Some Helpful Tips for Recruiters

Posted Sunday, June 26th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I received a phone call at work this past week, while I was in the middle of debugging some complicated JavaScript. Usually, my desk phone shows the internal extension that’s calling me; this time, it showed a series of asterisks. Intrigued and confused, I picked it up… and discovered it was a recruiter calling me. Apparently a row of asterisks must be how this phone indicates “Caller ID blocked”. (Now I know.)

The next morning at 7:53, I got a call at home from a number that didn’t report any name. I always let those go to voice-mail. I heard another recruiter leave a message, including “it’s eleven o’clock”.

Two different recruiters in two days, making such elementary mistakes? I’ve been working on this article on the back burner for a couple of years, but it’s obviously time I finished it up and posted it.

Never Call a Prospect At Work

And I really do mean, never. You don’t know if your prospect’s current employer monitors calls. You don’t know if your prospect has already told their employer that they’re looking for other opportunities — but it’s safest to assume that they haven’t, because it is definitely not safe for an employee to tell their employer that. Especially in “at-will employment” states (like California), where an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason or none at all, there’s an all-too-real possibility that the employer will just fire the worker immediately. (I’m not saying this would be a smart thing for the employer to do. And I’m not saying the likelihood is high. But it does exist, and it’s too much risk for the employee to take.)

Telling your employer that you’re looking for a new job can get you canned, posthaste. Having your employer find out from some third party that you’re looking for a new job can also get you canned. You know what’s the one thing that would be even worse than getting fired for being on the job market before you can find a new job?

Being fired when you’re actually not on the job market and very happy with your current situation! That recruiter said, “I understand that you’re not looking right now, but I was wondering if you could provide me with a referral?” The answer is: Absolutely not. If I had friends who were looking for technical work, I would never foist them on a recruiter who calls prospects at their workplaces!

Even if you already have a business relationship with one of your talent, calling them at work risks getting them fired. Now consider that the call I received a few days ago was a cold call. This person introduced herself to me by placing my job in jeopardy. Learn from her mistake.

Know What Time Zone You’re Calling

This applies to any kind of business relationship at all that spans across time zones. (Actually, it applies to personal relationships, too, but those aren’t the focus of this post.) Luckily, the East Coast recruiter who forgot about time zones waited until 10:53 Eastern Time to call me. If she’d tried me at 9:00 am her time, it would have dragged me out of bed at 6:00 am… and I probably would have gotten out of bed, because I’d have assumed that a call that early might be some kind of emergency. And that kind of shock-and-letdown is also no way to begin a constructive business relationship.

West Coasters generally realize that we shouldn’t try to call the East Coast too late. East Coasters, however, seem far more prone to forget that their first-thing-in-the-morning calls to us can easily happen before the sun even rises over here — and somehow, the folks who are most likely to make this mistake are the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed early risers who think everyone should be in the office by 7:30 at the latest.

When you’re contacting a coder, programmer or hacker, this gets even worse. Many of us are nocturnal by nature, and really hate being woken up before 11:00 or so. (There is a reason why Silicon Valley startups all have flex time: It’s so the coders can work from noon until 8:00 instead of 9:00 to 5:00.) Really, the only way an early morning call to a coder has any chance of working out well is if you call so early that you reach your prospect before they go to sleep.

There are any number of multiple-time-zone clocks on the Internet. Find one you like, and use it before calling new places.

Email Beats Phone. Don’t Use Both At Once.

Geeks often prefer email. We also consider it more polite to send email, because it’s an asynchronous communication medium. What we mean by that is, we can answer it at our leisure, rather than having to pick up the phone right now.

This means that sending an email, and then immediately phoning to say, “Hey, I sent you an email,” is doubly silly (and hence doubly annoying). In fact, it can sometimes mean that you’re interrupting your own self — I’ve had times when I was in the middle of composing a reply to an email that had just arrived, only to be yanked away from it by a phone call from the same person. This is frustrating, and makes you look pushy. Or maybe desperate. Either way, it makes a very bad first impression.

Other Minor Bits

If your email includes a link to the full job description on your web site, make sure that the page looks decent in Firefox, Chrome and Safari, and that it doesn’t pop up a couple of JavaScript alert boxes with error messages in them while the page is loading.

Java and JavaScript are two completely, utterly different languages. One runs on servers, the other in the user’s browser. If you want to be a recruiter in any programming field, you need to understand this at least as clearly as you know that there’s no ham in a hamburger. Also, you need to make sure that any keyword-matching software you’re using also understands this. If you tell your software to find matches for a position that requires Java, and it spits back résumés that have JavaScript (but not Java) in them, then you need to throw it away and get better software.

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