Characteristics of good recruiters

I’ve written some articles about spam recruiters. To put it very bluntly, spam recruiters are evil. They do not work for your best interests; they are just looking to make a buck. And it’s a pervasive problem. Do a Google search for “recruiter spam” and take a look at all the hits that come up. Quite frankly, I hate them. I’ve had bad experiences with them. I’ve done plenty of ranting about them. Every time I get an email from a spam recruiter, it goes right into the trash.

“Okay, Ray,” you might say. “We get it. You hate recruiter spam. So what do you think makes a good recruiter?”

That’s a fair question. Let’s talk about that.

I’ll say that I have a number of friends who are recruiters. I have very good relationships with many of them. There are many good recruiters out there who make good networking contacts. I can easily drop them a line to say “what’s up?” Every now and then, they’ll send messages like, “I’m looking to fill such-and-such position. Can you help me out?” If I know someone, I’ll gladly pass names along. If I have a good relationship with a recruiter, I make sure that I maintain it — even if I’m not actively looking for a new position.

So in my mind, here are some of the things that make a good recruiter.

  • A good recruiter takes the time to get to know you. As I wrote before, networking is about relationships. (S)he will sit down with you and ask what you want in an ideal position, how you work, your strengths, what you like, and so on. (S)he will also critique your resume and provide some advice based on what you tell him or her. More often than not, these discussions are more conversational, not necessarily a full-blown interview (although it might not hurt a prospective candidate to treat it as such).

    In my consulting position, I regularly have lunch with my consulting firm contact — who is himself a recruiter — about every couple of months. We’ll discuss a variety of things — how’re things going, what’s going on, etc. I enjoy these conversations that I have with him; they make me feel as though he’s looking out for me — which he is.

    Simply put, a good recruiter looks to establish a relationship with you. You are not just another number to him or her.
  • A good recruiter is honest with you. I’ve had conversations with recruiters who’ve said, “I don’t have anything that’s a good fit for you right now.” That’s okay. If (s)he doesn’t have a position that’s a good match for me, then it is what it is. (S)he will not try to force you into a position that is not a good fit.

    I have a friend — a recruiter — who is brutally honest with her clients. She has given me comments about my resume and job hunt activities in the past that I haven’t necessarily wanted to hear, but when it came down to it, I realized that she was often right. She doesn’t want to steer her clients wrong, and wants to make sure they end up in a good situation. I have some friends who’ve been placed by her, and they all attest that she is a great recruiter.
  • A good recruiter doesn’t spam you. Rather, (s)he’ll ask for favors. I often get emails from my recruiter friends saying something like, “we are looking to fill (insert name of position here). If you’re interested, or if you know someone, please let me know.”

    What’s the difference between this request and a spammer? These emails come from people with whom I have an established relationship. As I’ve written before, networking is bidirectional and symbiotic. They’ve helped me with my job search. In turn, they’re likely looking for a favor from me. Maybe I know someone who can help them. And as I wrote above, they’ve taken the time to get to know me. They know what I look for, and they know the kind of professionals with whom I likely associate. Contrast that to spam recruiters, who send you emails based on keywords that they find in your resume or your LinkedIn profile. A legitimate recruiter is someone with whom you’ve established a measure of trust.

    Speaking of trust…
  • A good recruiter is someone you trust. Can you trust that a recruiter acts in your best interest? Is (s)he someone you feel is reliable? Do you feel comfortable talking to your recruiter? If you’re looking for a position, do you feel that (s)he will place you in the best possible position? Is (s)he open and honest with you? Do you accept his or her feedback?

    If the answer to these is yes, then you have a good recruiter you can trust.

These are some of the characteristics that I feel make a good recruiter (and if you have any more that I’ve left out, feel free to add them below in the comments section). Good recruiters are good people with whom to establish relationships — even if you’re not looking for a job — and may very well be some of the best networking contacts you could have.

Paying it forward

Once upon a time, I wanted to be the rockstar in pretty much anything and everything I did, whether it was my job, my extracurricular activities, or my relationships.  I wanted the glory and the recognition.  More importantly, I wanted to be respected for whatever I did.  In my youth, I thought that demonstrating that I was good at whatever I did was the path to glory.

But now that I’m older, that perspective has changed.  I no longer need (or, sometimes, even want) to be the rockstar.  These days, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping someone else become the rockstar. While I still try to perform well in whatever I do, it’s more important to me to help everyone around me be better.

This has become a passion of mine. It’s why I’m so passionate about speaking at SQL Saturday. It’s why I take such an interest in technical communication, writing, training, and mentoring. It’s why I continually encourage people to be better. It’s even one of the major reasons why I maintain my ‘blog. While it’s important to make myself better in whatever I do, I think it’s also equally important to make people around you better as well.

I’ve had a number of opportunities to give something back. For the past couple of years, I’ve taken part in a program by my alma mater, Syracuse University, specifically the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS).  They sponsor a “job shadow” program in which current students are paired with alumni working in various industries. The program typically takes place during winter break, between the fall and spring semesters.

