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Opinion on Recruiters

Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18896
    
  40


Here is an interesting topic to discuss. What are your opinions of job recruiters?


The impetus for this is ... I have a couple of recruiters who call me a few times a year, and whom I try to help when possible. Most of the time, I don't find anyone, but at least I try.

Anyway, last year, a former colleague (and an incredibly good sales and business development manager) decided to change jobs. I made the invitations of this highly respected colleague to these recruiters. This was quickly followed up by my former colleague..... and now I find out, that not only multiple attempts were made, but there wasn't even a single response.


I understand that a recruiters job is to find candidates for a job opening -- and not to find job openings for a client. However, seriously? Not even an email response to multiple attempts, to just say "no" or "sorry" to a person whom you have been in contact for years? What were these recruiters thinking? .... okay, I am kinda venting right now.

So, what is you opinion?

Henry


Books: Java Threads, 3rd Edition, Jini in a Nutshell, and Java Gems (contributor)
Tim Moores
Rancher

Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 2408
That does sound odd. But then, I've never referred anyone to a recruiter, so maybe it is par for the course. They always say "we'd like to keep your resume on file, just in case", though, which makes it sound as if further referrals -especially of experienced people- would be welcome.
Sai Surya
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 08, 2006
Posts: 460

I had many many unpleasant experiences with these recruiters. Basically, for them we are 'resources' or 'objects' they sell to their clients. Just an example, try calling a recruiter and tell them your skills and experience for any potential job opportunity. Their answer at the best will be 'ok drop us your resume, and we will keep you updated'.

Or if they need your skill set, they run behind you until you sign the job contract. It's pure business for them. I fought with few recruiters and I thought they black list my resume, however they called me so many times because a my skill set meets their client's requirements.

We should not expect initiative of help from them.


Sai Surya, SCJP 5.0, SCWCD 5.0, IBM 833 834
http://sai-surya-talk.blogspot.com, I believe in Murphy's law.
chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1777
    
  16

Not sure what kind of "recruiters" you're talking about here, Henry. Is this about "executive" recruitment e.g. head-hunters looking for "officer" candidates, or regular recruitment of the IT infantry?

As a freelance developer (contractor), my experience is mostly with the agencies who advertise regular development jobs, and like most contractors I've met, my experience is increasingly negative these days.

Some years ago, when there was a genuine shortage of IT skills, agents used to actively look for candidates, phoning up frequently to see if people were available and generally trying to turn up good candidates to fill vacancies. It was possible to build up a friendly working relationship with agents who knew their local market, understood the industry and, despite their basic function as salespeople, were often decent to deal with on a personal level. Heck, they even used to return your calls - can you imagine that these days?

Then things seemed to shift, with increased competition from more agencies in the market, more inexperienced potential candidates being churned out as the universities realised they could make money from selling CS and IT courses, and more "virtual jobs" being advertised i.e. vacancies that did not exist but which allowed agents to collect lots of CVs from candidates whom they might be able to sell to their next client, without having to waste time advertising a real job.

There was less effort to conceal the fact that candidates were simply a commodity, and a general impression that many agents had moved from selling insurance or double-glazing last week to selling IT staff this week. There was less interest in building any kind of working relationship with IT workers, because there were increasingly more candidates than jobs available, so who needs referrals and why waste time talking to Kleenex anyway?

In recent years, and especially since the crash in 2008/2009, this process seems to have accelerated. There are still a few exceptions, but most agencies seem to be cut-throat operations trading in a commodity that they neither value nor understand. Not unlike some employers in that respect.

I guess this is inevitable as IT skills turn from a specialist "craft" to a cheap industrial commodity marketed by Walmart-analogues, but it does not seem like an intelligent or productive use of resources in the longer term. What may be good for individual businesses is not necessarily good for the industry as a whole.

Here in the UK at least, my impression is that the situation is particularly bad because of the dominance of a few big outsourcing companies and systems integrators, who had a decade-long bonanza making vast profits from over-priced government contracts and shipping the work offshore to countries where (in theory) it could be done by cheaper and less experienced staff. This approach attempts to turn IT into a production-line process instead of a skilled profession, although I have seen very little evidence that it actually works.

Unfortunately, this has had a massive impact on the IT job market in the UK, where many employers refuse to invest in the skills of their existing staff, preferring to fire them and then use the alleged "IT skills shortage" as a justification for onshoring relatively inexperienced but cheaper staff from countries like India, or for offshoring the work itself to India, effectively removing jobs from the open UK market. Meanwhile, the dominance of those few big players in the IT services sector has squeezed many middle-ranking companies out of the market altogether, so there are fewer jobs outside this cartel.

