If you’re looking for a job in IT, chances are you’re going to have to hook up with a recruiter at some point. While recruiters often get a bad rap, there are ways to win them over to your side and work with them effectively so you can get the job you want at the salary you want — and maybe even more than you deserve.
This article will prep you for your next recruiter encounter, including:
- When do you need a recruiter?
- What should you watch out for?
- How to work with them effectively.
What You Need to Know About Information Technology Recruiters
Regardless of your personal opinion on recruiters, the reality is that many IT professionals have used a recruiter to get one or more of their positions. Recruiters are a necessary evil in the tech industry, at least until someone comes up with a better model.
Here’s what you need to know about working with recruiters:
IT Recruiters are not your friend. The biggest issue with recruiters is self-interest. They’re not 100 percent working for you and they’re not 100 percent working for the company. Instead, recruiters operate in a strange gray area where they driven primarily for their own gain. That means if they have to throw you or the company under the bus in order to come out ahead, they will.
A recruiter is not your friend. Sure, they’ll act like it and wine and dine you, and tell you how wonderful you are and seem like they care about you, but they really only care about you in as far as you fit a role they feel they can put you in.
Recruiters work with multiple companies for specific roles. The basic idea is that any recruiting agency has contracts with several companies to fill a specific number of roles. As a result, when you meet with them, they’re only going to show you the positions that they’re currently recruiting for. They care more about the open positions than they do about you. That means if you don’t fit a current opening, they’re going to pass right over you to someone they can send to interview for that position.
Recruiters often don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s pretty rare that a recruiting agency has technical staff that’s able to screen potential applicants for the skills that are needed for any given position. That means that while they may be able to give you some general interviewing tips, they’re not really going to be able to help prep you for the actual technical interview.
These are not IT people. They may be able to fake their way through a conversation with you but they actually have no idea what it is that you do, or what those skills actually are. They’re more like a keyword matching tool than an actual screener. As a result, if you put something on your resume, they’re just going to believe that you have a deep enough understanding of that to do the job.
The exception is if a company has an internal recruiting team. For instance, if you have a recruiter reach out to you from a company like Google or Amazon, they are much more likely to have a clearer understanding of what the role actually entails. But in general, if you’re working through a staffing company, their technical knowledge is minimal.
Know how the recruiter is getting paid. Many recruiters get paid on a percentage of your salary. That’s good for you, because they have a vested interest in getting you the highest salary possible. That means they’ll handle the annoying salary negotiation stuff because more for you means more for them.
But check to make sure that that’s actually true, because if they get paid in a different way, then their incentives are a little bit different and you need to play a different game. If they’re getting paid no matter what your salary is, you’ll need to be your own advocate.
You can work with more than one recruiter at once. As mentioned above, recruiters have a certain number of jobs for a certain number of companies they are trying to fill. If there’s a job or company you want to work for and they aren’t the recruiter for that position or company, they’re not going to be able to get you in.
When you work with a recruiter, they’ll typically send you a few jobs right off the bat. For instance, they’ll send you an email with a list of positions and companies, with some info about what the company does and what the job entails. Then you can let them know which ones you like, and they they’ll set up an interview for you. The more recruiters you work with, the more opportunities will be sent your way.
Sometimes, Recruiters Are Awesome.
There are times when recruiters can be a preferred option and can get you in the door when you otherwise might be overlooked by hiring managers. There are many examples of employees who, if they hadn’t come through a recruiter, probably wouldn’t have gotten a second look by a hiring manager because there were inconsistencies or gaps in their resume. Having a recruiter go to bat for you can make the difference between getting an interview and being passed over.
Here are some of those scenarios when a recruiter can be your best friend:
If you’ve just moved to a new location. Let’s say you’re brand-new to a city. You could have a recruiter or two lining up interviews and scheduling everything for you. This can be really helpful if you’re relocating and are trying to find a job before you even move.
If you have a non-standard resume. Recruiters can also be great if you have any kind of unusual job history, like gaps in your work because you took time off for fun or even to take care of a sick family member. Recruiters can be a great asset because they’ll help you develop a good story, and can probably even explain that to HR better than you can, in a way that’s going to make sense.
