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Working with a Recruiter – A few things candidates should know

If you haven’t worked with a professional recruiter before you may be wondering “what’s the catch?” or “will i be charged for this?” the first time you hear from one of us. of course this is a business and we do get paid for our work. however, reputable recruiters will only charge their clients for their services, never the candidates. For Direct Hire, fees generally range from 15% to 30% of a candidate’s yearly base salary depending on the position, market demand and negotiating prowess of the sales person but 20% is a fairly standard fee in today’s market. the client’s fees are almost always paid out of a different bucket than salaries. generally a client sets aside a budget for recruiting efforts, this money might be spent towards hiring internal recruiters or internal job posting costs, bill boards, etc. or they may chose to spend some of that money on hiring external recruiters. having a recruiter represent you almost never means that you will be offered less money or are less likely to get the job. For Contract Hires, fees are built into the hourly rate and the profit margin usually ranges between 15%-25% of the hourly rate although can drop below 10% depending on the volume. beware of laying. much of the contract staffing business these days gets sent out to sub vendors, who may then send it on to sub sub vendors. this can cut into your hourly rate and decreases your leverage with your employer as they have nothing to actually win or lose with the end client. It is important for candidates to understand that the client pays the bill but the recruiter doesn’t get paid until she fills the job. so rather than thinking that the recruiter works for either the client or the candidate i think it is fair to say, a recruiter works for the fill. i think it is also good to know that our average recruiter makes some form of contact with between 300-400 candidates a month but places only 2-3 people a month. most of the candidates and jobs a recruiter works with will not go anywhere, such is the nature of the business. Sometimes this has lead people to feel that recruiters are mercenary hacks with no follow through skills. the truth is, some are, and it can be hard to deliver and recieve so much bad news over the course of a month and still keep your head up. honestly, would you like to look for a job for a living? but there are good recruiters out there and here is how you will recognize them. Good recruiters have learned how to juggle the reality while still providing excellent service. a good recruiter will set your expectations as best they can. for example, some clients will not provide detailed feedback due to EEO liability concerns, others give feedback promptly and freely, while others will interview and then passive aggressively avoid providing the negative feedback. it the job search, no news is bad news. if you haven’t heard anything in a reasonable amount of time it usually is not good news, unless you are prepared for a long process before hand. There are a lot of recruiters out there that are not working directly with their client and others who just don’t know how to ask good questions. good recruiters have a direct relationship with the client. they are knowledgeable about their client and the job they are working. if they don’t know something they will attempt to get the information. Some recruiters are very closed about their client information. i find this mostly to be because they either don’t know anything about the client or they are afraid the candidates will attempt to circumvent them and submit themselves directly to the client in the mistaken belief that this will increase their chances or being placed. the reality is more candidates get lost in the black whole of the human resources department than ever circumvent a recruiter. remember that to the hiring managers, by the time the position has gone to an external recruiter, it is usually because human resources has already tried and failed to fill the job.

You should expect your recruiter to :

  • Know their clients and their jobs
  • Be free with information about their clients
  • Be up front about challenges
  • Provide both positive and negative feedback whenever possible
  • Make their best effort to close the deal

As a candidate a recruiter should expect you to :

  • Provide honest communication about your interest and other prospects
  • Provide honest disclosure of salary and work history
  • Keep your recruiter in the loop with new developments at the client
  • Respect their time and efforts
  • Ultimately make the best decision for you and your family

