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(Most) IT Recruiters suck. Here's how to fix it.

Luis Serrano 🇪🇺
Sofware developer, now more into managing projects. Currently Product Owner.
・6 min read

Ask techies: How's jobhunting, nowadays?

The answer is: it's HORRIBLE.

I am sorry but that's the most accurate word to describe it. It's utterly terrible, disappointing, and frustrating. Considering we developers and technical people are such a juicy prize, we're treated like shit, both by recruiters and companies. It's not my opinion, ask any developer you know. They will agree in less than two seconds, no need to think about the answer.

But why?

I am going to tell you my opinion. The fact that dealing with interviews and recruiters is crap is not debatable. That is a fact. Now, the reasons for this situation are open to discussion and what I am saying here is my point of view, purely personal, based on my own experience.

Where are the professional, trained recruiters?

It looks to me like nowadays anyone can call themselves "recruiters". Not so long ago, recruiters were people with specialized studies, even psychology degrees. People who were trained to understand people. What happened to that? There were proper formalities, and a candidate was informed of the status of the process. There was respect.

Now, we are contacted by random people offering some positions that might or might not fit our profile. We answer that message telling them we're interested, and we might or might not get a reply. If we get a reply, it's like it was us who started begging for that job, because we have to constantly ping the recruiter to know what's going on. That is, of course, if the conversation doesn't abruptly die (from their side).

Secrecy about the company and job conditions

Maybe we're offered an interview with a ghost company because they don't want to give away the name or any detail. We probably don't know about the salary range either. Recruiters ask us, and we have to tell them about our expectations. That's no confirmation that we'll get anything close to that. I've been offered way less than expected AFTER all the interviews, because you know, "that's the average for the position in my city".

How can we prepare for interviews or do proper filtering of where we apply to, if we don't know all the details? If a recruiter wants to know everything about me, I have to tell them or I lose my chance. It should be reciprocal.

No, really, read my profile

If you want to understand my profile, the best way to do it is to read it in the first place. I've been told things like "oh, you seem to be a bit unstable, there's a lot of jobs in your CV". No Mister, I have been freelancing and I've had a lot of customers. That, in my dictionary, is called a success, not instability.

Also, please, just because I did some Java a million years ago doesn't mean I am a fit in that Java position you're managing today. Context, my friend. Also, most of us evolve, we started doing something, and we ended up doing something else. Or we specialized in something, who knows. So yes, consider our past, but to see if we're what you're looking for, check what we're doing now! Best clue ever, for free.

Technical Interviews are bullshit

I've been in technical interviews with two managers and one engineer, and I've been asked questions that the engineer probably didn't know either. It's like they wanted to prove what I didn't know, instead of what I know and what I can do for the team and the company. Funny thing is, the last time I was rejected for not answering something correctly, the engineer had to read the correct answer from the script to check if I was correct. He had some random "tricky javascript questions" in front of him. He asked me something he did not know, and they rejected me for not being "Senior enough". Come on...!

I am totally open to discussing technical things in interviews, but spending 1 day coding a full website to get a position, no thanks. Especially if I don't know what am I fighting for. Tell me what the reward is, the full conditions list, and I'll decide if I want to do that long technical challenge you sent me.

If each screening process has a long technical challenge, imagine being involved in two or three. I get that companies need to vet people -if a technical challenge is their way to do it, so be it, but be reasonable. And please, don't expect people to know things by heart, especially if the engineer asking the questions doesn't know the answer either. That gives a really poor impression to candidates.

No, developers should not be recruiters

Please, put that engineer back to their computer. Developers shouldn't be allowed near a candidate, ever. Unless they have some basic people skills and empathy, they should stay away from recruitment processes completely. It's ok for them to validate technical tests, but they shouldn't be deciding anything. Maybe developers who lead teams are an exception. They made it there because they're good both with code and with people.

Very often, developers doing recruitment make the interview a competition, a confrontation of opinionated approaches (also known as DOGMAS). Some even fear hiring someone better, more experienced, who might eventually replace them, get more money or simply be more popular. It could end up being a fight of egos. A chance to show bosses how good they are compared to anyone who shows at the door. No. Leave them out, unless you've vetted those developers first, and you're sure they can offer a fair chance to candidates.

Use this checklist to make sure that developers are fit to do recruiting:

  • can they do what they expect candidates to do?
  • Do they know the answer to the questions they will ask?
  • Are they good team players?
  • Are they good with communication?
  • Can they sell the company and the project?
  • Are they positive?
  • Are they happy in the company?

