It makes a difference whether you are headhunted, recommended by someone, or apply yourself for a job. I can’t say one way is better than another but different. While applying yourself is the most common way to find a job for juniors, getting recommendations is the most common for seniors.
Applying on your own enables you to present yourself in the best way. You have the power to impress the firm by researching them and referencing how your past experience matches their needs. It keeps you independent and trains you to present yourself as confident but not arrogant.
If you get referred by someone else, you usually have to do a bit less. The recommending voice adds credibility to your profile without you having to do anything. If you want to have the biggest negotiation power at the end of the process, often people who were recommended do better in this because they have the push of the employee behind them who recommended them. If this is a trusted employee at the firm, this is best because you benefit from the person’s brand. Yet, if all hiring took place this way, there would be no diversity. Luckily, firms always use many channels to hire.
How to talk to recruiters
If you have a profile on LinkedIn that signals that you can program a computer, you probably get several messages a day about potential jobs. Some of these are serious, some aren’t. Sadly, recruiter spam works and isn’t going anywhere.
There are several types of recruiters: in-house, retained agency and commission-only recruiters.
In-house recruiters are hired internally by companies that have enough hiring volume to justify a full-time employee. They usually know the company well. The best recruiters not only know the culture but also all the technical details (e.g., stack).
It is important that you treat in-house recruiters with the maximum respect and courtesy possible. In-house recruiters often work as hard as agency recruiters but are paid much less because their compensation isn’t commission driven. They don’t do recruitment for the money but for the people. Be nice, and you’ll be paid back for it later when it comes to salary negotiation. In-house recruiters often guide you through the whole interview process and are the only ones with a unified view on you as a candidate—and they can be your strongest cheerleader. If they like you, they will help you. If they dislike you, you’ll have a hard time getting the best offer. It’s not a coincidence that HR is represented by a moody cat in the Dilbert comic. Do yourself a favor and treat them well from the get-go.
Then there are agency recruiters who are “retained.” These are rare beasts and mostly exist when hiring for very senior, lead or executive roles. The hiring firm usually lacks the network or resources to do a proper headhunt themselves and needs to fill the role swiftly. So, they prepay a retainer to a specialized recruiter in their field. The recruiter only has very few such engagements and works on these with the highest priority, usually filling them to earn a bonus on top of the prepayment.
Now, the majority of the messages you’ll get on LinkedIn will come from recruiters who work for success fees only. This has several implications. Such recruiters usually have several dozen clients they try to serve at the same time. They may fill only 20% of the vacancies they’re working on. Companies that engage these recruiters have often never heard about the retained model and want to try their luck to see which kinds of profiles will hit their inbox.
The sad reality is that, usually, a firm communicates poorly with a bunch of success-only recruiters. In the worst case, success-only recruiters got a list of badly written vacancies and no other briefing. In the best case, recruiters got a 30-min briefing or even an office visit. The firm doesn’t really communicate with these recruiters, which leads to demoralizing situations: A job might be filled already by the firm, but it forgets to notify the success-only recruiters, and they continue hunting and selling this role to candidates, so you get spammed with not only bad but nonexistent job postings.
The very worst of this kind engages candidates with fake job ads and fantasy salaries to get their CVs and then sprays and prays the candidate’s data to firms hoping that firms will pay them on hire. So, always instruct such recruiters to never send your data anywhere without your permission. Point to data privacy laws (e.g., GDPR) if needed. If you are approached by such a recruiter, save yourself and them time by asking these questions:
· How close are you working with your client base?
· How long have you had these work relationships? Are some retained?
· Were you ever invited for a briefing at the firm’s office? If yes, what is the office like? Is it a quiet work environment for programmers?
· Can you tell me some things about the job that are not in the job post?
How do they answer? Do they start stuttering? Do the answers sound made-up? To some more concrete questions, the recruiter might say something along the lines of, “I don’t know, but I will ask the hiring manager. She’ll let me know by Monday.” This is a sign that they work closely together because there seems to be access to the technical decision maker. Of course, that could be a lie too. Sadly, I have seen such recruiters telling people all kinds of things, that jobs are closed that are actually open, that certain things should be added or left out from CVs, and so on.
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