The Sorry State of Recruiting

Something is rotting in the state of recruiting.

You know when people go out of their way to shit on recruiters, something is profoundly wrong with the system. When service is bad, most just put up with it – it’s only when something hits a certain level of unbearable that you see stuff like this. And this. And another one. Here again.

We need to be honest about the biggest problem in recruiting today: the candidate experience is abysmal.

The average developer will receive multiple solicitations per day. Often jobs are hidden from her until she meets a recruiter in person. The recruiter then tries to muscle her into taking an interview. Or does a bait and switch with two different jobs. Often, communication just ends, as the candidate wonders what happened. Then several months later, the recruiter will start the process over again.

We are racing to the bottom. We have learned that 1000 emails = 20 calls = 5 meetings = 1 placement. That is a destructive equation. It doesn’t take into account the collateral damage.  Linkedin Inmails are arguably the laziest form of communication ever devised, and are losing their value faster than the Venezuelan Bolivar.

And hardly anybody seems to care. Go to most recruiting agencies, and scratch a bit beyond the glossy marketing surface. What you’ll find is pure apathy.

Check out this small interaction. See how quickly it descends into troll level taunts. The “I don’t give a fuck about you” is lurking so closely to the surface, it takes but one email to bring it out.

Numbers, Inmails, quotas, emails, all these are things are a barriers between the recruiter and the humanity of somebody who is considering a new job. It’s the same distance that you feel when you are on United Airlines, and you can see in the steward’s eyes that he doesn’t want to be there, that he just wants to go home.

This affliction affects not only agency recruiters but internal ones as well. Once their hiring manager says “pass”, then they often cut communication with the candidate and let them fall into the abyss.

The contingency model is fucked

Imagine you needed somebody to build you an iPhone app. You get a handful of developers and tell them: “I want you each to build me an app, and I’ll pay the guy who makes me the version I end up going with.” Sounds nuts, right? Well, that is how recruiting works, and that is why it encourages “spray and pray”, race-to-the-bottom stuff.

You would imagine that those app developers would begin mass producing garbage in the hope that something sticks somewhere. And you’d be right! In fact, something sort of like this happened in the design/logo world with a company named 99 Designs. And look what happened.

But for some reason, recruiting is the great exception. Clients expect recruiters to do an incredible amount of work upfront and get paid only if the client decides to go with their find. Never mind that there is a huge value for the client in terms of meeting tons of people, understanding the market, testing their interviewing process – a recruiter will never see any of that unless a placement is made.

Using retained search services (payment upfront) with a proven recruiting firm is much healthier approach. But then again, it requires much more courage on the client’s side, so don’t count on that soon.

Tech won’t solve all problems

Someone from Silicon Valley would take a look at all this nonsense and say “this is ripe for some disruption!” Of course they would. A SaaS app that leverages fancy algorithms will obviously put top talent in companies. Of course one of the most personal and emotional decisions people make every few years can be solved by a machine.

There are some interesting companies that are helping the process though. Entelo and Talentbin do a good job of finding and organizing candidate info. DeveloperAuction flips the model, and puts the power in the developer’s hands (although I would argue that that fans the flames of diva culture amongst developers).

But ultimately, technology solutionism is a fool’s errand when it comes to something as complex and human as somebody’s career.

Diamonds in the rough

There are some great recruiters out there. Ones who do all the important stuff, who’ll email a candidate just to see what’s up, not necessarily because he has a “great opportunity”. Just as there are a handful of awesome people at United Airlines who just happen to love what they do. But the problem is – that attitude and corresponding behavior is not systematized across an agency. We need a Trader Joe’s or a Virgin America of recruiting, if you will. 

An agency that commits to creating a stellar candidate experience, placement or not, will ultimately win. They will have influence over the best candidates –  they will be able to charge a pretty penny for that, and they will finally be able to force clients to accept another model than contingency recruiting.

Its a shame that one of the most important roles in any company is being performed so poorly.




How to Talk about Money

Along with sex and your favorite Taylor Swift song, the subject of money is often something people are uneasy to share. Its wrapped up in ego, emotion, and sense of self-worth. For a recruiter – it can often be treading on thin ice. I personally blame America for all of it, but that’s just me. This stuff just doesn’t come up as much in France!

But the uncomfortable money chat is nothing compared to a deal gone awry. All the effort, selling, interview setting up, all leading up to making an 80k offer to somebody who last made that 10 years ago. Don’t waste your time, or theirs. Have the money talk.


Here are a few tips to navigate these often uncertain waters.


Do it early 

The further you get into an interview process, the higher the stakes become. The candidate begins to realize that they could actually be working with you, and goes from job hunter to hunted. And when you are hunted, you are on your guard.

Suddenly every question you ask sounds like “what does he want from me?” to the candidate. Salary of course is the biggest of these questions.

Ask for the salary info early, before you get to that level. He’ll be more than happy to share at that point, cause hey, you’re just talking.


 Share your range

If you still got nothing, you might as well make the first move. Offer a range of what you plan on paying. Be honest, there is no reason not too.

Just caveat this conversation with “this doesn’t mean that your exact salary will be this, but it gives you a ballpark”

The best you can hope for with this is that somebody who is totally out of range will quickly get eliminated from the process early. The worst is that somebody who was underpaid by a previous employer will get a market salary thanks to you. I’m sure that you’re all sad because you can’t continue underpaying him…you CAPITALIST PIG!


Ask them for what they are looking for

Focusing on a number they want is often easier than on what they have currently. So if you are having trouble getting their actual salary out of them, talk about their ideal salary. This has two distinct advantages:

  1. You don’t have to commit to giving them that necessarily, because it is an ideal salary.
  2. If their ideal salary happens to be rather low, then congrats! – you’ve locked them into a deal that works super well for you.


Create a 3rd party bad guy

The easiest way to get somebody to open up is to make them feel that you are on their side. So get on their side!

I often will say that my job is to get the candidate the highest possible salary, and probably will have to negotiate with the CFO who wants to keep as much of it in the bank as possible. The more info I can get from him, the better.

So CFO=bad! You=good!


(Slightly shadier way) – Have a written form

 Create a form that all candidates fill out when they interview. Ask for contact info, maybe make them answer a few questions, whatever you feel like adding. But the key is to ask for comp – and here is what you can write.

“What was your most recent salary?”

For legal purposes, we will ask for a W2 from your previous employer before making an offer.

“Are there any particular circumstances related to you compensation that we should know about?”

A bit shady yes, but there is nothing like a little legal threat to get them to give you a real number. The last question allows them to explain a particular situation, say if they were a freelancer, or were getting paid a lower salary for some reason.