Why I don't work with recruiters, but I learn from them

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Bring me clients, please… pretty please!

When you first start out as a freelancer, your network is small. Without a steady stream of projects, the tendency is to reach for whatever you can find. Head shops & agencies build a brand, and ongoing relationships with firms. However a project with a middleman is a relationship with him or her, not the client directly. You lose control of a few very key things, such as fees, testimonials and payment terms.

Read: NYC technology startups are hiring

It’s all about the relationship, Luke

With independent consulting, your relationship with clients is key. Fostering that relationship, builds trust, communication, and confidence in you as a service provider. Doing operations and database management, a CTO, VP or Director of engineering needs to be confident entrusting enterprise systems to you. Security of assets, reliability that things won’t break, and consistency are all crucial.

Working with a recruiter, agent or head shop the client then may feel a stronger relationship with that firm. Testimonials and due credit for successful completion of a project may go to them rather than to you directly.

It also means you lose control of the conversation about fees. Want to do project or week-based fees, your suggestion may fall on deaf ears. What’s more you will share large margins that could amount to 25% or even 50% of the overall fee.

Read This: Why hiring is a numbers game

Headhunters have the pulse of the market

With all those complaints, you might think I don’t like recruiters much, but you’d be sadly mistaken. It turns out I learn a ton from recruiters, and almost always take their calls.

o those conversations are good practice for talking shop
o they provide good feedback & ask questions about confusing areas in conversation
o buzzwords will pop up prominently, helping you understand what their clients needs are
o gives you a bit of the pulse of the market

I learn to speak in broad terms, in a language managers and folks at all levels of an organization can understand, and I learn patience too.

Check out: Top MySQL DBA Interview questions for candidates, managers & recruiters

Recruiter pings – a key performance indicator

Over a ten year period you start to notice trends. Certain times of the year I get more calls & more pings from talent agencies. Here’s what I monitor:

o recruiter views of my linkedin profile
o recruiters email me on linkedin
o recruiters call me
o recruiters signup for my newsletter

Also: Why operations & MySQL DBA talent is hard to find

Learn from people whose business is communication

Although I don’t have referrals or connections for the HR or search consultant that’s reaching out to me there is still lots I can learn. At the end of the day, recruiters are in the business of relationships, and that’s where I become the humble student.

Also: 8 Questions to ask an AWS expert

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  • Chuck Hudgins

    Hi Sean, I find your approach to recruiters fairly reasonable overall, and definitely more open minded than a lot of the engineers I usually deal with as a recruiter. My question would be, do you try to be transparent about this approach when a recruiter calls/contacts you. And if so, what do you actually tell them in that regard?

  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    Thx Chuck. Well I mention on my linkedin profile that I only work direct and don’t have any referrals. However it’s a fast paced world, and everyone may not see that.

    A lot of engineers don’t like calls in general. And sure there are times we all get frustrated from unsolicited calls. However I firmly believe that taking the call is a good use of my time.

    Thx for the comment.

  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    My colleague, Shahan Avedian had the following to say…

    Come on Sean !! Not every recruiter is bad !! 🙂

    I have been a technical recruiter for the past 14 years – all with the same firm. From my perspective the biggest issue with the recruiting industry is that anyone who is willing to pick up the phone can call themselves a technical recruiter. Thus its not surprising that developers or managers have received telephone calls where the person on the other end seems clueless and then assume the entire industry is filled with idiots. The developers simply don’t have the bandwidth to filter the good recruiters from the bad recruiters. Who goes around admitting “I love recruiters”..I think their is a certain misguided stigma in even admitting that you need one – as if to say “if you were good you wouldn’t need a headhunter to get you a job”

    What developers need to realize is that certain smugness toward recruiters is very shortsighted. Where you work is going to change over time. New direction, lack of budget, new manager who is awful, or a rouge trader who bankrupts the entire organization (true story). It would only benefit you if as part of your network a few very good recruiters were included.

    Plus one day the phone will stop ringing if you don’t adapt. For all the hot to trot Ruby/Ext-JS/HTML5/Hadoop developers who’s phone will not stop ringing right …10 years ago in your shoes were EJB 3.0 developers, 5 years ago it was the Flex 2.0 developers… today hot skillset is tomorrows lukewarm skill set – I have seen this happen over and over again. Don’t simply shut down every recruiter that calls one day that person might be very valuable to you. (My personal prediction is in 5 years I will throw a rock and hit 6 Hadoop developers).