Profile Hiring – The only way to Recruit

Profile Recruiting – If I were to tell a recruiter to go find me a Java Developer they would likely be able to identify someone will those skills that was interested in a job in just a couple of hours. However, if I told them to find me the Java Developer candidate that XYZ company will hire, that’s a much more daunting and ambiguous task. Profile hiring is a methodology that moves skills to the back burner, other than the main skill, in this case java, and forces the recruiter to think about ways of weeding through the 1000’s of potential candidates to find ones that will actually get the job. When I started recruiting in the mid 90’s we didn’t have job boards, we were essentially working our database, doing a little newspaper advertising and cold calling competitors to source our candidates. Things have changed and today we are able to easily search out a host of candidates with the appropriate skill set in just a matter of minutes. This has been good and bad for the industry. It has create a lot of lazy recruiters who forgot some of most important factors of recruiting which is people hire people, not just skill sets. The key is to combine old style networking concepts with new technology to truly find the best candidate possible. A recruiter can’t possibly review 5000 resumes for an open position so the real challenge becomes how to sort your data in a way that yields the best fit candidate with fewer than 100 results. I call this process profile hiring and it takes more than knowledge of the actual skill set involved. You may know a lot about technology and still not be able to whittle the 5000 candidates down to the most likely candidate to get the XYZ job any better than someone with no knowledge of java. The key is applying logic to understanding people, networks, and organizations. That is the profile. As a recruiter, over the years, I got this impression that there were no original people on this planet. Most of the best recruiters I have hired have commented on this obscurity to me at some point. “He’s that kind of guy”, “he’s one of those types”, “he’s the one” and they tend to be right. After a while people tend to fit pretty consistent patters and if you can pick up on those threads, you find that those patters tend to clump together. Interestingly enough social networking and new data intelligence tools are starting to back this up with real science. Did you know that if you gain 10 lbs. your friends are statistically more likely to gain 10 lbls.? Not only that but friends of your friends friends are also statistically more likely to gain weight. So how do we apply this to recruiting? I can’t give you a straight forward answer, each position has to be approached with a fresh set of rules. But I can give some examples to get you started thinking in the right way. Step one: You have to be able to probe you client to pick up on those patterns. Luckily our brains are great patter recognition machines and coupled with modern technology and endless amounts of data, this task can be accomplished better than ever before. Look for commonalities in speech, manner, background, culture, education. Anything that seems to form a pattern. I have quite literally placed someone by looking for a CPA who was also an eagle scout after coming away from a client meeting thinking “those guys are like a bunch of boy scouts”, and that’s how I formulated my search. Step two: Apply logic and bake at 98.6 degrees for 10 mins. Where does this profile hang out? What does he look like? What does he sound like? You should know your profile. When I set out looking for something I like to know what I’m looking for first. This is how the brain works by the way. If we drive together down a street for 10 mins. and 5 mins in I ask you, “did you see anything red on our drive?” you will be hard pressed to remember anything red. But if I tell you to look for something red at that point, by the time we reached our destination you’d be hard pressed to see anything but red. It would pop out at you from all sides. Always make a deliberate search, I guarantee you the results will be much better. You will know “perfect” when you see it, IF you are looking for it. Step three: Turn this profile into a search. A few things to remember here; Alike people flock together and they tend to work in similar ways at similar organizations. I’m not just referring to competing organizations. I’m referring to any organization where like- minded people work. For example, I had a .com client who had a great overlap with a mass media entertainment company and placed 8 people from there. They tended to hire similar, like-minded people of equal skill abilities, I avoided non-compete issues and it was an easy sell to the client and candidate. Another example is geographical similarities. I recently placed a Python developer in Maryland by searching for “Python AND Utah” after I found that both the CEO and the Director of IT had roots in Utah. One more example, I was out to dinner with a group of Sr. IT people at a client of mine after a user group meeting, they were all raving about some new technology that had come out, one which they didn’t use in their organization and wouldn’t show up in a job description. Several of them were playing with it at home or looking to work with it in an open source project. Firecrackers went off in my brain and I subsequently placed 4-5 people there who had that skill set listed on their resume either as having worked with it or having a desire to work with it. Step four: Be willing to change your concept of perfect. Often my recruiters will come up to me confused and distraught. “I don’t understand why he was rejected; he was PERFECT for the job”. FYI, Perfect candidates get job offers. Rejections are opportunities to refine your understanding of the job and what the perfect candidate looks like.
So, a few things to be looking out for that may indicate a profile you can search for?
  • Skill Sets
  • Professional Organizations
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Cultures
  • Hobbies
  • Companies
  • Networks
  • Friends
  • Even Relatives
One of my Mantras in our office is “You can’t find what you don’t understand”. And profile recruiting is all about the understanding. We have to know them better than they know themselves.

Good luck out there!


