5 mistakes IT Recruitment consultants make

Like a lot of people I’ve met in this industry, I’ve yet to have a positive experience with an IT Recruitment consultant. What are these Recruitment consultants doing so wrong and why do we all seem to hate them so much?

1: Keeping out of date records

If you sit in amongst a group of web developers, in a web agency for a day, you’ll undoubtedly bear witness to at least one phone call from a recruitment consultant. The majority of the time the consultant will have got their name/details from a CV several years old. I get calls/emails like this at least once a fortnight and often the person calling me has a CV that is from my graduate days – e.g. three to four years old and horrifically out of date.

So what’s the problem? Their data’s a little out of date; so what? The problem is that these people are contacting me because they have a job and are panicking and they can’t find a suitable candidate. In reality, they should be contacting prospective candidates every three to six months to check up on them regardless of whether there is a job just to get their latest CV, skills, wants/needs etc.

2: Selling candidates the world then never getting back in touch

The amount of times, I’ve been told I’m perfect for a role by the recruitment consultant only to never hear anything back. Honestly, I’m convinced these guys edit my CV and put buzzwords in there to make it sound better and in doing so remove the bits that appeal to employers. They must either butcher my CV or never send it off in the first place. That sounds very arrogant, like ‘how could someone not offer me an interview if they’ve seen my CV‘ sort of attitude but as long as the job is targeted at my skills, that is often the case.

Having spoken to recruitment consultants a lot in the past three and half years, you’d think I might have scored at least an interview via one of them? I’ve come close only once when a recruitment consultant passed my name on to a client after I’d already taken a job. They must’ve mistakenly sent on my CV without editing it first.

3: Trying to get candidates to interviews at too short notice

When I was working full-time, and looking for a change, I needed at least a couple of days notice before an interview. It isn’t always easy lying to your boss (and getting away with it) to get time off for interviews, so if I’m told I have to be there tomorrow morning then I often can’t make that and if there’s no leeway then that’s probably not the right job for me.

4: Offering unrelated jobs

The other issue, is a clear lack of understanding of what is involved in web development. My CV does not mention .NET, C++ or anything other than PHP so I don’t want to be bombarded with emails and phonecalls for jobs outside of my skillset and/or on the other side of the country. A quick read of this blog will show you what my skills are and what kind of work I’m looking for. How hard would it be to read this blog (and others) and click on the names of some of the commenters. If they did that they’d find some very good people.

5: Asking me to do your job for you

I will happily pass on details of friends or colleagues if I can’t do a job, but not to a recruitment consultant because I know I won’t be getting any of their commission if I do. When I get emails through from these guys there always seems to be ‘let us know if any of your friends are interested’ but there’s never a statement that says we’ll pay £xxx for each recommendation. Therefore, there is no incentive whatsoever for me to refer people. To be honest, I can probably guess who the company is via the job profile and apply directly anyway.


There are undoubtedly good people out there working as IT headhunters who are good at their job. Perhaps they’re all in London, New York or California and not working in Manchester. I’ve definitely heard of recruiters getting involved in events like PHPNW conference in an unobstrusive way thus building up contacts and making friends. That’s definitely the way forward.

Even in this financial climate, there are still jobs going and people looking for work and we need go-betweens because there aren’t enough hours in the day to do your job and find a new one at the same time. Recruitment consultants need to step up their game and get involved with the community, otherwise job boards will completely replace them and no-one will mourn the loss, they would have to play games and get money from it (click to view more).

12 responses to “5 mistakes IT Recruitment consultants make”

  1. I find that recruitment consultants are all too keen to offer me roles and push me into positions that I’m not qualified for and have never claimed to be. My CV says nothing about XML and I don’t want to learn .net on the job.

    It probably comes down to the fact that if these people knew anything about programming or design they’d be doign that themselves and not working in recruitment.

    • Paul, I have that experience a lot too.

      There are lots of people in this industry who know a bit about design/development, they may be project planners or managing directors – having that little bit of knowledge helps them understand what their staff are doing. If recruiters took a similar approach and simply learnt what PHP/.NET/Ruby on Rails are, what CSS is etc – not how to code them by any means but what they are how much experience someone needs using them to be good – then they’d be much better recruiters.

  2. I find that if you mention to somebody that you are a “Web developer”, or that you code in “PHP”, they seem to misinterpret that as something else.

