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Since they exist for several fields with varying degrees of usefulness, I'm curious as to the reputation of headhunters/recruiters that focus solely on IT professionals (e.g. programmers, software engineers, CIOs, etc) when it comes to finding a new job.

Are they actually useful or is it fairly hit or miss? Does the old adage of only working with a limited number apply or can you safely give you resume/CV to several of them?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by GlenH7, MichaelT, Michael Kohne, Corbin March, mattnz Aug 28 '13 at 0:49

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
here's a nice blog if you want to see things from the HR perspective: hrnasty.com –  Griffin Jan 9 at 7:12

10 Answers 10

up vote 31 down vote accepted

I think they can be helpful, but you have to be aware that their job isn't to find a good place for you, it's to sell you on a place that hired them to find people.

I haven't dealt with many recruiters in my career (yet?) but the ones I did come across were fairly non-technical and were just parroting vague job description details to me and making promises about the high salary potential. So I'd say it's pretty hit or miss. I wouldn't ignore recruiters and headhunters entirely -- you never know when a good opportunity might present itself -- but I would definitely be careful to not fall for the optimistic job descriptions.

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+1 Good answer. Pretty much what I was going to say. Job hunting is to a large extent a numbers game. So they can be a useful source of, well, numbers :). I've been passed on to interesting (and unadvertised) roles several times via recruiters. But yeah, don't expect them to be very technical, and always expect them to oversell positions. –  Bobby Tables Dec 16 '10 at 21:13
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While what you say is true, you have to realize that in the long-term, it benefits the recruiter to find good matches that both employers and employees are happy with. This ensures repeat business. The good recruiters are very aware of this and a pleasure to deal with. –  17 of 26 Aug 27 '13 at 13:06

They sound like real-estate agents most of the time : "An exciting position...", "A great role for a motivated xyz", "A chance to enter industry K", etc.

All while they seem not able to note my details properly, which results in being sent job offers totally NOT matching anything in my CV.

Sincerely, they've been quite useless to me as I picked up zero jobs advertised to me by headhunters, but I suppose other people had a different experience there.

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Some agents are brilliant, others not so

As a contractor in the UK, I deal with many agents (headhunters) on a regular basis. Almost invariably they do not have strong technical skills and it doesn't really matter. Their business is to get their candidate to be accepted by their client. If they are good at their business then they will have carefully matched their clients requirements with your CV and come to the conclusion that you are worth a call. If not, then you just get a vague (automated) email inviting you to call them.

What good are they?

A really good agent will build a solid lasting business relationship with you. It is usually in their interest to keep hold of good candidates that can be recycled into other positions later on (particularly true of contractors/freelancers/temp coders). And, if you continue improving your skills, that makes you much more of an asset to them because they can charge their client much more for you, and their client gets value for money. Win-win-win, really.

As to whether they are useful or not, in my case they are definitely useful. They provide me with a constant stream of potential offers for my next contract and I don't have to spend any time sending CVs out to random companies or cold calling. In return, they take a percentage of the value of contract (I don't see this percentage I only know my rate).

Unfortunately, most of my dealings with agents are non-personal, routine chats with person X from agency Y. The exceptions (and you know who you are if you're reading this ;-) ) don't hide their office number and have taken the time to build up history, repeat contracts and face to face contact. They add considerable value, and I thank them for their efforts.

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I have to support this answer. I've got good relationships with three recruiters and have known them for about a decade. They keep in touch, we talk about our kids. When I recently went on the market, they did a great job at getting me interviews. Their value is that they know me, and know what I'm good at and interested in, and can represent me to clients in that light. –  Alan Shutko Aug 24 '13 at 2:11

I was placed by a recruiter in my current position. He is a specialist in programming jobs, and seems like he worked as a programmer himself. His business seems to be providing high quality candidates.

He called me up and did a whole prescreening process, asking a whole lot of programming questions from the most basic to the very technical. Then once he was convinced I actually knew what I said I did, then he forwarded my details for an appropriate position.

If you can get a recruiter like that, then yes they are very useful.

