An Awkward Conversation




*Looks at phone, unknown number, probably a recruiter... to answer or not to answer?*

ME: Hello

RECRUITER: Hello can I speak with Matthew Johnson?

ME: Speaking...

RECRUITER: Oh hi Matthew, my name's ### and I'm calling from ### with regard to an exciting opportunity that's come up in London for a Senior Developer, are you interested?

*Sounds fairly generic, can I be bothered spending 4 hours a day travelling to London? NO. What's the probability that this is actually going to be "exciting". SILM TO NONE - AND I'M NOT EVEN LOOKING FOR A JOB*

ME: Is it really exciting?

RECRUITER: It's for a large company who's a major player in their industry, can you tell me if you know much about C#?

*She sure is lively, she hasn't even asked me if I'm looking for work. I'M NOT*

ME: Sure... but how did you get my number?

RECRUITER: Through one of our partner companies, typically we get peoples details from multiple sources such as LinkedIn, CV's that have been emailed in, people who have applied for roles with us or one of our partner companies before... or Monster.

*I think she intentionally said Monster last - but she made it sound like there's a big pool of CV's that a whole bunch of companies can just search on - I find that worrying*

ME: Oh that's right, I put my CV on Monster about 4 years ago

*And I removed it about 2 years ago because of the number of clueless recruiters that call me, and still call me*

RECRUITER: Can you tell me if you know much about C#?

*She's persistant, that's the second time she's asked that question*

ME: If you got my details off Monster then you would surely know?

*It doesn't sound like she's read my CV at all*

RECRUITER: Ah yes, well your CV matched a keyword search but we have to make sure your details are upto date.

*At this point I'm baffled over a few points - who uses keyword matching anymore? I'm just part of a batch of matches. She's probably very unhappy having to cold-call people at work - most of whom are probably already happily employed - and she still hasn't asked if I'm happily employed*


RECRUITER: Can you tell me if you know much about C#?

ME: Yes

*I am actually slightly furious at this point. READ MY CV!? But I'm going to go along with it so I can find out who the employer is and then phone them and tell them the recruitment company they're using are worse than clueless*

RECRUITER: And how many years experience do you have with it?

ME: It's on my CV, but about eleven years

RECRUITER: Ok, that's good... and can you tell me if you've ever worked with the Microsoft .Net Framework?

*WTF!? This is like asking "Do you use a gear-stick?" followed by "Have you ever been in a car?" - she doesn't even know what she's asking about - do I really have to explain? Surely she must have had training? Is this a new job for her and I'm callee number one?*

ME: Erm... well... you see, in order to work with C#, you kinda have to work with the Microsoft .Net Framework - they're built on top of each other

RECRUITER: Ok, so you have worked with the Microsoft .Net Framework?

ME: Yes

*She's not even interested in learning how or why the two are connected, maybe this is just her general attitude and I'm not the first person to be subjected to this*

RECRUITER: Ok, that's good... can you tell me if you've ever worked with MVC?

ME: That would be yes, yes I have. If you read my CV, it's on there too

RECRUITER: And how many years experience do you have with it?

ME: Erm... well that's going to be about five years

RECRUITER: Ok and can you tell me if you have experience in ASP.Net?

*Confirmed, this woman is absolutely clueless, she shouldn't even be in the IT recruitment industry*

ME: Well... erm... MVC is built on top of ASP.Net, so I can't know MVC without knowing ASP.Net - but I've also worked with ASP.Net outside of the scope of MVC

RECRUITER: *silence*

ME: It's going to be "yes" then, for about eleven years

RECRUITER: Shall I put eleven years?

ME: Go on then

RECRUITER: And what about HTML? Do you have experience of HTML?

*I can't hold back anymore, someone needs to tell her (politely) that she's a bit clueless and it's a bit annoying*

ME: *laughs* well yeah, if I'm going to be doing ASP.Net then I can't do that without knowing HTML. But if your company specialises in IT recruitment, then surely you should know some of this stuff? I mean - ASP.Net is a technology built on the .Net framework that uses HTML and I have a choice of languages to use with that Framework. And on my CV it's mostly C#... did you read my CV?

RECRUITER: Our system automatically matched you to a job based on keywords, and we have to check that you have the right experience.

*That's a generic and evasive answer*

ME: Ok *in a baffled tone*

RECRUITER: *With some hesitation* I have to ask... do you know CSS?

*The only way she could save herself now is sepukku*

ME: Ok, I think I have to draw the line here

RECRUITER: What do you mean?

ME: Well these questions are just basic, it's like you're reading from a list and checking off how many years experience I have against each without any insight into what exactly each one is or how they might be linked. And most of this you'd know if you read my CV

RECRUITER: I have to ask these questions to make sure you're right for the job

ME: You haven't even told me what the job is

RECRUITER: It's a senior developer role in London, I think it's a really exciting role and you should be excited too *with some nervousness*

*She really tried to make out that I should be grateful she's even calling me in a kind of pseudo assertive tone - but I could tell that she was a bit unsure of what she was saying*

ME: I'm not sure about that, I'm already happily employed in a job I enjoy - and going from Technical Architect to Senior Developer is kind of a step back - unless it's for a very reputable company that pays astronomically well and has good employee benefits

RECRUITER: They're paying £35,000 but will go to £40,000 for the right candidate

ME: That just doesn't sound appealing at all, who is the company?

