What I Wish Recruiters Would Do

I spend a lot of time dealing with recruiters - responding to queries, and accepting or rejecting endless amount of LinkedIn contact requests. I mostly agree to those requests, unless it's obviously a spam account, since you never know what a new contact will give, but a quick review says that way less than 1% of the recruiters who contact me will actually end up signing a new contract. This means 99% of the time I spend on new contacts from recruiters is waste, and if my experiences hold up for the industry1, 99% of the recruiters' time spent on initial contact is wasted as well.

All this waste is not very lean 2.

I don't subscribe to the recruiter hate that a lot of contractors do - I've got little patience for sales, and so far almost all of my contracts come through recruiters who contact me out of the blue with a proposal too good to turn down. I simply can't afford to be hostile to recruiters when they bring me all of my business! On the other hand, while a handful of recruiters keeps my bills paid, it seems to me that the business as a whole could use a bit of a tweak to cause less annoyance and a lot less wasted time for all involved.

In the interest of not just complaining but actually offer suggestions for improvement, I've come up with a few points that would make my own interactions with recruiters much more pleasant and productive.

Read My Profile

Please, please, please read my profile before contacting me. What you can read at the very top of it is that I'm not interested in employment. At all. The next thing is normally my availability - for example, right now only remote work, and not full time.

If a recruiter's first contact with me shows obvious signs of not having read even this far - for example by offering me an on-site employment - they're really not off to a good start. Lets face it, since they have not done even the very most basic research and have no idea of who they're contacting, I have no reason to give them any benefit of the doubt at all.

In addition, if someone reads my entire profile description on LinkedIn, and maybe check out my homepage and blog, they may get a better idea if the proposal they have is a deal I'll ever seriously consider. All of this work probably would probably take half an hour or so, which is of course a lot more than just spamming requests to everyone who matches a search filter... which leads us to:

Stop With The Useless Spamming

Out of the thousands of pure recruiter spam emails I've gotten, exactly zero has lead to anything good and most has lead to an instant block of the spammer, and if I felt ambitious that day, their entire company. This is not because I'm hostile, this is for me to have a chance to read messages from recruiters that send me stuff I might actually be interested in without drowning in junk.

I can't fathom that the spamming actually pays off, but even if it does manage to scare up a desperate junior every now and than, it would be nice to add a "less than a year of experience" filter to the search criteria. That way the cost of spamming will go down, and people who would never ever even respond to such spam can save the time it would take to add the source to the spam filter - it's win win!

Respect The Client And The Contractor

Since the contractor is the source of the recruiters' income, and the clients are the ones actually paying, it would do to pay both just a little respect. I've had recruiter actually laugh when I tell them I don't want a long term contract or empoyment (end call politely, block), try to get me to agree to halve my rates (end call politely, block), or ask me to tell a client I know things I don't (hang up, block). This was annoying enough when I was a junior developer, but is for some reason bringing me close to a rage now that the recruiter often is ten years my junior and does not even have a quarter of my experience in the business.

Another, insidious, disrespect is the one aimed at the clients. Some recruiters seem to be intent on making me feel superior by trash-talking the client's representatives and especially the client's employees. I can just say that if the recruiter shows no respect for the client, I assume they'll try to sell any contractor to them whether they fit the job or not (me?), and I don't want anything to do with a business relationship that starts with mistrust and disrespect.

Of course, it would be equally bad to hide known problems on the client's side from me during the recruitment process, but the blatant talking down of clients just has no place in a professional environment and is only (I assume) meant to boost my ego3, make me feel important, and like the recruiter. It accomplishes none of these, and shows a lack of professionalism that is appalling.

Be An Agent, Not A Used-Car Salesman

In a perfect world, the recruiter would try to honestly represent both my interests and that of the client, while making money on successful deals. In this world, it seems to me that a lot of recruiters look at themselves more like salespeople than agents - the important part is to sell, not to build a working relationship. It is only seldom I feel that I can trust that a recruiter will represent me fairly to the client, and not oversell me and my skills if they can - and likewise, they almost always present the client like the ideal place on Earth4. In my experience, if those mythical "everything is perfect" workplaces exist, they don't hire contractors to help with their presumably non-existing issues.

So I'd like to be able to trust a recruiter to represent the client fairly including the issues they have, and to represent me equally fairly, including the gaps in my experience or skill set that might be important for the client.

Promote Transparency

Repeatedly, I've been told or gotten in writing that I should not, must not, discuss rates and pricing with the client, other contractors, or anyone else.

On one hand, it's like that the fact that the client is charged more than what I charge is some big secret, and the recruiter expects me to react badly to the fact that they, too, make money from their work.

On the other hand, the contracts that stipulates that I'm not allowed to discuss rates with other contractors is just weird - what rates one can charge is naturally very important for a contractor, and no amount of gag rules is going to hide the lay of the land from a freelancer. Those clauses are clearly anti-competitive in their nature, but fail to accomplish anything at all but cause irritation, as contractors follow their letter and willfully ignore and circumvent their intent.

Keep Recruiting, With Precision

After reading this far, you may get the picture that I really dislike recruiters - I don't! More than nine out of ten hours billed for me started with a call or message from a recruiter, and without them I'd be out of work. However, I think that my dealings with recruiters have become more and more of a hassle with more spam and unprofessional behavior lately, and I think there is great potential for great recruiters to stand out from the crowd and build profitable and lasting relationships. This is all obviously written from my personal experience, and other contractors - as well as recruiters themselves - may have wildly different experiences of the business. I'd love for this to lead to discussions that may move us all forward!


  1. Unlikely to mirror exactly, but very possible the truth is in the same ballpark. ^
  2. And everybody wants to be lean! ^
  3. Trust me on this, my ego does not need the boost. ^
  4. Sometimes at the same time as deriding the people working there - see previous point. ^
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