This means that recruiters often receive hundreds of applications for IT vacancies, because there are tens of thousands of unemployed IT workers in the UK, and the increased competition means many people are inflating the skills/experience they claim to possess, which simply makes it even harder for recruiters to identify the best candidates. In any case, many agencies these days have little understanding of IT and are not very good at filtering CVs intelligently, so they resort to various tactics to reduce the flood to more manageable proportions e.g. long shopping lists of improbable and mutually incompatible skill combinations, irrelevant selection criteria, and a widespread policy of ignoring applications from older or unemployed applicants. You end up with the bizarre situation that everybody is chasing a tiny minority of applicants who might be able to check all those boxes and can hop between jobs at will, while the wider skills base decays and projects suffer from not being able to fill key roles promptly and effectively.

Overall, candidates are no longer seen as a valuable resource, or even as a marketable commodity, but just as a nuisance to be eliminated as far as possible by whatever means are available.

But I think this is simply a symptom of an industry that - in the UK at least - is in deep trouble as it refuses to face up to its own internal contradictions and the damage it has inflicted on itself. Recruiters insist there is an "IT skills shortage" (employers have been whining about this for the entire 25 years I've been in the industry) but nobody invests in maintaining or extending the existing IT skills base and individual efforts to do so are ignored by recruiters and penalised by the tax system. A real skills shortage would imply lots of empty jobs and upward pressure on salaries, but there are hundreds of experienced applicants for many jobs, and IT salaries have been largely stagnant for at least 10 years in the UK as a whole.

Go figure.

Well, that's my tuppence worth, anyway.


No more Blub for me, thank you, Vicar.
Paul Anilprem
Enthuware Software Support
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 23, 2000
Posts: 3314
    
    8
There is definitely shortage of skills...
... at a $x/hr.

But that is how the capitalist economy works. Market forces will make every effort to get the same skills a lower and lower rates. At one time, a machinist was an "expert" with great skills. Now he is not! Why would s/w developer be any different? A majority of the work does involve writing an OS. So why should a company pay for an "expert" if that work can be done by one who is not at "expert".

Recruiters are also just trying to make a living. Like any other professional. Why would they spend time effort and resources on building "relationship", if they can do it without it?

Having said that, I don't think it applies to all the recruiters. May be recruiters recruiting for senior management positions still invest in building relationship. But I believe they do it only because they need to.


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chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1777
    
  16

Paul Anilprem wrote:There is definitely shortage of skills...... at a $x/hr. But that is how the capitalist economy works. Market forces will make every effort to get the same skills a lower and lower rates. At one time, a machinist was an "expert" with great skills. Now he is not! Why would s/w developer be any different? A majority of the work does involve writing an OS. So why should a company pay for an "expert" if that work can be done by one who is not at "expert".


True enough, although I guess we're straying from Henry's original topic here.

But in a global economy these blind market forces lead to a "slash-and-burn" approach where companies trawl the world looking for the cheapest resources right now, ditching last year's providers in the process. This drives down wages (although many service providers still charge higher rates to the end client and take an increased margin out of the middle) and leaves a lot of damage and waste in its wake. I have seen no evidence that shifting to a production-line model has done anything to improve or even maintain the quality of the products being delivered, but we are increasingly in the situation of having little choice in how our software needs are supplied, because we've effectively trashed many of the alternatives. Even if a supplier can offer "quality", all too often they will find that nobody is buying.

We've been here before e.g. coal, steel, manufacturing, agriculture and grocery suppliers have all been devastated by variations on outsourcing and globalisation, resulting in serious social, environmental and economic damage, while the software "slash-and-burn" cycle spins ever faster. Businesses can get away with this because they never have to pay the wider costs of their actions - profits are privatised while losses are dumped on the rest of society. Just like the banking crisis, for example.

This may be good for individual businesses - or low-wage countries - in the short term but it is not sustainable in the longer term e.g. how much of India's current boom in cheap software development services (often poor quality but nobody cares about quality at those prices) will survive when China comes fully online as an alternative provider of those same services? If India's boom falters, what will the social and economic impact be? Even now when it's a global high tech player with its own space program it still can't feed its own people. And after China, who's next? And how long can individuals survive in the IT industry when their skills age in dog-years while the spin cycle takes human-years to come back to their neck of the woods?

It's strange that the software industry is being pulled in two directions these days. On the one hand we have the Walmart "stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap" approach, where you just employ armies of coding monkeys to churn out crap code fast because that's all the market seems to demand - "the public wants what the public gets". On the other hand we have the Agile/craftsman approach, encouraged by places like JavaRanch, where developers are supposed to be deeply engaged in the whole analysis/design/development life-cycle and striving for quality at all stages.

