Three tips for getting a job through a recruiter
In response to a question on the Joel on Software discussion forum
I have obtained just one job in my career through a recruiter. It worked out well
for me. If my experience can help you, great.
This is about what works for me, not the great be-all and end-all of how you can live your life. Especially for this subject: we're talking about making money. I once took a year off work because I didn't think there was a good fit with the companies hiring at the time. I've been told that most people consider this a poor career choice.
I happen to hire through recruiters from time to time, so I can also give you some perspective from the client end.Update: Just to clarify, these points are about my personal experience working with recruiters on full-time employment.Double submission
...one staffing company tried to tell me that a second submission would "cancel out" the first and the hiring company would simply reject me as a candidate.
This is 100% true. It's absolutely bad
to have two recruiters submit your resume to the same client. Speaking as a client, I round-file any resume received through two recruiters. This is because I do not want to end up fighting with them over who should get paid. And they will fight.
The trouble is, the recruiter thinks that they only have upside to submitting your resume, even if the client already has the resume, or you've worked there in the past, or another recruiter has already submitted it. They will tell you all kinds of stories, such as "if you haven't submitted it in the last ninety days I can resubmit it for you." The recruiter would rather have a slim chance of a fee than no chance, and if your resume gets tossed, well, better luck with the next company.
Never mind what the recruiter wants to do, follow these guidelines:Always
ask for the client name. Recruiters will often stall, claiming the client demands confidentiality. Simply say that you may already have contacts into the company and you wish to save them time and trouble. If they still refuse, ask them what else thay have for you. Never submit your resume blindly. Sadly, some recruiters will screw things up and submit you without permission. It's your loss when this happens. The best you can do is refuse to do any further business with them.
If you have had any contact with that company about getting a job, especially if the company has seen your resume, do not allow the recruiter to submit your resume. Period. You can only lose, you can never gain. For example, I have your resume. Now I see it from a recruiter. I could have hired you without paying a fee. Now your resume has a big fat "+20% in cash" sign on it. It goes to the bottom of the pile. I don't want to argue with the recruiter if there's someone else who is "clean."
Of course, if you're the right person you get the job and I'll tough it out with the recruiter. But it's a lot of bother forwarding emails and stuff to prove I had you before the recruiter sent you in. I'm not going to bother unless you're exceptional
. And if you're exceptional, you were already at the top of the pile and you didn't need the recruiter to help you get an interview. Capiche?
The corollary is that you must never
go around the recruiter if you first heard of the opportunity through them. If your friend Steve works there and he never mentioned they were hiring, let the recruiter run with the ball and earn their fee. If your friend Steve mentioned that they are always looking for good people but you never gave Steve your resume, let the recruiter run with the ball and earn their fee.
If you gave Steve your resume and for whatever reason you didn't get an interview, but the recruiter tells you they're hiring, politely say that you are already working with the client and ask them what else they have. Then bug Steve to get things rolling.Keywords
Recruiters are simple keyword-oriented pattern matching machines. J2EE? Check. Eclipse? Check. WebSphere? No? No submit.
Pad your resume with every keyword that might possibly fit. I used to put a keywords section at the bottom for their software programs. If you have a tenuous claim to knowing about something, put it down. For example, I claim J2EE and EJB. But quite honestly, my experience with non-EJB J2EE systems is way bigger than my experience with EJB J2EE systems. But EJB is one of my keywords.
They whole exercise is a waste if the client thinks you've lied, so here's what to do:
First, get a written job description from the recruiter. Don't settle for a verbal description. The recruiter can and will email you something, often exactly what the client emailed them. I've seen forwarded emails with sensitive information such as the client's secret budget objectives. Recruiters are in a hurry, and they love the 'forward' button.
Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute is the best book I’ve ever read about negotiating compensation, and I read a lot of books. My friend (and great development leader) Ian Ameline recommended it to me when I was looking for a job. I read it cursorily and decided to try not mentioning my salary expectations. I received an offer for $15,000 more than I was willing to accept!
This book does more than just tell you what to do. It tells you how to go about it so that you don’t alienate your future employer. It shows you how to work with them to find the compensation that works for you and for them. Without selling out.
If you honestly can’t afford this book, borrow mine before your next job interview. It’s that important.
Next, screen yourself out. If you have a scant claim to something and the client doesn't mention it, don't worry. But if it seems central to what they do, you'd better be honest: "Yeah, I put Ruby down because I used it on a student project, but I'm thinking that 37Signals might have high expectations... Let's pass on this one...
" The recruiter will understand.
Don't play fast and loose, or you'll wind up coding a Monopoly
game in a language and architecture you don't understand. Keywords are fine to get the recruiter to call you, but not fine to get you into an interview where you don't have what the client needs.Disclosing your compensation
Now about disclosure. Google around. You will find that it is always a bad move to discuss your current or past compensation details with an employer. Guess what? That goes 2^n for recruiters. Do not discuss past or present compensation details with a recruiter. Ever
As a client, I bug the recruiter to get that info so that I am armed with the power to underpay you when we negotiate. The recruiter gets to play the hard ass while I pretend to be Uncle Reg fighting to get you every dollar.