Screening for the Right Candidate

We all wish we had a crystal ball that would predict the success of a potential hire. Everyone knows how painful it is to make a bad hire. It’s a drag on resources to train someone and if that person doesn’t work out there is nothing we can do to get it back. It’s a zero sum game. A mentor of mine once told me “Hire slow and fire fast” and while the recruiter in me wants all of my clients to hire fast, my rational business self realizes there is a lot to lose for being wrong. Organizations are becoming ever more cognizant of the fact that companies are simply a mix of people by which your products and services will be made or broken. Hire a lot of productive, high performing employees and your company flourishes. Hire a lot of low performing, moochers and your company suffers. The question is how do we determine which one we are getting before the offer? If I had all the answers, I’d retire. I’ve been wrong enough about people in the past to know the true pain of “giving the benefit of the doubt.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
  • Small things you see in the interview will become big things in the workplace. Sometimes that’s OK, but sometimes it is not. We have a tendency to want to explain certain things away, but they often come back to haunt us.
  • My gut knows things my head doesn’t. Listen to what candidates are saying and what they aren’t saying and trust your gut on whether it is real or just lip service.
  • If your verification process feels like you do it to go through the motions, don’t bother verifying. We do background checks and reference checks, but are we really getting valuable information out of them? If you just run through a list of reference questions in order to say you did it, you just wasted 30 minutes of your time. Get real opinions, ask hard questions, dig for details, give hypothetical, or go home.
  • Know your company’s perfect candidate profile. For me, profile is the single biggest indicator of the success of a candidate within an organization. Check out my blog post on this subject for more information.
  • Hire potential over experience. In Today’s ever changing information driven work environment it is more important that our employees be able to adapt, learn, experiment, use logic and change failures into successes than that they have knowledge of a particular skill. Great employees are destined to be great because it is who they are. Catch them early, keep them happy, and reap the rewards.
  • Skill test, but don’t be arbitrary. Look for ways to test ability and potential, not just skills.
  • Personality tests can be a good way to look at candidate’s potential to succeed in an organization, again, as long as you know what you are looking for. Everyone thinks they know what they want but often they are wrong. For example, a client of mine was hiring sales people, they said “he should be a problem solver with a strong work ethic and a good communicator” However, after meeting their top producers, I would have been testing for “self-image” to indicate how confident and resilient they are, “extrovert vs. introvert”, try determine if they thrive or squirm under a spotlight, “feeling vs. thinking”, cerebral people would not be satisfied in that environment.

How to write a Technical Resume

One of the most important steps and certainly the step you hold the most control over in the job hunting process is your resume.
RULE #1 – Remember that your resume serves one purpose and one only and that is to get you an interview. Your resume is your marketing tool to get you the job you want.
Your resume needs to be found. This may be you passing it along through an acquaintance, applying to a position online, or being searched out of a database somewhere. I strongly suggest you have two versions of your resume, one that gets you found and another one that gets reviewed. Consider your audience. Who is looking at your resume? If you are posting your resume on a job board, there is a 95% chance it is being reviewed by a non-technical recruiter, trying to match up key words in various searches. In fact, consider that anywhere your resume resides for the long term it is likely being found in a key word search, be it www.linkedin.com, your web page, or a recruiter’s database. I started recruiting just as internet job boards were being adopted. Over this time I have seen a trend for resumes to be written more for recruiters than hiring managers as people struggle to get noticed. Part of this could be solved if recruiters were better at their jobs but sadly MOST recruiters in the industry are making a determination on whether to call you or send your resume to the client based on the frequency and clustering of their target key words or even worse, their understanding of their target key words. This presents a problem because the technical hiring manager who determines if you get an interview is looking for substance, detail, and a believable story of what you’ve done for previous employers. Time and again I hear hiring managers complain about the laundry lists of skills people list on their resume that they can’t effectively interview to. This is symptomatic of the explosion of technologies over the past 10 years but also of candidates writing resumes for the person performing the key word search, not the hiring manager. I’m going to start by discussing the technical resume for the hiring manager and then talk about what can be added in order to get noticed in the market.

So let’s get started.

Length – This is important, I see 5-10 page resumes every day. They are annoying, superfluous, and unnecessary. The hiring manager reviewing the resume feels swamped. He has a hard time finding the information he is looking for and has a hard time understanding what the strengths are since everything under the sun has been listed. The hiring manager is also usually left feeling dubious that the candidates will be able to back up what they write. Rule of thumb is; a Jr candidate – 1 page, Mid level 1-2, Sr. level 2-3. 3 pages should hold enough information for the manager to make a determination as to your candidacy, without exception, as long as it is presented appropriately. If you feel like you can’t fit all of your information onto 3 pages then you are forgetting the purpose of your resume and need to refer back to rule
RULE #1 – Remember that your resume serves one purpose and one only and that is to get you an interview. Your resume is your marketing tool to get you the job you want.

