To maximize the chances of getting a fee or to utilize your desirable background as bait to sign a prospective client, recruiters may shop you around without your consent. This only tends to cause issues when the recruiter sends your résumé somewhere that you are already interviewing.
REMEDY: Insist that your recruiter only submits you with prior consent (in writing if that makes you feel more comfortable).

Your recruiter may attempt to get you as many interviews as possible, with little consideration for fit – This sounds like a positive until you have burned all your vacation days and realize that over 50% of your interviews were a complete waste of time. This is the “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” mentality loathed by both candidates and employers.
REMEDY: Perform due diligence and vet jobs before agreeing to interviews.

If you reject a job offer, the recruiter may take questionable actions to get you to reconsider – No one can fault a recruiter for wanting to promote their client when a candidate is on the fence. That is part of the recruiter’s job. Recruiters cross the line when they knowingly provide false details about a job to allay a candidate’s fears. A recruiter may call a candidate’s home when the recruiter knows the candidate isn’t there in an attempt to speak to and get support from a spouse or significant other. The higher the potential fee, the more likely you are to see these tactics.
REMEDY: If you have questions about an offer that don’t have simple answers, such as inquiries about career path or bonus expectation, get answers directly from the company representatives. When your decision is final, make that fact clear to your recruiter.

If you accept a counteroffer, the recruiter will attempt to scare you - Counteroffers are the bane of the recruiter’s existence. Just as the recruiter starts counting their money, it’s swiped at the last possible moment – and just because the candidate changed their mind. Recruiting is a unique sales job, in that the hire can refuse the deal after all involved parties (employer, new employee, broker) have agreed to terms. Sales jobs in other industries don’t have that issue.

When a counteroffer is accepted, expect some form of “recruiter terrorism“. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most shameful recruiter behavior. Recruiters have been known to tell candidates that their career is over, they will be out of a job in a few months, and that the decision will haunt them for many years to come. All of those things may be true in some isolated instances, but plenty of people have accepted counteroffers without ill effects. I’ve written about this before, as it’s important to understand the difference between the actual dangers of counteroffer acceptance and the recruiter’s biased perspective.
REMEDY: Consider any counteroffer situation carefully and do your own research on the realities of counteroffer, while keeping in mind the source of any content you read.

You will be asked for referrals, perhaps in creative ways – Recruiters are trained to ask everyone for referrals. This was much more important before the advent of LinkedIn and social media, when names were much more difficult to come by. Candidates may expect that recruiters will ask “Who is the best Python developer you know?”, but they may feel less threatened by a recruiter asking “Who is the worst Python developer you know?”.  Again, we shouldn’t blame recruiters for trying to expand their network, but if the recruiter continues to ask for names without providing any value it’s clearly not a balanced relationship.
REMEDY: Give referrals (if any) that you are comfortable providing, and tell the recruiter that you’ll keep them in mind if any of your associates are looking for work in the future. Whether you act on that is up to you.

If you list references they will be called (and perhaps recruited) – When a candidate lists references on a résumé, it’s an open invitation to recruit those people as well. If your references discover that you leaked their contact information indiscriminately to a slew of recruiters and that act resulted in their full inbox, don’t expect them to volunteer to serve as references in the future.
REMEDY: Never list references on your résumé. Only provide references when necessary, and ask the references what contact information they would like presented to the recruiter.

You will receive continuous recruiter contact for years to come, usually more often than you’d like - Once your information is out there, you can’t erase it. Don’t provide permanent contact details unless you are willing to field inquiries for the rest of your career.
REMEDY: Use throwaway email addresses and set guidelines on future contact.

Recruiters get paid when you take a job through them, regardless of whether it’s the best job choice for you – This is a simple fact that most candidates probably aren’t conscious of during the job search. There are three potential outcomes – you accept a job through the recruiter, you accept a job without using the recruiter, or you stay put. Only the first outcome results in a fee, so the recruiter has financial incentive first to convince you to leave and then to only consider their jobs.

What type of behavior does this lead to? Recruiters may ask you where you are interviewing, where you have applied, and what other recruiters you are using. Some may refuse to work with you if you fail to provide this information. They may provide some explanation as to why this information is vital for them to know, but the reason is only the desire to know who they are competing against and to have some amount of control. The more detail you provide, the more ammunition the recruiter has to make a case for their client.
REMEDY: Always consider a recruiter’s advice, but also consider their incentives. Provide information to recruiters on a need to know basis and only provide what will help them get you a job. Specifics about any other job search activity are private unless you choose to make it known.

