Whether you are happy employed, “between jobs,” or suffering from habitual unemployment, it’s helpful to be conscious of the image you are projecting during a job search. There is real potential damage to job seekers who appear desperate, with two rather simple explanations.
1 – Employers may be more likely to take advantage. Applicants that appear the most desperate for work may be offered a lower salary and fewer responsibilities than their experience warrants. This can have short and long-term impacts on a career.
2 – Desperate candidates may appear to be selling damaged goods. Even stellar qualifications can be tainted by desperate acts. Overly-aggressive tactics may give the employer the impression that something is wrong with you, and that makes your candidacy seem inherently flawed without even considering further information.
Consider salespeople. Better yet, consider recruiters!
What if a recruiter called you about a job and rambled on for an hour without taking a breath, saying the hiring company is the hottest around and are a much better employer than Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.? Then they emailed you when the call ended to reiterate the same information. You might feel this recruiter is pushing pretty hard, and it might make you a bit skeptical about the job. Suppose the job at this company isn’t a great fit for your background, yet the recruiter insists that you should interview anyway. Suspicious?
Try to picture this from the other side. Applicants should state their qualifications, but should also use some discretion to prevent the appearance of overselling.
What NOT to Do
- Overly-aggressive follow-up – Recently I received a phone call from a job seeker who wanted to discuss a position he had recently applied for through my website. I didn’t recognize the name, and when I looked in my inbox I found his application timestamped five minutes earlier. Immediate follow-up will almost always give the impression of desperation at worst and a lack of social skills at best.
The video above is from the comedy “Swingers” where the main character Mikey calls a woman he had met at a bar earlier in the evening and ends up leaving several awkward voicemails. Later in the movie Mikey and his friends debate the optimum wait time between meeting someone new and contacting them to ask them on a date.
- Pandering – While it’s often recommended to tweak or customize a resume to address specifics of a job requirement, there are limits to how customized a resume should be. As an example, listing the hiring company name and job title in a resume’s objective is a clear example of overdoing it. (Don’t write OBJECTIVE: Seeking job as ‘JOBTITLE’ working for ‘COMPANY’.) Cutting and pasting elements of the job description into your resume is also frowned upon. Cover letters can (and should) include the hiring company name. Putting it on the resume is a mistake.
- Underconfidence – Even highly skilled, qualified candidates can sometimes underestimate or understate their own skills and marketability. This is a common stereotype of technical candidates and there is a clear sector of the industry that is deeply uncomfortable talking about accomplishments.
- Open to any job – Applicants who apply for positions that are either not a match for their skills or well below their career level will be looked upon as potentially flawed. Unemployed job seekers are often too quick to abandon their quest for the ideal role, and many voice their willingness to accept virtually any job offered.
- Pleading for response/action – A polite request for a response to a job application or for an interview will be appreciated, but anything resembling begging will bring the applicant’s qualifications into question. Competitive candidates under the current favorable market conditions (it’s a seller’s market) don’t need to ask for a response.
Even if confidence doesn’t come naturally to you, you need to recognize during job searches where genuine interest by a qualified candidate may be mistaken for desperation, and to balance a general interest in finding work with maintaining your dignity. There are clearly times when a job seeker is at a competitive disadvantage, but displaying confidence in your marketable skills (and honesty about weaknesses) is helpful to both get better results from applications and improve your position in any negotiations.
Being terminated from a job unexpectedly can launch a flurry of emotions that may cause the newly unemployed to act irrationally or erratically as they begin their search for the next job. Within hours a fired individual might experience combinations of shame, anger, rage, regret, and loss. This is natural.
In this situation, a clearly defined plan will be instrumental in transitioning from the emotional responses to taking action for your future. A plan can also prevent many common and easily-avoidable mistakes that can have a negative impact on a job search and even a career.
Below is a checklist for what to do and activities to avoid at this critical juncture.
What to Do
- Breathe — This is first for a reason. Millions and millions of other people have experienced this process and gone on to great things. This not a time to panic.
- Gather — Access to documentation related to your employment may become difficult, so get it early. Employment contracts that typically contain details or restrictions regarding IP rights, NDA’s, and non-compete agreements may be critical to the job search. Information about benefits or perks tied to employment that will now expire should also be found.
- Solidify references — Although employers in the industry seem to be less and less concerned with references, that lax attitude may not apply to the unemployed. Having even one or two people from the employer can mitigate the negative implications of termination. Touch base with former co-workers who are likely to have positive impressions of your work, and just find out if they are willing to provide a reference if and when you ask.
- Define a target — Many job seekers start randomly applying for jobs without first considering the type of work they would ideally like to do, resulting in unattractive job offers which are often accepted due to the added pressures of unemployment. When you go to the grocery store while hungry, you may be more likely to buy things you normally wouldn’t. Having a defined target for the type of job you want acts as a shopping list, and you may be more disciplined in your selection process.