They can also help explain away short job stints. While most employers want to see relatively stable work histories, in the tech industry it can be totally normal to have shorter projects. Recruiters can help convince the hiring manager that it wasn’t poor performance, but a shorter project or even a bad fit that was responsible for the short timeframe.
If you’re a newcomer. They’re also helpful if you’re a recent college grad, or if you’re new to the field and don’t yet have an impressive resume. The recruiter can stand up for you and say, “Hey, I know the guy’s resume isn’t super strong. He doesn’t have much experience, but he’s really brilliant. Look, I wouldn’t waste your time by sending you a candidate that is awful. I think you should at least phone screen them.” It’s so much more effective than looking on a job board.
If you’re trying to stretch. Sometimes your current company won’t see you as a viable candidate for a higher-level role. If you’re a developer or you’ve been an apprentice at something and you’re ready to move to the next level, you can go to a recruiter and tell them where you are and where you want to go.
As long as you’re not a complete idiot, they can usually help you make that next step. They can help prep you for interviews and tell you how to present anything that you’re worried about. And just knowing what you’re going to be asked is half the battle. This preparation can give you the courage you need to go for it.
You can do way better on the interview than you would otherwise, because the recruiter can prep you. While they’re not going to say, “Hey, you need to know how the ins-and-outs of LVM because that’s used a lot in this role,” they can tell you what to expect, like “You’re going to get a 30-minute technical interview over the phone. Then if you pass that you’re going to talk to So-and-So in HR, and then the project director is going to ask you what you’ve been doing for the past two years and what are your favorite projects.”
That knowledge lets you come up with these answers so you’re not caught off-guard and you can rock the interview.
How to Deal with a Bad Recruiter
As much as we’d like to believe that everyone we deal with has our best interests at heart, you have to be your own advocate and watch out for pitfalls. Here are some sneaky recruiting tactics to watch out for:
Asking for exclusivity. Never sign anything that says you won’t look for jobs on your own, or that you won’t work with other recruiters. If they tell you, “I’m the only person that can help you,” that is a sign that you don’t want to work with them. Remember, they don’t represent every company or every position within that company. They only get paid for certain placements, so don’t tie yourself to someone.
Stopping the referral engine. Sometimes, if you’re interviewing for a position a recruiter has had trouble filling, they may totally stop sending you any other leads. Of course, they don’t tell you that’s what’s going on… so you think, “Gosh, I better take this job because nothing else is coming through.” Then you can end up with a job that is less than ideal just because you thought the leads were drying up.
Advertising fake jobs. Unscrupulous recruiters just put job postings out online to get you in their net. If you apply for enough positions on your own, at some point you’ll end up at a recruiter’s doorstep. One of the main ways they find new applicants is by putting up great-sounding (or really generic) job postings.
Avoid recruiters who advertise really amazing jobs, but then as soon as you contact them, the first thing you hear is, “Oh, unfortunately that one isn’t happening anymore,” and then they present six other opportunities that are nowhere near as good as the one advertised. They probably made up that original position just to get people to contact them.
Putting you in a job that isn’t right. Recruiters make money — potentially, a LOT of money — from placing you, even if it’s not an ideal position for you. If your recruiter isn’t totally legit, they could just want to get you in place and get their bonus.
And an unprofessional recruiter doesn’t care if you’re happy or not because if you sign something like that, they get their money and move on. They don’t care if you leave, they don’t care if you’re miserable, they don’t care if the company isn’t happy with your work. They just want to get you into the job.
Making you responsible for the fee. Some employment contracts even make the employee responsible for the recruiting placement fee if you leave before a certain amount of time. That is potentially 25-30 percent of your salary that you’d have to come up with in cash. If you see a clause like that, don’t sign until after it’s removed. Not only is it absurd, it’s usually a sign of a company with high turnover.
Working With IT Recruiters, In Summary…
While recruiters aren’t on your team, so to speak, you can still align your interests with them to your benefit. They can help you position yourself well, they can give you inside scoops on the interview process, and they can also help negotiate a higher starting salary for you.
Even if you do work with a recruiter, don’t give up your own job search. Not every recruiter can help you land the position you want at the company you want. Get a LinkedIn profile, customize your cover letter, and get going!
The next step is ace your technical interview.