I’m writing a book about how to be a successful IT Consultant/Contractor. One of the strategies I recommend to people is using recruiters to keep you billable. So you can imagine my initial reaction when I saw Bruce Eckell’s “The Demise of the Headhunter” blog post.
Personally, I think he is wrong and I think there is plenty of evidence to support my opinion. There is also the important aspect of talking about very different things. I’m talking about consulting projects where there is constant turn over. He is talking about ‘permanent full time’ employment (something that I don’t believe actually exists anymore – a reason for my book).
The role a recruiter plays in the IT industry is pretty important. Hiring managers don’t have a lot of time to spend networking with developers, When they need developers for a project they need them now. Even if they have an extensive network there is a good chance that the first two levels won’t be available when needed.
From the contractors POV the recruiter and staffing agency also play an important role. First, a good recruiter will know when you are going to be available and will already be lining things up so you’ll simply go from one gig to the next without much fuss. Second, they pay you. I’ve been burned by clients before and it sucks. It is one thing to get screwed on a side project when your main pay check is secure, it is completely different when you are counting on that money to pay the bills. Even with a good direct client you are likely to have to wait up to 60 days before you get your first check. When you go completely free lance you have to take on a lot of stuff. Using a staff agency and a recruiter (or a whole army of them) can help mitigate risks.
Where Bruce does have a point is that hiring managers are contractors are getting smarter. Hiring managers don’t want to be spammed with resumes. They want two are three top picks. They expect the recruiter to filter out the garbage and only provide the cream.
On the other end I seriously don’t want to be spammed with gigs. Emails and phone calls about exciting opportunities won’t be returned. I do .NET, so why are you sending me stuff about projects needing a JAVA architect? I live in Dallas, why are you telling me about a gig in Minnesota? Did you actually read my resume or do I just happen to be in your mailing list? The result is that I have a collection of recruiters that I actually talk to and work with. I tell them when I’m going to be available and they take care of the rest.
So specifically why Headhunters are going to be going away anytime soon is the value they really do provide. Bruce compares recruiters to travel agents. I really think that comparison was a poor choice. The value of a recruiter is their network. They know people and connect them together. They also provide business services to the contractors which help make sure the contractor gets paid on time.
Until mainframes start disappearing I wouldn’t expect to see recruiters going away.