Structure of the Resume

Functional vs. Chronological – Always chronological. The functional resume does not answer the basic questions that a manager is trying to determine (what, when, how and why) and leaves the reviewer feeling duped. Some people will argue that it’s preferable when making a career change or trying to overcome some objectionable issue on your resume. I disagree. The truth will come out and these issues are better addressed straight forward in a cover letter or email introduction than trying to hide the truth in the resume itself. At least the intro won’t feel like deception, which is a major red flag for all employers. Order & Sections – It is not necessary that a well-written resume display any more than your experience, education and contact information. You may also want to add a skills section to summarize all of your skills, but beware of listing things you aren’t prepared to be tech’d out on. Most skills can effectively be worked into the experience section and if the skills section ends up being superfluous and repetitive; take it out and conserve the space for more meaningful content. As to the order: Contact information goes at the top, then summary if you choose to have one, followed by Experience unless your education sets you apart, for example, a degree from an ivy league school or 4.0 gpa, or magna cum laude from a well respected school may be reason to list that above experience. Your skills section would come last if you choose to add it. Contact Information – This should be clearly observable, the most important aspect being your name. This is not a legal document, so legal names, middle names, titles, etc., are not necessary and may allow for assumptions to be made about you or your personality. For example, Douglas “Sean” Afton or Michael Van Orr III vs. just Sean Afton or Mike Van Orr. List your name simply as you wish to be called on an everyday basis. If you go by Mike instead of Michael or Ray instead of Raymond, use the short form. Also, you don’t have to list a full address, although you can if you want to, it serves no purpose. Of course you will list the city and state as well as your phone number and email address. URLs and Linked in Profiles are advisable. Take some time to refine and check these sites for errors or inconsistencies when you start your search and send out requests for endorsements whenever possible. These things can really sway a manager towards an interview if you can create enough interest on the resume to get him to research you. Definitely Google yourself before beginning a search and try to get rid of negative content and pictures if possible. Try this site, www.pipl.com Summary vs. Objective – Personally, I prefer a summary if you chose to use either. Ultimately, it is not necessary to have either at all. Use it if you have information on the 2nd page that it is important to get noticed in conjunction with more recent experience, or for summarizing years (if that is a selling point). You can use the summary as a mini cover letter, since cover letters rarely get read, where you bringing out specifics that qualify you for a certain job, or overcome objections that might come out during review. What you don’t need to do is list generic information that anyone and everyone puts into a summary such as “strong interpersonal skills and attention to detail”. Anyone can say this, but it’s more effective to demonstrate it with examples in the experience section of the resume. The summary should not be more than a paragraph. Experience – This is the most important section in your resume and the area worthy of devoting the most time and effort.
Here is an example of the structure I prefer for the experience section:
Company Name Date
Descriptive overview (either company or dept, depending on relevancy) – this is your chance to give a picture of the environment that plays into your work) Detailed Descriptions (either bulleted or paragraphed) – this should all revolve around your individual contributions) i) No one should have to search to find the company name, date and title of your previous positions, make sure they are clearly visible. If the position was a contract vs. a permanent position also clearly mark that after the company name. I have seen a lot of people rejected for “job hopping” because they failed to identify clearly their contract vs. permanent positions. Title is a subjective issue. Many official titles don’t match well with market standard titles and ultimately don’t mean anything to the reader. Remember RULE #1. The title doesn’t have to be accurate; it should reflect your responsibilities and the level of your position in the general market. Consider the size of the company you worked for and compare that with the market in general. A director at a small start-up may really just be a tech lead for a large company. Make sure the title reflects your responsibilities, but don’t put yourself out of the running for a good individual contributor role that you’d be happy to take in an attempt to be accurate. Also, be careful about overbuilding yourself with Sr. Titles, where you have set an expectation later with the interviewer that you will be at a higher level than you actually are. Always better to over impress than under impress in the interview. Also, it is better to show off your skills in the body of the experience, rather than in the title. ii) Too often I see a cut and paste from a website in the descriptive overview section, even from well known companies, such as Citicorp. This is unnecessary filler, make this section mean something by describing what the reader might not know about Citicorp and things that directly relate or give interest to the work that you did. E.g. “Worked in the credit card department of this Fortune 500 Company which was responsible for 8Bil in quarterly revenue and over 200 Million customers. Our Department was comprised of 30 developers in 5 teams. My role was Technical Lead on a team of 5 developers who were supporting the business unit responsible for marketing of student credit cards. Hired as a developer to supplement the team and was promoted to a technical lead after 8 months.” iii) Next we get into the experience portion of your resume. This is the make it or break it section of your resume. Every line should be carefully reviewed and thought through with your audience in mind. The manager reviewing the resume is looking at a two dimensional sheet of paper trying to conjure up an image of a three dimensional person. “Facts tell but stories sell”. This section should tell a compelling, true story of your career and abilities. It should be clear, believable and it should demonstrate understanding, ability, and all of the other traits you feel you posses that make you employable. It should not leave you asking questions, or reading filler lines. It doesn’t have to be “accurate” Accurate is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t matter that you don’t list everything you did while you were there. Was the information you did provide well-delivered and meaningful to the person reading it? iv) What kinds of questions are we answering on the resume? Why was he hired? What did the company do? What was his group or department responsible for within that company? Was he working independently or in a team? Where did he fall within his team? What was he primarily responsible for? Where did he spend the majority of his time? What challenging and interesting technical accomplishments did he make and what were the benefits to the organization overall? What was his understanding of what he was doing and why and how that fit into the broader organization? What were the technologies used? Why and how were they used? What worked and what didn’t? What was he proud of? Why did he leave? Throughout the answering of these questions you should be able to demonstrate, things you made, saved, and achieved as well as key personality traits, such as attention to detail, creativity, team work, etc.
Building believability – details and specifics build believability. Consider these opposing sentences:
“Used SQL to query the database” OR “Utilized aggregate functions and inner joins to create complex SQL queries, across 10 Oracle databases and 3 terabytes of data, resulting in valuable and actionable reporting that ultimately increase ROI for the marketing dept.” “Refactored various components for our application in Java 5.” OR “Making use of the new features in the collections framework, concurrency packages, and annotations in Java 5, was able to redevelop key components handling real-time financial transactions resulting in improved exceptions handling and a 30% performance increase. The majority of candidates over generalize. In such cases you have not only told him nothing, but actually done damage to yourself. The hiring manager may be thinking you didn’t elaborate because they don’t actually have the experience, and if that’s the case, take it off your resume. Or maybe he’s thinking you just don’t know how to write a resume, regardless, if most of the resume is this generic, it will likely go straight to the trash.

