Why I hate IT recruiters

A few months ago, I’ve been quite busy « looking for new opportunities ».  And gosh, I forgot how poor the IT market could look in Belgium, but also how painful it was to deal with hords of brainless recruiters.

Zombies recruiters

Because yes, nowadays as soon as you put yourself on the IT employment market, tonnes (literally) of recruiters will throw whatever they can find at your face, desperately looking for new leads. Before you realize, you’ll be caught in the middle of a shitstorm of job offers.

I sincerely have the feeling that the IT recruitment business pipe is currently broken and wrong at all possible levels and for the past couple of years, I’ve been joking and complaining a lot about it. With this post I’m aiming at giving some (subjective) insight to whoever could be interested.  Who knows, perhaps a handful of these recruiters from hell will get a better understanding of why they are getting bashed around by some of their candidates and eventually come up with solutions to improve the recruitment workflow.  Anyway it will be more constructive than going round in circles like I’m doing right now.

Also, disclaimer: this is written from the point of view of a medior, Belgian, open-source focused employee.  I can easily imagine that the situation would probably be very different for another person.

So, what’s going wrong with IT recruitment ?


Clearly my favorite type of communication for pretty much everything.  Except jobs.  Typically, among the job offers I receive via email:

  • approximately 5% actually interest me (there, that’s it for the good part)
  • at least 30% are in a language I can’t even read (generally Dutch or German, sometimes Spanish)
  • another 30% won’t match a single aspect of my profile (big up to the famous « looking for a Java senior dev with 10+ years of experience » – I’ve only been working for 5 years, by the way)
  • more than 50% concern short term contracts (generally 3-6 months) while I’ve always been occupying and looking for employee positions
  • around 25% are offers I’ve already received through another recruitment agency
  • more than 50% include a referral request (« If you know anyone interested, don’t hesitate to put us in contact »)
  • almost 100% lack of essential information like:
    1. what is the job ?  « java developer » isn’t a job description
    2. who is the client ? at least the sector and a few words on the company size and culture
    3. where is the job located ?
    4. what kind of package does it offer (roughly) ?  also, big news: « competitive salary » doesn’t mean anything

Xzibit spam

To recruiters’ eyes, emails sole purpose is to massively and poorly advertise people on a very limited set of keywords, which is basically spam.  Most of time they won’t bother trying to hide it anyway and the email will look just like any job offer template.

Dear [if it’s your lucky day, there’s your name in here, occasionally capitalized],

I’m <recruiter’s name>, <recruiter’s title, some combination of a least two of the following: « HR », « Business », « Manager », « Partner »> at <company name>.  For my client [based in <a way too broad location>][, a key player in <finance|energy|telcos>], I’m [urgently] looking for a [talented] <Java|Oracle|Drupal|PHP|.NET> developer.

Your profile:

<a list which will most probably include relevant things like « strong team player », « result oriented », « positive thinking », « excellent organisational skills », etc — just in case you’d be a depressive sociopath living in a cave and torturing little animals, I suppose>

If you are interested, please come back to me [asap] with your latest cv [(in Word format) — the cherry on top, more on that later].


<Kind regards or any other closing formula>,

<A very long signature with at least two phone numbers, the job title that was already in the email, at least one email address (useful if you dont know how to read the from field of an email) and at least one picture>

(Note that the very best is when the templating engine doesn’t run properly and you receive something starting with « Dear <CANDIDATE_NAME> »; I love it)

Phone calls

While I love emails, recruiters love phone calls.  They love face to faces, the perfect occasion for some super useful personality test, and phone calls (which might explain their perception of the email, by the way).

I’m personally not exactly a phone person and I’m really having a hard time dealing with recruiters who seem naturally gifted to have the most pointless phone conversations.  Most of time, they just want to ask things that are written black and white on my CV.  And when I ask them if it’s possible to send the information by email and eventually discuss about it later, they don’t get it.

