Recruiters are not your friends or your enemies.


Recruiters are everyday people just like you and me.  They have feelings, dreams, families and jobs.

What Recruiters Do

Their job is to fill empty positions.

Notice that I didn’t say that their job is to find YOU a job.  It’s not.

There’s a separate group of people out there who work as your agent, and their job is to find you your next gig.  You have to pay them out of your own pocket, because they’re actively working for you on your behalf.  I don’t know if you get what you pay for with those folks, because I’ve never used ’em, but I want to draw attention to the fact that you’re not paying a recruiter anything.

Recruiters are paid by the companies to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.

Mr. Right Now
Mr. Right - excellent song.

They’re Not Looking for Mr. Right Now.

The recruiter’s compensation is usually based on a couple of factors, and one of those involves a minimum length of time that the new hire stays on board.  If the new person bails after a month or two, the recruiter loses money.

If you call your recruiter and say, “Listen, this place is a hole, and I want you to find me another job ASAP,” the recruiter’s answer is going to reflect the fact that they’re about to lose money and credibility with the client.  Furthermore, you’re asking them to place you at yet another company and risk more of their income and credibility.

The recruiter will see you as a business risk, and they may come back with something like, “Sure, Bob, I’ll find you another gig pronto.  Just sit tight and I’ll take care of everything, but don’t quit until I’ve got you another job lined up.”  After they’ve kept you on the hook long enough to get their full compensation, they might not return your phone calls.  You’re stuck in a bad job and you’ve burned the bridge with the recruiter.  (I know.  It happened to me.)

The Questions to Ask Recruiters

Recruiters are in the business of filling positions.  They’re not in the business of database administration, programming, or anything else remotely technical.  It’s not their fault if they don’t know exactly whether or not you’re qualified for a particular gig, and you can’t get mad at them for not knowing their cluster from their log.  You have to help them help you.

When a recruiter calls or emails me about a position, I ask a few basic questions to determine whether or not it’s a fit for me (or for someone I know, since I’m not looking for a job):

  • What’s the pay range?
  • What’s the job description?
  • How many other DBAs are in the shop? (or developers, or sysadmins, whatever you do)
  • How many servers are they managing? (or applications, etc)

The first time a recruiter calls me, they don’t usually want to give out the pay range.  My answer (and I’ve even got an email template for this) is:

I’m not looking for a job right now, but I’d love to help you out.  If you give me that information, I’ll pass it on to my circle of peers.  One of them might be itching to get out of their current position.  I’m not giving you their name/email/phone, but I’ll pass yours along.

I’ve been burned too many times by passing on information without any pay range – my friends have put time and effort into following up with the recruiter only to find out that the pay was absurdly low.  I don’t want to burn any more bridges with my friends, and I’m sure you’d understand that, but I’ll be more than happy to pass your information along if you include the pay range, job description, number of other DBAs and the number of servers involved.

Most of them don’t respond, and that’s fine – it means they’re looking for someone willing to work for peanuts.  Keep in mind that if they were really paying great wages, they wouldn’t have had to hire a recruiter.  The only times companies hire recruiters is when:

  • None of their employees would refer a friend to this company
  • They’ve run out of local contacts (probably because nobody wants to come to work for ’em anymore)
  • They’re looking for a skillset that doesn’t exist locally (and therefore they need to cough up some dough)

If they respond and you want the job, great – but 99% of the time, you’re not going to want it.  That doesn’t mean you should delete the email and stop the process there.

Help the Recruiter and Build a Relationship

No matter how wacko the pay rate or skill requirements are (“I need ten years experience with Windows 2008”), I give the recruiter open, honest feedback.  The next time the recruiter gets a SQL Server job posting, I want to be the first person they contact, no matter how senior or junior the position is.  I want them to shoot me an email and say, “Brent, I just got this job posting.  Is it realistic?  Where should I look for people?”  That helps me get my friends the pick of the best available jobs.

In order to make that happen, I have to give the recruiter really good feedback.  Here’s some examples of the types of things I’ve emailed back to recruiters lately:

“I can see why you’re having a tough time filling that position, and why you’re having to search the net.  It’s not going to be easy to find someone with experience in replication, SSIS, and Sharepoint, because those three technologies are not usually used in combination together.  You might want to go back to the client and suggest that they prioritize those and only focus on one, maybe two max.  Otherwise, I’d be really suspicious of anybody who says they’ve done a lot of work in all three.”

“That’s a completely fair salary range for that position.  I don’t know anyone with those skills who’s in the market right now, but I’m passing it on to my network to see if anybody’s interested.”

“The salary range and job description don’t seem to match up: it’s going to be pretty difficult finding a SQL Server DBA with ten years of replication experience for $30-$40 per hour for a three month contract.  I wish you the best of luck with your search, but I’m afraid I can’t pass this on to my network right now.”

