Why technical candidates are ignoring you

Not long ago I came across a tip by a headhunter who was advising job-seekers on how to approach people like her. She outlined why clueless job-hunters are getting ignored by banking recruiters and how to get around the problem. Oddly enough similar issues also happens in the other side of the interview table. Some of my colleagues and myself often had to ignore clueless recruiters because simply we do not have time for them. It is not that we are not open to better opportunities, but we had to erect barriers just because there are so many peddlers wasting our time for what often turned out to be worse jobs.

Job agent offer

If you are an executive search consultant looking to hire technical candidates (not just software engineers – but just about any position that requires highly-specialized skills) and you are looking to get great people for the job but have very low conversion rate, read on. I might have just the solution for you.

Knock-knock, anybody Home?

Here are some typical reasons why headhunters receive no response from a candidate.

Unknown Phone Number

Let’s face it, you are competing with credit card and insurance telemarketers. Calling somebody who are already busy without letting them know beforehand does not exactly motivate them to pick up the call coming from an unknown number. What if it is an offer for yet another credit card? Yet another disability insurance for my fingers? Wrong-number calls? Most technical people need to focuswhen doing their work and distractions are not usually welcomed. A phone call from an unknown number is the least important thing that will receive attention. Just because you work in sales and your job is to “work the phone”, do not assume that everyone else work the same way and answer every phone call that comes in. Try to approach the candidate using some other means first (e.g. email) and show that you have an interesting proposition before scheduling a phone call.

Not doing your homework

Moments prior to the call, a good number of headhunters had no idea who were they calling apart from a name, phone number, and maybe some keywords that they used for pulling up the candidate’s résumé. They “work the phone” just like your typical telemarketer trying to sell insurance. They are completely volume-oriented and have a daily target of how many candidates to cover and a huge spreadsheet of personal data to fill. Typically these headhunters will not take the time to understand the candidate’s current job profile and will not bother to come up with a pitch why the vacancy is better than the his current job. Some of these telemarketer-recruiters also waste precious phone time by doing interviews on-the-spot and asking for information that are clearly written on the résumé.

Obscuring your client’s identity

Candidates would like to know whether moving to the position that you are touting will be beneficial over the long run. Therefore one of the primary indicators is who they will be working for – in other words, who is your client. From there on, they can consult their grapevine or lookup publicly-available information (say for example from Glassdoor) and would be better informed whether they want to talk to you further. What is not cool is over-boasting your client’s reputation and making unsubstantiated claims on the vacancy. E.g. “Exciting opportunity to be part of a growing company.” – What is “exciting” – getting a bonus every week? Of course the company is growing since they are hiring, otherwise you will not be looking to fill positions in the first place. There is no way that the candidate can bypass you and apply the job themselves if you are truly adding value to your client’s efforts. The hiring manager is at least as busy as you and searching for potential candidates is not her main job– that is why she got her employer to contract you in the first place. It is your job to find good people for her and she just want the best candidates that you can offer.


Sending out mass mailers asking for résumés and salary details is a dead giveaway of a slave trader. It shows that the recruiter did not have time to collate résumés himself and thus is a volume-oriented commodity recruiter that is also looking for commodity people. Good candidates already have their résumés on LinkedIn or even Stack Overflow Careers that you can put to good use before first contact. Moreover if you are worth your salt, you should be able to have a ballpark of candidate’s salaries from their résumés – just have a look at Glassdoor or the numerous salary surveys available then factor-in the employer’s profitability.

Analysis of a commodity recruiter

More than a couple of years ago I wrote about this and it appears that things have not change much with commodity recruiters since then. Maybe it is about time I brought some of them to light. The following is an example of a recruiter email I consider as spam that slithered into my inbox. Spam recruiter e-mail

Asking the obvious

Out of nowhere this guy asked me for information that can easily be fished out of my LinkedIn or Stack Exchange profiles:

  • Current Company
  • Current Location
  • Total Exp
  • Relevant Exp

I formatted the above items as monospace to show that these are direct quotations from the e-mail. Then he wanted me to self-rate my communications skills. Are you kidding? Self-rate a skill? Of course everybody is a “10”. Heck since I am blogging on the side, my communication skills is rated at 11.

Signs of copy/paste

Moreover he asked me for my e-mail – when clearly he sent that through e-mail. Reading between the lines it shows that he only had time to copy/paste this from his agency’s standard operating procedure and thus signaling that he’s a volume-oriented (thus commodity) sales person.

No value proposition

He asked me for “Reason for change [sic]”. Seriously? He’s the one who should give me a reason to follow-up his proposition further. Moreover he wrote “Tried reaching you on Phone [sic] but not gone through” – I get spam such as these pretty much daily. The last time I made my phone number available, I lost at least three hours per week handling these clueless slave traders. He needs to show that his vacancy is better than whatever I have at that moment. That will give me a reason to change thus make myself available on the phone to talk.

What should you do about it?

Now that you have seen what most of your competitors are doing, it is time that you step up to stand head and shoulders above the competition. Do these and it will improve your conversion rate.

  • Stalk the candidate. I mean in a good “professional” way. Really, find out as much as you can about the candidate’s professional profile without wasting her time. Lookup her LinkedIn profile. If the candidate is a software engineer, she would probably have some questions or answers in Stack Overflow or have some open source collaboration in Github. Designers probably have a portfolio website and maybe some stuff over in Graphics Design Stack Exchange or Pixelapse.
  • Be compelling. State your unique value proposition. Now that you have a rough idea of the candidate’s technical profile, try to appeal to their inner motive. What are the advantages of the job that you’re offering that the candidate does not already have? More freedom to innovate? A chance to learn from the industry’s heroes? Friendlier colleagues? More time to work on hobby projects? More money? Gauge your hiring power’s competitiveness and try to rate it against the candidate’s current position. Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Maybe you just don’t have enough time to do this? Then you might want to consider getting better clients. These methods are only appropriate if you are looking for the best technical people appropriate for the job. If your clients are just looking for commodity players, then by all means spam away – just don’t expect that you will be able to attract good candidates.

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