Monday September 19, 2005
The Worldful World of Recruiters, or, All About Headhunters
So, you've just moved, or recently resigned, or were recently released, and you need a job.
You're sending your resume with cover letters to everything you see in Craig's List and you even put your resume on Hot Jobs (oh, the humanity!), but you need to broaden your net even more.
Welcome to scrottie's guide to the wonderful world of Head Hunters!
A few things before we start.
Just like programmers, most head hunters suck, but not all do.
While the "head hunters" gag (a reference to cannibal tribes that collect the shrunk scalps of their victems) is endlessly amusing, don't
ever call a head hunter a head hunter.
But it's okay to call a head hunter a head hunter behind their back, and we all do it even when we like the head hunter.
Here's what you're going to do.
You're going to find the best firms in town, by their reputation.
You don't want the hot to trott ones, at least not to start with.
Your recruiter is like a lawyer -- they're your friend, and they're working for you, and they're repersenting you, and they make all of the difference in the world, so you don't want to call up Dewey, Cheatham & Howe right off the bat and be shortchanged when you've got a good case.
Or, to use another analogy, a head hunter is like a used car dealer -- buying a used car is bad enough, you don't want to go the slimey outfit when a reputable dealer has much higher quality autos that are in your price range.
Then you're going to call her office (it might be a he, but let's say it's a she -- the one I have in mind is a she).
You're going to ask for her.
You got her name and number as a referral from a tech friend.
If you don't have tech friends, you probably suck as a programmer and need to get out to developer's meetings and user's groups and whatnot.
It's never too late to start.
She's probably busy.
Try a few times.
If you can't get ahold of her, she's likely too busy to deal with you anyway, and you'll probably be better represented somewhere else, so call somewhere else unless you're feeling really stubborn.
Get another referral.
When you get ahold of her, plan on spending about two minutes on the phone -- or more if she has specific questions.
Tell her what kind of position you're looking for -- don't be too specific and don't be vague.
She might ask you what else you do -- either to get a better feel for you or else to try to fit you into another position.
Don't list any skills you aren't willing to actively use and don't give her your entire rap sheet.
Before the fun begins, you have to give a very briefly outline -- no, not even an outline -- just the highlights.
You're not trying to sell her on all of your accomplishes or your work history or your best qualities.
Remember, she's working for you.
She will market you if she can.
If she can, she'll ask for a resume.
Send it to her.
Don't skip the phone call -- people flood recruiters with resumes, and she doesn't walk to talk to them, so she must resolve an interest in talking to you before she'll even look at that attachment or even the email.
Send her your resume as a pdf or preferably Microsoft Word document (.doc or .rtf -- doesn't have to be written with MS-Word so long as she can open it without fuss).
Name your resume after your own name -- don't name it "resume.rtf" or it'll get lost real quick.
"Scott Walters Computer Programmer Resume.rtf" isn't a bad pick.
It should start with your own name for sort-order reasons.
Don't write a cover letter -- just send it attached to a brief email. You probably feel like you have to say something -- fine. Re-iterate your primary job skills and what you're looking for. You may usefully mention *one* previous employer, degree, other piece of qualification, but do so casually, such as in "I've recently completed a 5 year stay at Motorola, and I'm looking for work in the walkie-talkie industry".
Call her to follow up if she doesn't call you.
She'll give you a weather forecast.
You'll hear "I'm not really seeing a lot of Perl jobs lately" which you can safely translate to "I don't expect to see a Perl job in the near future, and if I do, there are a lot of other people on the list, so you aren't doing me any good". Don't be offended -- that's how the cookie crumbles.
Maybe pick up some new skills, such as Java, or PHP.
She might ask you to come into the office.
More on that later.
Or she might ask you to keep in touch.
If she asks you to keep in touch, email her every week with a brief note including the top keywords so she has some context.
After emailing her for a month or for a year, she might ask you to come into the office.
Or you might lose attention.
You've been invited into the office.
Here's the agenda:
She wants to find your salary range.
Don't be sky, but do be meek.
If you ask for too much, she won't be able to market you, or she'll have a hard time, but she's ready, willing, and able to market you at a fair market price.
If she thinks your number is fair, she'll so, point blank.
If she thinks it's too high, she'll cringe a little bit.
If she thinks it's too low, she'll give you a wondermous look, like you just ate your pen.
Regardless, don't panic.
It isn't a pop-quiz.
She might even offer you vieled advice, though this requires utmost tack for her to pull off, and by foraging so close to the bounds of etique, she's risking commiting foux-paux for you.
She'll want to know what technologies you want to work with.
Again, don't list anything you don't want to work on, full time.
She probably has you in because she has a specific job in mind, so she'll feel you out to see if you'll be happy there and if you'll come across as being interested when and if you interview with her client (the employer).
She'll go over your resume with you and look for things she can use as major selling points.
She'll draw in the margins of your resume, and make stars and squiggles and so on and so forth.
When she presents you to the client (probably over the phone), she'll use her notes.
She won't tell you who her client is because she would have cut herself out the equation, but she will feel you out and make sure you aren't talking to them already, didn't already work there recently (or possibily ever), and that you aren't dealing with another recruiter dealing with the same client.
If you even might be dealign with the same client with another head hunter, the line ends here.
They have a strict code of protocol here, necessary as they'll look really dumb if they try to sell the same hiring manager the same client after another recruiter.
It's easist to work with one recruiter at a time.
Congraduations! She got you an interview with her client.
She might have you into the office to prep you.
Now you get to know who the client is, and she'll make sure once and for all that she isn't dualing with another recruiter.
She'll tell you a whole bunch about what they're looking for (so that you can have it to the utmost of your ability to have it), and warn you about potial sore spots (things you should avoid having or being) based on her experience sending other people there for interviews (many of whom may have been hired, some of whom may have later been released).
You're getting a massive bundle of insider info here, so take notes, pay attention, and most of all, think about it.
The next day, you're going to go to the client's location and interview, just as if you found them off the street.
Don't talk about the recruiter except as necessary in that interview -- pretend like you'd be there anyway. Pretend like you're standing on your own two or so feet even if you aren't.
Congraduations! You didn't die of a stroke during the interview!
Call her like you promised her you would after the interview and debrief her.
She might talk to you too after the client debriefs her.
Or she might talk to the client first and then you.
Regardless, she'll give you some insights on your prospects there, but she's also looking for more insider information -- unless she's been dealing with the same client for a long time, then it's all routine.
If you interviewed well but didn't get the job, she's far more likely to select you as part of the herd to send off to future interviews.
In that case, stay in touch (as above) and do some more interviews.
If you don't hear from her for a while and you're sending her weekly emails, then you're simply too far down on the list of people looking the same kind of work and it might be time to start moving a little further down the line of recuirters towards the places that pay daily.
Recruiters aren't all evil and they aren't all bad.
Just as they learn a lot from the employes and clients they see, you can learn a lot from them.
It pays to stay in touch with one or two while you're hunting, just for this reason.
While they really don't have enough time for everyone in most cases, a good head hunter will establish a genuine repoire with you, and will enjoy their conversations with you -- especially the ones in person where they can relax away from the phone a bit.
If you can make friendly but interesting conversation, you'll do well with the nicer firms.
Many head hunters are burnt out programmers who haven't touched code in ten years, or layed off managers, and are more than happy to engage in small talk about the state of the industry and what's hot.
By the way, Perl is *not* hot.
You might work for a company for years -- or months, until massive layoffs hit -- but be an exceptional employee while you're there (or at least be personalable enough that the recruiter only hears good about you).
In that case, you have priority with the same recruiter -- she will, market permitting, alost certainly put you at the top of the list.
She knows she can work with you, and she knows you can manage an interview and keep up relations on the job, so you're making her job a lot easier and ensuring her paycheck if you're placed at on a job.
If you're marketable in your field, and your field is marketable (ie, you aren't a Perl programmer), you'll want to stay in touch with your favorite head hunter even as you're working.
That way, should you ever find yourself between jobs, you'll still be on their short list, even if they themselves switch agencies.
It isn't unheard of hear from a recruiter you have a relationship with that they've moved and have different contact information.
It's slightly exceptional, but the value of that relationship and the added priority in getting sent off to interviews is worth it.
In this case, you might not want to check in more than every month or two.
You're always walking a thin line between being a scarce resource and hounding them, so common sense, the ability to pick up hints, and tact is always in order.
I hope this candid little guide is of service to you!
P.S.: Today, there are no suggestions for what I want from comments to this essay except you should
the opinions of Perl programmers will automatically be discounted without thought.
You should probably also note that I am myself a die-hard Perl programmer, as should be obvious from my posting on use.perl.org.