It’s True: Agency Tech Recruiters Suck

Jessica Rowen

February 28, 2017

It’s no secret that agency tech recruiters don’t have the best reputation. I mean, you might have landed a decent job through a recruiter before and that’s great. But generally, there seems to be a pretty negative consensus out there. You could Google it or look on Glassdoor, but you already know.

This really comes through in a popular Medium post by Eric Elliott titled The Recruiter Plague: How Recruiters Have Broken Tech Hiring. Elliot describes the negative experiences that tech talent have to put up with and unfortunately, the picture he paints is all too accurate.

He explains that a talent shortage has left companies aggressively looking to fill their roles. Tech folks are spammed by messages, emails and calls by recruiters characterized by two features:


They don’t care

It’s not a recruiter’s job to be your best friend, but it’s painfully obvious when they don’t value you beyond their commission . They don’t have time to ask about your preferences, career path, long term goals or dream job. That’s not their concern. All they care about is getting paid for filling a client’s role with the least amount of effort, that’s it. Recruiters suck.


They don’t know anything about tech

No one expects a tech recruiter to have studied CompSci at Waterloo. But being clueless to the company, product and technical details of the roles they’re filling isn’t doing anyone any favours. By regularly dropping buzzwords and leading you through a series of ‘have you done X’ questions, recruiters lose any sense of value add, credibility and show they can’t screen properly for their clients or effectively represent you to a client. Recruiters suck.

Elliot’s post doesn’t include the many other recruiter horror stories out there – which aren’t as rare as you’d hope. These include the routine use of slimy sales tactics (example: “just show up at their office and so and so will be there to meet you!”), unapproved sharing of your resume and resume rewriting to make you a better fit to clients. Say it with me now: recruiters suck.

This is exactly why gdR exists and why other great tech recruiters have worked to set themselves apart. Now for someone like Elliot, there’s nothing that can be said to budge his ideological opposition to recruiting and that’s fine. But it would be a real shame for him and others not to recognize that there are great recruiters out there that have worked very hard to be different and provide a valuable service. Here are three things that set great recruiters apart from the “dark side” and how you can decide if they are the best agency for you to partner with.



Great recruiters are great matchmakers. And great tech recruiters are no different, they just have the added expertise to ‘speak tech’. This could come from having worked in tech directly, years of recruiting experience, or passion for tech. Either way, great tech recruiters will have a complete understanding of their client’s needs — technically and culturally (organization culture). If they don’t, it will become obvious very quickly (remember, listen for the dropping of buzzwords and ‘have you done X’ questions). Technical expertise is definitely important, but the quality that sets the best recruiters apart from the rest is asking great questions and actively listening! Just because a client is looking for someone with 5 years experiencing coding in Python to support the transformation from a monolith platform to microservices, doesn’t mean YOU, with all those checkboxes ticked off, WANT this to be your next career move. You should always be the number one priority.


Big Picture

A great recruiter’s number one priority is to help people they believe in. Whether it’s providing insights into your given industry or making introductions, the recruiter should be “in the know” and want to help you progress. A good indicator of how “in the know” a recruiter is could be determined by reviewing their website to see what they are writing/talking about or by having a quick conversation about the current state of the ecosystem. You could even take it one step further and inquire about what value-added services the agency offers. For example, do they share resources to support your career journey? Perhaps it’s even as valuable as leadership coaching and development.


Real Talk

Great recruiters believe that making money is an outcome of doing great things for people. They want to grow a relationship that is built on accountability, authenticity, transparency and trust. And you should expect it too! It shouldn’t be about over-promising and under-delivering. Great recruiters are honest if there’s not a good fit and will tell you why — after all, feedback is essential to growth. And if you’re not getting it from your recruiter, how can you improve your job search or grow your skills? Great recruiters understand this and will do their best to provide feedback during the entire process.

Agency tech recruiters do suck and people in tech have to put up with a lot. We freely acknowledge this and are intentionally different because of it. To help you uncover the best partner for your job search, here are some good probing questions to ask a recruiter. They should have most of the answers and if they don’t, expect them to be transparent.


Questions to Ask a Recruiter

  1. Who do you have relationships within the organization you are recruiting for (e.g., exec, hiring mgr, HR)? The recruiter should have met or at least chatted with an exec or hiring manager. Big red flag if they’ve never talked with someone at the company!
  2. How long have you been working with the client? Have you or your agency had success working with them?
  3. Don’t bother asking this question, but did the recruiter ask to meet you in person or at least offer to Skype or do a Hangout? How much time did they spend learning about your interests, accomplishments and skills? Was it a bunch of Yes/No question or did they actually want you to describe (and think!)? A 10 minute conversation while walking to the subway doesn’t cut it. Rarely have we seen a quality interview happen in <45 minutes.
  4. Can you tell me more about the company (e.g., leadership, products, tech stack, funding, interesting customers, size of user base, etc.)? Why do you think they would be a great organization to join?
  5. What’s the office environment and culture like? Have you visited the office? This will give you a sense of the relationship.
  6. Do you think I’m a good candidate? Why do you think they’ll be interested vs. not? Try to suss out how well they understand you. Telling you that you’re awesome because you know Java and graduated from Waterloo isn’t good enough.
  7. What trends do you see happening in our tech ecosystem? Who are some of the other clients do you work with?

Have something to add? Share your thoughts below. We encourage discussion around this topic as we work together to grow Canada’s tech ecosystem!


Contributors: Bruce Dorland & James Paik

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