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I got one job through a recruiter 12 years ago. Since then, nothing. I find them to be annoying at best. On monster.com I've noted that I prefer email, but they call. They are looking for a Python programmer, but the job turns out to be mostly C++ with a bit of Python, maybe. It's for a permanent position in London, I don't live in London and ain't gonna move, which is noted on my profile, etc, etc.

Most recruiters seem to work with a scattergun approach. They contact as many as possible, they build up a list of CV's which they want to list everything I've even done no matter how irrelevant it is for what I know. I'm a Python guru, but they want to hire me to do Java jobs.

Obviously there are good recruiters. They are just very far between.

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I'd say it is hit and miss. Some recruiters have been good but just as many if not more have been lousy for me. Course this was just in Seattle and Calgary, but in each case a limited supply is better as some agencies will be applying on the same position and getting applied twice or more will get you disqualified generally. Thus, I'd be careful about having too many and not being aware of where your resume is going as sometimes recruiters may just try to apply you everywhere under the sun to get their commission, but this problem exists in every field where there are the a-holes that ruin it for everyone else.

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My experience from the last 23 years around San Francisco and Silicon Valley has been:

  • Very few recruiters have any idea about technology, or how to make a really good fit between you and an employer. They mostly look for buzzword matches between job listings and resumes.
  • Despite that, they're a great way to get in the door lots of places that would pay no attention if you sent your resume directly.
  • Most tech job openings are not advertised - maybe 80%. You can only find out about them through recruiters.
  • It's normal to give your resume to many headhunters around here. In fact, if you post it to sites like DICE or Monster, they'll get it anyway.
  • Companies often give the same opening to several headhunters. You need to insist they tell you who the company is before presenting your resume, because it can look bad if multiple recruiters submit you for the same opening.
  • The very best recruiters usually wind up getting hired away from the job shops to work in-house for places like Google or Apple.

I've found posting my resume to DICE, and a synopsis to LinkedIn, to be great ways to get recruiters to contact me with interesting opportunities. If you use DICE and you're actively looking, you want to make a little change to your resume every few weeks to get recruiters looking at it again. Some job shops will download your resume and retain it in their databases; I've gotten phone calls up to three years after deactivating my resume on DICE.

This world changes frequently, and old wisdom rapidly becomes out of date. About three years ago, a friend of mine wound up back in the job market after many years, and tried to do the 1990-style approach of sending his resume to one recruiter who would take a personal interest in getting him employed. After about six months of nothing, he finally took my suggestion to post his resume on DICE. He started a new job within two weeks and was having to fend off recruiters who kept calling him for other positions.

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+1 for "You need to insist they tell you who the company is before presenting your resume". I've never had a recruiter not tell me the company before sending over my resume, but if I ever encountered a recruiter who wouldn't tell me after I directly asked, well, good day to you. –  jhocking Jun 9 '11 at 17:47
    
"it can look bad if multiple recruiters submit you for the same opening". Over the years, I've seen this exact statement a bunch of times and I don't get it: why does it look bad ? Is it unreasonable to assume that, when you look for a job, you contact multiple recruiters/companies ? –  Radu Murzea Jun 16 '13 at 9:34
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...this looks a little too much like an advert for DICE, maybe? –  ZJR Aug 24 '13 at 2:36

I think I agree most of the posted answers so far. My experience is that recruiters are all, of course, looking for the easy money. But they vary greatly in quality and attention to details. Some of the better ones make an effort to match you to a good fit opportunity, but the ones that come out of a cracker jack box just don't care (as someone said before, they're just matching up keywords).

However, some may work for agencies that have relationships with companies and can get you opportunities you could never get from the classifieds, online sites, etc. In these cases, if they know you, they can be the human conduit that gets you in the door. They have spent time building contacts with managers and HR departments and can capitalize on that.

So use them. They're most certainly going to use you.

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Don't underestimate the art of dealing with recruiters. These are all my own generalizations, based on 7 years of consulting work as a java developer.

Recruiters generally are non-technical and deal with buzzwords on resumes or years of programming experience in a language, but most importantly, remember they are sales people.

  • They work for the CLIENT, not you for the most part.

  • You are a commodity to them, not a person.

  • They work all day at negotiating as paid professionals, the programmers generally only deal with this out of necessity and focus on their technical skills.

