i hate recruiters who waste my time

Early on in the game of “update something on my resume at Dice.com on Monday and get 100 phone calls by Tuesday,” I get a call from “Sandy” (not her real name) from “Geeks For Hire” (not their real name) on that same Monday; they’re out in Marina Del Rey, so I figured working on the west side wouldn’t be so bad. In the end, the company really did go through some effort to find me a job, so I won’t reveal their real name, so all personal names are fake. Sandy tells me about a job with US Search, a service that would let you reconnect with “long lost loves, friends from school, etc.” Not terribly glamorous, but interviewing in itself is always great experience, so why not, go ahead and submit my name, let me know how it goes, thanks. On Tuesday, “Jack” calls from Geeks For Hire, telling me that he’s now in charge of my recruiting file there, and would be representing me with US Search. Fine, okay, I guess Sandy got busy or something.

Jack asks when I’m available to interview, and since I was already staggering my hours at Fox, I tell him that I’m available right away. He says great, he’ll call me back with a time. On Thursday (two days later), I get an Email from “Bob” who tells me that Jack had to go to Atlanta to “take care of some personal business,” and that he’d like to interview me that following Monday. Fine, okay, third guy in line, whatever. Bob calls again on Friday to double-check I’m still coming on Monday. Yes, at 1pm, I repeat back to him, and he tells me that they’re moving their office this weekend, and Emails me a new location to meet them. Sure, moves happen, it’s cool, and yes, for the third time, 1pm on Monday.

Monday morning Bob calls again at 10am, just to make sure we’re still on, and I’m starting to get the feeling that “Geeks For Hire” is a little desperate for my profile to shop to their clients. I load up my BlackJack 2 with the address details, fire up the GPS on the phone (I <3 Google Maps), and off I go. I arrive in the area about 12:15 and circle the neighborhood looking for a place to park, and just get the car stopped when my phone rings at 12:30.

“Hi, it’s Bob, just curious if you’re still coming to the office…”

Wondering if every clock I owned had suddenly stopped working because I was sure I was still a whole half hour early, hoping to grab a coffee in the area before my interview, and he’s calling with an urgency like I’m late…

Me: “Yes, I’m just parking my car right now.”
Bob: “Oh, well, shoot, I just stepped out for some lunch with some colleagues, and won’t be back for our 1pm meeting. I’m going to call “Steven” to meet with you and go over everything.”

… and tells me how to get to his office from the street. I get upstairs to where their office suite is supposed to be, and I don’t see a door with their suite number. I walk to the end of the walkway, nope, not there either. There are businesses on each end, but everything else looks closed, unoccupied, or deserted, so I start walking away when a guy walks up on the walkway and introduces himself as “Steven,” and ushers me in to an office with no suite number, no business name on the door, etc.

We walk into an office which smells of new paint and carpet, room for probably 20 standard desks, and they have 3 desks crammed together at one end of the room, and he has me sit at one desk while he sits at another. The place is otherwise empty, even the upper ‘loft’ area which appeared to have another desk or two. He tells me he doesn’t have a copy of my resume, so I give him a hard copy (I always take copies to interviews) and he skims it really quick, then twists his LCD monitor towards me and pulls up a job board posting for a web developer role. “Do you have that skill? What about that one? Do you know that? How about that?” and then proceeds to tell me that he’s going to submit me for this particular job, and … ring-ring, his cell phone goes off, and he answers it. Tacky.

“Oh hey ‘Bob,’ yeah I’m meeting with him right now and we’re going over the job description for ‘ABC&D’ and … yeah, one sec…” and hands me the phone.

Bob: “Hey Ian, just wanted to remind you about the US Search position … “

and rambles on for 3 or 4 more minutes about what a great fit it’ll be, stuff he’s already told me. Yes, fine, submit my resume already, and let me get on with the interview with Steven. I hang up with Bob and expect Steven to launch into typical interview questions like the hardest thing I had to accomplish in the shortest amount of time, or the latest technology I’ve learned on my own, etc. I’m sure he’s going to start grilling me with technical questions any minute, ask me to write some algorithms, write some code, debug some problems, ask some Computer Science theory questions, y’know, all the stuff you’d study to prep for an interview. Right?

Steven looks at me, looks at the job posting, and says “Yeah, okay, well, I’m going to submit you for this job at ‘ABC&D’ and we’ll be in touch. Thanks for driving down here.”

