As a hiring manager, I am approached by recruiters all of the time. I get offers every other day from recruitment and outsource agencies, looking to sell their services to my employer, because they know from my job title on LinkedIn that I am a hiring manager.
As an engineering leader, some of my main responsibilities include hiring and retention. I hire people all of the time, and have been doing so for many years. I compete with many other, high-profile companies in my city to hire the most talented engineers I can find, and then work hard to ensure they stick around for the duration.
My approach to hiring is simple: I hire people who have a great attitude. Technical skills can be improved, but it’s hard to fix a bad attitude. Trust me, I have made that mistake before by hiring 10x software engineers who turned out to be 10x the hassle.
I therefore broadly break my hiring process into two phases, the first one is focused on soft skills and is lead by me, and the second phase is focused on hard skills and it lead by my senior technologists.
I need recruitment partners that can follow the same approach to the letter.
A few years back, I had dinner with about ten other local engineering leaders, which was organized by a recruiter friend, and we all faced the same challenges with regards to hiring and retention: there are simply not enough candidates for the roles available, and we are all competing with one another for the same limited talent pool.
Over the years, I have dealt with some excellent recruiters, and sadly some terrible ones. If you are a recruiter, I hope you find the following advice useful from the hiring manager perspective, and at least it will help explain why I don’t always take your call.
The biggest complaint I have about bad recruiters is their tendency to hassle hiring managers like me. From the initially connection request on LinkedIn, to the repeated calls to your cell phone once the relationship has progressed that far, they push in classic sales style to “close the deal”. Normally I love that sales aggression, but they need to understand the following:
They are selling candidates to companies (and companies to candidates). Both parties need time to think, as it's an important decision for both sides. They need to be patient.
While recruitment is important to me, unlike a recruiter it is not my only responsibility: I might "go dark" for a while because I am dealing with a product delivery issue, a project planning issue, internal team challenges, workshops, conferences or many many other concerns that are distracting me from recruitment right now. Once again, they need to be patient.
Recruitment is based on trust, and if I lose trust in a recruiter I will also disengage with them.
In the past, I have had recruiters try to back-fill guys I have fired from my teams with new candidates because they heard about me from the guys I had fired!
Worse still, I had a recruiter that once tried to back-fill a senior engineer from one of my teams that she herself had head-hunted from my team, thereby trying to double her recruitment fee at my expense! She effectively created the hole in my team, then offered to fill it with someone else.
Trust is everything.
Additionally, bad recruiters make no effort to get to know me. If they don’t know what kind of person (and therefore manager) I am, how can they place engineers in my teams that will be a good cultural fit? Buy me a beer/tea/dinner now and again, or just give me a call to chat.
Work the relationship.
In recent years, a new trend has emerged on LinkedIn with recruiters who I don't know sending me video introductions, that are bespoke as they are mentioning my name and other details from my profile.
In some of those videos, I have been offered gifts to try to entice me to take their calls. I even had one recruiter asking me for my shirt size, so that she could send me a North Face technical jacket.
If I was a young engineer I would be happy to take a call with an attractive lady offering me free swag, but at this later stage of my life, it is very tone deaf: put simply I can afford to dress myself thanks.
It is another example of how a pitch needs to be adjusted depending on the mark: and using the same playbook to target young engineers will not be appropriate for middle-aged senior managers.
The good recruiters I have worked with value my time, because they know my time can make them money via recruitment fees. They also understand that I have other recruitment options now, like online platforms or internal recruiters, so they need to show real added value in comparison to those.
They know they need to hustle, but not hassle. By that I mean, I want them to hustle on my behave to find candidates, but I don’t want them to hassle me.
When I speak with a good recruiter in my city, I come away from that conversation smarter. I know what is happening with company X, candidate Y, and senior manager Z. I know what companies are growing, and what are shrinking and releasing good people back onto the market.
A good recruiter provides intel. Put simply, I will maintain a relationship with a good recruiter long term, as I am gaining that intel.
Finally, a good recruiter will not BS me. They will not provide me with candidates that are half-hearted about the role in my team, only for me to have to find that out the hard way.
They will not try to bluff me about the candidate's commitment, enthusiasm, or technical chops for a role, again leading me and my hiring team to weed out the bad candidates before mistakenly hiring them.
A good recruiter understands that their reputation is on the line each and every time they put forward a candidate, not just with me but with those other engineering managers I dine with, because we all share notes and have long memories.
Good recruiters are fantastic, if you find one stick with them and send them your business, their job is more difficult than you can imagine. If you are a recruiter and listening to this, try to be a great one to stand out from the crowd.
Lets recap what we have covered today:
I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I look forward to covering the next topic in this series with you! In the interim if you want to follow me online, you can find my blog at TechLeader.pro, or follow me on Twitter @TechLeaderPro.
Thanks for your time, take care and have a great week!
 : My original 2019 blog post "On dealing with recruiters" - https://techleader.pro/a/522-On-dealing-with-recruiters
File details: 14.3 MB MP3, 9 mins 56 secs duration.
Title music is "Still Cold" by Crystal Shards, licensed via www.epidemicsound.com
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