Selling Jobs? I'm Not Buying!

I wrote this several months ago after a particularly annoying set of calls with a “recruiter” from a local staffing firm. At the time, I was helping another team in my division interview candidates for a Senior Developer with exceptionally strong JavaScript skills. In one particular month, the same recruiter called me four or five times, each time using a different name from the same “services” firm. It is entirely possible that he actually was someone new each time, but each call sounded the same to me. Every time my response was nearly identical:

I don’t make financial decisions related to hiring, so I’m not in a position to hear about recruiting services, nor do I have any interest, but thank you anyway.

Each time, he kept talking.

Dude. I know you’re just doing your job, but you’re doing it wrong.

As a hiring manager, I have a strong personal distaste for recruiting firms and staffing agencies. I know that sometimes, these services are necessary in order to find the right candidate for a specialized position, to find a short-term whiz to save the day on a tough project, etc. I have nothing against recruiting companies that are working for me. I am, of course, notably complacent when it comes to the one time I needed a staffing firm in order to find gainful employment. That experience was incredibly painless, having met a representative from the firm at a job fair and starting work the next week.

No, this sort of experience has nothing to do with what ails me. Instead, my beef has to do with the cold calls from folks I’ll refer to as Job Sales Engineers, or JSEs for short. I absolutely will not paint them with the same brush as I do the recruiters I work with on a more regular basis inside of my company for the primary reason that the technical recruiters in the office are pretty darn good, and it would do them a serious disservice to be categorized in such a way.

So, Rant on:

JSEs are never technical enough and/or have not worked in the industry

Every JSE I speak to, which is currently averaging one every two weeks or so, has about 20% of the technical knowledge required to find the right candidate for a position. So, when the recruiting department posts a job saying that we’re looking for a Senior Web Developer with experience integrating a Java Applet with a JavaScript-driven user interface, and the recruiter calls and thinks that their ASP.Net candidate with the term “AJAX” on their résumé is qualified, I hang up on them. It’s not even the platform disparities that are so bothersome, it’s that they don’t know what these terms mean. Here I am, looking for someone who can sub-class a language (whose object-oriented nature is basically a hack) in their sleep, and a recruiter toddles around each word.

JSEs lead with acronyms, not accomplishments

Yes, the irony of using an acronym to complain about someone using acronyms is not lost on me...

Every call starts with something like “I see you are looking for a web developer. I have a candidate coming out of XYZ Blue Chip Company. He’s got Struts, AJAX, HTML, XML, Oracle and SQL…” Ok first of all, why do I care that he has both Oracle and SQL experience? The syntactical differences between PL-SQL and SQL (I’m presuming SQL92 unless they're using a new revision of an engine which supports one of the later standards) are insignificant enough for a developer who isn’t solely a database developer, that no one should ever put both of them on a skills list. I could possibly consider them individually important if you'd been responsible for writing specialized database connectivity modules. Then again, if you’re listing AJAX without mentioning JavaScript, what exactly do you mean?

Secondly, brevity is just as important on the phone as it is on a résumé! Tell me what the person DID. Say “I have a candidate who just finished a very successful cross-functional project utilizing similar technologies to the ones listed in your posting. They have a long track record of delivering quality work on time.” That might catch my attention, should I be in the position to care. Heck, I know a guy whose nickname was something like "the bugless wonder". If you've got someone like him, tell me about that.

JSEs cold call rather than establish relationships

This shouldn’t even be an issue. Even the most tenacious, annoying salesperson knows that the best way to make a sale is to use an existing relationship to get you in the door and into the front of someone’s mind. Recruiters don’t do that, and if they’re trying to, they do a terrible job of crafting that initial relationship. You’re going to have to convince me to talk to you, so why not buy me a cup of coffee? You have until I finish drinking it to convince me I should ever want to pick up the phone again.

Careful, though, I can drop a cup of coffee in seconds, so talk fast.

JSEs don't do their homework

This usually manifests itself in an obvious data-mining of LinkedIn without regard for the appropriate person to call. I’m sure many sales folks do things like this as well. They need to find any “in” and I can’t entirely knock the tactic in theory. In practice, though, it’s a waste of my time to talk to you, so don’t call me. That’s why my LinkedIn contact settings explicitly say “Please do not contact me on behalf of recruiting or third-party services for my company.” READ IT!

On top of that, I’m not the development manager. Nuance is a publically traded software company with thousands of employees. We have more than one division. There isn’t one “development manager”. I mean, I’m flattered that you think someone of my tenure could run such a vast empire of developers across several countries, but seriously? Flattery won’t make me want to listen to you, it just tells me you didn't do your homework.

Besides, Nuance has an entire recruiting staff of its own to do the dirty workawesome task of finding candidates for open jobs — the “hiring managers” are only called that because they have positions to be filled, and get involved in the process once candidates are selected. Our recruiters do a pretty solid job at finding leads once they fully grok the position, which only adds to my annoyance that independent recruiters call me directly to try to get a foot in the door here.

Since writing this several months back, I’m down to about one call every six to eight weeks, which is tolerable. One of our in-house recruiters told me to transfer said calls right to him. Ever since I think they figured out that my easy out makes me a bad mark.

This is perfectly fine by me.

Image courtesy of us (design studio)'s Human Chicken project.

Dec 29th, 2009