ALC Consulting

March 10, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Contractors

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:28 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I regard recruiters as being essential to my livelihood. Many companies will not hire contractors unless they come through a placement agency. Most recruiters are excellent professionals who really do want to match contract workers and clients successfully. The purpose of this piece is to put down my thoughts on the Recruiter—Client relationship.

Recruiters make their living by placing good candidates with clients. Their company’s reputation comes with each contractor they place, so they want you to do well. The good ones have good networking and people skills, since they spend all day trying to make good matches.

I do not know all goes on from the recruiter’s side of the table, but have worked with enough of them to know the qualities I want someone who represents me to have.

I am a technical writer with 20 years of experience, and have also taught in public schools, private colleges, and corporate training programs. I have worked as a Business Analyst and several of my projects have included SOX compliance work. My skills are pretty solid, and I generally have good reviews from clients. Most of the time, when I interview, I get a job offer. With this wide variety of experience, I can be easy to place.

Recruiters I Tend to Ignore

I prefer working with local contracting firms; ones who have a working relationship with hiring managers are authorized to submit candidates. I don’t like to work with companies who are not even in the same area code as I am.

These recruiters do not know the ins and outs of the local market. They are not a preferred vendor or even Tier 1 provider for the large employers. They have a job order they found on a Monster or Career Builder site and then have done a search and matched job titles to the req. Often, they have not taken the time to read my résumé and have no idea if I really do meet the requirements of the requisition.

Some positions presented to me (when I lived in Minnesota) by these dubious recruiters include:

    One in Detroit (doesn’t MI stand for Minnesota?)

One in Atlanta for a senior tech writer for $45,000 a year, FTE.

One for a help desk position in downtown Minneapolis at $16.50 an hour. (How could I pass up such a great opportunity?)

Some recruiters may not even be based in the US, and their companies never have a website. I generally know when a requisition has come out from a major employer in the area, since my mailbox fills with emails (often bad cut and paste jobs) or my phone rings constantly from area codes that are many states away.

After a two minute conversation, I had recruiter guarantee me a job at Nike at a phenomenal rate, if I would just give her authorization to submit me in the next ten minutes.. Her company had an in that no one else had. Since they were located in New Jersey and were not even remotely connected to Nike, I passed on this one.

Several times I have been contacted by recruiters for a job that didn’t exist. When I have checked with a legitimate Tier 1 provider for this employer, no such position has been posted.

Several recruiters have sent me emails with a job description requesting I respond to the email (skip the phone screen) authorizing them to submit me. They also request the last four digits of my Social Security number. This is a dangerous practice and goes against all the advice about giving personal information out to strangers over the Internet.

Know Your Contractors

Get to know the people you are marketing. Many skilled recruiters do good phone screens, and is a good first step. A face to face meeting is better. (Lunch would be nice.) But I (and most consultants I know) would be more than happy to come into your office and meet you. Meeting at Starbucks or Caribou gets old. You can see how I present myself, look over my portfolio and judge my interviewing skills. You have a chance to ask me more questions about my experience and skill sets.

Good honest feedback can help us contractors improve how we present ourselves and interview. I do not think it is realistic to expect recruiters to do major career development consulting, but good constructive suggestions are appreciated.

I will meet with recruiters even when they don’t have an outstanding req. They are building their network and it can work for both of us. I also am willing to connect with them on Linkedin.

Don’t submit me for positions that I am not qualified for. I am willing to stretch some out of my comfort zone, but will not lie about my skills. I can always learn to use new tools, but do not like to be misrepresented as being an expert in an application that I have never used before.

Don’t lie on my résumé. One contractor recently wanted to submit a candidate for a position, but he had some gaps (periods of unemployment) in his résumé. She was willing to manufacture some jobs for him and even had names of people who would pose as his managers in those fake positions. He wisely turned her down.

Talk up my strengths. Many IT workers and tech writers are not good at selling themselves. A good recruiter can help the contractor identify his strengths and play to them. I understand recruiters are not résumé writers, but I also am able to tailor my résumé, to a particular job, or rewrite it to focus on past experience specific to a particular position. It’s my job to rework my résumé, but guidance from a recruiter who knows the client is helpful.

Go to bat for your candidates. I remember one situation where a friend of mine was up for a position as a tech writer for a major hardware manufacturer. I had referred him to the contracting firm. I got a call from the recruiter asking me what she could say to the client who had interviewed for a tech writing job that required a heavy technical background in Engineering. They interviewed him, but had some reservations. Most of them were technical engineers. My friend was a laid-back Hawaiian who did not come across in interviews as being very intense. He had an Engineering degree and really did understand their business. He was also an excellent writer. The recruiter focused on his strengths and convinced them he would do a good job. On her word, the client took a chance on him. The client was so pleased with his work that six months later they offered him a full time permanent position. Because the recruiter knew the contractor’s strengths and style, she was able to market him successfully.