RECRUITER: It's *large company that has a bad reputation as an employer* and as you can imagine there's plenty of room to climb the corporate ladder

*So in London, that salary is a pittance. For a large company in London, it's worse than a pittance. And for a large company in London that should be trying to improve it's image with new hires... well... I'd rather hop on a flight to China and work for Foxconn*

ME: Maybe, but living in London... commuting to London is wildly expensive. Don't employers pay an additional percentage just for being in London?

RECRUITER: That additional expense is factored in to the job offer - they're offering above market rates

*I'm going to choose to ignore that about market rates*

ME: It doesn't sound like it is, unless you're talking about home working - how big is their current technical team?

RECRUITER: You see, our client isn't really technically minded, and they've chosen our company to work with them to advise on building their first technical team

*Oh my... The blind are truly leading the blind and no doubt they'll be paying out the ass for the privilege*

ME: Really? Based on some of the questions you've asked there seems to be some big knowledge gaps on your end

*It went down-hill fast after that - I suppose if she has to make a lot of phone calls every day then my attitude isn't helping her. She'll just move onto another cringeworthy conversation with another poor soul*

RECRUITER: Are you interested in the role?

ME: No

RECRUITER: Do you know anyone who might be interested in the role, you might get some vouchers if you can refer someone

*Like I'm supposed to be grateful for an unspecified value of vouchers*

ME: I don't know anyone who would be interested in this role

RECRUITER: Well, if anything changes please phone or email me

If I answered all the calls I got from recruiters, and I proactively don't, then I'd be answering one or two calls a week like this.

The IT recruitment industry is broken and nobody cares

I've been on both ends of having to deal with IT recruiters, and there are some fantastic recruiters out there who have listened to my requirements and given real and constructive feedback and good results. But then there's a plethora of recruiters who seem only to be interested in volume, these are the guys that:

  • Repeatedly email out vacancies to candidates without really checking the suitability of whom the emails are being sent to
  • Start every call to a candidate with "I have a fantastic/amazing/exciting/sensational opportunity for you" when they really mean something that amounts to no more than a data-entry-clerk
  • When sending CV's to employers reformat the CVs and screw up the original formatting without bothering to fix it.
  • Troll the boards that employers post their jobs to, call them up and tell them they've got a pool of candidates ready and then deliver nothing new.
  • When talking to employers are overly biased and inflate the suitability of thier candidates
  • Know nothing about their industry, except the vital few acronyms and buzz-words
  • Ask employers for their requirements for a candidate, and then just post a carbon-copy of what the employer wrote to a dozen job sites

In a perfect world, we'd have recruiters who:

  • Have worked in their industry
  • Know the terminologies and their histories
  • Use social-media and web technologies to discover as much as possible about the candidates before making contact
  • Are location-aware - they know that four-hours travelling time is unreasonable.
  • Contact candidates at suitable times - nobody wants to be called at work
  • Realise the flexibility of IT people and interoperability of technologies - if a candidate know javascript, then they can easily learn jQuery
  • Aren't over-protective of candidates - employers will want to know everything about a candidate and won't want to miss if they have a blog or what their StackExchange score is
  • Talk to existing staff at the company their recruiting for to get a feel for the culture
  • Charge reasonable prices - I know there are established practices out there for charging customers on a percentage basis, but this is forcing employers to offer lower salaries in order to lower the expense associated with recruitment fees. The overall effect of this is lower salaries across the industry.

I'm not sure what the answer is - probably some kind of flat-fee recruiter that makes extensive use of technology to automate and clean up the process with some (good) people on standby for edge-cases. But the current model is hopelessly ineffecient for both the candidate and the employer.


HN Readers, thank you for reading, comments are here



  • This is why I never put my phone # on my resume. I don't include my address either - I do put the city I live in.

    It doesn't hurt that for various reasons my phone # changes periodically (moving, etc.) so between job searches my unlisted ph # becomes stale.

    This leaves email spam which is easily handled. But yes, clueless recruiters are annoying.

  • Here's how it works:

    1) Graduate from Uni with a non-vocational degree and realise that you're unemployable.
    2) Land a job as a "recruitment consultant" where you're paid minimum wage but "will make £50K+ OTE" with all the commission you'll be making.
    3) Sit in front of a computer with a phone and call people asking them if they have X years experience in Y without any concept of what Y is.

    This isn't limited to IT, finance is rampant with clueless recruiters too. The problem is that the barriers to entry (a phone and access to a database) are too low.

  • I have this experience everyday. I usually do contract work anywhere from 3 to 6 months each contract. I have yet to get a call from a recruiter that understands anything about the technology for which they are hiring.

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