What is it like to be a tech recruiter?
May 6, 2011 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Are you a technical recruiter or have you worked with tech recruiters? I am interviewing for such a position and need your insight on the industry and if this is something I should explore.

Having worked for both a web start-up and in financial services, I am now interviewing for a tech recruiting position - clients are mostly banks. I understand recruiting is essentially sales. My strengths are that I am great on the phone and people tend to trust me quickly, I am good at building relationships and am diligent about following up with people, I have a freakishly good memory and I'm a damn hard worker. Since I have no hard skills like programming or accounting, I have always considered a possible career in sales. I also want a career where I'm truly compensated for working my ass off (as has not been the case in past jobs). However, my main criteria for my next gig is that I have to be helping people and doing it the right way. Having been around shady business practices in the past, I will not act unethically.

My questions are: Is recruiting inherently scummy or does it not have to be? Given my skill set do you think I have what it takes to be successful? Is burnout and high turnover typical in recruiting, or can it truly be a long-term career? And finally, any tips on acing my next round of interviews, landing this job and doing great?

Posted anonymously so as not to be identified in case anyone from the company reads this.

Thank you for the advice!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My experience with recruiters is about 90% scum, 10% at least trying to be useful. When you get right down to it, you are trading in people. From the employer side, you need them to hire your candidates so you can get paid. Ideally you'll really care if the candidate is a a great fit, in reality you need that commission check. On the other side, you'll be working with currently unemployed people that desperately need a job, with no idea that you've got 4 candidates interviewing for a position, and you are telling all 4 they are great fits for the job. It seems like a very. very difficult job to succeed at ethically, and quite frankly in 20+ years in the work world, I'm not sure if I've met one yet that really does it right.
posted by COD at 10:03 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who was a technical recruiter and she's a very ethical person who I imagine would not have worked someplace "sketchy".

From what she has said about her job, it requires a lot of attention to detail, being great on the phone and responsive to clients' needs/demands. A good portion of her job was basically prepping the recruits; evaluating resumes and ensuring they had relevant job experiences, interviewing them and getting a sense of their "fit" for a particular position, instructing them on the expectations of the job, advising them on the basics of the particular work environment/business culture, placing them, etc.. She also worked with the hiring companies, though we didn't talk much about that, I imagine good people skills and rapport building was involved.

Since she worked primarily during the tech bubble, there were great demands for IT professionals and a lot of eager IT workers who didn't necessarily find submitting resumes to every job opening the most desirable means of engaging employment. My friend enjoyed her job, it was essentially a consulting firm that was neither predatory nor exploitative. The company had a good reputation and they earned it.
posted by loquat at 10:31 AM on May 6, 2011

If your job is to search Monster for jobs and then search Monster for applicants that meet three random keywords from the job listings in hopes of making a couple hundred dollars off, then the answer is scum.

If customers come to you and specifically ask you to find candidates for positions that they are NOT listing in other venues, and you actually understand the words in their job listings and make a concerted effort to find applicants who actually approach the same solar system of skills as the job requirements, that is not scum.

Keep your scum radar activated and remember that promises about the money you CAN make are not promises about the money you WILL make. Since the internet happened, only once have I ever worked with a recruiter who'd been in the business more than 18 months, and he works in a very very niche market for the only company that specifically recruits for this particular niche. All the rest were either fresh out of college with marketing degrees, or older people who'd been laid off from long-term jobs and were just trying to stay afloat.

These days, of the 50+ completely pointless shit emails I get every day, 90% of them are from offshore recruiting centers who are solely listing/resume scrapers and do not understand or care that my unix certification from 1998 and subsequent 15 years of completely not working with unix means I'm a poor candidate for that AS/400 job.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:31 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

erm "in hopes of making a couple hundred dollars off" should finish with "finder's fees grudgingly coaxed out of employers".
posted by Lyn Never at 11:32 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a programmer, and like all the other tech folks I know, have plenty of experience with recruiters (though I don't much use them myself anymore). HR departments can (and often do, in my neck of the woods) outsource digging through resumes and locating candidates. This is work they can certainly do themselves much more cheaply, but they bring in recruiters because it offloads a bunch of labor they don't find very appealing for whatever reason. If you look at Monster or Dice, it's almost all 3rd party recruiters.

Maybe all this outsourcing is simple laziness, or it's tedious work that's eagerly offloaded. The more charitable explanation is that there's a myth that tech recruiters actually know more about technology than HR departments, and by and large this isn't the case. Tech recruiters aren't matching candidates and jobs based on their understanding of the skills involved. They're matching based on how well the keywords in the resume match up with the keywords in the description of the job opening.

When I was a job candidate dealing with recruiters, they'd be trying to rework my resume and give me interview tips based on their incredibly superficial understanding of the work the job entailed. This would inevitably cause me problems--for example, I'd go into an interview thinking they were looking to get a particular sort of job done and I'd hammer my skills in that area, while meanwhile they were looking for a completely different sort of skillset that I actually had but didn't emphasize. On the other side of the fence, I've sat through interviews with candidates wondering how on earth the recruiter thought they'd be a decent employee, let alone a good fit for the opening. But they're getting paid per placement, so they'll fire anyone at you whose resume matches.

I think if you go into this job with the mindset that you're going to be a matchmaker and actually hook up the right people with the right jobs, you'll both avoid the shadier "any warm body" side of recruiting and you'll be highly successful*. This doesn't mean you need a deep understanding of programming, but you should have a business-level comprehension of IS/IT and know what a DBA does on a day-to-day basis (for example), and how their role differs from a PL/SQL programmer and so forth. If you take a few folks you know in the tech field out for a couple beers and ask them who works at their company and what they do daily, you'll be in the forefront of tech recruiters. I'd try to grab someone from a dinky web shop, and a big bureaucratic Fortune 500 type place. There are vast differences in the type and personalities of people you need if there are 5 tech folks versus 500.

* Now this may not be possible. It may be a quantity-vs.-quality game for economic or competitive reasons I do not comprehend. But, given the large sums of money changing hands, I've got to believe you could slow down and consistently deliver good candidates to good openings.
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:05 PM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm actually working as a tech recruiter right now. I came in hyper-alert for any of the shadier parts of the job, and I've been really happy with what I do and how I do it.

Nahum Tate has a really good point. Learning the technology is very important in this job and nothing I or the people I work with do involves sending over candidates just based on resume bullet points. (Of course, I don't want to think bad things about my job, and I may be under a certain myopia, YMMV but I consider myself an ethical person and I haven't ever done anything I felt to be sketchy, shady etc.).

I know different companies work differently, but if you can find a place to work like where I do, I think you can be happy. I certainly am and my coworkers act that way as well. Plus I know we'd be really embarrassed if anything like what Nahum described actually happened to our candidates or our companies.

Part of what you want to find I would say is a recruiting company that understands that its reputation is more valuable that a quick placement, and that long term relationships are at the heart of actually having a business that's around for more than 18 months.
posted by Carillon at 1:25 PM on May 6, 2011

I worked in a technical recruiting office for 18 months in technical support (no recruiting for me!). The company did and continues to do well, but while it was not necessarily ethically exploitive it's not a career I would recommend for someone based on what I saw.

We had an EXTREMELY high turnover. I saw a number of bright-faced folks come in with a vision of helping people find their perfect job, and later get crushed by the fact that you are only as good as last month's placement numbers. Job applicants are a commodity just like any other in the recruitment biz, and your job is to sell that commodity.

The result of that environment was extreme competition to have the best numbers, and the result of THAT was a very .. jocular work environment. I used to compare it to that movie The Boiler Room -- there were a lot of men (at my company at least there was the unspoken belief that women are not cut out for hardnosed sales), a lot of racial slurs, a lot of playing "who has the biggest" (car, house, phone, biceps, girlfriend's boobs).

That being said, the folks who were willing to put in a lot of time and effort and play the game seemed very satisfied with their work and made substantial money doing it.
posted by jess at 3:14 PM on May 6, 2011

I worked as a technical recruiter for five years, though I've recently moved into HR. There's good and bad news related to the field. On the bad side, something like 90% of the industry is unethical. There is a very low barrior to entry and the ability to make significant money. That equals a lot of shady dealing. On the other hand if you can secure a position with an ethical company it can be a great way to make very solid money while you gain the experience to move in a lot of good directions. Here's what to look for:
A dedication to quality. Beware anything that sounds like throwing candidates at the wall to see what sticks.

A solid ATS. You'll be living out of it, you need it to be robust.

A diverse client base. Recruiting is all about opportunity. Make sure you're not working the same reqs as everyone else in town, unless you have solid client relationships.

The sales model. Some companies split sales and recruiting and some companies give the recruiter the full desk. I prefer the former but you have to have solid sales support.

A full understanding of the company's ability to sponsor visas. It's a major part of IT, particularly in dev, but some companies are afraid of the costs, financial and cultural.

A fair commission structure. If you can find a company that shares pooled commissions it's nice. Nothing is less fun than fighting with your team over candidate ownership.

Reasonable quotas. The job is all about quotas. Listen very carefully to what is emphasized. Is it all about quantity or are they interested in length of hire, etc?

The longer the contracts and the higher the margins the better. The work is not substantially harder the higher up the candidate ladder you go, but a lot of companies churn the bottom of the barrel because that's the only work they can get.

Bottom line, it's a rewarding and lucrative field though very few people stay with it long (five years is generally the upper limit). I'd be glad to answer any specific questions you might have.
posted by jondunc at 8:49 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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