Know Your Clients

How obvious is that? I know that this is not always easy, but at least get the basics down. Get to know managers and hiring people. This is not always easy with some of the big places that have you work through their submission system. Every company has its way of doing things, and it helps to learn as much as possible about how they do it. The better relationship you have with a client, the better you will be able to place contractors (me). If you have other contractors there, pump them about the company.

There are companies who don’t let recruiters talk to hiring managers or limit to them to responding to poorly written job requests, which is a real challenge. Good long-term relationships and feedback from other contractors can help a good recruiter get a leg up when a req comes in.

Learn to read (interpret) the reqs. Like Tarot card reading or divining meaning from tea leaves, sometimes a request can be difficult to interpret. Do they use standard boilerplate that may not fit this particular job? Do all of the requirements make sense? Is this request based in reality, or is it a list of requirements that no human could possibly fill? There can often be a real disconnect between what the req says and what the client has in mind.

Sometimes a request comes through that is very clear and you can easily tell exactly what skills the client is looking for. Others are not so clear and you must guess what the client wants. I was sent one recently with the title of Technical Writer. About four lines into the description, it said, “this is really a position for a training developer.” Then about three lines later, it said, “needs to write test scripts for an application.” This carne from a large firm with lots of roles, and both the recruiter and I were confused as to which of the three roles they were trying to fill

I saw a job listing for a technical writer that had a requirement of a BSEE in electrical engineering. It’s very rare to find someone with that kind of degree doing technical writing, since engineers require a different skill set and a combination of a BSEE and technical writing experience is rare. I have also seen requirements for a technical writer who is has extensive background in specific programming languages. Again, this is an unrealistic request.

Separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.” Clients get hung up on tools and require experience with certain specialized ones. Others put together a laundry list that no one can fill. A good recruiter can make the call and decide when to submit a candidate who may have good experience, but not experience in every single application listed.

I had an experience where I was submitted for an instructional designer position. The standard company boilerplate was there asking for several years of experience, in Instructional Design. I was rejected because the hiring manager was looking for someone who had a PhD in instructional design, and she that was obvious in the req. When it was pointed out to her that there was no mention of a doctorate, she had to admit she had grabbed the standard material and had not read it carefully.

I was submitted for a training position for a large PeopleSoft rollout. My first response was that I have no experience with the PeopleSoft and so did not think I would be a good fit for the position. The recruiter said it was a “nice to have” but not necessary. Five minutes into the interview, I was asked about my PeopleSoft experience. When I said none, there was an awkward pause. Feedback from the client was they would pass on me since I had no PeopleSoft experience and the interviewer (who may not have written the req) considered it essential. It was a waste of time for the recruiter, the client and me.

Treat Contractors with Integrity

Don’t present me to a client saying I have experience that I don’t. My résumé is a truthful representation of what I have done and should be strong enough on its own merits.

Don’t ever submit me for a position without my permission. Some recruiters will ask for my verbal permission and I have given it. Others will send me an email and ask that I respond. Some use a combination of the two. There is always an acknowledgement on both sides of what we are doing and on what terms.

Keep me in the loop. You submitted me for a position, I interviewed and you got positive feedback. But a more qualified candidate showed up. This happens. It is not fun to make the phone call to tell me I did not get the job. Make the call anyway and let me know what is happening. As an adult, I can take the bad news and I respect you for letting me know. It happens, it’s part of the contracting game.

Be ethical. I had a nightmare experience with a firm for an excellent position with a major firm that was known for its high standards in the financial community. In the course of 72 hours, they:

  1. Submitted me for one rate and then tried to reduce it by 20%.
  2. Lied to me about the client’s time table, trying to force me into making a decision on the spot.
  3. Continued to phone me throughout the next two days telling me that I had to accept their offer. (I was trying to decide between their offer and another one). One day there were five messages on my machine from them, each one saying something different about the terms, often contradicting earlier information. It bordered on harassment.

I did not accept the position. I would have loved to work for the client, but the idea of having to deal with people who could not be trusted nixed the deal.

Pay your contractors promptly. Most large contracting firms have a time keeping system set up, and the money goes into a contractor’s bank account with direct deposit. I don’t worry about them. But some of the smaller ones have do not have a workable system and can’t pay until they get paid by the client. I cannot wait 60 days after submitting my timesheet to be paid.

Follow Up With Your Contractors

Once I have been placed in a position, I do appreciate communication to continue. My personal practice is to file weekly status reports with my boss (onsite) and cc the account manager. Any issues quickly surface and can be resolved. I always track my accomplishments so everyone knows if things are on track. Daily handholding and checking in is not required, but good communication makes for a better relationship.

Lunch away from the office is a nice break. If there is good communication between contractors and account managers, opportunities for additional business can happen. I may be able to work out an extension, or a raise. I had one six-week assignment last for a year, because the client kept finding more work to do.

Your contractors are often in a position to see other needs a client may have, and can pass that information on to you. Contractors are often a good source of referrals. We have friends who do what we do.

Anne Cloward

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: