WTF Stories #5 : The Weasely Recruiter

May 22, 2007

One of the worst things about being a programmer is dealing with recruiters. A few are great, most are useless, and some make black mold look appealing.

Generally recruiters only make money if they land you a job or contract. It also appears that in order to be allowed to continue on as a recruiter, they need to occasionally send a resume to an employer (sort of a ping) or they will be forgotten and begin to grow mold. So the race is on to grab as many resumes as possible.

Employers generally hate recruiters as much as the employees. They get slammed with as many worthless resumes as possible for every job on the thought that maybe one will stick. The theory is that recruiters only bring well-qualified prospects to the employer but the reality has more in common with a dump truck.

I have had recruiters:

  1. try to sell me on a great job which turns out to be the job I just left (and first on my resume)
  2. send me to interviews for jobs I had no interest in or qualifications for
  3. edit my resume to suit the job but not tell me ahead of time
  4. submit me to employers without my knowledge

These, however, are fairly common and not WTFs by themselves. The next two are my top winners. Or losers; take your pick.

Preliminary Bout

A long time ago before the web, I talked with a recruiter in New York City about a job at a big investment bank (J.P.Morgan). After the usual BS he pointed out that suits were required for this job, which I indicated I didn't own and never wore.

"You will have to buy a large set of suits for this job."

We then talked money and it wasn't much, so I mentioned I couldn't see how to afford to live in NYC on what he was offering.

"You can stay at the YMCA."

At this point I wondered if there was a businessman in the Village People. The song danced in my head and I openly wondered where I would hang all my suits, in the locker with the Indian Chief's headdress? What kind of an idiot would even suggest such a thing, work on Wall Street and live in a popular song.

I said no.

Main Event

Recently I talked with a local recruiter who promised me I could start the next day. He only said the requirements were strong Java and familiarity with OpenCMS. When I asked about what the job entailed, he said he didn't know but another recruiter from another recruiting firm "he worked with" would call me at 13:30 and give me the details.

So at 13:00 I get a call from this other recruiter. He immediately started to extol the company I would be working for, their customers love them, the two owners are his best friends, one of them is "the smarted DBA in all of Texas", etc.

So I asked him what the job involved.

He continued praising the opportunity for a bit more and then said I could start that afternoon after I talked with his two buddies. I then told him "I can't see signing a contract without knowing what the job involves". He asked me if I knew Java (well of course) and I told him I had downloaded OpenCMS once but never used it. That didn't seem to matter to him. Now we were down to one requirement, Java.

After more questioning he mentioned that the actual work would be "writing business applications" for a separate company but he didn't "know" what that meant. At this point I was long past caring but wanted to see where this surreal conversation would go so I pressed on.

Now he mentioned that this other company was in talks to be bought by the first company and that they were still in negotiation. When I asked about the team I would be working with he said "they had 20 people but now only have 2".

So, I asked again, what would I be doing with these 2 people? "I don't know" he said, (big surprise) "but when you talk with (his buddies) you can ask them".

Now we talked a bit about money, which was way below anything I would consider so I said "no thank you" to finally end this. He tried the great company spiel again but it was over soon.

Only after we hung up that I was able to analyze the conversation. I bet since the first company was buying the assets of the second (failing) company they needed someone to support the existing applications during the transition. So basically this job was tech support hand-holding of a bunch of angry customers of some business applications written in Java and running on OpenCMS.

Maybe I could have sung YMCA to placate them.