Shakespeare, Unicorns and the End of Recruiters

September 25, 2011

Shakespeare had it wrong, first thing we do is get rid of the recruiters (though lawyers can go to).

Getting a job or contract in the IT industry almost always includes having to deal with recruiters, who generally act as as front end to employers looking for workers. After the past 17 of years of dealing with them I am ready to see them become as extinct as the dodo bird.

Not that all recruiters are bad; however finding a good decent one in a sea of terrible ones is like finding a unicorn, or maybe a Sasquatch, something rare to be celebrated on the History Channel amid all the alien shows.

Recruiters, like real estate agents, don't represent the seeker, but the sought after. Similarly they try to disguise this by trying anything to make you the prospective employee feel like they are doing you a favor. They only get paid if they get you a job, or a contract, so in reality you are nothing but a means to an end. In all the times I have worked through a recruiter and not gotten a position, I have never once had a recruiter email or call me to report a negative result - apparently there is no point in wasting another breath on a failed connection. After enough of this you begin to realize you are simply a piece of meat.

Ever wonder about all those posted jobs on job boards? How many are real and how many are resume honeypots? Why they often have no $ amounts? Why the details seem to rarely match reality?

Ever seen a mousetrap?

Now you might say I can't blame someone for not caring about you if you don't bring in a dollar - except I would argue that outside recruiters are a total waste of money. What service do they perform? They put ads in various places, collect resumes, and then send them to the employer. Other than maybe the grossest of bozo filters they generally dump the resumes into the employer's lap. Then they collect large salary percentages or negotiate the lowest possible rate with a contractor so to maximize their profit.

I think in the animal world this is called parasitism, providing little or nothing in return but taking a lot.

So what are the alternatives? The company can handle placing ads, collecting resumes, winnowing them down - which they have to do anyway - finally deciding on a candidate and negotiating a salary or rate. What do you really save by paying a lot of money to a recruiter against not having to pay so much extra? A few emails? Placing an ad? Winnowing out the ditch diggers from the programmers?

When I was for a year in the Bay Area I found a 2 week contract at Lotus helping with finishing a version of ccMail. I was paid $60/hr which was a fair rate. One day I was sitting at the manager's desk and happened to see the contract lying there, and was astonished to see Lotus was paying the agency $140/hr. For a job I found on my own for which I was the only candidate. They paid $6400 extra to save a little bookkeeping.

Lately I lost an interesting position where a candidate appeared directly at the employer so they hired them thus avoiding the recruiter's fees. Obviously if that works why use an expensive recruiter?

What I would love to see is changing the model of employee - recruiter - employer wherein the recruiter is a one time connection only paid by the employer to a more evenly matched system.

I think the way to model this is to make the centerpiece a permanent entity.

The organization would collect a fee from each prospective employee which would be used for curation. Each person would have their resume checked (as much as possible), be technically interviewed by an expert in the same field (these experts would have to be vetted first and then maintained), get a background check and whatever else employers normally want.

Employers would also sign up and pay a fee to participate. The employee side of the system would be designed to be a permanent connection so that resumes could be updated, re-interviewed at times, and thus always be up to date. Employers would be able to search for candidates knowing that each one has been vetted and the initial technical interview recording would be available. This way the employer would only have to deal with possibilities that only need a final interview to determine compatibility. Prospective employees would avoid having to do the same startup stuff over and over again.

Of course for this to work there has to be a lot of trust, which means the organization needs to be well funded and professional and not associated with anything existing. The difference is they are not recruiters, but a clearinghouse combined with a curation process. All fees would be listed up front and known by all parties.

The benefits of such a clearinghouse are immense, not the least of which is to eliminate the need for recruiters. You would think in this modern age of the internet we could dispense with the middleman and follow the path of the stock and commodity markets, where clearinghouses and rules allow for less overhead and more transparency, instead of the currency and synthetic derivatives markets which work in the shadows and "who you know".

The industry is so used to this recruiter sandwich I doubt anything like this would ever fly. Some companies seem to realize how stupid it is to hand money over to people who do almost nothing and manage their own employment/contracting but it's still pretty rare. Maybe if this clearinghouse idea was a reality more of them might see a better way.

Then maybe the recruiters could go back to selling shoes or whatever else they can do.

Anyone seen a unicorn?