It will be interesting to see who wins out in the end, but my suspicion is that software craftspeople will go the same way as every other kind of craftsman i.e. replaced by inferior but cheaper bulk providers. Maybe there will be market for bespoke software, just like there's a market for artisan cheeses, but it's not going to be enough to support an industry in most places.
Paul Anilprem
Enthuware Software Support
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 23, 2000
Posts: 3314
    
    8
chris webster wrote:
Paul Anilprem wrote:There is definitely shortage of skills...... at a $x/hr. But that is how the capitalist economy works. Market forces will make every effort to get the same skills a lower and lower rates. At one time, a machinist was an "expert" with great skills. Now he is not! Why would s/w developer be any different? A majority of the work does involve writing an OS. So why should a company pay for an "expert" if that work can be done by one who is not at "expert".

It's strange that the software industry is being pulled in two directions these days. On the one hand we have the Walmart "stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap" approach, where you just employ armies of coding monkeys to churn out crap code fast because that's all the market seems to demand - "the public wants what the public gets". On the other hand we have the Agile/craftsman approach, encouraged by places like JavaRanch, where developers are supposed to be deeply engaged in the whole analysis/design/development life-cycle and striving for quality at all stages.

It will be interesting to see who wins out in the end, but my suspicion is that software craftspeople will go the same way as every other kind of craftsman i.e. replaced by inferior but cheaper bulk providers. Maybe there will be market for bespoke software, just like there's a market for artisan cheeses, but it's not going to be enough to support an industry in most places.


While I agree with a lot of things you mentioned, specially "profits are privatised while losses are dumped on the rest of society", I think I disagree with the tone of your message. Specially the terms "code monkeys" and " inferior but cheaper".

1. Monkeys, contrary to popular belief, can't code. So rest assured that if there is a piece of code that works at any level, it is not coded by a monkey.

2. Inferior in what sense? Is a Car inferior to a Spaceship? They are meant for different purposes. Just because there a million "inferior but cheaper" programmers, doesn't mean there will be no "superior but expensive" programmers. The ratio of these two categories will be determined by the market, the same way it is determined for Cars and Spaceships.

I am not sure if that is the case and I apologize if it is not, but from your message it seems like you believe you (or others who expect more salary/rate) are superior just because you used to get higher rate. I believe higher rate was an abnormality, which is associated with every industry in its infancy. S/w industry is maturing and these rates will go away.

So while one might feel psychologically better by believing that they are superior, the fact is that they may not necessarily be. They were probably just lucky to get abnormal rate earlier and now not as much.

As an example, I remember when Java Certification first came out, the authors of the Certification book (there was only one) made millions. The book was expensive as well. Now, do you think Bert Bates is inferior just because his book is cheaper and probably hasn't made millions that prior author did make? Should the earlier author lament the presense of "inferior but cheaper" authors? Would you buy a certification book written by James Gosling that cost twice as much? And if such book existed, does it mean Bert Bates is "inferior but cheaper" than James Gosling? I, for one, don't think so.
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18896
    
  40


Don't want to distract from the on-going discussion, as it seems to be going well.

In my case, I find it unusual that all emails are ignored, when there is an on-going relationship. These recruiters call me periodicaly (okay, only once a year to catch up, and maybe ask for a reference), but they can't even acknowledge that they received an email from me or my recommendation? This strikes me as.... as my previous manager describes it ... peeing in the town well, and then expecting to take drinking water from it.

Henry
chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1777
    
  16

Paul Anilprem wrote:
While I agree with a lot of things you mentioned, specially "profits are privatised while losses are dumped on the rest of society", I think I disagree with the tone of your message. Specially the terms "code monkeys" and " inferior but cheaper".

1. Monkeys, contrary to popular belief, can't code. So rest assured that if there is a piece of code that works at any level, it is not coded by a monkey.

2. Inferior in what sense? Is a Car inferior to a Spaceship? They are meant for different purposes. Just because there a million "inferior but cheaper" programmers, doesn't mean there will be no "superior but expensive" programmers. The ratio of these two categories will be determined by the market, the same way it is determined for Cars and Spaceships.

I am not sure if that is the case and I apologize if it is not, but from your message it seems like you believe you (or others who expect more salary/rate) are superior just because you used to get higher rate. I believe higher rate was an abnormality, which is associated with every industry in its infancy. S/w industry is maturing and these rates will go away.

So while one might feel psychologically better by believing that they are superior, the fact is that they may not necessarily be. They were probably just lucky to get abnormal rate earlier and now not as much.



Hi Paul - looks like it's just us two here today so I guess it's OK for us to pursue our own thread a while longer!

"Coding monkeys": this expression is commonly used to describe using programmers as relatively unskilled industrial labour i.e. people who are sitting and typing away to churn out code, a bit like monkeys at a typewriter. Sometimes the programmers are genuinely inexperienced/unskilled, or it may often be that their skills are simply not being used properly i.e. they are being treated like monkeys. And many of us programmers often call ourselves "coding monkeys" anyway. No offence intended here.

