Why you should play the long game as a recruitment agent

Long Desert Road

Back in 2017, I was working on-site for a client and at a bank of desks with two permanent developers sat across from me. Suddenly, one of them mentioned that he’d received an email and that he couldn’t believe how shady the recruiter had been.

What had gone on that was so shocking?

It turned out, the recruiter had basically sent him a dynamically-generated email. From memory, they’d gotten his first name wrong, the technologies he was familiar with and his working location.

It wasn’t a great look but developers are anything if not pedantic and some are far worse than others. The team I worked with were known to argue with each other, at length, about various chocolate bars being biscuits or vice versa. Is a Twix a chocolate bar? Is a Penguin a biscuit? I digress…

Anyway, this particular individual was affronted by the email he’d received and replied back to the recruiter with an arsey message about his name, preferred technology stack and location all being incorrect.

The recruiter then proceeded to pour petrol on the fire they’d lit

Within minutes, the recruiter had emailed back words to the effect of:

Wow…I was only trying to be helpful and send you a job that I thought you might be interested in. Anyway, since I’ve got you perhaps we could arrange a quick chat to discuss what you might be looking for in your next role?

Big mistake.

The developer I was working with then launched into a full attack. What on earth did this recruiter think they were playing at? *Obviously* he wasn’t interested in the job because *obviously* he was a React developer not a React Native developer. Did the recruiter even know how to read? Oh yeah, his name wasn’t Derek it was James and he didn’t want to work in London…

Eventually, the recruiter had the sense to stop replying but not before they’d exchanged another few angry emails. I’ll never know if the recruiter was just trolling my colleague but situations like these always make me a bit…sad.

How are we any richer for the experience?

Who has benefited from this exchange? Sure, as James became more and more wound up by the situation we all had a bit of a laugh at his expense and told him to take himself less seriously.

Other than that though, it’s just another developer having another low-quality interaction with a recruiter who has been a bit lazy and worsened the perception of their industry ever-so-slightly.

What might a good recruiter have done instead?

OK, let’s assume you were the recruiter in this situation. You’ve made the error and sent out a lazy, system-generated email that’s gotten a few things wrong about your prospect. They reply with a shitty email asking you if you are an idiot, a moron or both of the above.

What now?

Admit your mistake, apologise for wasting the individual’s time and move on. You aren’t going to salvage this relationship in the short-term but if you can smooth things over they’ll probably at least forget about it which means that your name won’t have been sullied should you ever want to approach them again.

What might a great recruiter have done instead?

Let’s take a step back even further. Why was the recruiter dependent on using a system-generated email and why had their system gotten so much wrong about my colleague?

Either the agency’s system is poor and shouldn’t be relied upon or it has been fed bad data and the agency’s processes are poor. I get emails like this all the time as a contractor and have just accepted them as part of doing business so this agent and his company are far from being alone.

I’d argue that a great recruiter wouldn’t be reliant on either the broken system or any associated broken processes. They’d be doing the hard work of manually building relationships with hiring managers and developers and only getting in touch with developers when they knew they had something of interest or relevance.

Good recruiters have bulk email systems that work but great recruiters, in my experience, aren’t using them.

What you can do today to become a better recruiter

Look, I’m a developer, not a recruiter but I’ve worked with enough of you to understand how the process works. Your job is to find people who want to hire me and match them up with me (or others like me) who want work.

What that means is you need a list of available positions and a list of people who can fill them. Obviously, the magic is getting the supply of talent to meet with the demand of hiring managers when both of them want the other one.

With that in mind, you need to start building relationships today with both parties. I spent most of 2019 emailing a hiring manager every few months for my current position, letting him know that I was interested but that I wanted to see out my current contract. Equally, the hiring manager had positions but they never quite aligned with my contract end dates.

Nothing happened until 2020 rolled around, my contract ended and (having built a relationship already) it was an easy decision for us both to make.

What would it take for you to play the long game with your work? Why not start investing in building long-term relationships that’ll pay dividends months or years from now?

How to send better emails as a recruitment agent

iOS Email APp

As a recruitment agent, I’d argue that email is probably one of the best tools you can use to build relationships with developers and hiring managers.

Why I no longer answer my phone

Years back, when I first started contracting, I handed out my number to anyone that’d take it and I got inundated with calls from recruiters. Were they calling to talk to me about a contract role? Of course not, they’d just “come across my CV on one of the job boards” and wanted to discuss what I “might be looking for in my next role”.

After a couple of years, this grew predictably tiring. I started blocking calls from the particularly annoying agencies who couldn’t remember that they’d already called twice that morning. More recently, I’ve gotten even more aggressive with this strategy in an aim to get more work done.

If you aren’t in my favourites list, my phone will not ring when you call

Obviously, not all developers are created equally but typically we shy away from answering our phones at work. It’s unprofessional but the bigger problem is that it takes a while to get your head into the right space for creative work and that can be instantly undone by an inbound call.

