The best recuiter I never had

Today I spoke with a recruiter I’ve known for several years. Every time we’ve spoken, she has talked with me warmly, and expressed a lot of interest in my life, not just with what technical projects I’ve worked on. She has taken me to lunch, and even sent me a Christmas card with a personal note attached along with a message very relevant to me personally. The thing is, she has never placed me on a contract or made a dollar off of me, yet she’s continued to invest in this relationship over the long-term even times when I’ve said that I’m booked up for the year. Yes, she is the best recruiter I never had (place me on a project).

When I compare her approach to the hundreds of others I’ve had contact with in a time period lasting over a decade in the Minneapolis software market, she stands out to me in a way that makes it difficult to believe that she and other recruiters are doing the same job. And in fact, technically they aren’t.

She is relationship building the way quality relationships of any type happen: slowly, patiently, over long periods of time, many times with outcomes less than ideal. Compared to the brief, transactional, fake approach that most recruiters use; her’s is a unique way of working. And that’s sad.

The others are making a common mistake regarding others. The mistake is having a mindset of “what can I get out of this?” instead of “what can I put into this?” There’s risk involved in investing time if nothing ever comes from it. But there’s also risk involved in treating interactions as business-like, impersonal, self-serving, or a matter of convenience & superficiality.

What’s the risk?

For example, every time I’ve had to work with a recruiter–and this isn’t unique to me–I feel that the percentage of my bill rate that goes to the agency is a painful pill to swallow. As I grew in my experience and learned more about the industry, I consistently found ways of securing work without using recruiters and felt much happier about it. I didn’t want some person who did nothing but talk about how great their company is and showed no interest in me at all other than what technical skills I have, to make a significant cut of my earnings, no matter how hard they worked to close the deal. I felt this way because it was clear it was all about the money and not about me at all. It conveys a spirit of being unappreciative, lacking gratitude, and a lack of respect. Inevitably, the entire recruiting industry grew to have a very negative reputation among almost everyone in the industry who used them. By risking not investing in individuals and quality relationships, an entire industry made the people they depend upon for income feel animosity toward them. Essentially, those being recruited reflected those negative feelings back onto the industry.

Seeing the person in front of you

However, if my favorite recruiter, who has been so thoughtful and persistent–even while having never made a penny off of me–ever found me a contract, as long as I was making my rate, I wouldn’t care if she was making a killing. In fact, I would want her to make a killing for how dedicated she has been while building the relationship and investing in it over the years. The difference in her approach and others is that she sees the real me, treats me like I’m a real person, and has believed in me. I can’t say the same thing about any other recruiter I’ve worked with, although one or two others have come close.

What is the essence of this approach?

  • Foster the relationship first.
  • Talk to the other person like they are a person, not an opportunity, resource, or object.
  • Don’t pressure the other person, but keep in touch.
  • Understand what’s important to that person, (don’t just ask about what you need to make a sale).
  • Listen more than you talk, and listen actively.
  • Believe in the person (not just their skillset).
  • Get in touch even when you have no other reason than to foster the relationship.

What if we treated all of our relationships this way?

If this sounds simple, it only sounds simple because few in the recruiting industry are doing this. But is it really just the recruiting industry? No. It’s across the board in our professional and personal relationships. People are in a rush to accomplish goals and do the things they need to do. Who has time to notice others, people we really don’t know? We barely have time to notice our own loved ones as we dash about running errands, making appointments, and frantically checking social media. I will guess that if each one of us had one friend who consistently exhibited the skills listed above, we’d likely consider them a best friend, and a cherished part of our life.

The thing is, you can’t exhibit these behaviors with everyone you know casually or whose resume you have access to. We don’t have time to build relationships like this with our 500 Facebook friends or 150 Twitter followers. We have this much time to foster these types of relationships with a select few. And those select few are worth more than a database of contacts or a thousand social media likes. I’m not suggesting that people don’t hustle, build lists of contacts, or followers, we have to do all of that in this world. But when it comes time to make human contact, make sure it’s human contact. Express warmth, gratitude, and respect toward the person that you clearly need. Hopefully, they will do the same. If they don’t, that says a lot about them and you have to ask if you’re certain you want to spend your time investing in them.

Right now, think about someone you value and see if you can start building a relationship with them using the approach I described. Do it for a year and notice if anything changed with the relationship, or maybe even with yourself. Even if the outcome isn’t what you hoped, I wager that you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the other relationships in your life.

And O.A., if you’re reading this, thanks for the inspiration for this post.

Take care,
Ian Felton - The Coder Counselor

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

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