Recruiters have almost no incentive to provide feedback – Many job seekers wonder why agency recruiters often don’t provide feedback after a failed interview. Of my 60+ articles on Job Tips For Geeks the most popular (based on traffic coming from search engines) is “Why The Recruiter Didn’t Call You Back“, so it’s clear to me that this is a bothersome trend. Once it becomes clear that you will not result in a fee, your value to the recruiter is primarily limited to the possibility of a future placement or a source for referrals.

Interview feedback is valuable to candidates, and job seekers that commit to interviews deserve some explanation as to why they were not selected for hire.
REMEDY: Set the expectation with the recruiter that you will be interested in client feedback, and ask for specific feedback after interviews are complete.

So You Want to Use a Recruiter Part II – Establishing Boundaries

This is the second in a three-part series to inform job seekers about working with a recruiter. Part I was “Recruit Your Recruiter” and Part III is “Warnings”

Once you have identified the recruiter(s) you are going to use in your job search, it is ideal to immediately gather information from the recruiter (and provide some instructions to the recruiter) so expectations and boundaries are properly set. All recruiters are not alike, with significant variation in protocol, style, and even the recruiter’s incentives.

The stakes are high for job seekers who entrust someone to assist with their career, but it’s important to keep in mind that a recruiter stands to earn a sizable amount when making a placement. For contingency agency recruiters who make up the majority of the market, the combination of large fees and competition can incentivize bad behavior. More on this in Part III.

As a recruiter, I find that transparency helps gain trust and is necessary to establish an effective professional relationship. Candidates should realize that I have a business and profit motive, but I also want my candidates to understand my specific incentives so they can consider those incentives during our interactions. The negative reputation of agency recruiters makes this transparency necessary, and honest recruiters should have nothing to hide.

Some recruiters will be more open than others, and the recruiter’s willingness to share information can and should be used as potential indicators of the recruiter’s interests. A recruiter must be able to articulate their own incentives, and be willing to justify situations where full transparency is not provided.

To establish boundaries and set expectations, there are several topics that need to be addressed.

What you need to know

The recruiter’s experience – Hopefully you vetted your recruiter before contact, but now is the time to verify anything that you may have read. Confirm any claimed specialties.

How the recruiter is paid for any given client – Whether or not recruiters should reveal their fee percentages is debatable, but job seekers certainly have the right to know how fees are calculated. Why is this important? Some fees may be based on base salary only while other agreements may stipulate that a fee includes bonuses or stock grants. If the recruiter is providing advice in negotiation, it’s helpful to know what parts of the compensation package impact the recruiter’s potential fee.

Keep in mind that recruiters often have customized agreements with their clients. When a recruiter is representing you to multiple opportunities, it’s absolutely necessary for you to be made aware of each client’s fee structure. If you sense that your recruiter is pushing you towards accepting an offer from Company A and discouraging you from a higher offer with Company B, knowing who pays the recruiter more helps temper the advice.

The recruiter’s relationship with any given client – Did the recruiter just sign this client last week or do they have a ten year history of working together? Has the recruiter worked with certain employees of the client in the past? This information is primarily useful when considering a recruiter’s advice on hiring process and negotiation, as the recruiter’s familiarity (or lack thereof) could be a contributing factor to getting an offer and closing the deal.

The recruiter should also be willing to share if the client is a contingency search or retained (some fee paid in advance). This information has little impact on incentives, but clients do have a vested interest in hiring from a recruiter on retainer as they already have some skin in the game.

As much detail as possible on any given job being pitched – Some candidates are satisfied with only knowing a job title while others want to know whether a company has a tendency to hire executives from outside or within. Recruiters will have some specific details, but candidates should expect to perform a bit of due diligence as well. If there are certain deal breakers regarding your job search (maybe tuition reimbursement is a requirement for you), it’s the candidate’s responsibility to convey those conditions and the recruiter’s responsibility to clear those up before starting the process.

What you need to express

How and when to contact – If you share all your contact information with a recruiter without instruction, many recruiters will assume they have full access. Recruiters want to establish a solid relationship and may feel the best way to do that is through extensive live contact. An inordinate number of calls to your mobile phone during office hours could tip off managers to your search, which may even benefit the recruiter’s efforts to place you. Set guidelines on both method and time acceptable for contact.

