Let’s just say these are busy times in Silcon Valley, especially for developers and user experience types. Many of my friends in software development are getting multiple calls a day from recruiters, pitching the next startup or some great contract work.
It’s nice to be wanted, but it’s also a frustrating process having to say no thank you to recruiters especially when they have completely misread my resume. I’ve gotten a lot of calls for front-end developers, database architects, and even iPhone development – and none of those are things are on my resume.
I’ve worked before as a recruiter and have built a team from scratch, so I understand recruiters’ needs. I also understand that, at their core, recruiters are sales people, except they have to sell two parties to close a deal.
Recruiting is like real estate, except you’re brokering talent instead of houses. Both recruiters and real estate agents that are best at what they do have common traits. They both may make money on commission and depend on selling the candidate on the company and vice versa (the buyer and seller of a house). Both also have the same goal — to close the deal.
I’m in the unique position of doing user research by interviewing the same group of people that call me: recruiters. I strike up wonderful conversations with them, and it’s a win-win situation. They tell me what they need (sometimes I can give it to them), and I get great feedback about their needs for an applicant tracking system and social recruiting.
Here are a few tips on how to get great candidates:
1. Reputation Is Everything
The phone call you make is the first time any candidate has been contacted by your company. Make it worthwhile. Like any interview, first impressions are everything. The candidate is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them, and they’ll be grading you on everything from your knowledge of the company to whether they understand what you do as a profession.
They’ll be asking a list of questions, if they’re any good. You’re on the clock for presenting the company as a great place at which to work. Forty hours a week (or more, if you’re at a startup) is a lot of time to spend anywhere. In other words, it’s a decision no one should take lightly. In down economy, people will suck it up. On the way up, it’s more of a sales pitch.
For some professional communities, word spreads fast. I used to live in Southern California, and we used to say, “Big city, small town.” This applies to the Bay Area even more so. We trade stories about places to work and recruiters, especially in a superheated social media culture, so each impression speaks volumes.
2. Understand the Position
Hiring for software developers is much easier, because managers will give you a list of acronyms to use when finding candidates. Typing in Java, Swing, and Hibernate will get you a fair number of enterprise developers, for example. User Experience types are harder. We’re in a field that’s fairly amorphous and that works in conjunction with a lot of fields, like sales and marketing.
If you have questions, do research. Find out what a wireframe is. Learn about user research. Present a few initial candidates to the hiring managers, and ask questions like, “Does this person have enough experience?” before calling the candidates. Even better, join Quora, and do some searching there. There are a ton of questions about each of the fields, and the best and brightest that have written well-researched and thoughtful answers.
The best recruiters I know bracket candidates to get a good idea of the sweet spot for the position. They’ll present people with too little or too much experience to get to that “just right” spot. The recruiters that I’ve worked with that understand what I do have captured more of my respect. I don’t necessarily expect them to design a website, but I do want them to understand what I do.
3. Recognize the Candidate’s Needs
When I was a graphic designer, my co-workers and I had a common joke about some of the jobs that we’re offered – midnight shift, must make coffee, must answer phones – that had requirements totally outside of what we could or would want to do. The same goes for hiring people today. The best recruiters will do a good job of understanding who the candidate is and whether or not he or she would be willing to do the work required.
The best way to understand the candidate is to read their resume. Look at their experience level, where they have worked, and with what the brands. Even look at on what kind of applications they have worked. For example, the last time I designed a microsite that was very interactive was in the 20th century. I probably wouldn’t want to do it again.
4. Have Realistic Expectations
There’s nothing worse than getting a phone call, and they want to present you for a position that’s at least $30 an hour under market rate, or the person has to move to Missoula, Montana when they obviously are never going to leave San Francisco.
As the economy comes back, there’s going to be a lot of job shifting, and compensation is going to return to pre-recession levels. That requires a deeper understanding of what the market rate is, and how far off the client is in what they want. All companies want the best bang for the buck, but the true understanding of salary is that you are mitigating risk, not paying for experience.
Work with the client or your company to learn what their expectations are, and what they are willing to pay. Go to a few candidates and ask them ballpark figures of what they are expecting.
5. Build Relationships
The best recruiters I’ve worked with talk to me even if I’m not a commission. We talk about the market, companies, and what’s going on. They’ve helped me standardize recruiter terminology for Jobvite, and we’ve gone out for drinks. We trade stories about the best places to work, and I help them understand some the motivations of other professionals we may know.
The best recruiters turn it into a professional friendship that goes beyond the initial sale, in the same way real estate agents reach out to people that live in the neighborhood. It’s the virtual apple pie on Fourth of July. My favorite recruiters ask me for referrals, which I’ll give without thinking twice. I’ll tell them about companies that are looking for candidates, and match them up with other great people that are a better fit for the position.
I’ve referred over 30 people to positions over the last two years and will keep doing so. I almost always pass (or don’t care) about the fee, because I enjoy the relationship. I would rather gain the trust and respect of a recruiter; and the social capital is in invaluable. I also understand the nature of Weak Ties, which is invaluable when building your career.
When someone is ready to explore new opportunities, all it takes is one great referral to seal the deal. That means if you get a shot, you can look like a hero to your client or company.
Patrick Neeman is the Director of User Experience with Jobvite. His previous experience includes working with startups to launch their product, User Experience and Social Media consulting with Microsoft, and managing a team of 25 User Experience professionals for a technology consultancy. He also runs a blog, Usability Counts, that covers topics such as User Experience, Social Media, and Web Marketing.