Unfortunately, I work in a data-secure office, so an office shadow tends to be out of the question. (I don’t think students would really be interested in seeing me sit at a desk all day, anyway.)  In lieu of a job shadow, the university suggests other ways to interact with students — over a cup of coffee, lunch, and so on. For the past couple of years, I’ve offered to take students out to dinner. It offers a nice, relaxed atmosphere to chat, not to mention that, since I usually don’t have any commitments after dinner, I’m not constrained by time; I don’t have to worry about being back in the office by a certain time.

I’ve found numerous other ways to pay it forward. During one unemployment stint, I found a part-time position as an instructor at a local business school to hold myself over. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching so much that, even after I found gainful full-time employment, I continued with the teaching job for a few more years. I am heavily involved with my local SQL user group. By giving back to my user group, I can help other people with the same interests. I also wrote a while back about some of my networking activities in which I was able to give back. When you network, you have multiple avenues in which you can pay it forward.

As an old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Improvement doesn’t just mean making yourself better. It also means making everyone around you better as well. When you help other people succeed, then we all succeed.

Ranting my frustration about connect requests

This article may seem to go against one of the things that I preach in my ‘blogging presentation, and that is to avoid frustrated rants and “getting it out of your system.” Maybe I should be a little more specific. One should avoid mindless rants in which you angrily spew your passions without any thoughts, and in which you say things that you’ll later regret.

Yes, this article is a rant. However, it is not without thought, and there is a purpose to this post.

As many of my regular followers (both of you) are likely aware, I write and present primarily on professional development topics. I’m not as technically sharp as I once was, but I still contribute to groups such as PASS and SQL Saturday in the form of “soft” topics that are of interest to industry professionals. I’ve started using this analogy during my presentation introductions: “when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Saturday, I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.”

Among other things — and if you follow my ‘blog and my presentations, you probably already know this — I write a lot about networking. These days, networking is the lifeblood of one’s career path.

However, there is a difference between networking and connecting. Therein lies the heart of my rant. I’ve written before about people who don’t give a crap about actual networking, as well as spam recruiters.

I still get connect requests from these people, and it frustrates me to no end. So with that…

<Rant>
  • If I don’t know who you are, tell me how we’re connected!!! I get a lot of LinkedIn requests from people whom I don’t know from Adam. Some might be people I’ve met from my user group or at a SQL Saturday, but if I’m not friends with you, I didn’t invite you to connect, I don’t interact with you on a semi-regular basis, or we don’t have some kind of common relationship (more on that below), chances are that I’m not going to know or remember who you are. I do NOT connect with random strangers that I don’t know. If you tell me how we’re connected, then I will be happy to connect with you. But if you send me a cold-connect request with no explanation whatsoever — or worse, send me a message where you kiss my ass without explaining how we’re connected (I’ve had that happen before) — then there is about a 98% chance* that I will delete your request. (And if you try to kiss up to me, insult my intelligence, or try to sell me something, that shoots all the way up to 100%.)

    (*If I recognize where you’re from, then there’s a slight chance that I might at least retain the request, not delete it altogether. But if I don’t know you, I still won’t connect until you tell me who you are. Don’t make me have to work to figure out who you are.)
  • I am NOT in a contest to see if I can get the most connections. So you have 3000+ connections. That’s great. But if you ask me for a recommendation, will I know anything about you? Networking is about relationships. If I need a favor (for example, let’s say I lose my job and am looking for a new one), are you willing to help me out? Or are you looking for something for me and are not willing to give anything back? If the answer no to the first question and yes to the latter, then don’t even bother with me.
  • We don’t have to be friends. We just need to have something in common. I don’t expect to be buddies with all my networking connections. Many of these people I will likely not recognize if I bumped into them on the street. Some might even be people with whom I have some kind of conflict. But if we’re both members of the same “family” (e.g. my alma mater, my fraternity, my gym, #SQLFamily, etc.), then I’m more likely to connect with you. If we’re friends, great, but having a networking relationship with acquaintances is okay.

And I have a special rant regarding spam recruiters. I hate spam recruiters passionately. (I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter — if you really want to hear more about it, I talk about it in the link.) They give legitimate recruiters a bad name. All of the above bullet points about connecting apply, along with these points.

  • I will NOT relocate. If you try to sell me a position that requires me to move, consider your message deleted immediately. I have a home and a life. I have roots where I am, and I will NOT pull them up unless I desperately have to do so. I will NOT even look at any message that tells me about a job in someplace I’ve never heard of or located hundreds of miles from where I live. Every time I see a message like that in my inbox, it goes straight into the trash. I won’t even bother reading what it says.
  • Don’t even bother contacting me about sales or help desk call positions. Although I’m open-minded enough that I’d look into nearly any job depending on the circumstances, there are some positions in which I have absolutely zero interest. I have no interest at all in any type of sales associate or help desk call* position, and I state that very clearly in my LinkedIn overview. (There are a number of other positions as well, but those are the ones about which I get the most emails.) I don’t even know what on my resume says that I have any kind of interest in either position.

