Recruitment Agents take note

A few times a week I get emails from recruitment agencies, they are are pretty much all along the same lines. The email seems to be a standard template that tells me absolutely nothing of importance about the job and gives me next to zero incentive to find out more.

I’m in a pretty great job at the moment that I’m really enjoying, so I’m not actually looking to move, but had this been maybe about a year ago (before things got restructured) I would have moved if anyone gave me a reasonable incentive for doing so. Based on the generic emails that say nothing of consequence that recruitment agents send out it is better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. And I really don’t know.

So, here’s an example of something I received earlier this week:

From: <Name-of-agent>
Sent: <date>
To: Colin Mackay
Subject: Possible Synergy

Hi Colin,

We’ve not spoken before, I’m a head-hunter in the <technology-misspelled> development space and your name has came to light as a top talent in the <technology-misspelled> space.

I know your not actively on the market and I would not be contacting you if I didn’t feel I had something truly exceptional.

My role not only gives you interesting programme work in the <technology-misspelled> space but also strong career progression route in a growing business, work life balance, supportive environment, stability and a final salary pension. <name-of-city-I-live-in> based role.

Are you free for a discreet chat about this, what is the best time and number to call you on?

Kind Regards,


<contact details>

This tells very little. She has at least identified that I work with the relevant technology (although sometimes I think that might just be a fluke given the number of emails I receive about things that I’m not remotely competent in) and the city I live in, so I suppose that’s a good start.

Pretty much every recruitment agent send out something similar. Every email I receive says the job is “truly exceptional”, “exciting” or that it’s an “amazing opportunity”. Those words are so over used that more often the email gets binned at that point. A lesson from many a primary school teacher trying to improve her pupils vocabulary is that they can’t use the word “nice” any more and they’ll get marked down if they do.

Nothing here sells me on the idea that change would be a good idea even although they acknowledged I’m not actively on the market.

The agent did not mentioned the type of company. Even if they can’t mention the name of the company at this stage the following would be useful: Is it a software consultancy? a digital agency? a software house with a defined product? An internal software department in a larger company? Which industry is the company operating in?

Some of the answers might turn me off, but it is better to know now than waste time to find out later. Some of the answers may pique my interest, which is obviously a good thing.

They mention the “<name-of-technology> space”. For the moment, we’ll ignore that it was misspelled (lots of technologies have strange ways of spelling or capitalising things, but it doesn’t take long to find out the official way).

They don’t really define what “XYZ space” actually means. There are so many subgroups of technology in that “space” that it could mean anything, including things I’m either unsuitable for or have no interest in. What’s the database technology (assuming there is one)? What is the front end technology (assuming there is one)? Or is the role wholly at one end or the other (e.g. mostly in the business logic or mostly in the front end)? What tool sets and frameworks are involved? (e.g. Visual Studio 2012, include version numbers. I’m interested in progressing forward, but if they’re still on Visual Studio 2008 I’m not interested and it would be better that you know that now). Is the company all single-vendor based (i.e. only using a tool if that vendor produced it) or do they use technologies from third parties (open source or commercial)?

There is nothing about training in the description they’ve provided. That would be a big bonus to me. I already spend in the region of £2000 a year keeping myself up-to-date (books, on-line videos, conferences, etc.), it would be nice to find an employer that is genuinely interested in contributing in that area beyond buying occasional books or giving me the occasional day-off outside of my annual leave to attend a conference that I’m already paying for. After all, they are the ones benefiting from all that training. However, occasionally emails do mention training, but it is sometimes couched in language that suggests a reluctance (e.g. “as an when required by the business”), but it’s there because the company or agent knows it will attract potential candidates if they mention training.

If the prospective company doesn’t provide training then I’d remind them that it is “Better to train your developers and risk they leave, than keep them stupid and risk they stay”. If the prospective company has a really negative view to training then I really wouldn’t want to work for them – I have already worked with a company that seemed to proactively provide disincentives for any sort of training.

Finally, there is no mention about salary. While, on the whole, I’m more interested in other things, I do have a mortgage to pay. If the salary won’t cover my bills with enough left over for a nice holiday (it’s no fun sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle on days off) then that would be a showstopper even if all other things were perfect.

Also, stating salary as “£DOE” or “£market rate" is equally useless. Companies have a budget. They might say “£DOE” (depending on experience), but if it goes above their budget then that’s all they are going to offer. If that is not enough then it is better to know that up front than later on.

I’ve also been in situations where I’ve felt that the recruitment agent knew my salary expectation wasn’t going to fly with the hiring company, but strung me along for a bit until finally saying that they rejected my CV. It would be better to let potential recruits know up front without wasting everybody’s time.

While providing more information up front might reduce the interest from some potential candidates, at least they are not going to waste their valuable time and the recruitment agent’s valuable time pursuing something that is not going to come to anything. On the other hand, providing more information might be the catalyst to getting someone who is not actively looking to sit up and think about making that change.

