I’ve had a lot of experience with tech interviews and recruiters in the past and I’m likely to have a lot more in the future. A non-negligible fraction of that experience ranged from “mildly annoying” to “exasperating”.
Here’s a list of real examples of irritating recruiter behaviors together with guidlines on how I expect a reasonable person to act instead.
Before we start you must understand where I’m coming from. I’m not constantly looking for new jobs. But when I do, I apply en masse and then I have to deal with many recruiters at once. Each one constantly calling me in the office or at home (what is it with your obsession with phone calls? Why not email?). This in itself can get annoying but on top of that there are other more serious offenses. I am usually extremely agreeable both in person and over the phone. A blog post is my way of expressing complaints that I wouldn’t dare make in a conversation with you. It’s also a form of catharsis so forgive me if I get somewhat snarky and don’t take offense if you personally are not guilty of the sins mentioned here.
When you contact me about a new role
I have an exciting opportunity with a global company, one of the leaders in its field. When can we arrange a call?
This tells me nothing. Everyone is either a “leader in their field” or an “exciting startup” or a “global brand”. I’m getting 5 of these a day. If I am to commit any time to it I first need to know:
- type of role (data scientist? developer? devops? junior? lead? manager?)
- ballpark salary
- skills they are looking for
Ideally, if possible, also
- what are they trying to build/do
This information is typically enough for me to decide if I’m interested or not. I will let you know if I am. I really don’t need to listen to you talk about their nice offices and what fancy university has the CTO attended. If I’m interested in these things I will look them up myself. This conversation is not going to change my mind one way or the other.
If you want to chat with me because you need to vet me before passing my CV on to the company please say so and indicate clearly what your decision is afterwards. And don’t do this bait-and-switch on me where I express interest in one position and you call me to discuss but only try to peddle another.
In short, this is how it’s going to work:
- you email me basic details of the role (or multiple roles)
- I email you back with my latest CV if I’m interested or with questions if I have any
- you send my details over the company and try to arrange an interview
If you absolutely need to hear my voice and vet me, say so. If I’m interested in the role, we can get it over with once.
Before the interview
Let me know what is the best time to call you so that I can talk you through the interview process
Why? It’s a job interview not open heart surgery. There will be a 20 minutes phone call with HR, then an hour with some technical person then 3 hours of technical on-site interviews then a brief chat with some higher-up. Or a homework assignment, then technical phone call, then on-site, then HR. Or some other configuration. Whatever the case, you could’ve explained it in the email and save us both time. Frankly, I don’t care what the format is. All I need from you is the time and place and it is definitely possible to send those by email.
I will call you before the interview to give you a heads up
Are you interviewing with any other companies? Tell me, so we can adjust the schedule so that you don’t miss this opportunity
What you mean is “we can adjust the schedule so that you don’t get the chance to interview with anyone else” (more on that later). Thank you very much. I don’t want to lie to you, so I’m just not going to tell you anything. If I actually need to speed things up because of other interviews, I will let you know. By email.
How it is going to work:
- you give me time and place
- I confirm that I will show up
After the interview
Please call me after the interview to tell me how did it go …
It went well. Probably. Or maybe not. Either way it doesn’t really matter how I think it went, does it?
… what was it like …
It was like every other interview I’ve been to. First they introduced themselves and the company, then we talked about my resume, then about my motivation and finally they gave me some vaguely job-related problems to solve and I solved them. What else did you expect?
… how did you like them
I liked them fine. Or maybe I loved them. Or maybe I thought they were boring. You won’t find out by calling though, because I’m only gonna feed you some enthusiastic sounding platitudes because I want to get to the next stage in this process. There is no upside for me in telling you that I thought the interviewers were boring and dumb even if it was true. So just don’t ask. In the unlikely event that I hated the interview enough to make me want to withdraw my application, I promise to let you know. By - you guessed it - email.
How it’s going to work:
- if you have any feedback from the interviewers or a decision, you will email it to me
- if I want to take myself out of the process I will inform you also by email
The final stretch
So I made it through all the rounds and I’m expecting to hear back from the company. You call me saying you have some positive initial feedback, then we have this conversation:
You: If they come back with an offer of £n are you going to accept?
Me: I don’t know. I’ll need a couple of days to think about it.
You: Why wouldn’t you accept it? What is wrong with the offer?
Me: Nothing is wrong with it. I just need some time to consider my options. Not very long, just the weekend.
You: If there is nothing wrong with the offer then you should take it. I need to get back to them and tell them that you are going to take the offer. Otherwise they will think that you are not really motivated to work with them and they will not make the offer.
Me: What are you talking about?! They know I’m motivated. But this is a serious decision and I will not make it without proper consideration.
You: They have deadlines, you know. They can’t wait forever.
Me: It’s only two days!
You: If I don’t tell them you will accept, they will keep interviewing and they can find someone else. This is a very buyoant market!
This is bullshit and you know it. This is not a heist movie and you’re not looking for a last minute replacement safe cracker. The job ad has been out for months. I think they can wait two more days.
One time this happened to me right after the interview. The recruiter didn’t even wait to hear from the company in question. He based this whole routine on my reporting that the interview went well and that we discussed money at the end. This was also a case of him putting me up for a job that paid 10% less than the one I held at the time even though I explicitly required that my new position pays 10% more. I only found out during the final interview.
Another recruiter upon learning that I’m interviewing with other companies got my final interview cancelled. My first interview was on Monday and the final one was supposed to take place a week later. On Wednesday he asked me about other interviews, then we’ve had the bullshit “you’ve got to accept” conversation. When I didn’t budge, the recruiter got the company to make me an offer that evening, skipping the final interview. The offer came with an expiration date on 12am the following day! 4 days before the planned interview. He even blurted out that the insane timing was because they were afraid they would lose me, before covering up with the deadlines and buyoant markets bs. That they have to resort to this type of tactics is all the proof I need that the market for data scientists isn’t buyoant at all. Obviously they were afraid I would accept another offer. And the only reason they were afraid was that the recruiter tipped them off.
I understand now that we’re not allies. We are not exactly oponents but you’re definitely playing for a different team.
So I am not going to make it easy for your team. I will not get caught up in the false sense of urgency you’re trying to create (one recruiter tried to get me to come to the office and sign the contract on a Sunday) … ever again. I will not fall for scare tactics. I will not reveal any information about other interviews I may be having. Here’s what will happen:
- you will only contact me when you have an offer
- I will take my time considering that offer - and I will tell you how long exactly. Shorter if it’s a “start immediately” fixed term contract, longer if it’s a permanent position, but I will never be bullied into committing to a contract I haven’t even seen
- I will ignore any exploding offer deadlines so don’t even bother. The only exception is if the deadline has been established up front before any interviews
It’s worth noting that I have never experienced anything resembling the “bullshit conversation” when I dealt with a potential employer directly. When applying through recruiters it happened every time.
- no I will not have coffee with you. Why would you even think I’d like that?
- I don’t need you to tell me that “if you like the job you should be flexible about the money” or that “these companies are not going to wait forever, better apply now”
- in general I would appreciate if you keep your obviously-biased career advice to yourself
- any tips regarding my resume or specific interviews are very welcome
- if you can write an email to arrange a call to tell me X, you can just tell me X in the email
If these ground rules seem unreasonable to you, then save us both the trouble and don’t contact me.
I didn’t intend to make it read like I’m bragging about all the offers I’m getting like I’m God’s gift to data science who can get any job he wants. It’s just that I’ve interviewed a lot over the years so in addition to dozens of rejections I have had several successes too. I’m only describing here the more successful examples because in case of rejection recruiters tend to mercifully leave me alone.