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Next month a friend of mine is starting a job as a technical recruiter for a temp firm. He will be recruiting lower level temps for a Google/MS/Apple level company.

As a largely non technical guy, what advice do you think would be most helpful for him to have?

I have seen a number of horror stories about recruiters, so want to help him not to cause any of those in the future.

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You should hire me. [= –  dan_waterworth Feb 24 '11 at 19:10
He needs to become somewhat technical, and learn something about the space from every resume, every person that he meets. He needs to be able to do more than what the grep tool can do. At the end of the day he will either be great or he will suck, depending on how intelligent he is in an area that matters, and how willing he is to become good. I would wish him luck, but to be honest I do not care whether he succeeds there. He is expandable. –  Job Feb 24 '11 at 19:11
A non technical person becoming a technical recruiter doesn't sound like a good match to me. I think he'll need to learn quite a bit to know the difference between someone talks the talk and someone who walks the walk so to speak. –  Tyanna Feb 24 '11 at 19:45
@Tyanna: I was a bit surprised by that too. I think he is mostly going to be running interviews for lower level positions, and probably be acting as an assistant to a more experienced and technically skilled recruiter. I am hoping to give him a good resource here though in what he needs to know to go the next step up the latter. –  Panky Feb 24 '11 at 19:49
Direct him to to look for prime examples of the types of questions developers should be able to answer. –  Woot4Moo Feb 24 '11 at 21:17

7 Answers 7

up vote 15 down vote accepted

My major peeve with recruiters is:

A list of desired skills is not a suitable job description.

Just listing the programming languages and technologies used/desired isnt enough. Job listing should say what the job actually is. ie, 'design and implement a warehousing system for a major bicycle manufacturer'.

This is because programmers learn. That list of skills they require? People learned those as they became needed. So focus less on the list of languages on a cv, and more on the person's accomplishments.

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Very true. If a developer already knows multiple languages and technologies, adding another to their repertoire (enough to use, that is; not expertise) is a matter of days or even merely hours, NOT weeks, provided they are given a good reference book / website and the paradigms of the languages are not exceedingly different. Expertise takes years, but adequacy is usually sufficient for a temp and takes very little time for a skilled programmer. Identifying truly skilled programmers might be difficult for a non-techie, though . . . –  Ethel Evans Feb 24 '11 at 20:55
Can you imagine an interview, "I see you know 10 languages. How hard would it be to learn another one?" –  JeffO Feb 24 '11 at 21:07
+100 if I could. I really get put off when a job spec comes through that just lists a bunch of languages (usually with very disparate frameworks). It's obvious the recruiter has no idea what the client is really after when I see that. –  James Love Feb 24 '11 at 21:12

Follow this site and get a feel for what programmers are like.

Ask those at the hiring company lots of questions about what they want in a candidate, the demands of the positions, the corporate culture, qualifications, soft skills, anything.

When dealing with candidates that already have a job, understand their current situation. You need this insight if you are going to get qualified candidates (who probably have pretty good jobs) to switch to this firm.

I know a recruiter on the US East Coast, who decided to give up on emphasizing: free lunch, fooz ball, casual work environment, rent subsidy, exciting work, blah blah blah and just flat-out let candidates know they start at 200K.

EDIT: Follow-up on your contacts. Nobody wants to wait for bad news or have to call back when a returned call was promised.

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I am going to definitely tell him to follow this site. I want to get a good set of responses here and link him to it to start him out. From there I would tell him to start looking around the rest of the site as well. –  Panky Feb 24 '11 at 19:17

Be interested! That way you'll quickly learn the ways of the technical world. If you have no interest at all in what the person in front of you are doing then you'll mix up Java and JavaScript :)

Don't pretend to know more than you know. But feel free to impress the candidate by knowing something about his/her field of expertise.

Disclaimer: I've been working as both a developer and as an IT recruiter.

