Dear Recruiter

Over on LinkedIn, a recruiter on one of the Perl groups has asked for what people want from recruiters. He’s interested to hear what recruiters do that give them such a bad reputation. I thought that was an interesting question to answer, but as it might be interesting to other recruiters I’ve decided to answer it here rather than in in LinkedIn walled garden

So here are some things that recruiters can do that would make me happier to deal with them.

Understand the Industry

I’m not expecting every recruiter to be an expert in every technology that they deal with, but it’s not hard to get an overview of what things are and how they hang together. In the case of the programming language I’m most interested in, it would be nice if they could learn that it’s called “Perl” not “PERL”.

Don’t Just Use Keyword Searches

I understand that they all have lots of candidates in their databases. And I know that keyword searches are a quick way to find the candidates that will be interested in a particular role. But that method will often find a lot of false positives too. And every false positive that you contact is another person who you are potentially annoying.

Over ten years ago I spent three weeks writing Perl code that interfaced with a SAP system. I still leave that work on my CV as it’s a useful idiot filter. If I get email about a SAP role then I know that it comes from a recruiter who doesn’t read CVs.

By all means use a keyword search to find potential candidates to contact. But read their CVs before emailing them.

Answer Your Email

Is it really so hard to answer email? Oh it’s fine when you first get in touch with me. If you’re trying to sell me a role then you’re happy to answer email almost instantly. But if I’m emailing you in response to an advert you’ve placed on the internet then probably 80% of the time I never get a response. And if I phone to chase up then you’re always “on the other line” and you never call back. You may have decided that I’m not right for the role, but it would be useful for me to hear your reasons.

The worst time to not get replies to emails is when you’ve sent my CV to a client and they’ve turned me down for some reason. Over the seventeen years that I’ve been a contractor there are probably twenty jobs that I’m still waiting to hear back from. Of course I’m not holding my breath. But it’s just rude not to give feedback.

Make Notes

Something like this happens regularly. I get an email from a recruiter asking if I’m interested in a role. I reply saying that I’m currently very happy in a contract that doesn’t end for another three months. The next week I get another email from the same recruiter asking if I’m interested in a different role.

If I tell you that I won’t be available for three months then you should read that as “don’t contact Dave about new contracts for at least two months”. Why is that so hard to understand? And, no, I don’t really expect you do remember who I am from one week to the next, but surely it’s not too hard to have a “do not contact before” note somewhere on your records.

It’s almost as bad when it’s different recruiters from the same agency who contact me. Surely they share these details on a centralised database. Don’t they?

Learn English

We’re supposed to have a professional relationship. So you should be communicating in a professional manner. And that means taking care over your writing. Perhaps I’m not typical but it takes me a great force of will to read past “Hope your well” at the start of an email.

Just a few suggestions from me. I’m sure other people who read this will have their own pet hates. Please feel free to add them in the comments.


R U Avail?

An SMS that I have received twice today:

Hello. R U Avail & Looking 4 work? I have a 3 mnth contract at the BBC – £310 P/Day 4 a good Perl Dev? If yes pls call ASAP at [removed] – Rgrds Kathe @ PCR

Even if I was available and looking “4” work, I’d almost certainly be hoping to work with an agent who gives off an air of professionalism. Not one who thinks it’s appropriate to use “txtspk” when talking to potential clients.

Or am I being too old-fashioned?


Admitting Your Mistakes

When did it become unfashionable to admit to mistakes. We all make mistakes. Why not just own up to them?

Yesterday I got an email from an agent asking if I was available for work. I replied pointing her to the page on my company web site where that information is always available.

Just now I got the same email again from the same agent. Well, the content was identical, but the subject line had changed. Yesterday it was “New Year New Project?”, today it had become “New Projects?”.

I replied to the second email saying that my situation hadn’t changed in twenty-four hours. Her reply to this was:

So sorry for some reason it looks like my outlook has duplicated my emails

Not, “oops, I looks like I sent stff to the same people twice” or “sorry, I should have checked that list of names more closely”. Just “my outlook has duplicated my emails”. It wasn’t her fault – her technology had let her down. Everyone knows that Outlook often sends the same email twice, twenty-four hours apart and changes the subject line as it does it.

Except it doesn’t, does it. I know that Outlook is one of the most broken email clients ever to have been released (only beaten, in my experience, by Lotus Notes) but last time I used it, it wasn’t in the habit of changing subject lines and resending mail. Maybe that’s a new feature.

I pointed out the subject line discrepancy and she replied that she was not “great with Technology!” Which, I suppose, is as close as I’m going to get to an explanation.

Perhaps blaming mistakes on a “computer error” still fools most of the population. But if you’re dealing with IT people, you must realise that most of them will know more about the subject than you. And that must make blaming the technology an extremely risky approach.

It’s certainly one that has moved this recruiter along way down my list of people I want to do business with.