    I went to a graduate fair in Manchester last Saturday and got speaking to somebody who worked for CSC. He asked what I was studying at University to which I replied “Web development, PHP”, and his reply was “well that’s perfect… we have plenty of software development roles doing all sorts… C++, .NET, Java..”.

    People don’t seem to be able to differentiate between Web development and software development.

    • I think that’s true but, people get confused with all kinds of similar job roles. I was speaking to a family member at a recent party, he works in the nuclear industry (as does/did another family member). He mentioned that everyone else in our family thinks he does the same thing as the other guy so when parties happen they get thrown together and much to people’s bemusement have little in common to talk about workwise. His situation would be like me getting lumbered with a CEO of printer cartridge company and being expected to ‘talk shop’ successfully.

      Recruiters need to learn the difference between the different practices. Yes, in theory if you can write .NET you can learn PHP and vice versa but some things aren’t as interchangeable as that. Personally, I’m sick of seeing job descriptions that list every programming language under the sun because the recruiter doesn’t know what the employee will actually be doing.

    • Great article Phil.

      Kieron, I do agree with you but at the same time, a proficient PHP programmer should be able to pick up Java or C++ as PHP is derived from these. Programming is programming – syntax is the only barrier between most languages.

  3. I have dealt with numerous recruitment consultants who, as you mentioned, have sold me the earth then never got back to me. You’re also spot on with them offering positions that aren’t suitable for my skills.

    A lot of the recruitment consultants I have been contacted by haven’t had an actual job spec from their client, so don’t actually know what would be involved in the day-to-day job role. This seems to be a common trend and I have been put forward to a few positions which sound right up my street when hearing about them from the consultant, but come to the job interview and the role is completely different.

    As the recruitment industry is likely to feel the squeeze due to the current economic climate (cut-backs, redundancies and general lack of vacancies) I forsee even more diverse and unsuitable positions being pushed my way.

  4. Hi Paul,
    I am a Recruiter, although not in the IT sector at present (I have previously recruited in this sector 5 years ago), and I am sad to say that I recognise your experiences, but would like to offer a response:

    1) Quite often, consultants are working with CV’s from a database. They search the database with keywords or skill sets, and even if the CV has been on there for years, they will trawl through each one until they find what they are looking for. In theory, they should be speaking to each candidate on a regular basis and keeping their skills and experiences updated. Not only would this stop inappropriate calls, but would also build up a rapport and understanding of the candidate.
    However, this is the ideal situation, and should form part of their daily routine. The real deal is that they are all so busy chasing the sale and trying to meet targets, they lose sight of the real role of the consultant.

    2) I have faced a similar problem recently within the Recruitment – Recruitment sector whilst looking for a job. I love recruitment with a passion, and believe I offer a true consultative approach to my work, however as soon as this is mentioned, they say they have the perfect job, promise the world and then I never hear from them again. If I am not successful….. TELL ME!!!
    Feedback is an important aspect in a candidates career. If you weren’t successful, why not? This can help you improve on these points and may enable you to give constructive comments back. It sdhould also enable the consultant to go on and find the right job for you.

    3) Interviews are often down to the clients availability times. However, if you are worth seeing, the client should make time to see you. If they are looking to fill the position fast, then maybe they could see you out of hours, at a time that suits you. If they want to see you, they will be flexible.

    4) You are right, quite often the consultant doesn’t know what the role involves completely, and they look for specific languages, programmes, skills etc. What they should do here, is ask the client exactly what he is looking for, and if they don’t understand…. ASK!!! The client will feel more confident with you if you ask the right questions. When I was recruiting IT professionals, I would ask them if I didn’t understand something…. I’m not an IT professional, I’m a sales person and recruiter, you know what skills you have and how to use them, explain this to the consultant so he can sell them.

    5) Incentives are a great way to get new candidtaes on the agencys’s books, and I am always surprised when they are not offered. Even a bottle of wine or a bx of chocs to say thank you if they are successful in placing them in a job. However, if the consultant isn’t seen to be working for you, why should you work for them. If they are doing their jobs properly, they shouldn’t have to ask you to recommend friends and colleagues….. You’d be doing it automatically.

    I have every reason to believe this happens in every sector and not just IT, however, it’s not acceptable and good recruiters should always give an all round approach to the job.
    I hope you have better experiences in the future!!

    Great blog by the way!

    • Thanks for the great response there Emma.

