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?