Technical Recruiters: How to Select a Good One

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Your phone rings, again, and you regret the day you ever posted your cell phone number on Monster three years ago. Without even listening to your voicemail, you are able to repeat the message verbatim since you have heard it some many times, from so many different recruiters.

“Hi Bill, my name is Tom from ABC Technology, and I have a copy of your resume. I have a great Ruby opportunity for you, so call me back.”

For many, these messages have simply become pure voice spam. When you couple this with the telemarketing component and the typical general job description “email blasts”, it complicates it even more. Never mind the fact that you’re a C# developer and it doesn’t sound like they read your resume anyway. However, despite some of the annoyances created by the supply and demand of the IT Technical talent today, working with a good technical recruiter does have its advantages. After all, the technical recruiter probably works for a company that invests a significant amount of money annually to build relationships with the managers that want to hire you.

Choosing a good recruiter requires a similar approach one would take in choosing a doctor, lawyer or tax advisor. If you determine that including a technical recruiter, or two, in your career search activities could potentially provide value, it is very important that you spend a few minutes to qualify the individuals you will be working with. After all, most people spend the majority of their life engaged in the workplace and it is important to ensure the person representing you acknowledges this- and can best represent you. Here are some qualifiers to consider.

Consider the level of sophistication of the recruiter’s initial approach. So you received a voicemail from a technical recruiter that clearly stood out to you in a positive way. Maybe they sent you an email that addressed items that were important to you because they took the time to review your blog or contributions on Stack Overflow. It would stand to reason that if this recruiter was professional enough to take the time to research you and prepare an appropriate and relevant introduction, that there may be value in getting back to them. While you should still interview the recruiter, you just narrowed down the pool to the most detailed oriented recruiters who clearly “get it” when trying to reach out appropriately to potential candidates.

Ask your colleagues for a recruiter referral. A recruiter recommendation from a colleague is a great place to start. In the recruiting industry, the candidates we receive as a referral for a job well done are our most valuable resource. With the large number of candidates that technical recruiters work with, extra time and attention is typically given to the referrals we receive from our consultants and former placements. While there is no guarantee you will get placed, any recruiter worth engaging with will ensure they will do the best they can as a result of how they were introduced. Even if they don’t have the perfect job for you, the recruiter you were referred to will typically want to be there for you for objective counseling throughout your job search process. Keep in mind that while most technical recruiters will not provide you a great definition of polymorphism, anyone worth working with will know which organizations in your geographic area are looking for the specific talents you possess.

Linkedin Recommendations. While there may be exceptions, technical recruiters with multiple LinkedIn recommendations are another good place to start. I am not referring to the “quick click” endorsements that have been adopted on LinkedIn recently, but rather the complete written recommendation where someone has taken the time write their perspective on how the recruiter (and their organization) provided value to them. If you don’t see any recommendations, it does not mean the recruiter is not a good one. However, if they have been in the industry for a while and know their trade, it would be a flag if there were none. While the recruiter certainly controls which recommendations will appear on their LinkedIn profile, you can certainly detect the level of sincerity from what is written. Just like the generic job descriptions you may receive, it will not be difficult to read through the fluff. Also, if you see recommendations from other software developers and hiring managers that speak to their expertise, you are probably looking at someone who knows their stuff. One of my favorite types of LinkedIn recommendations comes from those individuals the recruiter never placed at all. This speaks volumes.

Breaking the ice quickly. The relationship between the technical recruiter and their software developer really needs to be a trusted partnership. That means that open and honest dialogue is the key to a successful relationship. Once you break down the barriers, you both can determine very quickly whether an opportunity exists to move forward on a particular job. It really comes down to breaking the defenses quickly with someone you just met over the phone. That is why professionalism and credibility is so important. The recruiter’s biggest fear is that you will be given the name of their client (that their company invests many thousands of dollars per year building a relationship with) and approach them on your own, or refer a friend to them directly. By letting the recruiter you are speaking with know up front that you are a person of integrity and you promise not to approach their client on your own, it will certainly break down one of the major walls. Getting this out of the way quickly will bring forward a lot of the specific details about the culture, compensation and career path you were looking to evaluate. On the recruiting side, letting us know what your biggest motivators are in your career change is the only way we can ensure your time is best utilized. No recruiter wants to send you on interviews for jobs that would not interest you based on information that should have been discussed about your desires from the beginning.

Interview the technical recruiter. Recruiters tend to ask some very bold questions about your current job and compensation, etc… It is ok to ask some tough questions yourself. I have heard some teach their recruiting teams over the years that it is extremely important to have “control” over their candidates throughout the process. This methodology sends the wrong message to new recruiters starting out. In interviewing scores of recruiters over the years, I have noticed that one of the typical signs you are talking to an inexperienced recruiter is that they begin by asking fast and direct questions to qualify you for one job. Instead of a professional discussion about what you are looking for overall, they jump right to compensation and negotiation, without even knowing what is important to you in your next role. Some good questions to ask a recruiter are:

“How many software engineers have you placed in the last two years?”
“What were their specific skill sets?”
“How many of them were software engineers with my skill set?” “How long have you made IT placements with the client company you called me about?” “You said in your message this was a good job for my career, explain why please.” “What can you tell me about the Software Engineering market in Atlanta?

Keep in mind, it is not just whether a recruiter answers the questions you ask correctly, but how they answer the question. Do you sense a passion for serving their candidates well? Can you sense that they go above and beyond the norm when it comes to their knowledge about their client specifics and details? In other words, do their answers display a depth and breadth of knowledge about the career market in your discipline to be an asset to you? If so, then you may have found a good technical recruiter to build a relationship with.

Ari Waller

Ari Waller / @ariwaller

Ari started his career at Thompson Technologies as a Technical Recruiter nearly 18 years ago, and is currently the Vice President of Recruiting and Sourcing. Despite the fancy title, Ari is passionate about technical recruiting, and takes a very “hands on approach” in the quest to effectively attract top IT Talent.