Things to avoid:

As we’ve just discussed – BE SPECIFIC, GIVE GOOD DETAILS. Additionally, consider that what makes sense to you may not make sense to the reader. Heavy use of proprietary acronyms is a common problem that can be hard to follow and confusing to the reader. EG. “SAMS was a proprietary CRM developed in C# .Net”. Another thing I see quite often is people arranging their bullets according a methodology, such as SDLC.
For Example:
  • Analysis of the Use Cases and Case Specs provided by the client.
  • Design of Technical Design Documents from Requirement Document.
  • Coding using JSF, Seam Components, and Hibernate.
  • Testing – unit testing & integration testing.
  • Wrote Ant build scripts.
  • Performed maintenance and upgrades.
This structure is so common it makes my eyes bleed. What information have you given me other than you know the basic steps of SDLC? What was your contribution? What is your specialty? What were you trying to accomplish? What was the result? Probably one-half of the resumes I receive have spelling and grammar mistakes and poorly written gibberish that makes the candidate look foolish. Have your resume peer reviewed by someone with excellent spelling and grammar. Also use your word processor spell check. If you think you don’t have any mistakes in your resume, check, check again, and then have someone else check it. Fate – There are so many things that are out of your control in the hiring process it is important to do your utmost in the areas where you can exercise some control. Consider some of the factors in which fate will play a role. Your obtaining an interview may rest on what the resume before you looked like, how many other candidates were reviewed before and after you, what kind of mood the hiring manager is in, the urgency with which he needs to fill the job and very often nuances from other interviews or hires gone awry that influence mind set. In my experience, managers that review a lot of resumes are probably first looking for a reason to reject you, and then looking for a reason to interview you. It is very important to limit the reasons they will find to reject you as much as possible. You can gain control by making your resume stand out from the crowd, don’t try to make it look like something “standard”. Also, keep track of where your resume has been submitted. Don’t be the resume that everyone has seen 5 times from different recruiters or the resume that gets sent in every six months. Know the recruiters you are working with and don’t work with recruiters that send out your resume without your permission.