Headhunter Hell

It’s been a long while since I posted anything, so I thought I would write about a topic that’s been itch at my side for a while. Before my holiday break, I was contacted by a recruiter about an opportunity that I may be interested in pursuing. I get maybe two or three emails a week from headhunters, but a call to me at work surprisingly rare. So after about fifteen minutes of general chit-chat, some really basic information about the employer, and touting how he can help me in my pursuit of a better opportunity, he asks me about what I do.

Wait a minute! You want to know what I do? That was a very unusual request. So, I asked him to elaborate. He admitted to me that he did not know what my capabilities and skill sets are. I was quite flabbergasted. The recruiter calls me at work to talk about opportunities, but doesn’t know anything about me.

So, I tell him about my software engineering experience. I started with my present work and move backward in time. All of a sudden, the recruiter interrupts me.

“Have you done any Unix administration?”

“No. I am a software developer. I’ve only done very minimal administration.”, I replied.

“Well, I have this opportunity for a Unix system administrator. Pay in near six-figures.”, he said in a cool, smooth tone.

“But I am not an administrator. I work with software engineering. I create software, not maintain machines.”, I said, rolling my eyes.

“Same difference.”, he exclaimed.

At this point, I determined that this guy has no clue. No matter if I asked if he had software engineering opportunities, he was going to steer me toward the high-paying (and thus high-commission) Unix system administrator position. That’s when I had to tell him that I am not interested in the opportunity.

“Well, I am sorry to hear that. Do you know of any one who may be interested in this position?”

What? You want me to give you a lead to one of my peers after that wonderful display of research and knowledge that you displayed to me? No, thank you. I respectfully declined and ended the phone call.

There were many things so wrong with this conversation. When a recruiter knows nothing about the jobs, nothing about the recruits, and pays attention to his commission rather than finding me the perfect opportunity, that shows utter disrespect to me and the potential employer. I hate to see how many hours are wasted in phone calls, interviews, and paperwork, just to have a series of mismatched recruits get rejected.

So, to all you headhunters out there, I expect you to work for me, too!

18 Responses to “Headhunter Hell”


  1. 1 Sheila Lennon December 27, 2007 at 4:19 am

    I guess headhunters make cold calls, too. Probably using the same list that sends you two or three emails a week.

    I’m on a weird list that emails me at work about upcoming shows at flashy Miami nightclubs, although I live in New England. I keep trying to unsubscribe…

  2. 2 heryazwan December 27, 2007 at 7:54 am

    Inspiring story. I can’t imagine that this story happened in developed country. If it happened in my country, I think it’s ok.

  3. 3 Nordie December 27, 2007 at 8:07 am

    I’ve met some great headhunters in my time, but also some companies where communication and fact checking are nowhere to be seen.

    About 3 or 4 years ago I was registered with one company in Ireland, and was quite specific what I wanted – Technical Team Leader for coding, or going into management.

    I’ve been getting emails from them until a few months ago for “Great opportunities”. In Testing. In Dublin. The latter isn’t too bad, if I hadn’t already told them the last 4 times they emailed me that I emigrated to England 2.5 years ago, and will not be commuting to Ireland to do a job I don’t want and that I’m not qualified for. Finally had to get quite snippy with them and they’ve been quiet for a while – can never be 100% sure I wont get another email from them in the next few months telling me about “exciting new opportunities!”.

  4. 4 lee December 27, 2007 at 11:09 am

    ,—-
    | I respectfully declined and ended the phone
    | call.
    `—-

    I admire your restraint. I would have hung up
    without as much as another word right after this:

    ,—-
    | So after about fifteen minutes of general
    | chit-chat, some really basic information about
    | the employer, and touting how he can help me in
    | my pursuit of a better opportunity, he asks me
    | about what I do.
    `—-

  5. 5 George Jempty December 27, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    So what else is new. Yesterday I got an email from a recruiter which on the surface I am both interested in and qualified for. Except this idiot insisted he couldn’t provide me with a pay range without my resume, which I wouldn’t be able to send until later. He even held his ground after I pointed out that I had a linkedin recommendation from an author of one of the required frameworks, and was linkedin with the author of one of the other required frameworks, because I’d been a technical reviewer of the book.