Thanks for driving down here?!

2.5 hours of driving for a 10-minute face-to-face?

No interview? Just blindly accepting on my word that I know what I claim to know? You’re not going to ask me how I’d sort a binary tree, or parse a paragraph to reverse the order of words in the paragraph but keep the order of the sentences the same? At least ask me how many bits are in a byte, SOMETHING?!

I was NOT a happy camper. I got home and wrote Bob a scathing Email asking why I was passed down from the initial call for US Search, to be pawned off to some 4th-in-line lackey down the chain of command who wasn’t even given a copy of my resume, and all that driving for a 10-minute face-to-face when I was given the impression it was an actual technical interview.

Thanks for the monumental waste of my afternoon.

Bob writes back saying he’s the office manager there, and if I had another concerns, please don’t hesitate to communicate directly with him.

For those interested, here’s the rest of the story:

While “interviewing” with Steven, he tried calling the CEO of “ABC&D” twice to have him talk to me on the phone, I guess to do an impromptu phone interview. Since “William” doesn’t answer, we wrap it up, I drive home, and get a call later from Steven that William wants a phone interview. The phone interview went well enough, he explained his company’s background, how their primary customer is Fox (who I’m already working for at the moment). We arrange an in-person interview, which prompted no less than two Emails and three phone calls from Steven to confirm I was going to be there. My interview at “ABC&D” is on Martin Luther King Jr day, exactly a week after “Geeks for Hire” contacted me about US Search. Since my wife had MLK Day off from work at the college, we drive to Venice together and I dropped her off at her cousin’s, and drove to Culver City to meet William.

I get there at 11:50am for the 12noon interview, and just like the directions given by Steven, the door is locked, and I should call William on the phone to come let me in. No answer. I wait a few minutes and try again. No answer. I call “Geeks For Hire” where Sandy answers the phone – turns out she’s the RECEPTIONIST – not the “senior developer” screener I expected her to be considering she’d pre-screened me for US Search – and tells me that Steven was out for lunch, but she’d try to reach him for me. I try William again, still no answer, so I wait in the hall for about 15 minutes and finally William comes by, apologizes for having his cell phone off, and we have a great interview.

During the interview with William, I had 3 or 4 missed calls from both Steven and Sandy trying to make sure I got in okay; their calls started about 12:35 – over half an hour after I first contacted them. Very prompt… Given Bob’s call history with me, I half expected a dozen calls before I ever showed up at William’s office asking if I was still going. /sigh

William asks me how much I want for salary, I tell him, he says he’s happy to pay within that range, but he has a budget limit and still needs to pay Steven for his commission. Since I’m not privy to the details of what percentage Geeks for Hire get on salary placements (I know hourly rate premiums are as much as 40% commission), I had no idea where things were going to land. William did, however, tell me right then and there that he’ll be making me a job offer. Woot.

I wrap up the interview after over an hour of talking to William, and head back to pick up my wife and I’m only there a few minutes when Steven calls – he wanted to know how the interview went. I tell him about the budget constraint but that the interview went well enough. He wants to confirm again what salary range I was asking, so I tell him X thousand per year minimum, and Y thousand maximum.

Steven: “Okay, great. Now what I need is the lowest possible offer that William could make that would make you walk away from the whole thing, and a high value that means yeah you’ll definitely take it.”
Me: “Uh, I just told you … X thousand per year minimum, and Y thousand maximum.”
Steven: “Yeah, okay, got it, and what I need to know right now is whether you’ll take the job if he makes an offer.”
Me: “I still have interviews lined up, businesses that have contacted me directly, and businesses I’ve specifically targeted that I want to work for, I’m not just going to walk away from those.”

Steven then proceeds to tell me of a candidate who they were trying to place in Chicago, the company had bought this guy a plane ticket, reserved a hotel and car, etc., and the guy called up at the last second and said he wasn’t going to go. How nice for him – that guy isn’t me, this isn’t Chicago, nobody from these other businesses has reserved anything for me other than a block of time for an interview, but I’m still going to go on the interviews, not just jump at the first offer I get. I tell him I need a week to get through everything else to make a decision. He starts rambling over and over about what a long period of time “One. Whole. Week.” can be in this industry, and gosh, what a risk I’m taking.