An email ?  Why ?  Let’s have a call right now, it will be easier.

Which to me translates to

Email ?  You mean, the spam thing ?

Special mention to UK and Irish agencies, by far the best at phone harassment.  Some of them simply hang up the phone, growling, when I refuse to schedule another phone call and ask for an email instead.  Sweet.


It’s 2015: there are dozens of ways to design, redact and showcase a CV on the Web.  So what am I supposed to understand when a recruiter asks me for a MS Word version of my CV because « it’s the only format supported by [their] database » (sic) ?

Hey, we are an IT recruitment company lagging 10 years behind looking for exciting new profiles !  You really should give it a shot !


Same goes for consulting companies insisting on me to fill in their « skills file », typically a horrible MS Word (again) template document containing their logo and the structure they judged to be the best to « highlight the key points of my career ».  Even when they pertinently know my profile doesn’t fit any of their clients, they will still ask for it: it won’t cost them anything and it’s a free CV in their database, just in case.

Triple facepalm (Hogan's heroes)

This is an instant show stopper for me:

  • I don’t want to be evaluated or hired by a person or a company backing up that kind of lame practices
  • I’m not responsible for any crappy technical debt undermining their workflow
  • you don’t hire a technical profile with that kind of approach, it doesn’t make sense


Long story short: this is a kingdom of douchebags, proudly displaying the count of their connections directly in their names, cold-calling you so you can watch them sharing stupid and ugly motivationals pictures like « Boss vs. Leader », or « The most dangerous phrase in the language is: ‘we’ve always done it this way' » while they precisely work 90’s style and probably don’t intend to change anything whatsoever.


Some recruiters are lying, plain and simple.  Most of time it is either about exclusivity or salary.  I’ve also heard about cases (in the UK, surprise surprise) where they would lie about the job itself, but never experienced it.

Exclusivity: some tried to convince me that they had an exclusivity or some kind of contractual agreement with a company, making themselves the single point of contact to apply for a job there.  It generally ended up with me emailing them after a week or two of radio silence and getting a patchy and sorry

Unfortunately you are no longer shortlisted for this position.

Which means they didn’t have any exclusivity at the first place, tried to push my CV and didn’t get any answer (reason why it took quite long).  I’m not shooting blindly here: more than once I contacted the said company afterward to learn more about the supposed agreements and it turned out to be pure bullshit.

Salary: I’ve been lured by a recruiter forwarding me an interesting offer with a very attractive salary.  After I went through the whole process (during which he and I discussed several times about the conditions and salary) and finally got to the final offer, the salary had suddenly dropped below the minimum announced.  I tried to understand why and after a few days of phone calls and emails, I’ve been told that this salary was « unrealistic from the beginning anyway » (sic).  What the hell ?  Why coming to candidates with these data then ?  Go figure.I LIED

Ring any bells?

Spammed mailbox, phone harassement, stupid forms to fill in and eventually plain lies…  Yep, it sounds like the very worst part of the sales business.

This guy sounds like a sales guy

Recently, after I sent him an email about one of his employees massively spamming my mailbox, a recruitment director told me:

I will try desperately hard to fix the way we work.

The trouble is – recruitment is a sales driven environment – where making placements means hitting targets and keeping your job – which is a shame. I need to make sure we find the right balance.

Really sorry once again and hope you have better luck with other recruiters.

Definitely, the classy « head hunter » recruitment specialists, ready to leave no stone unturned to find the candidate their client asked for became the worst type of sales guys, selling candidates profiles to employers without any other consideration.

On a side note, consultancy is somehow following the same way, bodyshopping more and more overpriced junior or medior profiles thanks to artificially propped-up CVs.

What to do?

