Why Developers Hate Being Called by Recruiters

Last year around this time I was teaching web development to novices who could squeak by and pass a Codecademy course on HTML and CSS. We took those novices and turned them into competent full-stack web developers. We tried to get every one of those students a job. There were offers that came directly to the boot camp from hiring managers all the time but many of my old students ended up being contacted by recruiters after they graduated with little success and much frustration. I myself have used recruiters to find work before and I know why developers are, to put it nicely, annoyed by them.

To start let me make something clear. Not all recruiters are as described here. There are some firms that do look out for the best interest of the talent but unfortunately there are fewer of them than there should be. The recruiters I’m talking about fall into the category that most annoy developers and, unfortunately, while they’re a minority, they’re a vocal minority that can tempt you to paint the entire industry with a broad brush.

You are not the client

When you agree to work with a recruiter do not assume you’re being looked after. Watch out for aggressive sales tactics. If your first conversation feels as though you’ve agreed to work with an agency but no one asked you, that’s a red flag. If, however they ask if you want their help, be open to it but don’t let your guard down just yet.

Recruiters work for the companies they place you at. They get a kickback from that company and the more people they can get into a company, for longer periods of time, the better relationship the recruiting firm will have with the company which means they’ll have an easier time placing you there. Their goal is not only to place you but to keep you at the company you’ve been placed at for as long as possible. This is actually a win-win situation. If you’re a good fit you’ll end up working for a company for a long time and become an integral part of their team. This makes the recruiters look good and they’ll get more business from the companies that are using them to find talent.

Knowing that you’re the product and not the consumer is step one in understanding how this arrangement operates and how you can make it work for you. As I mentioned, (in theory) if a recruiter does a great job then you’ll be placed somewhere that suits you and that you’ll love. So how can you tell if you’re being placed appropriately?

  • Listen to the pitch from the recruiter. Your recruiter will try to sell you on a job based on what’s on your resume and the talks they have with you about what you’re looking for. If the initial call about a company sounds more like a sales pitch than a conversation about your interests, preferences, skills, and how that fits with what the company is looking for that’s a red flag.
  • Listen to the company/job overview from the company itself. If you happen to get an interview – even a phone screen – with a company that was pitched to you then listen carefully to the company rep themselves and take their word over your recruiter’s.
  • Your recruiter is likely not going to be very technical. They’ll know the buzzwords and maybe know what exactly certain technologies are but these aren’t tech people. Take notes on what they say and then…
  • Listen to the company representative and compare what they say about what the company does and the technology they use as well as the position they’re looking to fill. Take notes on that as well and compare them to what your recruiter told you. If there’s a remarkable difference, that’s a red flag.
  • There will be discrepancies between what your recruiter says and what the company rep says but those differences should be minor. What’s considered minor? Well, that’s up to you.
  • Do not ever trust a promise from a recruiter – even reputable ones. The only people that can promise you anything are the people hiring you. For example, if you apply for a contract-to-hire role and your recruiter tells you “I know you’re looking for full time but with your skill and resume you’re sure to get a full-time offer within a few weeks”. There is no way they can keep that promise. So many factors can influence that sort of thing. Your performance, the company’s internal processes (how slow/fast they are), company culture, etc. Beware of these types of promises as they are red flags.

Trust your gut

If something doesn’t feel right, don’t accept a position. If your interviewer gives you a bad vibe it could be a sign of a bad company culture. Know who’s interviewing you too! That bad vibe you got from “some guy” in that interview session could end up being your boss. When that happens you’re sure to feel bad vibes throughout your stay at the company.

Don’t be afraid to turn down a company if you get bad vibes during a conversation with a company. Even if the company seems to line up with what you’re looking for. I’ve done it three times before I settled on my current employer.

Read between the lines

Code challenges are important. If you’re a Node developer, the company you applied to knows it, and you get asked to develop a PHP API using a specific PHP API that right there tells you they’re looking for someone with experience in that framework. Now, don’t think that if a simple fizz-buzz challenge in PHP is given to you then they’ll expect you to write PHP all day. Something like that is simply a test of your knowledge of basic coding competence and your ability to do common tasks in different languages. That’s not a big deal. A Node dev that’s asked to solve a couple challenges in Ruby and PHP as well as JavaScript is just being tested to see if they’re a one-trick pony. They want someone who knows what things like objects and arrays are, how iteration works, how conditionals work, etc. Anyone applying for a mid to senior level position should be able to complete a simple one file challenge in these languages.

Make your preferences and goals clear

When a recruiter asks what you’re looking for don’t just say “a lot of money”. You need to have an idea of what kind of company you could see yourself working for, the culture of that company, and the benefits. For example, besides benefits, you could be looking for a company with a flexible work from home policy, a place where you come in, get your work done, and go home when you’re finished. A place where, so long as you’re easily contacted and make your meetings, you are free to work at your own pace and on a team that shares the same values as you. Make it clear that you’re willing to take a slight pay cut in exchange for better benefits if that’s the case. If you want full time work then do not take any contract work, even contract-to-hire work. A lot of times contract-to-hire means the company is skimping on benefits and/or running a place where you can easily be replaced or the company has a high turnover rate. I’ve known of companies that put a lot of pressure on contract workers to work extra hours and do things that full time employees don’t need to do because of that fear and insecurity of a contract hanging over their head.

Communicate

Be a good communicator with both the companies you’re being set up with and your recruiting team. They’re both there to help you and all three of you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. This goes along with making your intentions and preferences clear. A lot of times you’ll end up trying to apply directly to a company and your resume gets intercepted by a recruiter. When this happens I immediately look for signs that I’m being contacted by a recruiter and turn the job down. Companies have their own hiring managers but those hiring managers may also use recruiters to help speed up the process. If your goal is to apply direct to a company and recruiter responds don’t be afraid to decline the offer and make an attempt to contact the hiring manager directly.

Recruiters are an odd bunch. Some have great reputations and others are no better than used car salesmen. They tend to like experienced developers more than junior developers because the experienced developers are easier to place. So new devs, try out a recruiter but continue your search by trying to contact hiring managers directly because your chances tend to be better when you apply directly. Mid to senior level developers can pretty reliably count on recruiters to find themselves jobs. Just be sure to do your homework, communicate, and trust your gut.

Good luck fellow developers and especially my former students.

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