I have spent over a week waiting for an agent to get back to me with an offer of a contract. I saw this company last Tuesday and the manager is apparently very keen to get me working there. The sticking point seems to be the money.

When the agent first spoke to me about the contract, they wanted to pay about £30 a day less than the minimum amount I currently feel comfortable working for. She agreed to try to get me my minimum amount. A couple of days later she called me to arrange an interview. She told me at that point that they had taken a couple of days to get back to us as they had been confirming that the extra money was available.

I went to the interview last Tuesday. I thought it went very well. So, I’m told, did the people who interviewed me.

But the money was still a problem. They asked if I’d work for their initial suggested rate. I said no. They said that at the rate I was asking for, the initial contract would only be for two months rather than the six months discussed in the interview. I said that would be fine (see – that’s me compromising).

On Friday of last week they told my agent that the money had been found but that (for reasons which were somewhat unclear) they still couldn’t make a firm offer that day. The offer would follow on Monday.

On Monday I had a call from my agent. There was still no firm offer, but the client had asked her to “keep Dave warm”. She tried to speak to the manager again on Tuesday, but he was out of the office for a day. On Wednesday I had no contact with them. On Thursday she called me to tell me that she still couldn’t reach the manager because he was off sick. And his team seemed to think that he wouldn’t be back the next day either.

At this point I was expecting them to tell me that they had the offer, but the dog ate it. Or perhaps that a big boy stole it and ran away. It seemed clear to me that there was some kind of stalling tactic going on somewhere in the organisation. But as my agent pointed out during Thursday’s conversation, this kind of prevarication doesn’t really endear you to someone who you are trying to do business with.

Fortunately, whilst this had all been going on, another opportunity had come along. On Thursday lunchtime I had an interview with another company. A company who, if I’m being honest, I would feel far happier about working for. And this morning they made me a firm offer. For more money and for a longer period of time. I, of course, accepted.

I felt somewhat sorry for the original agent as I told her that I wouldn’t be accepting an offer from her client (should one ever appear). But I hope she enjoys explaining to them exactly where they’ve gone wrong in this process.

The contract market isn’t great at the moment. But it’s still not bad enough that I need to sit around for a week waiting for an offer from a company that’s quibbling over £30 a day.


Temporary Employment Setback

I’ve just heard that my current contract won’t be extended when it finishes at the end of this month.

So if you are looking (or know someone who is looking) for a half-decent Perl, Unix, database contractor then please let me know.


Leaving the BBC

Seems like we’re approaching another of those periods when it’s fashionable to leave the BBC. This morning my RSS reader brought me “I’m off soon” posts from Tom Loosemore and Alice Taylor.

Oh, and there’s me. I’m leaving (again) on Friday. Back in the City from Monday.


Job Found

Thanks to everyone who responded to my post about job hunting. I’m happy to report that I got two firm job offers out of it and I’ve now accepted one of those offers. In a couple of weeks I’ll be going to work at the UK’s biggest broadcaster (again).


Job Hunting

My current contract finishes at the end of this month so I’m looking for something new and interesting to do starting in early April.

So if you think you could use the skills of someone who knows a bit about Perl, Unix, databases and the web then please get in touch. If you need more convincing then my CV is online.


IR35 Petition

Probably of little or no interest to most readers, but there’s now an e-petition calling for the abolition of IR35.

IR35 was a way of gathering extra tax revenues (without raising the basic rate for taxation) by picking on Computer Contractor’s who work in a way that suits the relatively short life-cycles of the industry.

It paints tens of thousands of honest hard working tax payers as tax avoiders, whilst giving no recognition to the risk and extra work that they have to put in to make there living.

Shame that the petition paints contractors as people who don’t know the difference between “their” and “there”.

Oh, and while we’re talking about spelling – d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y.

customer service work

Spolsky on Customer Service

Anyone who has anything to do with customer service in their organisation should read and learn from Joel Spolsky’s article on the subject. It’s not just software companies he’s talking about. Anyone who deals with customers could benefit from taking his advice.

I particularly liked point 2, “Suggest blowing out the dust”.

Microsoft’s Raymond Chen tells the story of a customer who complains that the keyboard isn’t working. Of course, it’s unplugged. If you try asking them if it’s plugged in, “they will get all insulted and say indignantly, ‘Of course it is! Do I look like an idiot?’ without actually checking.”

“Instead,” Chen suggests, “say ‘Okay, sometimes the connection gets a little dusty and the connection gets weak. Could you unplug the connector, blow into it to get the dust out, then plug it back in?’

“They will then crawl under the desk, find that they forgot to plug it in (or plugged it into the wrong port), blow out the dust, plug it in, and reply, ‘Um, yeah, that fixed it, thanks.’”

Many requests for a customer to check something can be phrased this way. Instead of telling them to check a setting, tell them to change the setting and then change it back “just to make sure that the software writes out its settings.”