He feels the need to repeat this rambling three more times before I finally to interrupt him and say “Steven, I get it, it’s a risk, fine, I’m still going to my interviews, and besides, it took you ‘One. Whole. Week.’ just to arrange that interview with William…” We hang up, and two days later on Wednesday afternoon I get a phone message from William with a verbal offer right smack in the middle of my desired salary range. I was talking to my wife on the phone though, so I didn’t take his call, and then I got a call from Steven that wow, what a great offer, I should definitely take it, etc. and when I hesitate in my response, he quickly adds “I bet I could get more money, bump it up a little extra.” I tell him that no, I’ll respect his original offer that it was perfectly fine, and that I still had interviews to consider and that I’d make a decision no later than the 27th or 28th.

I hang up with him, and I get a phone call from an interview I had just had that very afternoon at The Rubicon Project, whose co-founder and VP of Engineering, Duc Chau, reads my blog (his first correspondence to me about interviewing with them had a ‘ps’ about one of these ‘headhunter’ articles that he enjoyed). This guy asks me again what salary range I was looking for, and would I consider taking less salary if it included stock options. I told him the same range as “ABC&D” was told, and he said “Yeah, we can definitely work with that.” and promised to have an offer letter in my Inbox that evening.

Then Steven called again, telling me he got William to raise the salary a tiny bit more, $2,040 more to be precise, which would have given Steven a nice 8.6% commission provided he didn’t just bump William out of his budget range, and that William would be sending me his offer letter that evening, and do I think I’m going to take the job? I told him I was expecting another offer, that it wouldn’t come down to money, that I was disappointed that Steven felt he needed to pressure William for more salary, and that I’d make a decision within 24 hours. I had a lot of factors to decide over, and no I couldn’t commit on the phone right then and there to take William’s job.

I get home from band practice at church and sure enough, two job offers, from “ABC&D” through “Geeks for Hire”, and a job offer from The Rubicon Project.

After a few hours of deliberation, chatting with geek buddies via IM, writing out lots of pros/cons for each job, and having a 3:30am conversation about it with my wife, I decided to take the offer from The Rubicon Project. There were a lot of factors, and money had little or nothing to do with it.

At “ABC&D”, I’d be building web sites and doing sysadmin work, which granted I’ve been doing for 11 years and darn good at it. But like everything else in the tech world, your skills get stale pretty fast, and there was no guarantee of learning new technologies there. That, and William only had 4 employees including himself. Rubicon had (at the time) about 40 employees, there are more peers to bounce ideas off of, more likely to have group projects, etc., more challenging work like scalability and statistics, etc.

And in terms of growth potential, William’s primary client is Fox, and William himself admitted during my interview that as a consulting agency, he feels the pressure from Fox because of the writer’s strike going on.

So I signed the job acceptance letter for Rubicon, and sent Steven and Bob a courteous letter saying thank you but that I wouldn’t be accepting the offer from “ABC&D”, but please tell William good luck for me – and didn’t even get an acknowledgment from them that they had received my note. However, within minutes of sending it, Steven tried to call but hung up after two rings. A few days later, I Emailed William to thank him again, in case Steven hadn’t gotten back to him, and got no response from William either. Definitely glad I didn’t deal with “Geeks For Hire” after all.

Ironically, after starting my job over here at The Rubicon Project, I notice a few resumes on the desk of our VP of Engineering/Operations, with a header on them for “Geeks For Hire”, and felt the need to relay my wasted-time experience with the VP about them. Needless to say, my VP was nearly at his wits end dealing with Steven himself, and thanked me sincerely for the honest review of being on the other side of dealing with “GFH” as a recruiting company.

“GFH” comes across very professional on the phone until about the 34th phone call, then they’re just annoying. And their cheesy web site claiming they are the “web 2.0 of recruiting agencies” and asking stupid questions like “don’t you wish your recruiter was hot like me” just screams unprofessional.

Update v3: In my time at Rubicon, we hosted several meet-and-greet tech events, one of which was attended by “William”. We recognized each other but couldn’t remember from where, until he gave me his business card with “ABC&D” written on it. I laughed, told him about this “headhunter nightmare” article, and we promised to keep in touch. Which we haven’t.

UPDATE 2016: My time at Rubicon ended up NOT working on a lot of group projects, I worked on mostly solo work, but is some of the coolest engineering work I had wrangled. Ultimately, taking their salary plus stock options paid off: they went public in early 2014, I sold my shares later that year and put a healthy down-payment on a house in Colorado.