Don’t be a jerk, but give them the best possible feedback that enables them to take actions.  Tell them what to take back to the client for feedback, and it shouldn’t involve suggested bodily orifices in which to place the job description.  Remember, you want the recruiter to call you back next time, and your only incentive is your attitude.

Keep Track of Recruiters Over Time

Not keep in touch – keep track.  If you interact with a recruiter and they’re a real class act, put them in your address book.  If they’re rude and inconsiderate, make a note of that too.  (Side note – they’re doing the same thing with you.)

This is especially important if you connect your friends with recruiters.  Sadly, I’ve had cases where recruiters jerked friends of mine around or wasted their time, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  I wish I’d have learned this lesson earlier in my career, and you young’uns, learn it now.  You’re going to be interacting with recruiters for the rest of your professional life: remember who the good ones are, and do ’em favors!

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • As someone who is just getting started in this wonderful world of SQL, this post is worth a thousand pictures! Thanks!

  • Brent, I learn a lot from your blog and it’s not necessarily the things you’re trying to teach. The most important things I learn here aren’t the hard skills (though you offer a great deal of worthwhile info about them). Rather it is the soft skills such as interpersonal communication and integrity.

    Once again, your centered approach to this topic is refreshing and inspires me to do the same. I can’t tell you how many blog articles I’ve read with content like, “Recruiters are the devil.”

    Thanks again.

  • Thanks! Yeah, same here, I keep reading the same venomous comments about recruiters. I almost just titled it “Recruiters are People Too”, hahaha.

  • Agreed, some employers are way over optimistic on the list of skills. I like your idea of a list of questions for recruiters. Neither of us want to waste anyone’s time!

  • Hi, this is a very good post. I am involved in a job hunt now & I have encountered several “unprofessional” recruiters. They only want to fill in whatever positions they have & get their commission. They do not care about the job seekers’ needs, requests & questions! >.<

  • Venky Subramaniam
    April 30, 2010 5:20 pm

    Excellent post! Despite the ‘dark’ humor (which is quite absorbing, BTW), there are lots of hidden facts that many of the job-hunters are not exposed to. Recently, when I was looking for a job, I had to clearly state to them that MySQL is different from SQL Server and within SQL Server (an ocean in itself) where do my strengths lie…

    Good one! Keep ’em coming!

  • As an IT Recruiter, here is my my side on this. I highly prefer NOT to disclose the rate range to a new candidate from the first conversation/email, or if I do, never give the very top rate possible, especially if I never worked with this candidate before, nor seen his full resume, nor knew his recent salary history and know his rate range.

    Please note this only refers to NEW candidates for me, I have no problem quoting the best top rates possible to candidate I have worked with before, even if I weren’t successful in getting him a job but with whom had a good working/cooperating history.

    The problem of giving the real rate range to an unknown candidate is 1) if you give too low a rate, the really good candidate will immediately say not interested and hung up on you and 2) if you quote too high a rate, many candidate will immediately ask for more, while many times the rates given to me are fixed within a certain range. You can’t imagine how many candidates out there will request a higher rate at ANY rate you quote to them. I had a consultant, in my early days as a recruiter, who within 2 weeks time period asked the rates of $50, 70 and $90/h because I made a mistake of quoting the top rates to him for these positions, and he was the good fit only for $70/h position.

    What I prefer to do, is to get candidates most recent/current rate/salary and up it by 10-20% if allowed by position allotted range. If the position can’t pay this much, I will quote the highest possible rate to that candidate and leave the decision up to him.

    • I hear you, but the counterpoint for us candidates is exactly the same – if we give too low of a rate, we’re screwed, and if we quote too high of a rate, we’re screwed.

      If I’m on the side with the leverage – meaning, I’ve got a stable job and you’re cold-calling me – then I’m the one with the leverage, and I just flat out won’t give rates, period. If, on the other hand, I’ve got no leverage because I’m desperate for a job, then I’ll gladly throw out the lowest rate I’ll take. You just need to understand (as I’m sure you do) that the good people aren’t the desperate ones.

  • It’s a mixed world, I’ve dealt with some recruiters I really liked..and others, I’d like to bury in the backyard.

    It’s been an…irksome road. Example, I was contact for a contract spot to start the following week. 3 days come and gone before they call back to arrange an interview, tell me friday morning. Location/time, person I’m to meet etc will be sent to me in email…once I get the emaill reply back to confirm. It’s almost 36 hours, no information…sent a message, still awaiting a reply.
    Another contract, rush the paperwork, backround check, phone interview etc..told I’ve got the job, I’ll a call that day or next am for start time etc.
    After 24 hours I call, have to leave a message…3 days later I’m told someone at the location decided they decided they’re not going to fill the spot via recruiter/agency.


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