Guide to IT Headhunters, Part Two

Friday Oct 13th 2006 by James Maguire
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A veteran IT headhunter talks about how to work with job recruiters, including what degree of personal attention you can expect.

As noted in Part One of this article, today’s improved tech hiring has brought a resurgence of IT headhunters.

These job recruiters know that in the great tug of war between tech workers and tech employers, workers now hold the upper hand – qualified staffers are in great demand these days.

“After three years of being crushed, it’s ‘workers unite,’” says Stuart Taylor, a veteran headhunter and co-founder of Integrated Search Services, an IT staffing organization.

He estimates that in the tech boom of the late ‘90s, about 30 percent of workers changed jobs with the help of a headhunter. Yet this number fell sharply with the tech crash. “But now it’s way back up again,” he says, “Because the employers are finding it difficult to find people, and they’re hiring firms to find them.”

Using the services of an IT headhunter can help land a hefty raise. But before an IT pro contracts with a job recruiter, they should know the recruiting industry’s ground rules.

Communicate Clearly

Some tech workers feel stand-offish about headhunters because they’re afraid the job specialist will cajole them into a job they don’t really want. But these fears are unfounded, Taylor tells Datamation.

Simply put, if you don’t want the job, don’t take it.

“The only secret to using a headhunter is to clearly communicate what you’re attempting to accomplish,” he says.

“The most common complaint I hear – and it’s an amazing complaint – is: ‘You know, the guy who placed me the last three times never seemed to listen to me.” In response to this complaint, Taylor wonders: “Then why did you get placed for the last three times?” If the job choices the recruiter matched you with didn’t seem right, why did you take them?

Moreover, that headhunter “apparently provided some service, and eventually he got it right. So maybe it’s like real estate. All he did was show you a bunch of houses in a price range and you bought one.”

It’s up to the worker to speak his mind – forcefully if need be – to the recruiter, to avoid being directed toward inappropriate opportunities.

“You should always remember that someone in that role [a headhunter] has a [financial] interest in mind,” Taylor says. They get paid if they place you, so they want to place you even if it’s not your dream job.

The point: “If you want something more than ‘houses and prices’ then you need to communicate what your specific objectives are.”

“Not the Brightest People”

“It should be noted that recruiters are not the brightest people on the planet,” Taylor says.

For instance, they often don’t use sophisticated organizational techniques. “So if you apply to a recruiter and they never call you back, and then a position pops up in a newspaper that you fit, reapply. Because they will not put you in a database, they will not actively keyword search to see if you’re still there, they’ll just forget about you.”

Therefore, making repeated contacts with the same recruiters is okay. You’re not pestering them – they’ll probably even welcome it if you’re qualified.

Recruiters are working on commission, usually with specific assignments. “So if you don’t fit one of those specific assignments, they’re not interested in you at all.” In this case, simply submit your resume to another recruiter.

Next page: Think Nationally, Act Locally

Think Nationally, Act Locally

It’s a mistake to think that just because a headhunter specializes in IT, they specialize in your niche area of IT.

“Headhunting is largely a cottage industry. In any city you’re going to have hundreds of these people, and each of them are going to have a dozen key accounts,” Taylor says. The job openings at these key accounts may or may not match your skill set.

Therefore, you should always select your headhunter based on his specialties. “Take a look at recruiters who appear to be recruiting for opportunities that you’re involved in,” he says. “If you’re implementing ERP packages for a living and you find out that the vast majority of what this recruiter does is place Java developers, you’re probably not going to get a job with that recruiter.”

It behooves an IT job seeker to 1) look at the ads a recruiter is running and 2) call them up and ask questions about their specialty. And don’t hesitate to grill them: are they largely placing infrastructure people, Microsoft specialists, database managers?

Also, pick your headhunter based on his location. The key accounts a headhunter is handling are usually companies based in a single geographic area. “If you want to move to Cleveland, look at the Cleveland market to see who’s working that market,” Taylor says.

If your goal is to simply see what’s out there – to survey the job scene as widely as possible – it’s good to spread your resume to several headhunters. Many recruiters work with a set list of very large firms. In New York, for instance, “probably a hundred different firms work with Citibank. But there are probably only two firms working with any medium-sized company.” So finding opportunities at these medium-size firms requires working with more than just a couple of headhunters.

Individualized Attention?

A better headhunter will provide his clients with significant insight into the personality and quirks of a potential employer. “The lesser one will provide you with less insight but, I will be quick to point out, that if the lesser quality one gets you the job you want, you have still got ‘the house’ you wanted out of the deal,” he says.

Don’t expect to meet your headhunter face to face. “More and more, telephone interviewing is all that’s going on.”

“In the $50-125k salary range, for senior programmer or database administrator jobs, I almost never meet the candidates. I only meet them after they’re placed.” The exception is jobs that pay $125k and above.

“A lot of times people think they should meet the search guy, so they can get to know them. But the search guy doesn’t care – they just want to know if you’re qualified.”

The most common interaction between job seeker and headhunters is along the lines of “Hey, you’re a .NET guy, I’ve got a .NET job, wanna go on an interview?”

However, despite the limited face time, a job specialist should – at the very least – be able to provide tips about market options, salary ranges, and possible career choices based on emerging technologies.

Optimism for the Years Ahead

Because Taylor speaks with IT employers on a daily basis, he’s in a good position to assess their moods. Fortunately, he senses that the current healthy hiring trends have some legs.

“I don’t know if this will to last, but it certainly appears to me that it will be a three-year cycle,” of good tech hiring, he says.

Companies “spent all their money before Y2K, and then they didn’t spend a dime. It’s now six years later. They gotta spend dough.”

And tech professionals are well aware of this. “Everybody’s looking for that 20 percent raise, because they haven’t had one in a while – and the market is largely responding to that.”

To explore current pay levels for IT jobs, take a look at this tech salary survey. While you’re at it, note that five of the top ten fastest growing jobs are IT jobs . And as tech staffers consider career moves, they’re looking at the list of most profitable certifications.

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