Why email should be your main source of contact

What about LinkedIn? What about Twitter? Aren’t devs all using Stack Overflow now? Maybe your agency should set up a TikTok account and start posting funny videos about a new role!?

Attention levels in any of these platforms is limited. There’s simply too much distraction. Any meaningful message is easily lost in the maelstrom of Brexit rants (Twitter), lip-sync videos (TikTok) and pictures of people you barely remember working with attending award ceremonies (LinkedIn).

So, while my Mum’s inbox is a train-wreck of 9398 unread emails from Groupon, Wish and Jacquie Lawson eCards my own is pretty much empty. I might not be a case study for all contract developers but as I use inbox zero, anything you send to me will either be automatically processed (you’ve sent me rubbish in the past so I’ve unsubscribed from your list or your emails are automatically sent to the bin) or they’ll stand out in a list of maybe two or three other emails.

Developers a lazy bunch. We love automating things we have to do repeatedly…like check and process email. I’d put money on other developers either doing what I do or something very similar to it, which should make your opportunity pretty obvious.

If you send me something that I want to read, then it’s likely I will read it, in full, without any major distractions competing for my attention.

What does the typical email from a recruiter look like?

Well, as explained I tend not to see that many of them because I’ve set up a bunch of rules to file them in the bin or have unsubscribed from a load of mailing lists that my email address found its way onto.

Of the ones that do slip through on occasion, I typically see:

  • Evidence that you’ve used mail merge or a bulk email system. As a developer and someone who uses them, I suppose I’d know what they look like.
  • Personalisation attempts that are broken. Derek is the name of one of my references.
  • Irrelevant job locations. No, I do not want to work in The Hague no matter how exciting you think the company is.
  • Irrelevant job types. Stop emailing me about permanent roles, I have never expressed interest in them.
  • Irrelevant job skills. I am not a UX designer nor a C# developer nor a Java developer nor a business analyst nor a technical architect…
  • Ridiculous salaries. I’m not a junior developer. Don’t email me about junior roles that I’m never going to take.
  • Offers for me to do a favour for you. I don’t want to have a quick chat to discuss what I’m looking for in my next role. Take a look at my CV and have a guess.

Ok, you get the idea. The real shame is that I feel as though this could all be fixed pretty easily.

What does a good email from a recruiter look like?

I can’t believe I even have to say this but just getting the basic things probably puts you in the top 5% of emails I receive from agents:

  • The email was typed by your fair hand…or at least appears as though it has been. Well done!
  • You’ve personalised the email to the extent that you’ve used my name and not that of one of my references. I really don’t expect you to trawl my social media accounts and ask me about my holiday/birth of a child/extension but if that’s your thing then fill your boots.
  • You’ve got a job in Manchester that you’d like to discuss. I take work in Manchester. Excellent work!
  • The role is a contract position and I didn’t have to ask!? This is getting stranger by the minute…
  • It’s a front end development role and I’m a front end developer…that means that it’s a job that I can actually do. Whatever next?
  • You’re unable to discuss the salary with me for now but it’s a senior position and the role is paying, in your opinion, market rates. I’d rather know in advance but this is fine.
  • Am I free to discuss this role? Of course, I’ll reply letting you know that I’ll call the number you’ve added this afternoon if that’s OK because I have other commitments.

Your email has been sent to me, was to the point and has opened the door to getting me on the phone. Great work.

What would a great email from a recruiter look like?

In the above example, we’ve basically taken the shit that I’m used to seeing and inverted it to turn it into something remotely worthwhile. Most of the developers I’ve worked with are really, really smart people so they know how recruitment works and they know that you’ll get a juicy commission if you fill a role.

Yes, you’re potentially helping me out by finding a job for me but by filling it I’m helping *you* out by paying your commission either as a lump sum or as a chunk on top of my day rate. Additionally, I’m helping out the hiring manager who needs an extra developer for their project.

The point is not that the developer is better than anyone else here, but rather that the relationship is probably win, win, win.

That’s a good thing, but how could we make it even better?

What separates the good recruiters from the great recruiters are little things like knowing:

  • Where I’m currently contracting. What do you know about my current employer that could sell a new role to me?
  • When my current contract ends. I’m most likely to go for a new position at the end of a contract.
  • If I’m likely to be offered a renewal. If I’m not going to be renewed, getting me to move should be easy unless I want a break.
  • What my current day rate is. If it’s a drop, why should I take it? If it’s an increase, are you being transparent and telling me how we can both get top dollar?

Knowing these things requires staying in touch with developers in your network periodically. You can use a CRM to do this if you’ve got a load of contacts but you could easily set up a Trello board if not.

Additionally, I’d go a step further and say that your agency could actually provide value to developers in the form of market insights emails