Ok, I'm not really that bad. But you know what? I'm human, I have a budget, and within a certain range of 'reasonable' for what you can do, it's my job to pay you closer to the bottom of the range and let you earn a raise. It's your job to get me to pay the top of the range and earn a raise anyways.
written on the subject of negotiating salary. They all say the same damn thing. If you want the Coles Notes, when the recruiter says "no details, no submit," you say "You win, no submit." If the recruiter wants to take themselves out of the picture, that's their business. Don't believe them when they say the client insists. I prefer to have the details, but if Peter Norvig
wants to meet me and won't tell me what Google is paying him, I'm not arguing.
Now I said you don't disclose details. I think you want to mention a range. Here's exactly what I say when people ask me:
Over the past five years, my compensation has ranged from X to Y dollars.
And when they press for more details, I ask them whether this is in the client's budget. If the answer is yes, let's submit the resume. And they will
ask for more details. How much is base? How much bonus? How much last year? Does that include stock options? I blow off all
additional details. If they can't submit my resume without additional details, that's their problem.
What the client needs
is to know that you are neither too cheap (you must suck, or be ignorant, or both), nor too dear (motivated by money, or ignorant, or both). The range answers the question while giving very little away for the negotiation.
Here's how to calculate X and Y. Over the last five years, take the smallest base salary you've earned in any one year or at any one job. Include only the cash portion. This is X.
Now take the most you've earned in any one of the five years. Include the cash equivalent of perquisites like travel to trade shows or conferences, meals, drinks, everything (I drink two free cups of coffee a day. If I'm calculating Y for this year, I'm adding $2.20 a working day to Y).
That's your range. Notice how it works even if you've been at the same job for five years? Nice. And don't discuss this calculation with a recruiter, ever. Their job is to get you an interview. X and Y are all they need to get you the interview.
Speaking as a client, this is enough. I may want more before I make an offer, but this is enough to know whether I'm wasting your time bringing you in for an interview.
Okay, three tips. That's enough for now. Good luck with your search.
p.s. Why is it so much worse to tell a recruiter your compensation details? Because recruiters will tell everyone
. If you tell one prospective employer exactly what you made last year, they do not tell every other employer. They probably consider it advantageous to keep that information to themselves. You've damaged your ability to negotiate with them, but if things don't work out, you can start again with a fresh slate at the next interview.
But if you tell a recruiter, they put it on your file and every time they send your resume out they will send that information with it. Really nasty recruiters will use you to sell other candidates (Ok, you like Kate but you want to see a few more people? Well, I can send you Reg, but he's asking 20% more. If I were you, I'd make an offer to Kate before someone else gets her
). If the recruiter has no idea about your compensation history, or only has a broad range, the recruiter will probably send your resume in.
But if they know your exact details, the shortest line between this situation and their fee is pushing Kate instead of you. Not only are you screwed with clients that want to make you an offer, you're screwed with clients that haven't even interviewed you yet! Speaking as a client, I might have liked you so much more that I would happily pay more. But it's hard to know that if I haven't met you, and it's hard for me to have the optimism that somehow you're going to be worth the extra 20% when I haven't seen you juggle
Don't tell recruiters anything more than X and Y. And even then, skip X and Y if you can.
p.p.s. An interesting link, via lifehack.org: How to Answer the Toughest Interview Questions
.Update: Welcome, Recruiters. Seriously.
Please continue to post whatever you like in the comments on my blog. I'm not going to debate you here, but I won't delete your posts either.
Please keep a few things in mind. First, I'm almost always the client
when working with people like you, so I'm only seeing half of the story, the half where you work very hard to convince me that everything you do is in the interest of me, the paying client and not in the interest of the candidate. It gives me a warped perspective, you know?
Second, this is my
experience, what I think works for me
, right or wrong. You're right that there are other ways. There are thousands of people who have worked with recruiters, broke all of my so-called rules, and nevertheless they seem very happy with the results. Am I calling them on the phone and telling them they were wrong? Of course not.
Third, you really ought to have your own blog
where you run the voodoo down for us. Tell us who you are, how you work, and what you think candidates ought to do. Be specific: tell us why it's in the candidate's best interests to allow you to submit their resume to companies without you disclosing the company to them. Tell us why it's in the candidate's best interests to disclose their compensation details to you.
I look forward to reading what you have to say. I'm not young enough to know everything
, and I may pick up a tip that will be useful to me. Speaking as a client
, I look forward to hearing how your advice for candidates also happens to be in my best interests as an employer. Whether on contingency or retainer, you almost always work for me, the client. Isn't your obligation to act in the employer's best interests? Or am I wrong about that?
Your blog is sure to be an interesting read. C'mon back when you've got something to say and put a link in the comments here. I look forward to hearing from you.