  • There is a business reason for hiring women in the recruiting role that could pass for models. I've read that most developers currently are men, about 80% according to this article. I've also read that it is for a negotiating advantage for the recruiting company. I'm just stating a fact here that was in agreement from my experience, don't read anything else into this comment.

  • There are lots of bad recruiters, those that want to exploit you and your skills.

I realize I'm being blunt here, but my experience is that developers are generally poor negotiators, so we are generally outclassed in dealing with the recruiters. A sad, but true fact. It is further exacerbated by the willingness of foreign developers who will agree to do most anything to get a position, including taking much less pay and working for free on contract work above their 40 hours, which puts rate pressure on American developers. This comment can also be misconstrued. I've seen American developers do the same, it just seems more common with the foreign developers in my experience.

Add to all this that it's not always easy selling your skills to a non-technical manager who doesn't always see your market value.

Knowing these things helps give you a slight advantage because it makes you more cautious in dealing with the recruiters. If you need further proof, read your employment contracts. We take most of the risk, but the recruiter holds most of the cards.

For example, just this week a co-worker (contractor) told me he got a lower rate the day he went to sign up for the position. The recruiter said it was the client that did it, but why would the client change the rate the day he was signing? The client sets the rate up front, before the selection process begins. Then after 90 days he gets a letter, again from the recruiter saying his contract was terminating early due to funding issues.

The truth was, the recruiter cut the consultants rate, but kept the same bill rate, then raised the bill rate after 90 days to the client, in hopes that they would pay it. I've confirmed that this has also happened to an IT Manager who is a friend of mine, so while it may not happen every time, apparently it's not a random thing either.

The moral of the story is that rate changes are allowed by the recruiter in some of the employment contracts I've seen, though not in wording that would alarm a programmer, if they even read it.

The bottom line to all this is, yes recruiters are very useful and you can get jobs using a recruiter, just understand the risks I've mentioned and other risks I haven't even brought up. I use them each time I look for a new contract, but I prefer to work with ones I've dealt with before.

What has helped me is to develop a business relationship with a recruiter based on some edge I have in the market, a security clearance, expertise in a hard to find skillset, etc.. That way, in a sense it's a win-win for them to really help me as I have something of value to them that the average developer may not have.

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How useful? Not much. Based on my experience, I would describe them as a necessary evil. They are often manipulative salesmen and will lie to you constantly. They are typically very unprofessional too. For example: you are not given the job? don't bother waiting for a reply from them, you aren't worth any money now for the time to pick up the phone and give you the news. You mull it over and decide to reject a position? They might call you in spite to lash out and threaten you (not making that up.)

So they are an all-around dead-weight in the hiring process. Why "necessary" then? The economical forces move in mysterious ways and the fact is that a lot of companies decide to use them. Some jobs for which they are recruiting are not even advertised. They have managed to entrench themselves and found ways to make themselves necessary, although they are really not.

I believe nowadays that the industry is coming of age and more and more professional they are becoming an endangered species. They cannot get away with selling insurance one day and talk their way into discussing a technical job the next anymore. We already have websites like github, SO careers or hackernews which streamline and makes the hiring process much more transparent. I, for one, am happy these websites allow me not having to put up with their evil ways.

If you still want or need to deal with them, this is some advice that has worked better for me than being the nice, agreeable guy I once was. This may be highly subjective:

Don't hesitate to be not only assertive, but unreasonable and selfish, because they probably will be too. It's important you teach them they can't walk over you. The moment you pick up the phone tell them that the conversation will last no more than 15 minutes (should be long enough) and keep your word. Assume anything you cannot easily prove or disprove is untrue. Get them to answer your questions. Never be afraid to walk away from the process at any time. Don't ever yield to one of their requests if it doesn't directly benefit you. Report their friend requests in linked-in. They only see you as someone they need to place in a company at any cost so that they can earn a bunch of money as quickly and easily as possible; so don't try and be a nice guy. It won't be to your advantage. I can't stress this enough.

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating to be rude or disrespectful at all, quite the contrary. Just keep clear, unreasonable and self-serving boundaries that benefit you and don't step out of them.

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