This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Cleaning Up the Recruiting Business

Developers and companies both have complaints about the way tech recruiting works now; here are some suggestions for change.

The incentives are all wrong in the business of recruiters representing developers. Herewith some suggestions for rearranging the business so that it works for more of the parties.

This subject should interest those developers who work for others -- mostly for companies -- or expect to do so for any considerable period of their careers.

Discussions erupt periodically in the places where developers hang out about how the business of tech recruiting works -- or mostly, doesn't work. The latest rant on this subject comes from CTO and serial entrepreneur Paul Robinson, and it has spurred a considerable discussion on several other forums, with a number of suggestions for reforming a business that is "ripe for disruption," in Robinson's words.

This entrepreneur represents one side of the brokering that recruiters supposedly exist to do; developers are the other. From the hiring side -- the side that pays the recruiters -- there is plenty to complain about. Robinson observes that most recruiters are set up to produce a high volume of resumes at high speed (rapid turnover) to the eyeballs of hiring managers, in a process that is "not that different to just outright spamming me." He says, echoing the sentiments of approximately 100 percent of all hiring managers ever:

I don't want volume. I don't even want particularly high speed. I certainly don't want cold-calls or cold emails, ever. I want quality. I want really deep understanding. I want curation.

Robinson goes on to describe the Web UI he wishes recruiters -- the recruiters with whom he has a relationship -- would set up for him. For each job opening, it would have a list of curated candidates and for each, besides a resume or CV, ready access to their Twitter feed, Facebook page, GitHub handle, etc. He asks recruiters to trust him (and all hiring managers) not to "screw them over" by using this information and not paying them. (Hint: hiring managers can easily find the candidates behind blinded or obfuscated resumes.)

This rant was discussed on Hacker News and a number of recruiters jumped into the conversation, besides the developers whom you would expect to have opinions on the subject. One of these recruiters, Dave Fecak, was frustrated at the lack of positive suggestions on HN for improving the situation. He wrote a post on his own blog outlining ways to disrupt the recruiting business, and it was rerun on the Java Code Geeks site, where more discussion ensued.

Fecak first outlines four perceived recruiter shortcomings from the developer side, then five problems as seen from the hiring side. He offers possible solutions for each (though a few are "not much that can be done about this"). The major disruptive suggestion is to introduce the idea of the "developer's agent," in analogy with the way the real estate business works.

The main cause of distortion in the recruiting industry now -- the source of the perverse incentives that leave nobody very happy except for the less principled recruiters -- is that recruiters work for both the company and the developer, but get paid by only one of them.

If developers were willing to pay out of their own pocket for actually valuable recruiter services -- including occasional career advice and insight on industry directions -- then a class of developer agent recruiters could evolve. Fecak guesstimates that a stable of 50 to 100 developers could provide a good living for such a recruiter.

The incentives would be clear to all. No interloping recruiter could make a case to horn in on the fee for such an agent's placement of a developer; the signed agency contract would settle all such questions. The developer would benefit by having a true advocate in her corner, someone who has watched her career develop and knows both her technical strengths and career aspirations.

What do you think? Would you be willing to pay (say) 1 percent of your salary to a developer agent, who worked for you in the recruiting wars? Would it be worth 1 percent to you to be able to tell all the other cold-calling recruiters to take a hike?