    Which leads me to the one of the biggest issues faced by recruiters. The sheer number of developers/IT folks who claim they possesses a certain skill set when in fact they don’t. Figuring out the truth is one hurdle facing any recruiter. The dates change, the employers change, bullet points get added and subtracted on what the job is..in one version of the resume they are a C# developer in another version they Development PM…its endless. So take it all the attention as a compliment, and realize things might not be the same in the future.

    Having a good recruiter can be a fantastic asset. They can inform you about a role that you would have never known about because your so busy doing your job. They can help you craft a resume that is going to stand out from the rest. They often have been working with a specific client for years thus have a good feel for what the client really wants, they may know a certain manager only wants to see a resume that is 3 pages long, they may know that despite the laundry list in the job requirement what only matters is your Maven experience buried as the 6th bullet point in the job description, they may have the ability have your resume jump the line when they insist that you are the person the manager needs to speak too.

    I know personally I have been able to obtain fantastic roles for people over the years that without my help would never gotten an interview much less the role. I will give a specific example- just one – I had a candidate who moved from California with a real awful looking resume holding himself out as a QA Analyst, he had worked for Adobe and it turns out in order to test their products he needed to build (code) testing frameworks in ActionScript and Flex. After reworking the resume I got him a role paying top dollar as a Flex/AS developer rather than a QA resource. (this was several years ago). Prior to me, the words “Flex” or “ActionScript” were not even in his resume – he had no idea how to position himself

    My advice is see what recruiter stays in touch with you despite you not looking to leave. Give them a guidance on how they can keep tabs on you. When you say send me an email in 4 months and they do acknowledge the
    email, your talking to someone who is organized and good at what they do. Forgive him/her for not really understanding the nuance of those Perl modules that you spend your entire day thinking about as Perl developer – but if he keeps sending you Unix admin roles that require Perl scripting that means he is not learning from his mistakes and cut him loose. Look up the recruiter on Linkedin..anyone who jumps from one place to
    another every 6 months in my opinion is a red flag. If you are doing well, you cannot really leave. A good recruiter will tell you who the client is and what rate they can pay . (he/she is really not worried about you being able to go around them, because if you could would have already done it)

    Finally I once asked my brother who is a commercial pilot what is the safest airline – his response was an airline is only as good as the crew flying the plane. All recruiters from the same firm are not going to have the same skill level nor give you the same chance to get hired. Like good developers it takes effort identifying the good ones from the ones who will just waste your time

    Shahan Avedian
    Sr. Technical Recruiter
    Starpoint Solutions LLC
    Direct Line: 732-744-3119 | [email protected]

    • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

      “a certain smugness towards recruiters is shortsighted.”

      I agree Shahan!

  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    via Mark Shrem

    Interesting…thanks for sending Sean. So…you won’t work with recruiters but will only learn from them? Hmmm…in my regard…I focus on full-time opportunities…and not contract as much at all. I’d say around 85% of my focus is in full-time. And I generally get a candidate more in an offer than they would have been able to stretch the client to themselves. Being a buffer I am able ask for things with out losing the opportunity for the individual. In addition, our connections will generally get an interview…where going directly may not.

    I am also able to prepare a candidate for the interview with great insight, better than if they were directly connected to the company…and I will always work as a team to get my candidate what he/she wants.

    I guess there are recruiters who have poor ethic…or simply work differently in a negative regard…but if you find a good recruiter who actually works with you as a team as I do, you’ve more than likely struck gold. Just my opinion…but I do feel that way.

  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    Another great response.

    Thanks, Sean. I liked what you had to say in that piece (as well as the thoughtful comments) and have subscribed.

    I guess I’m guided in my approach by how I used to feel when receiving recruiter calls. I never responded well to the hard sell, and I also tended to recoil at folks who pretended to know more than they did about my line of work. We work with technologists now, and I’m not a technologist. So I try to approach people with respect and curiosity, and I also keep in mind that the second best answer I can ever get is a quick no.

    What I love about this work is that when we’re successful we get to participate in a career milestone event for the candidate while solving a problem for the client. That part is really gratifying. One of the biggest challenges is constantly having to educate clients that we’re in a candidate-driven market, so their ideas about fair market value tend to be outdated.

    All best,

    Jay Woodruff



    7 North Mountain Avenue

    Montclair, NJ 07042

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  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull


    Interesting article.

    However I only work on full time hire opportunities and not consulting.

    A lot of your negatives would only make sense for consulting opportunities.

    Do you post on linkedin each month or only on your newsletter?

    As for the positives a lot of what you are saying is true.

    However your only telling the candidate side of the story.

    The correlations that you see on the candidate side have a different type of effect on the companies.

    I really enjoy talking about this kind of thing and getting different perspectives.


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