Consulting Interviews: Getting Through Recruiters

The first part of consulting is having the initial meeting with the client. Using the Consulting Process, you identify the client’s problem, and determine if you are capable of fixing it. Not currently being with a firm causes me to scout for work (pouring through a TON of emails and phone calls, not all leading to work). A lot of time, I have to go through recruiters, and find the whole process a waste of time, especially when I learn the client wants a full-time & on-site W2 employee and is not at all interested in a telecommuting contractor, needs another skill set, or I cannot fit them into my schedule.

For some reason, the majority of recruiters cannot answer these questions because they cannot fully make those decisions for the client, get insecure because they cannot answer me (or don’t understand the question with the new outsourced ones), and re-iterate the job requirements as if that will answer my question. We all know how inaccurate job requirements typically are. Thus, I’m resolute that to answer my questions I’ll have just play the game so I can get directly at the client.

Most of my work since 2003 has come from referrals. This can be from my name in some open source code, LinkedIn , client/peer recommendations, and my blog . Every so often, though, there are some cool clients behind "recruiter walls". A recruiter is typically a person who’s role is to find a qualified candidate on behalf of a company. While usually part of a firm, I’ve met those who go it alone. Like people, some are cool and some are as dumb as rocks. If consulting is slow, the cool ones get my business. If consulting is hot, the cool ones get my referrals + personal recommendations if any.

Whether cool or dumb, both pose a significant time sink in determining if the client will lead to a paying gig or not.

For example, a lot of the people I work with either are the client themselves, or are sub-contracting me out. Both can give me clarity, quickly, on what the gig is about. This allows me to identify if the gig is something I do and if I have time to do it. Recruiters typically don’t have the full story, though. Some are even mis-informed. Some questions get answered incorrectly when trying to get a feel for what the client wants, and some questions take a day or more to get answered. While a minor annoyance, some clients actually think you are well informed about what they are doing before the first interview based on the assumption the recruiter told you everything you need to know. In this day and age when email can be shot off in 2 minutes, allowing you to go about your day whilst it gets processed and answered by the other party, it’s still time consuming and not very productive. Time is money, so naturally it’s frustrating to me.

Examples include identifying if the client really wants Flash, or would Flex be a better fit for them? Do they really know what they want? Do they support telecommuting? Do they have an existing team? Do they have existing software that needs to be fixed or are they looking for something new? Do they need code muscle or a full project lead?

Imagine the above questions either never getting answered to your satisfaction, incorrectly answered, or never answered at all. Add to this some recruiters nowadays don’t eve speak good English… huh? It’s like this drawn out state of reconnaissance purgatory where you struggle to gain even a decent clue. It’s so much easier just to talk to a client directly and/or whatever client manager I’m going through if I’m being sub-contracted.

So far, I’d say it’s about 60/40 with more clients & peers contacting me directly for work than me actually going through a recruiting firm. Additionally, not all firms are the same. Some know the above, and get me in contact as quickly as possible. Others are on the opposite end of the spectrum going so far as to do a pre-interview to ensure I actually know what I’m talking about and have the experience level the client wants. My hope is the latter will go away as my past client list grows.

The reason all of this matters is that in the end, just because I perform a client interview doesn’t mean I’ll actually get work. Part of the Consulting Process is determining the clients problem, and if you can solve it. Not every client needs the skills of Jesse Warden. Some want a Flash Designer or illustrator. Some think they need to convert their AJAX based web app to Flex when in reality, Flex won’t fix their issues and their problems lie elsewhere. Some I just cannot fit into my schedule. All of these things are pretty easily determined within a 30 minute phone call (sometimes it can take days). Yet getting to that initial client meeting is a very drawn out affair.

It’s not always so bad. One particular recruiter that I’ve know for 4 years has been very prompt and forthcoming with info about potential clients. Other recruiters have established relationships with their clients so are pretty knowledgeable of their client and the team they are recruiting for. This is especially true if the recruiter actually works for the company they are recruiting for.  This only gets better with time with the good recruiters as they learn about you, your skill set, and where it applies.

