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A brief note on recruiters and recruitment

July 4, 2013

A brief note on recruiters and recruitment.

Just a note to readers: this is aimed at companies looking for talent, not headcount. Consultancies, software companies, or indeed any company recruiting core staff. If you’re a mid-size company looking for a single DBA, some of the points raised here won’t apply.

This is a contentious topic in the IT world – everyone you see talking about recruiters is utterly disparaging: firstly from people who have been sent to the wrong companies (no technical fit, culture is wrong etc), or who get routinely contacted by recruiters who either have no idea what they’re recruiting for (“My client requires someone with Business Objects, Cognos, SAS, Qlikview, Tableau and Spotfire experience to work on our SharePoint BI implementation”. Or for those of you not in BI: “Has worked in at least 5 of SQL Server, DB2, Oracle, PostGRES, MySQL, Access and Visual FoxPro. Must have at least 12 years’ experience with SQL 12″) or have an outdated CV and are recruiting you for the PHP work you last touched in 2002 and have stripped off your CV as fastidiously as you have erased the pain of working with it from your memory.

The problems that I see are three-fold: firstly, recruiters are incentivised by being paid a commission on the annual salary of the candidates they place. This means that they are incentivised to place as many candidates at as high a salary as they can. The incentive to properly vet and totally reject most candidates is completely foreign: success is defined as placing a candidate rather than filling a position with the right person. Big corporates solve this by putting an internal recruiter on payroll.

Secondly, the idea of a relationship with a recruiter is a bit foreign. While there are some companies with relationships with recruiters, the idea of sending a candidate who came to your company directly to a recruiter is a bit absurd: you don’t want to pay the high commission. This means that the recruiter doesn’t develop a deep understanding of your culture and technical requirements, and also means you have 2 parallel recruitment processes (one of which could be any of a million recruiters). Big corporates solve this by putting an internal recruiter on payroll. Recruiters (even in the corps) generally speaking don’t have enough technical knowledge, but that’s a harder problem to solve.

The final issue is that recruiters see their databases of candidates as their IP. It’s a precious commodity, it’s how they can source people. Problem is, it gets out of date, quickly, and throwing away any CV older than 6 months goes against the grain.

So, my idea. (And I will let you know how it goes…..)

Take someone from the recruitment space on in a consulting capacity (freelance). Pay them an hourly rate, invest some time in teaching about my company, culture and technology. Create a process that they run; all potentials go through this person, all vetting starts here; and they co-ordinate all the subsequent technical tests and interviews with people who can do the technical pieces. Teach them enough technical to discard the utterly irrelevant.

The lack of a database of people is an advantage. Get them to spend an hour or two a month (paid for time) trawling LinkedIn (and Facebook and Twitter I guess) looking for the perfect candidate, talking to the ones that seem like a perfect fit. When a position is urgent, then post an ad and up the trawl time, send the InMails.

Get this person hunting your perfect employee. Without incentivising false positives.

I have an idea that this is how executive headhunting works. I could be wrong. But I think it’s worth an experiment to find out.

Additional notes on recruiting

As Brent Ozar has said: you also really want to be using Social media: Twitter; Facebook; LinkedIn; as well as your community (user group, SQL Saturday) to start off with. You will get a great response with applications from there. To respond to Brent, I’d actually say I’d like to use my recruiter to do the first round of telephonic conversations with them and then run the ones that aren’t obviously inappropriate into our technical test and interview process. Having a recruiter do the initial round of filtering is going to be a ton cheaper than using a BI Architect or other highly paid consultant or Software Architect to do this. I also see the recruiter trawling the social media to find the candidates who aren’t actually looking and have missed your posts.
I welcome more comments!

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2 Comments
  1. Tamsin Emmerich permalink

    Hi Mark,

    I am indeed a technical recruiter, I specialise in the Microsoft Dynamics as well as Microsoft BI space. And I completely agree with your thoughts. I find the biggest problem in recruitment is the “big” agencies hire grads, that dont know what they want to do with their newly earned degree and they are going to give this recruitment thing a go – realising after 6 months that this is not as easy as one thought and then leaving. This making it hard for them to develop the knowledge needed to 1, understand what their given niche is and 2, develop a long standing relationship with a handful of clients. And lets not forget that often its their managers who are pushing for the bigger salary earners.

    You are right in saying that your above approach is how executive head-hunting works – and I believe this is how recruiting should be done all the time. It how I work with my clients and I have been recruiting for some of them for as long as 7 years and I have placed 80% of thier current staff compliment. Throw out the database and start every new search fresh! Else, you never find anyone fresh and new. And your poor client gets to see the same Pnet CV a 5 times over.

    I would like to say thank you for recognising that a good recruiter does bring value, and that you and your recruiter are a team – and with that time needs to be invested in that recruiter for him or her to understand YOUR business. That makes it a valuable working relationship for both.

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