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Working with Technical Recruiters (2014 Edition)

Technical recruiters can help aspiring or active IT professionals search for new positions, transition to new IT career paths, or take their careers to the next level. To successfully partner with a technical recruiter, IT professionals can benefit from an improved understanding of what recruiters do (and don't do), how they work, how they get paid, and who they really work for. In this article, Ed Tittel and Mary Kyle take a look at how technical recruiters operate and show you how you can benefit as they guide your search for an ideal job.
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Whether you're looking to change your career path or you are a recent graduate hitting the job market for the first time, your challenge is how to attract attention to your resume or application over that of other candidates. Working with a technical recruiter can be worth exploring as you proceed in your job search, particularly as you climb the career ladder and advance to more elevated positions.

To work successfully with recruiters, it's important to understand what recruiters do (and don't do), how they work, and who they work for. It's also helpful to know what they look for in prospective candidates because they can act as a gatekeeper between you and your dream job.

Recruiters function in much the same way that real estate agents do. A seller (in this case, the employer) has a product to sell (the job), and the agent (or recruiter) works to find a qualified buyer (someone with the necessary skills, education, and experience). When put this way, it sounds simple, doesn't it? The truth is that recruiters function as an extension of a company's internal human resources (HR) department and perform many of the pre-hire tasks that might normally be done by HR.

Once the scope of the job and qualifications for the ideal candidate are defined, recruiters advertise the position to the public, review applications and resumes, interview prospective candidates, check references, perform background checks, and prepare the candidates for the next step. Once a recruiter selects the top candidates, they are submitted to the company's HR department for further consideration.

At this point, it's worth noting that recruiters don't perform these services out of the goodness of their hearts simply because they want you to find that great job. Recruiters get paid, sometimes very well, for their services. Indeed.com reports salaries for technical recruiters at an average of $80,000 USD per year and Salary.com reports an average salary of more than $88,500 USD per year. The salary figures from CareerBliss.com and Indeed.com for senior technical recruiters are even more impressive, with the top-ranked companies paying upward of $105,000 per year, with some incomes reported as high as $119,000. That's impressive!

Before you jump ship and decide that perhaps technical recruiting may be the field for you, consider how these fees are earned. The same way that a real estate agent's commission is commensurate with the size of the sales they make, a recruiter's income is likewise tied directly to the salaries of the jobs they fill. Recruiters generally receive anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the annual income for persons they place. For critical positions that are hard to fill, a recruiter’s cut may be as much as 50 percent of the annual salary for that position.

For example, consider an IT position that pays $80,000 per year. A recruiter generally makes anywhere from $12,000 to $16,000 or as much as $40,000—simply for placing a candidate in the position. These fees are generally paid by the hiring company, although sometimes the job seeker pays the fee. When working with a recruiter, make certain you clarify payment expectations early in the relationship.

Understanding how recruiters earn their income produces some interesting morals to this story. Consider the following:

  • Moral Number 1: Because recruiters receive a percentage of the annual salary for positions placed, they tend to focus on positions that pay higher salaries. Most often, this means senior-level positions that offer starting salaries at more than $80,000 per year.
  • Moral Number 2: In many, if not most, cases, companies do not spend money on recruiter fees to fill entry-level positions. The return on that investment doesn't justify the expense, according to most hiring managers.
  • Moral Number 3: Even if a recruiter is asked to fill an entry-level position, it's unlikely that the recruiter will give it high-priority focus. Remember, recruiters get paid on commission. It takes as much effort to fill an entry-level position as a senior-level one. From the recruiters' viewpoint, the focus of effort has to be on the position that brings them the greatest return. If you're seeking an entry-level position, working with a recruiter certainly won't hurt, but it may not yield quick (or any) results.

It's also important to recall that recruiters don't work for job candidates. First and foremost, they work for themselves. Just like you, they are trying to make a living and they're going to work for the payoff that puts money in their bank. That payoff generally comes from the hiring company.

Technical recruiting is a very competitive arena, and some companies have contracts with multiple resource vendors. In this case, a hiring company may consider applicants from multiple tech recruiting agencies. You can rest assured that your technical recruiter will be submitting not only your name but the names of other qualified candidates they find (even if they were number two or three on the list) in hopes that the hiring company accepts one of you. After all, they get paid whether you get the job or another candidate they put forward is selected.

Whether you're new to the IT scene and seeking an entry-level position or a seasoned veteran, recruiters can be a valuable networking resource. Even if you don't need or use them now, chances are that you'll need their assistance at some point in your career. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to get your foot in the door with a good technical recruiter. According to USA News, it's not uncommon for technical recruiters to make between 50 and 100 phone calls per day, leaving little time to review resumes or meet with prospective talent.

To further complicate the process of getting the attention of a recruiter, ERE Media, Inc. reports that, on average, 250 resumes are received for each job posting. The first resume is typically received within 200 seconds after a job posting goes live. Due to the sheer number of resumes received, ERA reports that most recruiters spend only an average of six seconds reviewing a resume.

Career Rocketeer reports that most recruiters manage between 15 and 30 active job postings, concurrently. With an average of 250 resumes received per job posting, it's easy to understand why recruiters can respond to only a small percentage of applicants: It's impossible to respond to every inquiry and still get any real work done! Also, while your education, qualifications, and references may be impeccable, you simply might not be the right person for the particular job that they are trying to fill—at least, the way they see things.

When reviewing applicant qualifications, recruiters look for a combination of experience, education, and certifications. Which is more important? Certifications alone don't tell an applicant's full story, and most recruiters indicate that experience generally wins over certifications in the candidate selection process. That doesn't necessarily mean that certifications don't play a role and that you shouldn't seek them. In cases where education and experience are similar, candidates who hold certifications are more likely to be selected than their non-certified counterparts.

Certifications are a way for you to learn new tools, technologies, concepts, and skills. It also demonstrates to a prospective employer that you are serious about the subject matter and motivated to learn.

When faced with a list of the top ten certification programs, recruiters are likely to rank them in the following order (the order and the pay are strongly correlated, as you might expect):

  1. Cisco (Professional level: CCNP, CCDP, CCDE, CCAr; or any CCIE)
  2. PMI PMP
  3. ISC-squared CISSP, CSSLP, HCISPP, and others
  4. Microsoft MCSE, MCSD, and MCSA
  5. Oracle Java certifications: Oracle Certified Professional Java Programmer and higher
  6. ITIL Foundations, Master, and so on
  7. Red Hat Certifications: RHCE, RHCA, and others
  8. Check Point CCSA, CCSE, and CCMA
  9. ISACA CISA, CISM, and others
  10. CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Mobility+, CASP, and others

Not surprisingly, the certifications listed above are generally those that command higher salaries and/or are popular with hiring companies. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't seek certifications in other technologies that interest you. It simply acknowledges that the preceding list of certifications show where the money is. Thus, you're more likely to attract the attention of a recruiter if you hold one or more of these credentials.

Depending on where you are in your career, a technical recruiter can exert a positive influence on your job search. Because of the way recruiters get paid, they are more likely to be effective when working with senior-level applicants whose skills, education, and experience are more likely to command higher salaries.

When evaluating whether working with a recruiter is right for you, follow the money. Understand what jobs are currently in demand and what salary ranges they command. Also have a good understanding of what certifications are currently in high demand.

Above all, once you enter into a relationship with a recruiter, view that person as a partner in your job search. Make them aware of all your skills, education, qualifications, and certifications. Doing so will make them more effective in matching you to one of their positions. In the long run, it's the best chance for a win-win for the two of you together.

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