For about three or four days I’ve been re-reading this article on the Guardian website: “The problem with recruitment for software jobs… is you“. Not because I think it’s particularly insightful – in fact, it’s so out of touch with reality it made my blood boil.

Here’s what set me off in the first instance:

By rights, whenever I turn up to do a day’s work at this firm I should first have to beat off a massive horde of software developers desperate to work there.

Really? That’s quite a high benchmark. He goes on…

The assumption that we make is that it’s actually the fault of recruitment agents. It’s pretty easy to find employers and employees that have quite vitriolic views about agencies.

Having been recruited by agencies myself for many years, I have plenty of things to say about agencies, both good and bad. But like all professions, there are better agents and worse ones. That’s just human nature; the same is as true for brain surgeons and rocket scientists as it is for road sweepers and binmen.

But after this it begins to come out – this guy has never experienced recruitment by an agency except as an employer:

What I was expecting to happen was that I’d place my job ad and people would come knocking at my door, cover letter in one hand, CV in the other.

No. That’s not how it works. I’ve recruited using agencies, and even directly.

What I actually got instead was a collection of same-y CVs, most of which the author wasn’t able to tabulate or present coherently.

Actually, generally speaking, what you’re looking at the combination of varying versions of Microsoft Office, and agencies applying their own templates to other peoples’ neatly formatted CVs. I’ve seen my CV after agencies have worked on it – usually it bears no relation to the CV I sent them. A CV that – by the way, I’ve spent ten years refining, until it’s point-perfect. Printed from my original design, it looks great.

So as you can imagine, by now I was grinding my teeth. I can see the agencies’ point – you don’t want to pick up a CV, have to work out which agency to call – some people are busy enough that if there’s no agency details on every page of the CV, it’ll go in the bin. Where you’re recruiting ten, maybe twenty developers, and looking at a hundred or so CVs, you wouldn’t work any other way. And if you have just three or four CVs to compare, standardised formatting to allow you to at least try and compare candidates on a level playing field is worth its weight in gold. Doing this job properly when you don’t do it for a living is not easy – just twenty identical application forms (yes, forms, not even CVs) took me an entire day to work through to work out a longlist of six (and that meant neglecting my actual work to do it). Let’s face it – if you’re even remotely serious about recruitment, the work agencies are going to be doing weeding out candidates on your behalf is going to save you enough work you’ll be grateful for that alone.

But there’s more from him:

Recruitment should be a beauty parade. It should be a, wonderful, magical process of just having a procession of dynamic and enriched individuals parading in front of an employer blowing people away with their awesome coding skills and fascinating personalities.

No. What you are describing there is no more or less than an employer taking the piss out of candidates. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

To be honest, if someone wrote to me with a nice covering letter and spoke about open source projects that he or she liked, pointed me at a Twitter feed where they were intelligently engaged in the problem domain, and sent me some code that they’d written, they’d be more or less hired at this point.

Really? Someone will be “intelligently engaged in the problem domain” on Twitter? That’s funny, I thought talking about your job too much on Twitter could get you fired for revealing trade secrets – and that presumes you are even involved in the same level of business already.

And that brings me to (or back to) the main problem with this article.

The author seems to think that the company for which he works is wonderful – the non-pariel of a working environment, where the coffee tastes like unicorn tears and the fans of the office computers sound a chorus like the sweet voices of Seraphiel and Metatron with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis backing them up. Of course, Hell is other people…

So let’s say I am looking for a new job. What do I do? If – as the author suggests – we cut agencies out of the picture, what then?

The problem is that most people don’t have time to research the role that they are applying for, or the company, in anything like the level of detail the author seems to think is necessary even to get through the door. And if you’re facing the spectre of impending (or recent) unemployment, things get harder. Everybody knows it’s better to hire someone who already has a job, right?

But if you have a job, what then? You only get limited holiday time, so you have to use one (or more) of those days off attending interviews. And good employees tend to want to hold onto people, so make them work twelve weeks notice… something that’s totally unacceptable to most employers – can’t you just call in sick and start tomorrow?

In addition, he completely ignores the reason why people move jobs. Work is not the be-all and end-all of most peoples’ lives. Most people like leisure time to wind down, or (dare I say it) like to go home and interact with their spouses, friends and children – something that appears to be anathema to this author. Work is not most peoples’ primary motivation in life, but is a means to an end. Most people don’t have carefully crafted and sculpted careers, but a succession of jobs that they move between, either at their own volition or because of external circumstances. One of my job moves was because of the frail health of an elderly relative – it’s possible I might still be in the same job today had that situation not arisen.

No, there is a problem. But agencies and employees, as much as they may be to blame, aren’t all of it. After all, didn’t someone once say that the first rule of management was that “if you think you’re not the problem – then you’re the problem“?

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