i love recruiters who make me realize I never need another recruiter

In my time at The Rubicon Project, I was introduced to several recruiters who came in trying to gain our trust to find us quality talent for our engineering team. One of those recruiters is who I’ll be discussing today. I’ll call him Matt Bourbon, which of course isn’t his real name. But he’ll recognize it, as will several Rubicon engineers who may read this. Matt, if you’re reading this and want the article removed, contact me and I’ll think about it.

Matt was introduced around the team by the individual who was our VP of Engineering at the time. Matt sent (what appeared to be) several well-qualified Perl engineers, among other talent skills we needed. Matt often referred to my “headhunter nightmares” pages and was persistent in trying to get me to write a favorable post about him and his company, since he was doing such a great job for us at Rubicon.

I’d thought very seriously about it, until the guy tried to bribe me with tickets to a Laker’s game. I was tempted to write a “… who try to bribe me” article but didn’t want to jeopardize anything between him and Rubicon. It was known within the company that Matt was giving out Laker’s tickets, and we were not discouraged from taking them. Still, I was unable to attend the game for which he had offered tickets, and never coordinated with him to get another ticket for a later game.

Matt kept in touch with me every few months, just to check in. There was never a hint of “I have a great opportunity” in his messages, just a very pleasant sort of “how are things” one-line Email message. He started winning me over. Maybe there was a good recruiter out there after all.

I resigned from Rubicon in November 2009, and started working with a recruiter who was a friend-of-a-friend whom I’d worked with at PriceGrabber. I trusted my friend, so I chatted with his recruiter friend, who I’ll mention briefly as “Melanie”. She found me a job, which I’ll talk about in another post. In late December, Matt sent one of his catch-up Emails, and I told him I was on the market (the new job that “Melanie” found me was not working out). He called me later saying he had an opportunity on the west side in Culver City with an outfit who was trying to combine “the social aspect of Facebook” with “the genealogy engine of ancestry.com”. He told me that he already had two engineers being called back for second interviews, so if I wanted to get my name in, it had to be that very day. Thus starting the high-pressure sales pitch.

I had an initial phone screen with the CEO of the genealogy company, which went well enough. He asked a few lightweight technical questions, and within half an hour of several dropped calls (thanks, AT&T), we’d wrapped things up. Matt called back immediatley to ask how it went, and called again less than an hour later to say that the CEO wanted to meet me in person the very next day. I’ve always done well on phone screens.

The in-person interview went well enough, even though the CEO left me alone to solve a problem that had already been written out on the whiteboard from a previous applicant that he hurriedly tried to erase when I came in the room. Too bad I have a really good visual memory, and a keen sense of optimizing code. After asking me to add some features to a Class structure I’d written, the CEO admits that he’d fired the group that had written the basic groundwork for their site (uh…), and that he’d been doing all of the coding for the past 4 months (umm…), and that I’d essentially be building a team of 3-4 other people to work under me to finish development and launch the product. Visions of micromanagement danced in my head. He asks what sort of salary I’d expect, I throw out a single dollar figure instead of a range, he says “okay”, and we thank each other for the opportunity to meet, and that was that.

I barely got to my car when Matt calls, saying the CEO is going to make me an offer, but that he wants to know I’m serious about taking the job before telling me any specifics about the job offer.

Huh? Say that again?

The CEO wouldn’t divulge the full job offer (salary, benefits, time line for building the team, vacation, stock, nothing) unless I would promise that I’d take the job.

Side note: those who know me know that I lead my life with a strict sense of integrity. When there’s a contract in place, my yes means yes, my no means no. I don’t waffle on that kind of thing.

I told Matt that I had another job interview lined up (and 2 other offers), and that I’d get back to him, but that I needed to know something about the offer, like salary and benefits, before I would commit to anything. This was on a Thursday. The CEO wanted me to start work that following Monday. I still had two other interviews lined up, including one which also wanted me to start that following Monday. Even though every detail of an offer is negotiable, I kept playing Queen’s “Under Pressure” over and over just to let my mind enjoy the irony. Matt kept telling me how he also had other candidates in there for the job, and that I was risking losing the offer.

In the end, Matt and I worked it out and he shared some details about the offer. It turned out to be less than ideal: no stock, no plan for a review process, no plan for salary increases as my responsibilities grew while growing a team of other engineers, no benefits for the first 30 days. Oh, and they wanted to hire me as a contractor for the first month, a very risky move given the CEO’s history of firing a whole team. And the company wanted to move from Culver City to Burbank, but no details as to when that would take place.

The high-pressure nature of the whole ordeal really got me turned off on recruiters in general, and after discussing the exact same position with another coworker of mine from Rubicon who also interviewed there through Matt, and talking with other friends who knew of Matt or had worked with him in the past, the collective feeling was that Matt was putting way too much pressure on the whole ordeal. From day 1 with “we need to submit your name today” through the several phone calls, text messages, and Emails pressuring me to accept the job, I feel that with 14 years of industry experience, I’ll probably only need a recruiter if I’m just too lazy to go find a job on my own.