Clear and consistent CV

First thing I tried was to improve my CV as much as possible: keep it short (between 1 and 1,5 pages top), crystal clear, remove any noisy information.  I also did my best to only put it on platforms where it would make sense and keep it consistent everywhere (it’s a nightmare by the way, hope some standard will emerge eventually).  It helped a bit: I got in touch with a handful of interesting companies and recruiters, but I remained massively spammed.

Mindset and professional network

I also changed my mindset.  So far I’ve been jumping on absolutely any opportunity and willing to take any interview that would be offered to me, as it is always a chance to meet new people, learn about companies and technologies I’ve never heard of.  I don’t regret it and I think it’s still a relevant approach, but it’s too time-consuming and also confusing recruiters who don’t really understand what you are looking for.
Firstly because these processes can prove to be long, require to take a day off to meet people or take an assessment.  It can also be sterile, for instance when the process starts with an HR meeting I know for sure I won’t learn anything interesting about the job.
Secondly, I think it doesn’t help employers and recruitment agencies to understand what I am looking for, which could lead them to put me in touch with the wrong persons or even to give up on me.  Waste of time for everyone.
So now, before going anywhere, I try to clarify the 4 key points mentioned in the « Email » section above:

  1. what’s the job ?
  2. who is the client ?
  3. where is the job located exactly ?
  4. what kind of package does it offer (roughly) ?

Going off the grid

At some point I thought about stopping to work with recruiters completely: taking my CV off websites such as Monster and ICTjobs, stop answering emails and phone calls, etc.  It’s doable, but it also means doing a lot more research on companies where I could fit in.  In order to make it a bit easier, there are…

Tech communities and conventions

A friend of mine with a more or less similar profile is facing the problem by expanding his professional network through communities such as Betagroup, a good opportunity to meet new people and learn about new companies (essentially startups).

Good recruiters

There are also good recruiters out there.  They actually read CVs, give proper information, ask relevant questions and offer to meet employers with attractive job offers.  It exists, and once you find one you can’t afford to lose him (or her).

Stay away from recruiters from hell

Pressure recruiters from hell to remove you from their company’s database.  This can be achieved either by writing directly to the person who’s spamming you (but most of time you don’t get any follow up on your demand because well, you know, you’ve just answered a spam email) or, much more efficient, by reaching their direct superior (via LinkedIn for instance) and politely explaining the situation.

Also avoid at all costs dummy recruiters profiles on LinkedIn who will blindly add you without any reason.  It’s exactly like any bot on any social network and it carries the exact same added value: nothing.  The easiest ones to spot are those that put the count of their LinkedIn relations directly in their name.  This is, by the way, against LinkedIn’s ToS:

LinkedIn 500+


7 thoughts on “Why I hate IT recruiters

  1. Just a quick remark about the Word format: one interest for the recruiters is that it is editable. I have seen more than once recruiters pimping up the CVs of candidates against their will.

  2. Hi
    Interesting read. I have been in the recruitment industry for 15 years and now run my own business with my associate Amélie. I recognise (don’t necessarily agree with) the negative comments about our industry and many of them have been around for many years. I would love to have the opportunity to constructively find better ways to successfully run our business if anyone is interested.
    Many thanks

  3. Just because it’s a PDF doesn’t mean they can’t edit it although it’s often more work.

    Protip: bring a few copies of your real CV with you at the interview, give it to your interviewer if there is any doubt about what is in the CV the headhunter gave to the interviewer. If you get a chance to compare the two it can be amusing.

    If you are looking for some decent UK headhunters (or want tips from a Belgian who moved to England a few years ago) I might be able to help. I agree most are worse than useless though.

    Also, when I start looking for a new job I re-read this: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs.htm
    I don’t fully agree with everything but I like the general idea that you, as the candidate, are the one in charge and should act like it.

  4. Thank you so much for that great article!

    I’ve had a bunch of similar problemes. I am not a tech person, I think I’m less spammed, but I can imagine your pain if people don’t even know the difference between Java and Javascript!

    By the way, I love your disclaimer on Linkedin :-)

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