No changes to the résumé without consent – I hear this complaint often, and the solution for many is a PDF. The most common change made is the addition of the recruiter’s contact info and maybe a logo. This is harmless, and designed to ensure that the recruiter gets their fee if the résumé is found three months later and the candidate is hired.

There are many anecdotes about recruiters adding or subtracting details from a résumé, which is a different story. It’s entirely unethical for a recruiter to insert skills or buzzwords without consent.

No résumés submitted without permission - To prevent a host of potential issues, be explicit about this. A recruiter who is not given this directive may feel they have carte blanche and might submit your résumé to a company you are already interviewing with, a former boss you didn’t like, or any number of places you don’t want your résumé going.

Need to provide client names before submittal – See above. There are somewhat unique scenarios where companies request anonymity before they establish interest in a candidate, but these are extremely rare cases. It is not only important to know that your résumé is being sent out, but also where it is going.

Only want to be pitched jobs that meet your criteria – This is more about saving time than anything else, but contingency recruiters playing the numbers game may try to maximize their chances of making a fee on you by submitting you to every client in their portfolio. The result is wasteful interviews for jobs that you are unqualified for or that you would never have accepted in the first place.

Recruiters aren’t mind readers, so you’ll need to be specific. If you are limiting your search to specific locations and types of jobs, establish those parameters early and ask to be informed only about jobs that fit.

Expectation of feedback, preferably actionable – One of the biggest complaints about recruiters is that they suddenly disappear after telling you about a job or sending you on an interview. There are multiple reasons for this, some understandable and others less so. Asking the recruiter when you should expect to hear feedback and sending prompt emails after interviews should help you gather valuable information about what you are doing well and where you could use some work.

Recruiters don’t want to hurt a candidate’s feelings and may filter their feedback, but the raw information is more useful and often actionable. Ask for a low level of filtering.

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So You Want to Use A Recruiter Part I – Recruit Your Recruiter

This is the first in a three-part series to inform job seekers about working with a recruiter. Part II is “Establishing Boundaries” and Part III is “Warnings”

This week I read an unusually high number of articles (and the comments!) about recruiting. Although most of the discussion quickly turns to harsh criticism, there are always a few people wondering the best ways to find a decent recruiter to work with and what to do once they have established contact.

Some recruiter demand stems from candidates looking to relocate into areas where they have no network, while others just want to maximize their options and feel they may benefit from the services provided by an agency recruiter. Regardless of your reasons for seeking out an agency recruiter, first you have to find one.

Finding a Recruiter

There are three reliable methods to getting introduced to a recruiter.

Referral

This is the best method for most, as being introduced by a contact can have unexpected benefits. To maximize those benefits, you must consider the source of your referral.

If the recruiter has a great deal of respect for the person introducing you, you are likely to be given some immediate credibility and favorable treatment due to that association. Unfortunately the alternative is true, and if you are referred by someone the recruiter does not respect it may be assumed that you are not a strong talent. When asking for recruiter referrals it is wise to start with the most talented people in your network.

Your network does not have to be the only source of referrals, particularly if you are looking for a recruiter in an area where you have no network. User group and meetup leaders are frequently contacted by recruiters and one should expect group leaders to be knowledgeable of the local market. Even a random email to an engineer in another location could result in a solid lead.

Let the recruiter find you

If I had a nickel for every time I heard technologists complain that they aren’t hearing from enough recruiters, I’d be poor – though some voice frustration that they don’t hear from the ‘right ones‘. Increasing your visibility will attract recruiters who may or may not be the ones you’d want, but it helps establish a pool for evaluation to choose who is worthy of a response.

To maximize your chances of being found and contacted, you need to consider how recruiters will find you. The obvious place is LinkedIn, and spending a few minutes fixing up your profile will help.

Keywords and SEO concepts as well as profile ‘completeness’ should be your focus. (further reading on this) Recruiters are likely to be searching for combinations of keywords from their requirements, usually with some advanced search filters based on location, education, or experience. Completeness matters.

Some recruiters search Twitter and the other standard social sites as well. If you have a profile anywhere, just assume that a recruiter might find it and optimize keywords similarly.

Keep in mind how easy or difficult it is for people to contact you once you’ve been found. Just because I see your LinkedIn profile or Google + account doesn’t mean I can contact you. Many professionals create an email address (maybe currentemail-jobs@domain) strictly for recruiter correspondence and include it in their LinkedIn profile and other social pages.

