Sympathy for the devil

By | 2017/03/04

Like, loathe or lump it, LinkedIn is the default social network for anything business related. It’s like Facebook for professionals – or should be, when it works correctly. Sadly, memetic viruses have just as much potential to endlessly circulate on LinkedIn as they do on any other form of social media, so there’s always at least some form of dross to sort through while you’re using it.

As an enterprise IT worker, I’ve had ample numbers of recruiters add me to their network on LinkedIn. I’ve even added a few myself over the years. I actually doubt I represent even the average LinkedIn member (at least in terms of enterprise IT workers) in terms of the number of recruiters in my network.

Having a number of recruiters in your feed is an interesting way of keeping abreast of how that industry works. Yes, it’s an industry, and a valid one. Some companies can’t expend the resources themselves to find recruits, and depending on the industry vertical and amount of domain expertise required to recruit for that vertical, recruiters can, I’m told, be quite handy.

Worker with a stack of paper

I’ve engaged with recruiters in four distinct ways:

  • As a manager trying to hire new staff
  • As an ex-worker of a collapsed company trying to find a new job
  • As someone frustrated with a job and looking for a new one
  • As someone being targeted for head-hunting

When I was engineering manager for a systems integrator, I mostly did my own hiring. A few times I got pushed by management to try to use recruiters for the hiring process, but because we were in a relatively niche industry, it was something recruiters struggled with.

So I was left to my own devices to advertise and fill positions. Admittedly I was a manager around the 2003-2006 period, but during that time I had to find recruits for over a dozen positions.

On average, I’d estimate, I got over 200 applications for every job that was posted.

And I replied to every single one. At least twice. Yes, twice. In every case I replied acknowledging the application had been received, and in every case I replied to unsuccessful candidates too in order to tell them they weren’t going to be further considered for the position.

When I was an out-of-work candidate looking for a job as urgently as possible, I applied for hundreds of positions and got back one or two desultory responses. I would estimate that less than 5% of the applications I sent were even acknowledged.

Likewise, when I was frustrated in a job and looking for a new job, I applied for a variety of positions and for the most part, the best responses that I got were from companies that were doing the hiring themselves. Response, exchange, and sometimes interview. Recruiters? Almost never a response. Amusingly, in one instance, I did get a response to indicate that I wouldn’t be considered for a position – the same position the company was advertising for directly and interviewed me for.

Similarly, when recruiters have added and contacted me over an ‘ideal’ position that I politely explain is not in my field of expertise, I rarely if ever get a “thanks for letting me know” response.

One of the things you’ll notice on LinkedIn if you’re connected to a number of recruiters, and your connections are connected to recruiters, is a lot of recruiters use LinkedIn to … let’s just say, vent, about the recruitment process, and what they have to go through. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t work in the other direction, but to be honest, I don’t see anywhere near the amount of job-seekers or other industry professionals griping about recruiters as I do see recruiters griping about candidates.

Yes, griping.

The griping, from what I’ve observed, tends to fall into a few key categories:

  • Candidates who are so selfish that once they get a job offer, they stop looking at other jobs the recruiter is talking to them (or wants to talk to them) about
  • People who refuse to talk to recruiters, even if the recruiter is very certain the job they have on offer is the perfect match
  • Candidates who don’t appreciate the hard work that recruiters do
  • Candidates who don’t have the skills the recruiter is looking for applying for the job

I’m sorry to say, I don’t have much sympathy – here’s a few home truths:

  1. A financially constrained candidate looking for a job when they’re out of work doesn’t have the luxury of staying engaged in the job-seeking process when they’ve found something that’s enough of a match.
    1. Don’t encourage the candidate to take the position and continue to interview for others. That’s questionably ethical and let’s be honest: no-one looks at ‘job hopping’ favourably on a CV.
    2. Don’t complain the candidate won’t stay “off the hook” and continue to look at other positions you have on offer unless you’re willing to pay their bills.
  2. Don’t presuppose you know the perfect position for the candidate. Maybe they’re accepting that first position they were offered because for them it is the best.
  3. Don’t for a moment think that just because you want to to talk to someone about a job it creates an obligation on them to talk to you about the job. Here’s an example: over the years I’ve probably had 100 or more contacts from recruiters to talk to me about a “SAN administrator job I’d be perfect for”, simply because my CV mentions SAN/Network storage in broad strokes.
    1. Unqualified keyword matching on a CV is not a guarantee the role is perfect for a candidate in your database.
    2. Niche workers are rarely understood by the average recruiters. The recruiters who contribute best in niche areas of enterprise IT are those who take the time to understand that niche, or perhaps even have background in it.
    3. Some recruiters think it’s OK to blanket/saturate their contacts or people they’ve found with a position. Think of leaflet marketing in a carpark. Some people who are the target of this more regularly tire of it and don’t want to talk to recruiters any more. This isn’t the fault of the candidate, it speaks of a problem in the recruiter industry. It may not be something you do, but it’s something you need to acknowledge happens in your industry so you don’t take personal offence at it.
  4. Candidates do appreciate the hard work you do, if you actually do it. But candidates recognise they’re the product, not the client, so just turning up for your job is not sufficient proof to a candidate that you’re putting the hard yards in for them.
  5. Don’t respond to every applicant for a job?
    1. You, or the company you work for, sucks. Choose one.
    2. Seriously, no, you do. I don’t care how many applicants you get, it takes bugger all time to actually send a pro-forma email back to a candidate to say they weren’t successful.
    3. But candidates do blanket applications!
      1. Yes, they do. Sometimes because there’s a lot of positions they have the skills for, sometimes because they’re just desperate for a job.
      2. Each application might be a small thing on the receiving end, but potentially – yes, potentially – meant a lot to the person sending it. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge the application, then confirm they weren’t successful?
    4. But you only hired dozens of people and didn’t have to deal with applications coming in every day!
      1. Yes, I’m comparing my experiences as a hiring manager to people who do recruitment day-in, day-out. That’s may not seem fair.
      2. But it’s fairness we’re talking about. Treating people as people and not applicant IDs in a database. If you think you shouldn’t have to acknowledge applications and let people know they’ve been unsuccessful, I’d helpfully suggest you need to contact a recruiter and find a new industry to work in. One that requires less bedside manner, so to speak.
  6. Yes, that’s true, candidates don’t sometimes have every skill-set you’re looking for, or have been instructed to look for. From everything I’ve observed in 20+ years of IT, the average job advert provides a complete “wish list” of skills, and most companies will be satisfied with seekers who exhibit 50% of those skills or experience – the rest comes from attitude and desire.
    1. And when the industry does blanket candidate contacting based on blind keyword searches, it’s a bit stones-in-glass-houses to complain about candidates not matching every advertised skill.

I’m not trying to pick on recruiters, but the griping on LinkedIn is tiresome after a while. There’s always two sides to every story, but I think some recruiters are losing sight of the fact that it’s real people they’re dealing with as part of their job.