What’s really wrong with the recruitment industry

Yesterday, Steve Buckley of hackerjobs.co.uk put up a blog post titled All that is wrong with the recruitment industry. It’s an interesting read, from an insider in the IT recruitment industry. However, it doesn’t really hit what’s really is wrong with the recruitment industry for me.

Steve talks about how recruiters are targets driven. Rather than create deep relationships with clients and candidates they are encouraged to treat it as a numbers game contacting X candidates and employers a day. I think it’s sad some people aren’t happy in their jobs. I think it’s sad that opportunities for people to be nice to each other and build relationships are being missed. But as an employer I don’t care, that’s not what I think is wrong with the recruitment industry.

What’s really wrong with the recruitment industry?

The real problem with the recruitment industry is that it can’t solve the real problem with recruitment. The real problem with recruitment is that hiring people who are Smart and get things done is hard, really hard. And there’s not really anything you can do to change that.

What makes that worse is if you rely on someone who doesn’t really understand your requirements to do too much in your recruitment process. I’m sure even Joel Spolsky would admit a job spec saying “Smart and gets things done” wouldn’t really cut it. Also, you can’t often tell if someone is Smart and gets things done from their CV. This is why everyone uses proxies, they ask for X years experience, they ask for a degree or a good degree, or even a great degree from a great university. They look at where you’ve worked previously, what your current job title is, how much you get paid. But none of this really works, so you still need to talk to people and check them out face to face. One of the best hires I’ve made had no degree and no commercial experience in the primary language he’d be working in. He applied when he saw the job listed on the monthly hacker news “Who’s hiring” thread. I doubt a recruiter would have put him forward.

Doing it yourself

Ultimately you have to do a lot of the work yourself to get a really good result. More and more recruiters are offering to qualify candidates for me with coding tests. I suppose it’s additional revenue for them if I agree. I think they’d just be making a hard problem worse. They’d reject people I’d hire and they’d send people through who can regurgitate a Java reference manual but can’t code Fizzbuzz. Even if they got it right (which is unlikely) I’d still have to do the same amount of interviewing I do now with each candidate because the recruiter isn’t me and I don’t trust them to know what I want.

The solution

I don’t know. I don’t know that right now that the recruitment industry is under pressure to make it change, maybe it’s at a local maximum or maybe it’s genuinely found the optimum solution given the current constraints. Various people have tried to change things, from spamming devs on GitHub to charging candidates to apply for jobs. I’ve tried to lower the barrier to getting jobs published with Jobs Tractor. Ultimately most of what I see amounts to rearranging the chairs on the Titantic, or in the case of charging candidates, piling the chairs in the way of the life boats. Steve says he’s some ideas and I’ll be interested to see them, hopefully he really can improve things.

Personally I think every employer needs to think seriously about how important recruitment is to them and put as much of their own resources behind that as makes sense. That might mean using recruiters, it might mean having an in house recruitment team or it might mean more involvement from your technical team/managers in recruitment. And that’s what’s wrong with the recruitment industry, it’s hard and pretty much everyone would rather be doing something else.

PS, If you’re a developer looking for work, do pop over to jobstractor.com and take a look at the jobs listed there.

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