Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Recent (lack of) Activity

Does anybody like recruitment agencies?

Any thoughts I had that the recession is just an invention of the mainstream media, determined to irresponsibly talk us into a recession that wouldn't otherwise happen, are being somewhat dashed by personal experience in trying to find work at the moment. A market that was ridiculously buoyant last Summer seems to be pretty 'dead in the water' at the moment, and my 'between contracts' sabbatical is lasting far longer than I'd originally intended!

Not that agencies are being in any way honest about the situation. Last week, after posting my CV to Jobserve on the Friday afternoon, I had 27 different agency calls, so excited about my CV that they were 'putting it forward immediately for a job that's right up your street'. Number of agencies that subsequently called me back? One (to advise me that the vacancy they'd insisted on contacting a reference for, BEFORE even putting my CV forward, had 'gone to India').

On the back of my experiences before Christmas when doing the same thing, I'm alternating between getting extremely demotivated about the whole thing, and getting really angry at the way staff at these agencies deal with people. And of course the people on the other side of the fence (the clients) have similar horror stories to tell from their side.

Agency issues aside, I did actually manage to get an interview at the end of last week, which involved travelling up to Watford Junction and having to answer such in-depth technical questions as 'What is the configuration file for an ASP.NET application called?' (which appeared twice in a multi-choice 'test' that comprised 30 questions in total). This involved some time, travel and expense on my part, with a promise that I'd hear back first thing Monday morning, if not late Friday afternoon. Needless to say I'm here, late on Tuesday morning having not heard a word, and I suspect the situation will not have changed by the end of the week.

As it happened, the job was not one that was appropriate or I'd accept anyway. And I should have taken the lack of any telephone pre-interview technical screening as a sign of how the company works, but this lack of any response seems to be 'the recruitment norm'. No wonder the whole recruitment industry has a general reputation of being 'worse even than lawyers and estate agents'.

Just before Christmas, I spent the best part of a day on a coding exercise that one agency insisted all potential candidates had to complete before they could be put forward for any possible vacancies. The exercise was fundamentally flawed in several areas and I had to send in a solution that was accompanied by a whole list of assumptions that I'd made because the specifications were unclear. In response I got an email from their .NET specialist saying how impressed they were with my submission, and would I consider helping them to grade other candidates in future when they launched a formal appraisal service in the new year?

All very nice, but as for the original vacancy that had caused me to contact the agency and deal with their coding exercise submission? Not a word! And in what's a common pattern where agencies are concerned, any attempt to talk to the person who originally contacted you with such enthusiasm is invariably met with complete silence. Email responses to queries go unanswered. Promised "he's busy right now. He'll call you back" promises made when you hassle them as to why you've heard nothing back never materialise, no matter how often you try and follow up. The whole process is extremely demoralising.

When candidates have spent time and money to help agencies who then go on to collect between 15% and 20% of all future income that successful candidates generate, they should get a far better service than they are doing. As it is all the agencies seem to be offering for their not insignificant cut, is a CV forwarding service based on the most crude 'keyword' searches.

I don't know a single contractor who's got a good thing to say about agencies. Or, in fact, a single employer looking for contractors who has a good word to say about them! I wish there were some other solution to the 'matching contractors with clients' problem. Maybe I should just change careers and become a recruitment consultant myself?

Podcast Interview with 'The Social Programmer'

Since I seem to have got into the subject of work (or lack of it!) it's worth mentioning that a few weeks ago I did a podcast interview with The Social Programmer web site. You can hear over an hour of me pontificating on the state of the industry, the Las Vegas conference I attended, and the whole HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray format wars mess in the podcast which can be found here

Weekend Film-Making Course

I spent the weekend on a 'single person' documentary film-making course. I had suspected that many of these advertised film-making courses are just an attempt to make money from naive 'wanna be's who think such courses will magically open doors in Hollywood (rather like those Microsoft certification boot camp ads that imply in 2 weeks they can turn you into a high revenue-earning IT consultant!). And so it proved to be. A lot of the equipment didn't work, was insufficient to meet the stated goals of the course, or had broken/missing bits and pieces. Misinformation was given out right, left and centre, and I don't think I've heard so much bullshit in quite some time. Very disappointing! I learnt more from the excellent (and far cheaper) Shut up and Shoot Documentary Guide book than I learn on this course, despite the instructor's ridiculous claims that he'd saved us all a year's worth of learning!

