What are the absolute grubbiest techniques used by tech recruiters? The Kernel talked to an established contractor who spilt the beans on methods agencies use to try and play him. He says: “On average, between roles, I deal with around 30 different agencies. Given the number of contracts I’ve held, I’ve dealt with hundreds of them in the last fifteen years.”
Here are the common moves the recruiters make, in the contractor’s own words:
“Calling you, asking if you’re available for work and telling you that they have a role or a role will be in soon. In reality, they have nothing and are trying to keep their databases up-to-date. A big active database makes them look potentially more attractive to a prospective client. It doesn’t help and wastes your time.”
The Letter of Representation
“The agency will ask you to sign a document stating that they and only they can represent you for a particular role. However, they often lie and make it sound like they have some sort of Preferred Supplier status with the end client. In reality, someone else does and they are trying to break that monopoly. You won’t get the role – there probably isn’t one – but they’re using you to provide a better palette of candidates and get their foot in the door.”
“Clients hate getting the same CV from more than one agency. It wastes their time and makes the contractor look untrustworthy. Because agencies never tell you much about the identity of the end client, you often end up having your CV submitted multiple times by different recruiters.
“Worse: the rates never agree so you can look very awkward if you ask for one rate but look willing to take another. The worst thing about this is that recruiters doctor CVs to remove your contact details and make them the sole point of contact. They also alter CVs to ‘improve the chance of getting the work’. That means two conflicting CVs can be given to the end client by different agencies making you look like you’ve lied on the CV. Get out of that one at interview!”
“Agencies typically charge 15-25 per cent of day rate as commission – as if their up-front fees weren’t enough! If your day rate is, say, £300, which is not unreasonable for iOS in London, then they are making £45-£75 a day while you are working for nothing. The issue here is that they have a vested interest in you not taking time off for any reason. You miss a day’s work? They lose money.
“Even if you have cleared everything with the end client, they can still get very shitty with you for taking a day off. God help you if you resign from a contract early. I had one woman do an Oscar-winning performance because apparently the commission she made from me was paying for her honeymoon, so, if I resigned and went elsewhere, she’d lose out.
“I also had an agent ring me up and demand I work the weekend as I’d taken a day off and he had a sales quota to fill.”
“Many agencies ask you to sign a contract that prevents you working for the end client, except through them, for a number of months after your contract finishes. Often, though, a client will need you back for a day or two for support and agency terms prevent that being economically possible.
“So you end up losing work because the costs to re-start the contract are too high for a short-term engagement. Not only that but such a contract is actually illegal – most contractors are small businesses and they are prevented from trading freely because of contracts like that.”
“If you work for an agency, you are often asked to report on other contractors. Typical questions include: ‘If they are at the same agency, are their time sheets accurate?’ ‘If they are with another agency, can you get rid of them so the agency can place its candidates in that role?’ I’ve even been approached to break an NDA and provide industrial espionage, or else face being dropped by the agency. I have never been remotely tempted but it is in effect blackmail to get you to tattle tale on people.”
The Kernel’s man in the trenches continues: “I’ve also been sent to interview for a role that didn’t exist. I’ve been sent on another interview but told to deliberately throw it because the agency had fallen out with the client.”
Bad and deceptive paperwork
Agencies regularly fail to submit the correct paperwork to clients and candidates. On occasion that goes as far as producing documents that are deliberately deceptive. The Kernel’s source says: “I’ve had agencies lie over time sheets, payments, God knows what else. It’s basically standard practice to be economical with the truth.”
Stitching up candidates
“I mentioned to an agent that I was thinking of moving and within half an hour, he was on the phone to my boss asking if he’d like to see CVs for my replacement.”
“As well as lying about their relationship with clients, some agencies lie about themselves. I’ve experienced firms who have multiple names and phone lines that forward on to a single office but appear to relate to different companies entirely.”