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Advice to Technical Recruiters: Get Involved

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Look, we get it. Despite the ridiculous pain in most sectors of the economy, and despite the huge numbers of jobless people out there, things in the tech world are largely rosy. There are jobs galore. If you’ve got an opening demanding a hot technology like Rails and you’re based somewhere like San Francisco or New York, good luck filling it. I get at least three emails a week (in a quiet week) from a recruiter looking to fill a position. I love that. Its a great time to be a strong technologist.

But something I see over and over again is emails from different recruiting agencies successively recruiting for what is clearly the same position at the same company. Company calls recruiter, works with them for two or three months unsuccessfully, then moves on to a new agency, hoping for different results. I’m not sure why they think that’s going to make a difference—I would hope everyone realizes at this point that the recruiters are probably targeting the same population.

Got a job to fill?

Judging by my inbox, your process looks a little like this: 1. Open position lands on your desk 2. Email said position to mailing lists and database of names you have from… somewhere. 3. ???? 4. Send suitable applicants to company (or hiring manager if you’re internal) 5. Collect recruiting fee or keep internal recruiting job.

What’s step 3, the astute reader asks? For many, it seems to be mostly filled with waiting, hoping, and praying. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re going to have to work harder than that.

You’re probably laboring under a false assumption—that your job is filling jobs. Its not. Yes, I realize you’ve probably been doing this job for years, and based on my totally unscientific research of recruiters I’ve met, talked to, and worked with, there’s even a 30% chance you’re good at it. Who am I to tell you what your job is?

I’m the guy you’re trying to hire.

Your job is not filling jobs. Your job is creating relationships. Mostly, you need to be creating relationships between yourself, and people in technology, across the country. Candidates is such an aseptic word, so we’re going to call the latter category ‘friends’. When you have a job to fill, you use those relationships to create a new relationship between your client and your friends. And like your everyday friends, you should care enough to know a few things about your geek friends. Here’s why: in technology today, there are more jobs than qualified people to fill them, and that problem seems to be getting worse. So chances are, you’re going to have to convince someone to leave their current job and go to a new job. If your friends like their job, you’re going to have to convince at least one of them that this job offers them more. You do that by selling them on the idea that the new job is going to be better than the one they have, and to do that you have to know what “better” means to them. Maybe its money; maybe its free time. Maybe its company culture, or the chance to learn something new or work on an interesting problem.

Whatever their weakness is, its your job to know it.

When I come to you as a client, I’m not paying you 5, 10, or even 20% commission on their first year’s salary to send a bunch of emails. I’m on all those lists and I can do that myself. What I’m buying from you is your network, and it damn sure better be better than mine, or you’ve got a problem. Because if its not then that means that your client can do your job better than you can.

So, how do you get there? If you’re in any kind of market with a tech scene, you had better be a part of it. Here in Austin, we actually have technical groups negotiating with each other for who is going to meet on what night, because there are so many groups of us meeting that we have to try to minimize scheduling conflicts between groups with overlapping membership. If you’re a recruiter in Austin and you’re not spending at least two nights a week going to these groups and getting to know the members, you’re Doing It Wrong™.

When I say “getting to know the members” that needs to really sink in. That doesn’t mean you stand up at the beginning or end of the meeting and say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m hiring for a bunch of clients so if you’re looking, please come talk to me.” When you do that, you’re asking me to get to know you and what you’ve got to offer. Most of us aren’t actively looking, and we’re not going to come ask you who you’re hiring for, because we probably don’t care. That doesn’t mean we can’t be made to care.

When I say “getting to know the members” that means you get to know us. You engage in conversation. You listen to conversations, find out what we’re interested in (side note: that means you also need to know at least a bit about the technologies we’re interested in.) You know who’s got families and is risk-averse with respect to their employment. You know who’s young and ready to try new things and might be willing to work for a startup who can’t pay as much. You know who’s not altogether unhappy at their job but seems bored. You know who’s been working on side projects with a new technology and isn’t quite comfortable with their knowledge (but who is probably ready to work with it full-time). If you’re really good, you know about that one guy who’s about to have to put his parents in a nursing home and could use some extra cash.

You know this, because these people are your friends.

Let’s face it: half of us probably should get a new job, we just don’t know it. We’re complacent, happy enough that we don’t feel compelled to look around. But if the perfect job landed on my desk, coming from someone I know and trust (and maybe even like) who says “Hey, I know you’re not looking, but I really want to talk to you about this position and I think you ought to at least think about it, so let me buy you lunch or a beer and tell you about it.” I’d listen. Because you’re my friend, and you know what makes me interested.

Conversely, when you send me (a longtime Rubyist and Rails developer) a Java or PHP position, that tells me something—that you don’t know the first thing about me as a potential hire, and that you’re just doing the spray-and-pray thing that so many of your peers do. But we know you now, and we don’t call you back or respond to your emails. You’re lucky if we don’t add a filter to send your email to the trash. If this describes you, you are not my friend.

Gary Vaynerchuck sometimes talks about what he calls the “give-a-damn” economy (which he later revised to the The Thank You Economy), where companies are in business because they really, sincerely care and are grateful for their customers business. As someone recruiting to fill a position, this had better describe you, because we can smell it a mile away when you don’t really give a damn.

And we remember when you do.

By the way, if you’re a company looking to hire in technology, this all applies even moreso to you. Most of the technical groups I referred to above are educational in nature—so you ought to be encouraging and rewarding your employees for going to them. The companies around Austin that are actually managing to fill positions are the ones who we all know from meetings. We know the employees and that they like their work. We know the people we’d be working for, because we get together and have a beer with them at least once a month. If you have an open position that no recruiter seems able to fill, why don’t you try doing it yourself? If you still can’t fill it, cast a wider net: be open to remote employees, offer relocation, travel to some regional conferences and network. We’re not coming to you.

And if you’re someone looking (which deserves a post of its own) remember—these groups are where you’re going to find your dream job. if you live somewhere there isn’t a group, show some initiative and start one—not because you need a job, but because you give a damn about technology. If you have them and don’t go, you’re missing out. Not only on potential work, but on making a lot of honest-to-god friends you’d jump at the chance to work with.

Be a part of the community, and the community will be a part of you.