Certainly, if I keep receiving the generic emails like the one above, especially that acknowledge I’m not actively looking, then I’m never going to look unless my current employer does something to make me question why I am there.


  1. Colin,

    I totally agree with everything you are saying here. The recruitment agency world seems to be flooded with a bunch of sales people that have no idea (and no interest) in the “space” that they are recruiting in. This means that they are nothing more than a middle man that doesn’t even understand the language at either end of the conversation except for the part that starts with the pound sign.

    What I would be quick to point out though is that the level of service that you get in recruitment is nothing to do with the agency that they work for and everything to do with the agent them-self.

    I have used a particular recruitment agent who specialises in software development and just happens to be local to me. I have kept in contact with her as she moved between different agencies and will continue to do so. She seems to have a pretty good top level understanding of the what the different technologies are used for and seems to want to learn about technologies she hasn’t come across before.

    Unlike most recruitment agents I have interacted with, she has come to realise that us developers really don’t like the wide-boy sales approach pushing the dream using words that mean nothing and want to know things like what methodologies they use and what source control they use.

    When I am looking to find a new job, working for the right company and getting information that isn’t smothered with sales bias is very important to me so there is only one agent that I send my CV to because I know that my CV won’t be misused (e.g. use to prospect potential jobs for the agency) and I will only get job roles that suit me.

    My advice to anyone looking to find new jobs in the future is to quiz your recruitment agents to find out if they are even worth talking to. And if you find one that at least doesn’t pretend to know everything and seems trustworthy….stick with them.

  2. Gill Durham says:

    Dear Colin,

    Thanks for this blog, I have been in recruitment for several years now and I’m first to admit your article has made me sit up and think.

    I’m honest and I have been known to send out the odd generic emails to my database. It’s a quick hit to those who are currently seeking a new role and therefore have signed up to get emails about current live vacancies that might interest them. I only send to active candidates and my emails normally start with; you are on my database because you are looking for a new role, let me know if this has changed!

    I’m honest and have also been known to send out a wee LinkedIn invite on the back of a person’s skillset looking right but that’s because they have said they are looking for career opportunities.

    I have also sent out emails saying “do you know anyone who might be looking?” as Scotland is a growing community of developers (very talented I might add) and you always know someone who might be keen to know more. Have had some wonderful referrals!

    Software development in Scotland is really popular with many companies eager to engage with the engineers and most of the time they don’t have the time or resources to recruit themselves so they come to people like me.

    Having come from an IT background (BA and tester for my sins) I have a fair understanding having worked along the years with developers on their career path, I like to think I do the best I can for them. Generic emails are just that, Generic. Agents or consultants shouldn’t really have your details unless you are on some database somewhere when you were looking. It’s not the best approach but sometimes it’s all we might have.

    I’m actually in the midst of writing my own blog about how to avoid the cowboy recruiters as they do give hard working folk like me a bad name. Please don’t tar us all with the same brush. I work very hard for the candidates and my clients and hope to continue to do so for many more years.

    My advice would be delete those emails or email back and get your details removed. When you are looking to move on stick to recruiters that are recommended. Meet your recruitment partner if possible and most of all stay in control of your CV. I won’t go into people who let it get spammed as that a whole different story.

    Your blog is brilliant and has made me think about how I do things.
    Old dog new tricks!

    1. “My advice would be delete those emails or email back and get your details removed.” – This is easier said that done in some situations. In one case a recruitment agency took 18 months to remove my details after asking nicely. It was only when I said that if they hadn’t complied in X days I’d be reporting them to the Information Commissioners Office did they finally comply.

      In another case, I responded to a LinkedIn request from someone at another recruitment company that I wasn’t interested only to discover within about 2 weeks that I was now on their database and I was getting emails from this person’s colleagues. I had not given permission for this.

      “Please don’t tar us all with the same brush.” I tied not to do that with this post. I did say things like “Pretty much every recruitment agent” rather than simply “Every recruitment agent”. I know it is not a big distinction, but from my point of view, and that of my peers it does appear to be all, or near enough.

      “stay in control of your CV. I won’t go into people who let it get spammed” again, this is sometimes easier said than done, see above. And also I know of cases when a colleague’s CV landed on the desk of a friend of mine. My friend was not actively hiring at that time, but a recruitment agent they’d used in the past speculatively sent CVs along. My colleague thought there was genuinely a job there. They were doing their best to keep control of their CV, but some agents (the very worst) are downright dishonest and manipulative. Luckily I could relay the reality between the two. The problem then arose that when a suitable job did arise the dishonest agent was likely to raise hell if they didn’t get their fee (it was within some time-limit in an existing contract) so my colleague was, for political reasons, passed over that time. Luckily he got a job elsewhere, but it becomes incredibly unfair on the candidate that because of a rogue agent their chances at a job with a certain company are dashed.

  3. Gill Durham says:

    hi there
    Sounds like the stripped suit sales brigade. There are EAA regulations in place to protect candidates and give recruiters legal responsibilities. Report those that break them. These horror stories fill me with dread but I suppose there are always the bad with the good.

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