      Despite my negative experiences, I do believe there are good recruiters out there. I’m just yet to meet them professionally:)

  5. Unless it appears like the recruiter really has considered my CV, read between the lines, and found something that really could be of interest to me, in a location where I currently live, I’ve actually got to the point where I report recruitment agents’ emails in Gmail as spam, and I hope Google’s general spam filters are generally learning. (If you use spam techniques to do your job, that’s exactly what you deserve!) I’ve only ever experienced one recruiter worth his salt (a one-man independent operation near Leeds), and I’d dearly love to write the website that will put the entire recruitment industry out of income.

  6. This is a very helpful article and i told many of my friends to read it. I have been working since 3 months in web development. I am paid £ 31.58 per month because labor is low in Pakistan. I passed the MCTS 70-515 exam in vacations after my 6th semester. It is very hard to work 12 hours but due to experience i am gaining here i can not leave.

  7. This is addressed to whoever wrote something along the lines of:

    “If the consultant actually knew about software development, they would be doing it themselves”…

    I think you would find the ones that know their market are generally the successful consultants, and they tend to earn probably between 5 or 10 times more than a software developer would, gross, so no, they would rather be in recruitment. They are motivated by money after all, hence why they are in recruitment as opposed to a career that enables one to fix computer sentences.

    Hate em or love em, they are there to make money, not help candidates find jobs. It is their business after all and candidates are simply a product of the sales process. In the words of probably one of the most successful recruitment consultants I have ever known “Candidates? F*ck them, they are a piece of meat, they are MY b*tch and if they get funny, I dump em. Who cares? Plenty of em where they come from”. Funnily enough, s/he is actually right, as morally and ethically wrong it is. This said consultant has earnt approx. £230k a year for the past three years running – therefore a highly successful consultant. This consultant is also only 23 years old.

    If you want to slate anyone, slate the industry in general as opposed to nit-picking modern consultants. This is the reality of the dog-eat-dog commercial world we live in. If you want someone to blame (as humans do, always look to blame someone else), blame the pioneers of the modern commercial world, for example Richard Branson, or Alan Sugar, maybe even James Caan. The latter is ideal considering he found his riches within the recruitment industry and is probably the benchmark standard all modern recruiters aspire to be – manipulative, a shark, money hungry with a motive, but damn successful.

    Don’t blame the consultant, they are simply doing the job they chose to do, and are entitled to go about doing their job in the best possible way – their job being making money and developing their given business. Their priority isn’t to care for the candidate. Their priority isn’t to provide feedback to the the candidate nor is it to nurture the candidate career. If they wanted to hold somebody’s hand, or care for someone, they would’ve aspired to become a care assistant in a care home. No, if you feel let down by a consultant, it’s only because the candidate entered the process with expectation, and only you yourself are to blame for that.

    I read something that sounded somewhat arrogant too and wanted to make an assumptive reference to it;

    “If the company have seen my CV, surely they will see me” (because I am that damn good and highly niche, perhaps?)

    Believe me, I don’t think so. There are always more of where the said come from, especially within the software development sector – so that attitude won’t achieve anything. Take my word for it. You’re only building your hopes up (with a sense of pseudo-arrogance, perhaps), to have them shattered by yourself. Blame the consultant all you want, but I assure you, the consultant won’t lose any sleep at night.

    If you want anyone else to blame, question why the recruitment industry is one of the most successful in the UK with respect to profit turnover. Organisations nowadays barely have a HR department never mind the time to implement a recruitment process for new staff. So who do they turn to? Consultants! They would rather pay a consultant a comission of approx. £9000 as opposed to paying a HR assistant £23k a year. Clearly, time is money, and paying a HR assistant a £23k salary is money therefore it is financially viable for a company to use a consultancy for their search and select process to save on time and money. So blame the companies you want to work for for enlisting the services of a consultancy to begin with and tell them to get a bloody HR department.

    Whinging doesn’t help either.

    Either way, I agree. This is a dirty world we live in and the recruitment industry needs a reform, but the harsh reality is it won’t get one, because quite simply it pumps a hell of a lot of money back into the system by means of tax :)

    Source: plenty of experience.

    • Thanks for the epic comment – whoever you are.

      I have no doubt that there are some recruiters earning 5-10 times the amount a software/web developer does but I think in the case of this article, about recruiters who are getting it wrong I very much doubt it.

      I think your comment raises some good points but, and forgive me if I’ve misread it, you seem to be condoning some pretty crappy behaviour on the basis that the person is making a lot of money. I’d argue that these consultants making so much money would make even more if they took the time to do a bit of research on the industry and more importantly be nice.