The wolves of IT


Recruiters don’t understand IT and software development. They have never worked closely with programmers, have never been part of a development team, and never developed software products. For them, a programmer is just a combination of keywords and Java is the same as JavaScript.

Money always attracts wolves. IT companies, whose growth is limited by lack of developers, have become the target of wolve attacks. Particularly hungry wolves, who smelled the abundant and dependable food source, unite and make packs also known as “recruitment agencies”:

A recruitment agency spamming on LinkedIn. Painting by Mary Pettis (1995)

Those agencies will call you to tell sweet lies exactly the way you want to hear: your Product Backlog is full, hiring is slow, and you have more important things to focus on than hunting people on LinkedIn; you can trust this work to experts, as other successful companies do; soon you’ll see developers queuing up in front of your office doors.

Finally, you found a broker you can trust:

© The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) by Martin Scorsese

But things don’t go as you envisioned.

A huge number of application start falling on your shoulders. Every CV looks suspiciously well-tailored; those motherfuckers know all your standard questions and how to answer them well. Someone must be preparing them. Your team is spending hours in the interviewing room, rejecting one candidate after another.

Traffic has increased, your team is overwhelmed, but you’re not making new hires. The agency says that the rejected candidates were top-notch, and already landed other jobs. You put pressure on your team, doubting the interviewing process: perhaps it’s too strict?

Who is leaking information? Who wants a candidate to “pass”? Who is the rat?

Using insider information that you shared about the position, agencies will prepare candidates so they can “crack” your interview. Their interviewing skills will surpass their actual work performance by a mile. I was prepared like that once, too.

For a recruitment agency, sending you an army of well-prepared candidates has only upsides, because it increases the probability of successful placement and getting the commission. The downsides are absorbed by your team and your company. Using Nasim Taleb’s terminology:

Recruitment agencies don’t have skin in the game.

This asymmetry in incentives activates a negative reinforcing loop: as the low-quality traffic increases, companies make interviews shallow: no time for a deep conversation; no personalization; no human touch. They are fixing the wrong problem. This damages reputation and further reduces the quality of candidates. More wolves needed.

Sucker companies engage in all kind of recruitment scams that promise quick and effortless results. As a result, an army of clueless and incompetent recruiters:

  • Approach people on behalf of your company, leaving the first impression;
  • Answer questions about your company; for them, you’re just another client;
  • Spam people via email and LinkedIn without consent; or make cold calls;
  • Show a lack of ethics in communication.

You can’t control who is approaching your people and how. This is what you paid for:

Dear sir or madam. Hope you’re doing well. One of my clients is looking for…

Smart companies don’t play sucker’s games and protect their reputation. Non-suckers hire the best recruiters in-house, educate them, pair up with developers, and turn them into brand ambassadors. In a good company, a tech recruiter works closely with the development team. A shared Kanban board with candidates “moving” through the interview steps gets everyone on the same page. Regular hiring retrospectives, attended by everyone, promote creativity and continuous improvement.

Now, as you control the quality of inbound traffic, you can start building long-term relationships with candidates: spend more time with each candidate, make interviews more thorough, incorporate mentoring into recruitment process.

There are two reasons why modern recruitment has become the parade of incompetence and arcane interviews:

  • companies look for shortcuts;
  • recruitment agencies don’t have skin in the game;

There must be a fix:

Stop feeding wolves. This is much better for your organization and our community.

Thank you for attention.

P.S. This is not to offend some ethical recruiters, who care about people, business, and IT. I met some awesome recruiters working in agencies. But you are more the exception than the norm. Stay awesome.