Film: The Orphanage

On a happier note, last night I went to see The Orphanage, universally praised by critics as an 'intelligent horror movie'. This foreign-language film has received a lot of attention (and a UK Top 10 position) primarily because it's been recommended/produced by Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro. It's in nowhere near the same league as Pan's Labyrinth, but it is a beautifully constructed film that's well worth a trip to your local emporium to see - even if you're the sort of person who hates seeing subtitled movies. It's hard to say any more about the film without spoiling it - just go and see it!


Ross said...

Agencies. Too true. I've only ever worked with one agency that I enjoyed working with (Intapeople) but on the whole you are totally on the money.

Maybe it is time for http://hire-a-contractor.com/ and use the Pearson Coefficient Correlation to match people up for a small-ish one-time fee. I am surprised someone hasn't done this already.

Ian said...

Lots of people have tried over the years (The Professional Contractors Group tried hard with their 'portal') but it requires a huge 'mind shift' on the part of contractors and clients. And despite all the problems people are so lazy they just prefer to carry on with the way they've been working for the last 20 years (ie pay through the nose using JobServe and agencies).

Still haven't heard back from the (direct) company who'd promised to get back to me Friday evening or Monday morning at the latest. I'm not interested in the position (and could have ascertained that if the company had conducted a simple technical phone interview beforehand) but an agency called just now asking me if I thought a similar sounding position to the one I'd been directly approached about in the same town was of interest, and when I said "No, but it sounds like it's with xxxxxx" confirmed it was the same company.

I've now sent a rather snotty email to the company, pointing out that as a matter of etiquette when candidates have spent time and money attending interview the very least they can do is thank the candidate for attending and explain that the candidate has not been successful in this particular instance.

Honestly, I don't mean to come across as a grumpy old git on this blog all the time, but isn't this basic common sense? What does the recruitment department do exactly if it can't even follow through on promises it's made candidates. Regardless of this specific position, you can imagine how much I'm likely to recommend this company if any developer I know asks about the company and what their typical interview experience is like.

Ian said...

After my rather snotty email I've received a very apologetic phone call from company xxxxxx.

Officially they want to keep my details on file for other projects because "we liked you a lot, but as you said yourself in the interview, this didn't seem like the right project for your skillset".

They're also rather pissed about the agency claiming they had interviews for this week since the technical guy who interviewed me is off on holiday all week (which I know to be true, because they'd mentioned it last week as being the reason they needed to see me last week rather than this). Quite aside from the fact the position is now filled.

Ross said...

Don't worry across coming across as a grumpy old git - it's part of why I read your blog, as an antidote to the 'everything is wonderful' outlook of the people who provide the tools that help me do my day job (you get three guesses, the first two don't count).

Maybe the reason the PCG failed was just marketing, I know I was contracting for 6 months before I heard about them, and none of the clients I mention it to had heard anything about them.

I've gotten pretty fed up with agencies too, although it is quite a while since I used one - fed up enough that I decided that I'd have more luck approaching people directly, and so far (touch wood) I've been okay. I think clients do get fed up dealing with them, being hassled by them and paying over the odds for staff - but you may be right about ingrained acceptance of the 'process' :(

I've been talking to some friends/contractors about forming a co-op, really just a mutual trust network for finding/passing on work - maybe that sort of thing really is a good idea. Must spend more time on it.

ahmer said...

my experience with agencies have been pretty good.

Jaded and Cynical said...

To answer your question: No, no one likes recruitment agencies.

Why do businesses use them when they are such a rip-off? Because the girl in HR who hires them doesn't pay that 20% out of her own pocket. And they probably send her a bottle of sherry at Christmas.

It's the joy of dealing with agencies that is part of the reaon why everyone wants to stay at home and be a writer.

I'm glad you liked The Orphanage. But doesn't it say a lot about the state of modern Hollywood that grown-ups who want to watch a decent film have to go searching amongst the foreign-language features coming out of places like Spain and Germany?

I watched the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers remake (of a remake, of a remake) last week and it couldn't have been any worse if it was actually made by pod-people.