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This is helpful. He is the most personable guy I know, so has that side covered, it is just the lack of tech experience that makes me want to make sure he has the right approach for the job. –  Panky Feb 24 '11 at 19:21
@Jeff O has a good point as well. By following this site you are by definition interested :). –  karloskar Feb 24 '11 at 19:40
  • Java and JavaScript are basically polar opposites.
  • On that note, every language comes with something of a culture attached to it. The more you know about a given one that you're working on, the better.
  • What kind of problems they're trying to solve likely matters a lot to the dev and is more likely to net you a win.
  • If the company has been having trouble filling the position, find out why and give some detail on that. That's either ammunition for a good candidate or less time wasted by all freeing you up to find a better candidate.
  • When they want 10 years of experience, a related PhD, and more years of experience in a technology than it has actually existed, and the rate's not competitive, the candidates who most closely resembles what they're looking for is the one who wants to talk to you the least. Don't waste too much time on mythical manhunts if the client isn't receptive to a reality check.
  • FFS don't sit on phone listings at offices and call devs who just got hired there. Don't be a douche. And hit anyone you see doing that with a stick. I'll never talk to a company again that promotes that kind of behavior. I couldn't believe it when recruiters called me at an office number that I hadn't even learned yet.
  • Don't ask an experienced front end web developer for a word version of their resume. Just take their HTML resume and open it in word and deal with the ugly. Or better yet, open it in a browser and print to PDF if that fits the bill. When they're hiring for web UI and they can't handle HTML, I don't even want to know who they are.
  • Try to figure out if it's HR or engineer gatekeepers. HR always means BS. I won't even waste time prepping for HR interviews if there are companies putting me in front of tech people right away.
  • Don't try sales talk (flattery or any kind of manipulation) on engineers. We're either completely oblivious to it or we'll find it obnoxious.
  • Nobody wants to say it, but sometimes what they really want and need is a mediocre dev willing to put up with BS for a couple years because s/he doesn't have any other options.
  • If you can, point out to clients that filling in every possible tech bullet-point they can imagine ever possibly being useful isn't helping anybody. Stick with the important core stuff.
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Ok, I'm going to give this a shot. I've worked with non technical recruiters in the past, and it was frustrating for all parties involved.

First, know the concepts behind the buzzwords. Take one of the buzzwords from a the list of requirements and read up on it. Understand it. Know the basics so that you can ask some questions and you can tell the BS when you hear it. (Oh, it sounds like he read the same Wikipedia article I did...)

Second, learn the basics of coding. If you can't do the code test that you're giving the potential prospects, then you won't be able to tell if they are any good.

Those are the first two that come to mind. I think it will be a steep learning curve, but hopefully an enjoyable one for him. He won't need to know everything, just enough to tell the good from the bad. :)

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I used to work with companies that created interviewing teams. On the team were some managers to make sure the candidate fit the culture and required role. Some technical leads to evaluate skill levels, and make sure the resume didn't contain BS. Some junior types for interviewing experience and to get free lunches. And a non-techy HR person to sell the candidate on the company, try and detect any behaviors that might not fit the company's code-of-conduct, etc, as well as answer any questions about benefits, etc.

Put together a team to help you, and stick to the role that allows you to get the best feedback and provide any needed salesmanship for the company. Don't try to do stuff you aren't good at, or the candidate's BS detector about your company might go off.

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Be prepared to research new terms regularly and have a general idea of various technical terms. For example, if a job describes using Scrum, it would be useful to know what are the main parts of the methodology. Know how to talk to people and understand the value of integrity if you don't want to be viewed as a sleazy recruiter.

Attending local user groups for some technologies may be a good way to network and pick up some of the terminology. How well will he have to find people? This would be an area that I'd investigate a bit before being a recruiter as some recruiters may have to sift through resumes and others may be expected to have connections to fill various spots.

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I get the impression at least initially he is going to be doing a lot of shifting through resumes, working under a more senior technical recruiter. He is hoping to keep moving up in that chain though, since that is rather under his skill/motivation/ambition level. –  Panky Feb 24 '11 at 23:12

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