I’m just curious if others have found the same, and what do you do? Is this just the way the game is played? So far, the only way I’ve found to expedite things is to establish a good relationship with the cool recruiters, and get really good at reading between the lines of job descriptions. It still takes time, but ends up taking less later.

10 Replies to “Consulting Interviews: Getting Through Recruiters”

  1. I hear ya man… it’s kind of a let down when the recruiter paints a great picture of the client/project and then when you talk to them you discover they only want w2/onsite or they want to pay $30 per hour. Frankly, I find that when I’m heads down I work so much better remotely and I think that flexibility serves the clients I’ve worked with in the past. They say that there’s a trend in high tech toward telecommuting, but in my experience it seems the trend is a pretty slow change, not a fast one.

    It’s true when people talk about the demand for Flex, but a lot of the demand for Flex is like the demand for everything else. A lot of clients want their work done fast and cheap, not necessarily Jesse Warden caliber work. Thankfully, there are still a lot of clients out there that see the value in high quality code/architecture… enter teh jw dot kizz-ohm.

  2. I haven’t met a recruiter is willing to pass on a “telecommuting” candidate, yet. Tack onto that the fact that I don’t circulate a personal resume and I’ve never worked through a recruiter.

    Other than that, I think you’re spot on. I can’t think of any recruiters who I thought were cool, but some have been much more up front than others.

    I have no idea what my ratio of prospects to clients is; I wish I keep better track, but it is fairly common I’ll turn down a job (or refer it elsewhere) on the first call to me.

  3. I have had a love/hate relationship with recruiters, lately leaning more towards hate. Their industry has gotten extremely cutthroat in recent years forcing many of the ‘cool’ agents to find other lines of work. The days of long-standing relationships with recruiters who know you and your skill set are sadly gone. Now, I get cold calls from outsourced agents claiming to represent companies they struggle to pronounce, for positions I know they found on Hotjobs. Because there is so much deceit and misrepresentation from recruiters, I have gotten into the habit of interviewing them first before allowing them to represent me. I ask questions like ‘Do you have an exclusive contract to recruit for this company?’, ‘Who are you working with at this company and how do you know them?’, ‘Have you worked with them before?’. This definitely helps to separate honest recruiters from the predators and pimps. The main thing to remember is that your professional reputation is at stake and you have be careful who you allow to represent you.

  4. I think it helps if you think of them as simply competitors. Similar to other developers that you compete with–but with recruiters they can’t even do the job. Despite the current (real or perceived) shortage in developers, the goal of a recruiter is first to get the gig THEN to find someone to do it. Ultimately, you’re a commodity.

    I’m not saying all recruiters are asses or that they never work out. In fact, I’ve even worked through them when a big ugly corporation couldn’t hire me directly (without me first getting on their vendor list which was no small task).

    But really, don’t bother with them. Your complaint that that they can’t give you accurate info was funny… as if they cared.

  5. Recruiters are a tough one. I want to say I’m done with them, but you never know when that sweet gig is going to land in your inbox.

    The last time I was on the market I got hosed by a recruiter so I’m not happy with them right now.

    At the same time, it’s got to be just as tough for them as it is us.

    At least today you can deal with them via email and not just over the phone.

  6. Came across this site and all of the comments while searching for Flex/Flash developers. Several of the comments made for a good laugh. I have been recruiting for 10 years (all with TEKsystems) and it is easy to see why you guys have some of the opinions you do. The market has recently (last 4 years) been flooded with competition in the recruiting industry with a lot of them coming from small shops that were started by people who did not work out at other places or international body shops. The practices of these “professionals” makes it hard for me to get past the distrust with Sr. consultants. Also, there are some times when it just doesn’t make since for a senior incorporated consultant to use recruiters. It sounds like many of you have built up a clientele that you can leverage for new positions. As a rule I like to put all the info out front and then if someone is interested go from there. It doesn’t do anyone any good to waste time.

  7. Also, don’t be afraid to ask a recruiter for references. Established professionals should be able to give you 10+ names of people they have worked with. I have some people that I have moved from contract to contract for 8+ years.

Comments are closed.