"Inferior": If I buy a car, I expect it to work properly. An "inferior" car is one that does not work the way it is supposed to. I have worked on various projects where cheap offshore developers have failed to deliver the required quality i.e. they have delivered "inferior" products. In one case, I saw a government department trash an entire system after 2 years of offshore development because it was of such poor quality. They still paid the suppliers (duh!) and then spent the same amount of money again building the system themselves in-house. In this case, not only was the supplier "inferior", but the customer was clearly an idiot as well.

Of course, I know that there are good offshore suppliers who care about quality, but all the evidence I have seen is that the main driving factor - in the UK at least - for using offshore providers is not quality but price.

The problem with this is that once you've fired all your onshore skilled staff and spent two years discovering that your "cheap" offshore supplier is failing to deliver what you want, it can be difficult to reverse the process because those skills have already been lost. So instead you end up having to pay for extra testing and re-work, extra analysis/design resources to try and limit the scope for failures by the developers, and the whole thing ends up costing as much as it did when all your staff were onshore, but it's less efficient. So much for market forces, eh?

It's true that offshore development can work well if it is planned, managed and resourced properly, but that takes investment and forward thinking, and in many cases companies simply see it as a way to reduce short term costs - the Walmart approach - without caring much about quality (often these decisions are taken by people who have no idea about the complexities and challenges of software development anyway).

"Abnormal rates": Speaking for myself, I will compete with anybody on skills/experience and may the best person win: whoever can offer "superior" skills deserves the "superior" rate. And I will do my best to compete on price with anybody who has to pay the same kind of taxes, living costs etc as I do. In the past 25 years my rate has varied "from zero to hero" and back again, depending on the state of the market and my own current skills/experience. But UK-based developers simply cannot compete on cost with somebody based in Mumbai, and they cannot compete with a Mumbai developer who is brought into the UK on an Indian salary and doesn't have to pay UK taxes, living costs, social insurance etc. This is effectively a subsidy from the UK taxpayer to multinational outsourcing companies that allows those outsourcing companies to sell staff into the UK at an "abnormal rate".

If these companies want to compete on quality, let them do so. If the only thing they can offer is cheap labour and inferior products, then why should they expect subsidies from the rest of us? And if they are using offshore staff in the UK, they should pay those staff the same rate as they would pay a UK-based developer, including the taxes that help to provide the infrastructure services they need in order to operate here. Right now they are simply parasites in a rigged market.

The so-called "free market" is a blind idiot - it has no memory, does not anticipate the future, has no mechanism to account for external costs (the tragedy of the commons), and there is no such thing as a "free" market in the first place. Every market has its own rules, political motives and hidden players. All the major players in any sector strive towards a monopoly (Microsoft, Apple, Google, IBM, TCS, whoever), and will use any advantage they can to achieve this e.g. underselling at a loss to eliminate competitors, political manipulation to distort the market in their favour, even (sometimes) trying to provide better quality than their competitors. Here in the UK (I don't know about the USA as it's a much bigger industry) this has resulted in the IT industry being increasingly dominated by a small cartel of taxpayer-subsidised consultancies whose long term impact on the wider UK-based IT industry has been devastating, who have failed to deliver either the cost savings or the improved quality promised by shifting work offshore on a de-skilled production-line model, but who have succeeded in so distorting the market in their favour that it is difficult to compete with them.

As we learned in the banking crisis, the market cannot be trusted with strategic decisions, and the future of our technology industries desperately needs some more strategic thinking, because blind Walmart economics will not work in the long run.

A long way from Henry's original question about recruiters, but it's a quiet day here today!
chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1777
    
  16

Henry Wong wrote:
These recruiters call me periodicaly (okay, only once a year to catch up, and maybe ask for a reference), but they can't even acknowledge that they received an email from me or my recommendation? This strikes me as.... as my previous manager describes it ... peeing in the town well, and then expecting to take drinking water from it.

Henry

Never mind, Henry, at least we're still talking to you!

Yes, I get lots of calls from recruiters to "catch up". Often they are just fishing to find out my project manager's name and see if there are any vacancies coming up at my current place of work - "So, Chris, where are you working, and when does your contract finish...?" - in the hope of getting in there next time a job comes up. Recruitment seems to be a very competitive short-termist business, and it's surprising how few people recognise the importance of building relationships within the industry.

Still, they seem to be doing OK without my help!
Jimmy Clark
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 16, 2008
Posts: 2187
It is possible that the recruiters never read the emails or received the emails. Maybe they deleted the emails without reading them, maybe SPAM robot filed them in SPAM folder, maybe emails arrived at an account that they no longer check but remains a valid email address. Next time it might be better to make a phone call and leave a message, if it is very important.
 
Don't get me started about those stupid light bulbs.
 
subject: Opinion on Recruiters