Tip to IT Staffing Companies: Respect Your Recruiters

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My Zimbio

Ever get a phone call from an IT recruiter that leaves you scratching your head wondering “what was that all about?” You know – the recruiter who wants you to take a gig in a city you don’t want to move to, doing work you have no qualifications for, and for $15/hr less than your current rate? Yeah, they rankle me, too.

It’s not the recruiter’s fault.

Many IT staffing companies are utterly clueless about the extraordinary value their recruiters add to the company’s image in the eyes of job candidates. I’ve been a software professional since 1992 — C++, Java, and now C# — and I value the relationships I’ve formed with a handful of hot-shot recruiters in the Dallas area. Later, I’m going to hold up a lady named Shanna as an example of the sort of top-notch recruiter staffing companies should strive to attract and retain.

Unfortunately, many companies believe technical recruiting is a low-skill, no-experience-necessary sort of job. All they need to do is hire a bunch of low-pay, disposable cube drones like a telemarketing firm filling a call center. Make as many phone calls as possible and they’ll maximize the number of techies they reach, right?

The recruiters are essentially thrown to the wolves. They’re not given the training they need. They’re given poor information to pass on to candidates. They suffer the ire of techies who probably got five other calls recently from poorly equipped recruiters. When the recruiters burn out, they quit and get replaced by some other college sophomore on summer break.

Technical recruiting is hard work! It’s a highly skilled job where experience should not be undervalued. Give these people the training, tools, mentoring, and respect they need and deserve!

Would you like some fries with that contract?

There’s a staffing company — let’s call them “Phone Monkeys ‘R’ Us” — that has me in their database. So, they call me monthly. Here’s an example of a recent call:

“Hello, Mr. Gavaghan. My name is [mumble, mumble] and I’m looking for someone interested in [voice fades out briefly] with a lot of experience in [unintelligible]. Would you or someone you know be interested?”

His pitch was as clear and enthusiastic as the speaker at a fast food drive-thru. Who can blame him? He was reading from a script, and he had already called 50 other people that day. All he knows is he’s on a short term gig to make a few bucks before he moves on to a “better” job.

His employer rationalizes that if he brings in one candidate for every thousand calls, that’s enough to turn a profit. Isn’t that the arithmetic spammers use?

The voice and image of the entire company

I want to find an executive at Phone Monkeys ‘R’ Us, grab him by the shoulders, and say:

“So, you’ve got a stylish office on the top floor of a swanky building in downtown. You’ve got leather chairs, a cool looking fish tank, and a pot of freshly brewed Starbucks up front where the eye-candy receptionist greets visitors. Guess what? I haven’t seen any of it!

I need something that’ll make me believe your company is one worth investing my time to research. If you’re different from all the others, show me. You might be a first rate outfit with some high paying clients, but over the phone you’re indistinguishable from the scores of fly-by-nights that fill this town. Your recruiter isn’t merely my first impression. Right now, he’s my only impression!

To job candidates, recruiters are the voice and image of your entire company. Before I’m going to sit down in your office to close the deal, it’s your recruiter that’s going to bring me in the door. Now do you see how important they are?”

That’s why the execs at Phone Monkey should fear a competitor’s recruiter like Shanna.

It’s the relationship, stupid

Shanna first called me back in the late 1990’s when I was still doing Java work. I remember her giving me a detailed job description for the sort of work I’d be interested in (which is also an accolade for the account manager who put the job description together in the first place). I was impressed, but unavailable.

Shanna would continue to check in with me from time to time. Each time, she presented a job opening that seemed tailor made for me. She was professional and jovial. I suppose it’s quite a trick to be aggressive without appearing aggressive.

She checked up on me for years without actually placing me anywhere. Then, in 2003, I found myself on a disastrous contract, and I needed to get out quickly. I could have posted my resume on a job board, but I thought I’d call Shanna first.

Did you catch that? I called her. Not the other way around.

I’m “on the market” for maybe two weeks every one to two years. Every time a recruiter calls, I’m probably not looking for work at the moment. When I do start a job search, the odds of a recruiter calling me within that narrow time window are pretty slim.

With Shanna, however, I had a relationship. Without actually trying, her name stuck in my brain over the years. She’d call, and I’d think to myself “Oh, yeah. I remember her. She’s the recruiter who’s always trying to fill the cool jobs”.

Now, contrast that to Phone Monkeys ‘R’ Us. They call monthly, and I get a different recruiter every time. If I hit the market today, I wouldn’t even know which Phone Monkey to ask for! While the Phone Monkeys are dialing away on fruitless calls to candidates, Shanna has candidates calling her!

Sure enough, when I called, Shanna had a position for me. In days, I had an interview and an offer. It would turn out to be a nearly two year stint and one of the most professionally rewarding contracts I’ve ever had. After years of trying, she and her employer were finally making money off of me.

It gets better. When colleagues ask for a referral, I send them to Shanna. I don’t send them to her staffing company, I send them directly to her. “Call and ask for Shanna,” I say. Heck, through years of mergers and acquisitions, her employer has had no fewer than three names! The company’s current name is generic sounding and carries little recognition among techies. It doesn’t matter, because Shanna is their voice and image. They’ve got somebody on the payroll who knows how to bring people in.

My advice to IT staffing companies

I don’t know how long Shanna has been working as a technical recruiter, but she’s been working with me at least eight years. In addition to Shanna, I also have a few other recruiters on my “short list” of phone numbers to never lose. All of them have many years of experience.

Think “fewer, but better” recruiters. Do what it takes to keep experienced recruiters on board. Sure, you’ll need to pay them more, but their bang-for-the-buck will be a win-win. Leverage their experience to mentor new recruiters.

Think “fewer, but better” phone calls. Have recruiters spend more time reading the resume and preparing for the call before dialing the candidate.

Don’t call techies just to ask for a referral. You’ll only peeve them. I don’t care if your recruiters call only every other month. You’re competing with a hundred McStaffing companies that call twice a week. Don’t let someone else’s bad reputation rub off on you. If your recruiters are respected by the techie, the referrals will come automatically.

Prepare for a conversation, not a sales pitch. Help recruiters gain a basic understanding of what technology is out there. Candidates are bound to ask for more information about a job, and it’s important that the recruiter can either answer the question or accurately relay the question back to the hiring manager. (i.e., Java is nothing like JavaScript – not even close!)

Build a relationship. Nearly all calls will be to a candidate who isn’t available right now. If your recruiters are good, they’ll be remembered. Candidates will call them when the time is right.

What do other techies think?

Am I way off base, here? What makes you really want to work with a particular staffing company? What makes a staffing company appealing to techies? How can great staffing companies – over the phone – distinguish themselves from the brainless Phone Monkeys filling the market?

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