If you can answer "YES" to "ALL", then go ahead and bring the developer into the process. Otherwise, restrict the scope of that participation to technical checking, away from the candidate. And if possible, ask for feedback to more than one dev, to avoid personal bias over legit reasons to discard someone.

Respect & Professionalism

I get that recruiters have a job to do and that they're only paid if they find the right people. Copying and pasting a job offer mindlessly & ruthlessly to everyone fitting your "search keywords" and not properly managing answers is not the way to go. Here are some steps I suggest you follow to be a professional & respectful recruiter:

  • Collect a small number of profiles you've reviewed. A number of people you can manage.
  • Shortlist the best ones.
  • Send them a personalized message.
  • If they reply positively, proceed with their candidacy. The ones who did not respond or showed no interest, save them for the next opportunity. You've shortlisted them for a reason. Don't let that work go to waste.
  • Do you expect full disclosure from candidates? Well, lead by example. Provide all the details about the job opportunity. If you don't know all the details, why are you contacting candidates already? Get the answers first!
  • What? You don't want to give away the name of the company in case the candidate bypasses you and you're not paid? Hey... we're not like that. Why would we do that anyway? What do we gain? That would make us look shady. Don't worry, we're not stealing from you.
  • Job hunting is an emotional & energy draining experience. And chances are we're in more than one screening process at once. So keep in mind: it's harder for us than it is for you.
  • Try to watch any technical person on the company's side involved in the process. If there are developers in the decision-making circle, that's potentially bad news (for the reasons explained above)
  • Team up with us! Look, we might hate interviewing, but we have to do it to get jobs. So let's be friends, let's walk the path to success together, because your success and our success mean basically the same. We get the position, you're paid. Help us and you'll be helping yourself.

I don't mean to offend anyone or to pretend I know everything cause I don't. But again, recruiting is getting ridiculous and really bad according to... well, everyone I know, in several countries both in Europe and North America. I don't think I am wrong in this regard.

If you, recruiter, feel identified with the bad practices I've described, let me tell you this: you suck. But the good news is, you can get better. We, the candidates, learn from rejection (or we should). You can learn too, and shine.

Think about it.

Discussion (2)

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Very true points. Of all the "hiring is broken" articles I've read, this is certainly one of the most grounded. THANK you.

My company does indeed use a coding challenge for technical screening, which candidates have a week to do, between the first and final interviews. It is designed to be simple, but strictly analogous to the sort of work we actually do, instead of trying to be clever. Rarely does it actually take more than an hour or two to do, but the week-long window in which to submit it gives plenty of breathing room in which to do be able to do it to one's own satisfaction.

When it comes to reviewing it, we don't look for a particular solution. There are, in fact, countless viable ways of accomplishing the goal in the challenge spec. Instead, it shows us the developer's general working proficiency in the language, as well as their coding patterns, styles, and habits. There's a world of difference between someone who uses an "unguarded" while loop and, say, a properly iterative approach. Of course, whether either is even called for depends entirely on their solution.

(Also, during the final interview, the interviewee is given time to freely explain their solution and their logic for it.)

I have a challenge review form for myself and the other interviewers that keeps our review of the coding challenge submissions focused on the right things, instead of arbitrary "I wouldn't do it that way", and we compare notes before the final interview to resolve any discrepancies between our scoring, thus keeping it objective. Since we've been using the same coding challenge for several years, we can even compare an interviewee's scores to those of previous hires; by this point, we've actually found some fairly reliable patterns.

Developers shouldn't be allowed near a candidate, ever. Unless they have some basic people skills and empathy, they should stay away from recruitment processes completely. (...) Maybe developers who lead teams are an exception. They made it there because they're good both with code and with people.

Another exception is if they are specifically trained to add value to the recruitment processes. I've allowed a number of my developers over the years to be involved both in reviewing the submitted coding challenge and in the final interview. Any developer involved in the interview meets with me well in advance to discuss the candidate, the questions we'll cover, and the proper way to handle the interview. I am very careful to train them to show empathy, recognize and bypass their own biases, and communicate appropriately.

As a result, our hiring process provides a very positive experience, both for the interviewers and the interviewees.

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luisnomad profile image
Luis Serrano 🇪🇺 Author

Thank you @jason for your kind words. It's kind of sad that not all companies take recruitment more seriously. I admire the few I find which, like yours, really offer not only a fair chance to candidates, but also hope to the industry. I think it should be common sense, and all recruiters should be competing to be better than others at what they do, sharing best practices, mentoring the less experienced HR people... Just like we do as developers, right? :)

Anyway thank you for your words and congrats for that process you follow in your company, I'd love to find that when I do interviews :D

Cheers,

L.