- Update — Once the target job is defined it’s time to update the resume and public profiles with the end goal in mind. Tailor the material towards the type of role you will be seeking, and be sure that employment details match across all profiles (particularly for the most recent job).
- Prepare an explanation — When you are an unemployed job seeker, the reason for your unemployment may be the elephant in the room. It is likely that you will be asked about your departure from the most recent employer, so having a somewhat prepared response (without sounding overprepared) may be preferable to improvisation. Practice the expanation, and the repetition should help remove any emotional connection from the words.
- Reach out — Many people send blasts or personal messages to connections before completing the steps listed above, resulting in out-of-date materials being used to qualify you for jobs that you may not even want or be able to accept. There is a natural tendency to want to start the search process ASAP, but approaching the job search only after full preparation will prevent many potential hiccups. Former colleagues, friends, and recruiters may all be helpful in identifying opportunities and helping determine whether your expectations for the search are realistic.
What NOT to Do
Go on a public rant/burn bridges — Public statements (or even private ones that may become public) about your departure often come back to haunt you later. Cooperation from your previous employer can be important based on the steps listed above, so keeping that relationship intact is necessary.
Blast the news — Although reaching a wide audience is effective to save time, the act of a blast can make job seekers sound desperate. Make communications of your availability private when possible.
Rust — Being that it’s difficult to predict how long the period of unemployment may last, it’s possible that skills may being to atrophy over time. There can be some stigma towards unemployed candidates that haven’t touched technology since their termination. Be mindful of these facts as your job search continues, and using the downtime to investigate new technologies can demonstrate intellectual curiosity and interests.
Having a termination in your job history will be a small blip that can be unrecognizable to others if it is handled professionally. There is no reason a firing should have any lasting impact on employability or marketability if you take the proper steps.
Job seekers are sometimes reluctant to apply for positions that might be considered a stretch for their abilities or qualifications, and there are several possible explanations for the hesitation. Fear of rejection, underconfidence, or concerns about wasting time are all likely contributors when we hover the cursor over the APPLY NOW button. Of course if you were to ask your friends and family, they are all going to tell you the same thing.
“Go for it!”
“It never hurts to apply.”
“The worst they can say is no.”
In most cases I’d agree with this advice, but it’s not universally true. Let’s talk about the exception. First, some background.
ATS and Interview Policy
When you submit an application to a company, chances are the company stores your resume and an applicant tracking system (ATS) maintains all the relevant data surrounding your candidacy – the date you applied, interview results, notes, etc. This system also comes in handy when a candidate applies for jobs in different areas of the same large company, or applies multiple times over a short time span.
Many companies have a policy as to how often they will interview a candidate that has failed in past interviews. It takes time to schedule and interview someone, and the time of developers (who have a primary purpose of producing code) is valuable, so it makes sense that employers do not want to waste time interviewing the same candidate over and over again over a short period of time.
You see a job listing and realize that it’s probably a long shot. Although you meet some of the minimum criteria, there are multiple required or desired skills that you haven’t acquired yet (and perhaps some you’ve never even heard of). You couldn’t possibly hold a reasonably intelligent conversation about some of the items listed in the job requirement, so you certainly can’t list them on the resume.
Option A — Listen to your dad and APPLY NOW
Pros: You might be an early applicant and get a quick interview.
Cons: Your quick interview might be an experiment early in the company’s hiring process, and as a minimally qualified candidate you may be used simply to measure future candidates.
Possible result: You admit to having no experience with several of the technologies discussed in the interview and give answers ending in “…but I’m sure I can pick it up.” Rejected… and worse, you won’t be considered for any roles with the company for n months.
Option B — Spend some hours playing with those unfamiliar technologies and apply in a few days/week.
Pros: You can list those technologies you didn’t previously “know” on the resume with some caveat (“exposure to $SKILL“?), which may improve your resume’s chances of getting noticed by a human scanner or ATS for this job and future jobs as well.
Cons: You risk waiting too long and having the position close in the meantime. You also risk wasted time if the knowledge you gain in self-study isn’t likely to benefit you in applying for other positions.
Possible result: During the interview you are asked questions about those unknowns. You tell the interviewers that you did not have exposure to those technologies, but took the initiative to do some research and play with them in preparation for the interview. The hiring panel is impressed by this as it shows serious motivation and interest in the job.
Timing is (almost) everything when it comes to job search, and sometimes it makes more sense to wait a while before applying in order to make sure you are ready to make the best possible first impression. You aren’t likely to get a second chance with an employer in the near future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Follow this blog (see right margin) or @jobtipsforgeeks on Twitter to receive notifications about new posts, including Part III of this series.
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.
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.
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)
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).
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.