While the US economy has been rough on many sectors, the field of computer programming is actually a job-seekers market. I personally see it as a hyper-inflated bubble that is bound to burst at any time, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work with no appreciable skills other than building crap in Minecraft. Companies, facing all kinds of other pressure to beat the competition, focus a great deal of time and labor dollars on finding people to build cost-saving or competitive advantage-building software. A good portion of that will somehow interact with the internet.

So while the empty factory floor is a chilling reminder of the tough times we live in, the cubicles where the application engineers should sit are rushed to be filled. Like any search, some call in hired guns to help them locate talent. Enter the tech recruiter: he or she finds you the guy or gal you’re looking for, you pay them a percentage of that salary as a commission for an agreed upon period of time. Win-win for the recruiter and the company.

Notice that the recruited are not necessarily in that “win” column. It starts with one or two phone calls a week. Then a LinkedIn connection request. Then a handful of personal e-mails. Then a flood of automated messages because your profile “might be a good fit for this amazing opportunity.” The recruiter has a payday ahead of them, and if they can get enough resumes in front of their clients, there is a good chance one of them might pan out. Culture fit and job requirements be damned, just show them the dollar signs. By my count, there are at least 20 recruiting agencies working on placements in Middle Tennessee, with a number of them working in Boston, New York or somewhere in Silicon Valley. They were hired in to do a bit of social engineering on potential targets, using something like this in their introduction:

Hi _____,

I hope all is well. I just reviewed your resume and have an opportunity with a client of mine that could be a great fit for you. This position is with a company who is positioning for an IPO or major Instagram type acquisition, and stock options are included.1 Let’s schedule some time to talk so that we can discuss this opportunity in detail. What time works best for you?

Thanks!

– _____

Vague, obviously did not read whatever “resume” they think they have, downright laughable “you’ll be rich!” premise and a pushy attempt to close.

I hope you are doing well today! I came across your profile here on LinkedIn earlier and wanted to network with you on a great opportunity we have available with one of our top clients. Our client is currently seeking a [fancy title, a decade of experience in a programming language I assumed had died in the 1970s]. This company offers a great culture and encourages [all those things any job should expect] from their staff. The salary for this role is also impressive. Would you be interested in hearing more about this position? If not, do you know anyone that I could connect with regarding the details of this opportunity? I look forward to hearing from you!

LinkedIn is like that person you tell some stuff to, and they turn around and tell it to the shadiest people they know thinking it will somehow be helpful. Also, “impressive salary” sounds to me like “desperate” or “clueless.”

I am conducting a search for our client in [far off location] to fill their [fancy yet meaningless title] position and am reaching out in case you know of anyone who would be a fit.

Please check out the link below and apply if you are interested in hearing more about the job.

The full job description is listed at the end of this email!

[spammy link with their e-mail address in it]

Not a fit for this job? Search all of our open jobs:

[another spammy link, ensuring they get that referral]

Happy where you are? Great! Know someone who isn’t? Refer a friend for this position and if we place them you’ll get an iPad 3!

Again, vague. There is the added feature of not paying attention to where I live and then trying to get me to refer others with the promise of a product that does not technically exist. This is where the social engineering kicks in, along with hoping I can be bribed with yet another piece of hardware.

So let’s walk through that business model again:

  1. Tech recruiting firm gets hired to fill X number of positions for employer.
  2. Recruiter contacts spams as many people as possible that match one or more of the keywords in the job title.
  3. Even with a pitifully low response rate, recruiter collects 10-20 names and rough resumes from folks that did not say “Oh hell no.”
  4. Recruiter sends over those, praying none of them are embarrassingly under-qualified2 or that if they are, they make the others look like rock stars.
  5. Client begrudgingly hires one or more of the recommended, assuming that this is the best out there.3
  6. Recruiter sits back and gets a crystal plastic trophy for being a “top producer” while milking that salary percentage.

So developers simply stop trusting recruiters, until they get desperate or really want to take a chance that the hiring company may actually be one where they want to work. But I cannot fault employers for going this route - hiring for any position can be a stressful, time consuming process if done properly. So why not let somebody try to help ease that stress? Even if you do get a couple of “bad” placements, there is always the next one coming down the line. When I was first hired in Nashville after college, I was actually the “makeup” placement because a previous one had gone so poorly. Lucky for all involved, I would spend three years with that company. A future job search would have me pressured by a recruiter to accept a position that offered reasonable pay, but absolutely none of the benefits4 that I had with the employer at the time. They wanted to make the placement – I was just a means to that end.

I certainly do not have the answers as to what the three parties (developer, employer, recruiter) involved with this circus should change. I think I would advocate cutting out the recruiter and making more of an effort on the employer’s part, but that is easier said than done. For me, I have started answering all the solicitations the same way, because ignoring them just means you’ll get hounded by somebody else later.

Thanks for the note. I am not looking to make a change. It turns out I already have several people asking me for development references to fill their positions.

Which is slightly more diplomatic than my other one, which is:

Your client should have hired a better recruiting firm. I question their judgement.

  1. This sentence is copied and pasted verbatim from a solicitation I received. I fell out of my chair laughing. 

  2. This is all but assured to happen. “Yes, I do Windows installation. Double-paned?” 

  3. If you think about it, this makes sense: If the employer believes the talent pool is shallow, they will have to rely on a recruiter to fish in it. 

  4. “You’re young and won’t need health insurance,” were words actually said when I tried to counter with an increase in pay to cover private health insurance.