    Took me all of 2 minutes on dice to find several other consulting companies filling the exact same position.

  6. 6 i am the son December 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    It’s all about the greenback, they make money filling positions, and when they have no heads, they go a hunting, and you were a target.

    You’re right, the interviewer showed inexperience and ignorance, but in this business of technology it is so easy, especially when enployers don’t know how to set requirements either.

    I am a self employed software designer and I realize how much ignorance there is out there.

  7. 7 Ralph December 27, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    @George Jempty

    Not providing a pay range without a (full) resume really gets under my skin. Pay is one of the factors when I get to first stage in the process. It does not even need to be exact. A firm range is good enough, but they treat it like a trade secret or something.

    Giving your resume out freely like this is problematic because the recruiters will still scan your resume and put it into their databases. They will keep it for years on end because you did not explicitly disallow it. Your personal information is available to them, sold to other firms, or traded like baseball players.

    In other words, you give them something valuable for free, but get little in return. I would not only ask for salary, but a little more than that. Not necessarily the company name, but stuff like the industry or the actual work that they do. Only then, I would consider giving them a full resume. Until then, I would only give them a partial resume or a simple information sheet.

    Good comment!

  8. 8 Paul December 27, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Head hunters do a different kind of “phishing”. If you asked them any questions about your industry.. what a particular word means (like “Unix Administrator”) they couldn’t tell you. They no nothing about the industry… they work on leads.

  9. 9 truthspew December 27, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I see this all the time. I’m more a management guy and I do know systems very well and can debug software too.

    But the recruiters I’ve run across have been clueless. RHI is one of the worst.

  10. 10 Khürt December 27, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Yeah. I’ve taken a new tack with recruiters who call me about a “great opportunity with this fortune 500 client in Manhattan”. What’s the opportunity and why is do great and who is the client? What, you can’t disclose without an interview? Click……see ya.

  11. 11 Eva December 27, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    My email expired on a resource site(sweets.com), and as soon as I gave them my company info a recruiter called for me three days later.

  12. 12 bspell December 27, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    I really hate that there are so many bad headhunters out there. I happen to be a headhunter down in Houston. On the one hand, it makes my initial contact with someone very protracted and cold because of all the bad experiences that individual has had in the past. On the other hand though, after the ice has been broken and the person on the other end of the phone figures out that I do understand what they do, I do understand what my client is looking for and I do care about finding them the right position, a real relationship is often formed.

    I often tell people that I look at my profession as a marathon, not a race. I would much prefer to be able to put calls in to a handful of contacts with whom I have a mutual trust relationship to find a recommended professional to fill a client need than to start fresh every time with a new Monster search. Monster, with all its convenience, was probably the worst thing to happen to my industry. It made it too easy for anyone with a phone and a computer to break into the recruiting business.

    Some specific comments…
    @Ralph – Sorry that happened to you. We both know it will happen again. You probably did the best thing by just walking away and not asking about other jobs because if the headhunter was that inept at that early stage of the game, I can guarantee you it would only be worse if you did go through an interview process with them.

    @George Jempty – I will admit I am reluctant to provide the salary range right out of the gate. It’s not that it’s a secret or some bartering chip to hold over your head though. Salary is a big indicator to us of how good you are at what you do. Obviously, if a headhunter has been around for a while, they can weed out a lot of the posers but even the most experienced IT headhunters can be fooled into beleiving you are better than you are if you tell me you are making $X/yr. I would much prefer to know what your expected salary range is first. Believe it or not, I like to work with the guy/girl who tells me “If this job doesn’t pay at least $X, don’t waste my time.” That person is straight forward with no games and I wouldn’t expect any games later in the process either with that person. If I tell an unscrupulous person what the range is without having a clue about where they are now, my fear is that they will automatically tell me that they require the upper end of the range. I have no incentive (from a purely financial perspective) to present them any lower than they ask except for the fact that if they misrepresented themselves to be stronger than they are, there will certainly be no second interview. I know there are arguments to be made for both approaches and I won’t tell you I always do it one way or the other. Ultimately it comes down to trust and mutual respect and it’s hard for both parties to establish either in the first few minutes of a call.

