Some managers believe that engaging tech recruiters or recruitment agencies can help them fill key roles faster. That is true, provided that they use good recruiters and learn how to manage them properly.
From my experience as a candidate, a hiring manager and a tech consultant, working with recruiters has never been simple. I have seen numerous cases where improper management led to sub-optimal hires and bad candidate experience.
Fortunately, you can learn to avoid these problems. It does require some understanding of the psychology behind recruitment, and what drives the different parties involved.
A software engineer’s application experience
A recruiter contacted Bob with an email starting with a disingenuous flattery, “We’re so impressed by your profile…”. In the ensuing conversation about the opening, the recruiter threw a salary number at Bob.
Bob was interested in the opening and the salary sounded very good to him. So he went for the interview. It turned out that the firm was looking for somewhat different skillsets and experience level from what the recruiter told him.
The firm liked Bob anyway and wanted to offer him a job. Bob tried to negotiate for a pay near the figure given by the recruiter. Little did he know that the figure was actually higher than what the firm was willing to offer.
Because the firm hadn’t been entirely clear with the recruiter on their hiring budget, and given how well the interview went, Bob was over-confident with the number. The recruiter’s flattery reinforced his belief.
In the end, the firm rejected Bob through the recruiter, citing the reason: they have gotten a better match. Bob was puzzled. In his view, the firm has shown tremendous interest in his profile.
Bob then learned from a friend who worked at the firm the real reason for his rejection. The hiring manager believed that his primary interest was in the money. They did not want to consider him for future openings anymore.
Bob is not alone. Poor candidate experience due to information asymmetry and miscommunication is actually quite common in recruitment work involving recruiters.
My friend Bob dismissed his experience as just bad luck and moved on. Other people in his position might write their experience on glassdoor, and some, on a viral post, e.g. Why I Don’t Talk to Google Recruiters, causing a dent on the company’s reputation.
To minimize information asymmetry:
- Be open about your internal process. Communicate the job requirements and your expectations well to all recruiters. Keep them updated on any changes.
- Keep conversations and information generated in the hiring process in one place. E.g. by using a centralized software application accessible to all recruiters.
- Hold regular reviews and feedback session to monitor their progress and resolve any confusion.
A recruiter networks with talented people, takes the time to know them, builds a pool of candidates, calls candidates about a job, checks their CVs, identifies their skillsets, makes sure it is a match, prepares the candidates for interviews, sends the candidates any relevant information, follows up with the candidates to see how they progress, calls the hiring manager for feedback, helps the candidate to get an optimal offer.
It is a laborious task and is all about building relationships and trust. While there are hardworking and ethical recruiters out there, many junior recruiters (4 out of 5 in my experience) resort to using shortcuts, to recruit faster, lower their operating cost and get paid commissions faster.
Recognize the follow behaviors, and terminate your recruiters quickly if they show them (put it down in the contract):
1. Spammy approach
Some recruiters send mass emails to prospects, casually ask them for referrals after they decline to proceed, or even contact candidates’ references to promote their service to them.
These practices have become rampant in recent years. Any software engineers with a decent profile on LinkedIn receive tons of impersonal InMails from recruiters every week.
Cold-calling or cold-emailing must be done judiciously and sparingly, if you have to. Use talent networks that allow it and use precise targeting to build the list.
2. Unprofessional communication or action
Some recruiters approach job seekers as if to “close yet another sale”, make personal comments about their skills and chances, make no response or late response to candidates’ emails, interfere with the hiring process to increase the candidates’ chances (e.g. edit candidates’ CVs, give hints for coding tests).
3. Insufficient technical knowledge
In order to match candidates to jobs efficiently, the recruiter must read the job descriptions and candidates’ CVs and understand all the technical terms within. This requires him/her to have some degree of technical knowledge.
Many tech recruiters who have never done any software development before struggle with this. But they can compensate for their lack of technical knowledge by doing homework diligently.
Without sufficient technical knowledge, it is easy for tech recruiters to ask the wrong screening questions or write a sub-par job ad and miss out on good candidates. Job seekers will lose faith in the recruiter if he/she recommends them something they are not qualified for or not interested in.
Long hiring process
Despite having engaging and supportive recruiters, some startups still have low candidate satisfaction, as reflected in their application drop-off rate and offer acceptance rate. The problem could lie in their lengthy and inefficient hiring process.
I have applied for a software engineer position at a company which practiced 7 phases of technical interview before. In the process, the recruiter has been very supportive. She reminded me to finish the various coding exercises and submit the solutions to her, ushered me to the various coding test sessions, etc.
Some candidates simply do not want to go through all the hoops, just to get an interview with the hiring manager. And it is very often the recruiter who gets the bad rap. Recruiters in general get a bad rap for any sorts of poor candidate experience, as they are the main point of contact with the candidates.
If this is true, it is time to review your overall hiring process.
Working with new recruiters
After engaging recruiters, you have delegated a key task of the recruitment process to them. However the responsibility of overseeing and completing the process still lies on your hand. Poor recruiter management is the underlying cause of many cases of bad candidate experience.
When on-boarding new recruiters, help them understand your expectations, by working with them closely, monitoring their workflow and exchanges for at least 1-2 weeks, before continuing with them further down the road.
Incentivize external recruiters properly to avoid principal-agent problem (this is a complex topic to be discussed at another time).
When you find the 1 out of 5 that are good, stick with them, maintain a good working relationship with them for future collaboration.