Another option is to get discovered on job search sites like Indeed, Monster, and Dice. These are frequented by active job seekers, and some recruiters may view your posting there as a somewhat negative signal. Be warned that posting personal information on these sites means that those phone numbers or email addresses will live forever in the databases of recruiters everywhere.

PROTIP: Those that complain about recruiters often cite laziness in the initial contact. This may be evidenced by an obvious cut and paste or clear signs that the recruiter didn’t read the bio. If you want to screen out recruiters that don’t do the work, put up a barrier to weed out the lazy. This page that uses scripts in Python and Haskell to hide an email address is perhaps my favorite, but there are other less clever ways if you want to set the bar lower than the ability to cut/paste code into a compiler.

Search

Recruiters search for you, and you can search for them. Most recruiters are going to be easiest to find on LinkedIn due to the amount of time they spend there.

1 – Click on Advanced at the top of the main LinkedIn screen (just to the right of the search bar)  

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2 – On the upper left side of your screen you will see several fields.  Make sure you are doing a People search (and not a Jobs search).

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3 – Type ‘Recruiter’ and other terms specific to you in the Keywords field.  Try ‘developer‘ or ‘programmer’ and a term that a recruiter might use to brand you, such as a language.  Recruiters often populate their LinkedIn profiles with the technologies they seek, not unlike job seekers trying to catch the automated eye of a résumé scanning system.

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4 – Enter the zip code of the area where you wish to find work and consider setting a mile limit.  Some recruiters work nationally, but local knowledge goes a long way if you are seeking to work in one area. Once you start entering the code, a menu appears.  Depending on where you live, you may want to select 25 or 50 miles (probably good for northeast or mid-Atlantic US), or up to 100 miles (for midwest).

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5 – On the right, make sure you have 3rd + Everyone Else checked under Relationship.   This will maximize your results, particularly if your LinkedIn network is small.

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6 – Click Search. Repeat, and vary the words you used in Step 3.  You should see a few different faces as you adjust the keywords, and you’ll also see whether you have connections in common with those in your search results.

Twitter is another decent option. Make sure you are searching People (and not Everything), and pair up the word recruiter with some keywords and/or geographic locations. You’ll get numerous hits in most cases, and should only have to do a bit of legwork to find their bios.

In addition to being able to find recruiters on social sites, you can use job boards as well. If you search for a Ruby job in New York City, you may quickly find that several of the listings are posted by one or two recruiting companies. Look into those firms to see if they have a specialty practice.

Search engines might be a bit less useful and are likely to turn up the same listings found on job boards.

Evaluating a Recruiter

Once you have found a pool of potential recruiters, you need to decide which ones to contact. Most job seekers want a recruiter that can provide quality opportunities, has deep market knowledge, can leverage industry relationships, and will navigate issues in the hiring process.

What criteria should we use in the evaluation?

Experience

Just like most disciplines, in recruiting there is no substitute for experience. It takes time to develop contacts and to learn how to uncover potential land mines. Extensive education, recruitment certifications, and training programs don’t get you a network or prepare you for handling unique situations.

Early in my career I know I made many of the mistakes that technologists complain about, and I didn’t have a solid network or steady clients for at least five years. At a certain point in your recruiting career you may not have seen it all, but it’s rare that you are surprised by an outcome.

Focus and Expertise

Experienced recruiters that have spent little time in the industry may be good for general job search advice or negotiation, but can’t provide full value. Look for a consistent track record of years in your field and geography of your search. Talking to a few generalists will make the specialists stand out.

Relationships/Clients

Since recruiters aren’t paid by you and differ from a placement agency, it’s important that the firm has client relationships. Most firms do not advertise their client names which can make it difficult to discover the strength of an agency’s opportunities. The descriptions themselves could be enough to convince you that the agency has attractive clients. Agencies with solid relationships may reach out to past clients and contacts when they don’t have a position that is a clear fit for your background.

Personality fit

Being that an agency recruiter is going to be representing you to companies and even advocating and negotiating on your behalf, it’s important that you get along. You don’t need to be best friends, but someone who dislikes you is unlikely to fight for your best interests.

A ten minute call should give the insight you need to make the decision. Ask questions about their experience and pay attention to the types of questions they ask you. If they don’t dig into your goals and objectives, they probably aren’t concerned with finding a good fit for you.