How To [Not] Suck at Recruiting


How To [Not] Suck at Recruiting

A few months ago I came across a post on LinkedIn where a recruiter was expressing his frustration over the lack of responses from people to whom he sends his offers. Like, not even ‘no, thanks’. That really bothered him.

When I was finishing my Software Engineering degree - I spent a sizable chunk of time at Newcastle University’s very own Careers Service. I really wanted to find a good job after graduation, so I tried my best to pay attention. Amongst the things I’ve been taught, the most important one was to never half-ass anything. Any job application is a full-time engagement. I’m not even talking about spending hours daily on exercises to refresh your knowledge of programming, watching educational videos on subjects relevant to the position you want, rehearsing whiteboard exercises. No, all of this comes later. The first thing you put effort into is the CV and, sometimes, a Covering Letter.

CVs need updating, ideally for every company you apply to, because different companies might look for different experiences, also the more experience you have in the industry - the harder it is to fit everything into those two pages. Actually, it’s not just hard, it’s also pointless, you’re drowning out relevant information by stuff that might or might not be impressive. Covering letters need to demonstrate that you know something about the company you’re applying to, that you’ve spent a non-zero amount of time researching them and figuring out exactly why you want to work for them. And, by the way, spare me your scepticism, ‘money’ as a sole reason for applying for a specific job shows lack of imagination.

I would also re-read my CVs and Covering Letters to death to make sure there are no typos and obvious mistakes. A few years back I would also ask a native English speaker to look over my stuff, just to be on the safe side. I think that it shows that you care enough, that you are motivated enough to spend additional time on perfecting your work. I’ll even dare to assume that a software engineer who spends additional time looking over their CV/Covering letter is more likely to perfect their code after it reached the stage of just working, to make it efficient, clean and, well, beautiful. Maybe, I don’t know.

I once was interviewing a person who, in their application letter, instead of ‘sheet’ wrote ‘shit’, twice. Yeah-yeah, I understand that no one is perfect, that sometimes a typo or two slips past, but that letter had several spelling mistakes and a shit typo. To me that spells out ‘half-assed’.

I think that if I’m putting effort into my job applications - so should the recruiters, it’s only fair.

Literally the Meh

So when I get a notification about a new message on LinkedIn, open it up and it tells me a story of a small growth-oriented heavily agile fin-tech company using cutting edge tech to disrupt the market of whatever, and I’m a perfect fit for a software engineer at that company because of my experiences with languages that I have never used before - I start getting suspicious. I get extra suspicious if the message starts with ‘Dear,’. Just ‘Dear,’ by the way - no name, no nothing.

This is half-assed recruitment at its average. Because I’m polite, I have a copy/pasteable reply to copy/pasted job propositions, in that reply I’m always courteous and occasionally wish the recruiter the best of luck in their search. I sometimes don’t add their name into the reply if they didn’t use mine, or misspell theirs if they’ve misspelled mine (I’m petty like that). So far I’ve gotten maybe 3 replies to my replies.

There’s also a category of recruiters who call me up on my phone and start off by trying to pronounce my name (or surname, if they’re feeling quirky), stumble in the middle, give up, laugh and move on to the sales pitch. I actually quite like my name, my parents gave it to me. My name is what makes me unique, it’s a part of my identity - messing it up isn’t cool, man. And, really, how hard is it to practice pronouncing it a couple of times just before the call?

There are recruiters who leave two minutes worth of mumbling on my voicemail, where the only thing I can make out is: ‘so if you’re interested in this opportunity - you can reach me at this number’, then more mumbling.

This is (or should be if it isn’t) the definition of half-assed recruitment.

Figuratively the Worst

And then there’s a whole special category of recruiters who are a disappointment. Because it looks like they care, you take your guard down and get a smack in the face.

  1. So I schedule a call with this one recruiter, I make sure that it’s during my lunchtime. It’s on a Wednesday, I think. I sneak out of work, go to a cafe, order a coffee and wait for the call. The time comes. Five minutes pass, ten, fifteen - nothing. I finish my coffee and leave the cafe. Because people occasionally make mistakes - I message the recruiter. They apologise profusely, admit the mistake and suggest rescheduling. We reschedule to Friday lunchtime. Friday comes, I go to the cafe, order a coffee and wait for the call. The time comes. Five minutes pass, ten, fifteen - nothing. I finish my coffee and leave the cafe. I don’t get in touch with the recruiter, because I value my time more than they do. I don’t hear from them until a month later when they contact me with a new and hot job opportunity. I tell them that the opportunity sounds great, but I’m still bitter about the whole being stood up thing. They go silent. I remove them from my LinkedIn contacts. Another month later they send me an email with another job opportunity. No apologies, no nothing.

  2. Another recruiter gets in touch and goes: ‘Man, I really like to meet up with people before I offer them any opportunities, that way I can get a better understanding of what you really want instead of just throwing random offers at you’. I think - sweet, that could work. We meet up, I talk about my passions and that I seem to have a distinct allergy to all fin-tech opportunities. The recruiter chuckles and tells me: ‘Listen, I get it, you’re more into educational or medical companies, something that helps make a difference. I think I have a few opportunities like that, I’ll get in touch by the end of the week’. The end of the week comes, I get a call: ‘Hey man, so there’s this fin-tech company…’.

Literally the Best

One of the best recruiters I’ve been in touch with didn’t even start talking about the job up until several minutes into the phone chat. We talked about my web-site, about me writing a book, then I talked about what I was looking for, then Amber admitted that it didn’t look like they had anything suitable for me at the time. The whole exchange was friendly and memorable, without attempts to trick me into politely considering something I didn’t want. So when, months later, I was starting to consider looking for another job - this was the first recruiter I turned to. And - surprise! - this time they had stuff that I was very much interested in.

I came across a few more great recruiters, who, when I admitted that I was already spending most of my free time on preparation for interviews for a specific company, instead of going: ‘kthanxbye’ or ‘how about this fin-tech though’ offered solid advice and support (Zainab from Cortex IT Recruitment and Tazmin from have been nothing but attentive and helpful).

I think ultimately the best kind of a recruiter is a real human being who is willing to acknowledge that I also am a human being, and who values a relationship of sorts (even if there is no immediate gain, even if it takes more effort) over a half-assed copy/paste job with a badly re-typed name. Because these are the recruiters I’ll keep coming back to.

So, annoyed recruiter on LinkedIn who was frustrated with people not responding to your messages, which one were you?