    @Paul – Not true of all. It’s not fair to make that kind of general statement. I have three computers in my home. Two of them dual boot Windows and Linux. I read Slashdot and Digg on a regular basis and I listen to about 5 technology podcasts weekly. I’m not saying I’m the norm but I certainly know what a Unix Admin does.

    @Khürt – Good tack. Usually when I make a call to someone I’ve never talked to with a specific job in mind, I’ll tell them I have a client with an opening that they look good for on paper but let them know right away that I don’t presume to know what a “good opportunity” is for them. I prefer to have them tell me what they want first. If it’s not going to be a match, I’ll take down what they told me and let them know I’ll keep my eyes open for that. I will hang on to the resume (if I have one) and the notes in my database. It is not uncommon for me to call someone up 6 months later with what they were looking for.

    If you’ve gotten this far, I might as well let you know I recently started a blog last week about these subjects. In addition to these kind of topical posts and having questions answered from “the other side”, I post any new openings that come through my door. Not sure how much use it would be to someone not in Houston except for a few rare exceptions but if you are interested, you can find it at http://houstonheadhunter.wordpress.com. It’s very new so readership is low but I’d enjoy any lively conversation you want to throw up there.

  13. 13 kz December 28, 2007 at 12:03 am

    @bspell: Your reasoning is flawed. A house price is determined not only by the actual value of the house but also by other factors like the buyer’s immediate need for a house, the general price of other houses on the market, the seller’s need to get out of the house, overall market economics, etc. If people are willing to pay 100k for your house and it’s actually only worth 60k, I don’t think you would refuse the offer. If you send me a job requirement and I interview well and the client is willing to pay 100k for my services it should not matter whether YOU think I am worth 40k, 60k or 100k – I do not determine how much of a commission you are worth and neither should you try to determine my worth. Your job is in finding the right candidate for the job, not in determining how much I am worth from past salary statements.

  14. 14 Jim December 28, 2007 at 1:01 am

    As a hiring manager who sometimes uses headhunters, the “stupid headhunter tricks” I hate the most are these:

    1. Don’t listen to my requirements for the position. I always give a written, detailed job description and call to discuss it. If I get resumes that aren’t even in the ballpark, I’m done.

    2. Give me resumes of people you’ve never spoken to. Frequently, even a simple screening process can save me a needless phone screen or interview.

    3. Give me a resume you sourced off Dice. I will get the same resume from three or four other headhunters to be sure, and if that happens I won’t look at your candidate period.

    In short, I want a headhunter to send me resumes of people I might actually want to hire. I will work tirelessly with a headhunter who listens well to make sure s/he understands what I am looking for. I will ignore the calls and e-mails of headhunters who send me junk.

  15. 15 alrasikh December 28, 2007 at 1:53 am

    here in my country, some company still want hire a programmer who can do system administration and vice versa. at least now the head hunter knows that computer person would prioritizing the job first, not only the high salary🙂

  16. 16 bspell December 28, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    @kz – I actually agree with what you have to say but in practice, it is a very rare employer who is willing to increase someones salary by a great degree when coming to their company. The markets are pretty efficient at least while you are comparing salaries in the same city. Most companies will ask for a salary history on their application prior to making an offer and will not make their offer well above the trend line. The notable exceptions are the companies whose business is IT. In that case, the IT professional is now a revenue center and as such, an offer can be based more upon value to the company and not salary histories.

  17. 17 baudattitude January 5, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    My favorite ever headhunter was one who kept calling me a few years back. I’d been laid off for a few months and the job market for software development at that precise time was pretty slim and quite competitive.

    Anyway, the calls would go something like this:

    “Hi, I thought I’d touch base with you. Have you found a position yet? No? Oh, hey, that’s too bad. Say, I have this opening that I’m trying to staff… but I don’t want to submit you for it because it’s kind of beneath your skill level. I was wondering if you knew anyone who’d be appropriate for it?”

    (Look, buddy, get me an interview or two first and then I’ll consider sending other people your way. After six months out of work, trust me when I say that nothing is “beneath me”)

  18. 18 bobobobo February 5, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    i’ve been contacted about GURU!!!! positions when i am not a GURU!!!! in the subject that they’re asking me to fill.

    i find it annoying that they don’t look at your quals and you as the recruitee are the first to recognize that you’re not going to be considered as a technical fit for a given position.

    GURU!!!


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