    (*I might consider a position that involves managing or supporting a help desk, but again, it depends on the circumstances.)
  • No growth? No dice. I’m always looking to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the ladder (although it could mean that). It means improving myself, learning new skills, and possibly even furthering my education. If you don’t offer that, chances are that I won’t budge.

Having gotten that out of my system, I do have some points for legitimate recruiters (some of whom are my friends).

  • I am not actively looking for a position (at least not as of this article), but I do look passively. If something that looks interesting drops in my lap, I’d be stupid to at least not look into it. And if it’s something that works for me — whether it’s an increase in salary or an upward move — then who knows?
  • No, I won’t relocate, but… I do enjoy traveling, so I give bonus points for a position in which I get to do some traveling. Also, I would consider a position where I can work from home full-time, even if the prospective employer is located hundreds of miles away.
</Rant>

Okay. That’s out of my system. I feel better now.

SQL Saturday #855, Albany — the debrief

This past weekend, we (the CASSUG user group) hosted our sixth SQL Saturday. I’ve attended dozens of SQL Saturdays, but the ones that we hold in my own backyard are always the most special to me. This is one of my favorite events of the entire year, and I look forward to it each summer.

At the speaker’s dinner on Friday night!

I’ll start by talking about my own presentations, which took place in the afternoon (I was scheduled for the last two time slots of the day). My first talk was a lightning talk about business cards. (If you want to know about what I presented, check out my ‘blog article — it pretty much outlines what I talked about.) Mine was one of seven talks, along with talks by Bryan Cafferky, Andy Yun, Deborah Melkin, Michelle Gutzait, Taiob Ali, and Paresh Motiwala. Besides my own talk, I was able to catch the first five talks (unfortunately, I had to leave to prepare for my presentation, so I missed Paresh’s — but that’s okay, because he gives a terrible talk, anyway*), and I can tell you that every one of them was an awesome presentation. I loved every single one of them.

(*ed note: I’m kidding, Paresh! You know I love you!)

I get ready to do my presentation

All kidding aside… immediately after the lightning talks session, I had my own full-length presentation to do. I debuted a brand-new presentation about ‘blogging. For the most part, it went well, but it isn’t perfect. I did get a couple of comments back saying that they were expecting more about the career aspect of ‘blogging. Apparently, they were looking for a direct link between ‘blogging and career. The idea of my presentation is that ‘blogging can enhance your professional profile and well-being, but apparently, that didn’t come across in my presentation. I’m scheduled to give this talk again in Providence next month, so I’ll have to figure out what tweaks I need to make between now and then.

Other than that, I attended two other sessions: Matt Cushing’s networking presentation, and Thomas Grohser’s interviewing presentation. I’ve attended both presentations before, and they are both great sessions; if you ever have a chance to attend either presentation, I recommended them highly! Tom asked me to attend his; when I attended his previous sessions, he liked my questions and commentary so much that he asked me to come back to ask the same questions and make the same comments — for the benefit of others in attendance. For Matt’s session, it was more a matter of personal pride. He has given the presentation (I think it’s been) six times, and I have been to all six! It’ll be seven for seven next month; he’s coming back to Albany to give his presentation at our user group meeting!

SQL Saturday isn’t possible without the help of volunteers!

I had to skip out on the second round of sessions to pick up more ice (which was especially critical, since it was the hottest day of the year so far). I didn’t just speak at Albany SQL Saturday; I also served as a volunteer. As I’ve written before, SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event, and they wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers who do the behind-the-scenes dirty work, such as setting up, manning the registration tables, making coffee, cleaning up, assembling attendee bags, and all the little things that help make the event go (such as picking up more ice for the coolers). Volunteers are the unsung heroes of SQL Saturday, so if you ever attend an event, make sure that you show them your appreciation!

A few of us went out for ice cream after the speaker’s dinner!

There were many other aspects of SQL Saturday that made it fun — and are among the many reasons why it is one of my favorite events of the year! I didn’t even mention the speaker’s dinner on Friday night, the after-party on Saturday after it was all over, and the great time I had with many friends whom I often only get to see at these events!

SQL Saturday is a lot of hard work and effort, but it is well worth it! It isn’t just about the data sessions and free training; it’s also about networking, talking to vendors, making friends, and having fun! If you ever get to a SQL Saturday near you, I highly recommend it!

I’m a twit… I mean, I’m on Twitter

Okay, I’m a lemming. I finally caved.

For years, I’ve assiduously avoided Twitter. As I’ve been telling people, “I refuse to twit (sic).” I’ve never felt the need for it, I’ve never felt compelled to join it (to be honest, the hype surrounding it did more to repel me from it than make me want to use it), and I’ve been trying to stay away from it. It was enough that I was already on Facebook (and, for professional reasons, LinkedIn). I didn’t feel any need to join the Twitterverse.

Events over the past few weeks changed that. First, as I announced earlier this month, I was accepted to speak at PASS Summit. Second, I finally succumbed to peer pressure from friends such as Deborah Melkin and Matt Cushing. Third, I wanted to connect with #sqlfamily — which is entirely on Twitter.

Mostly, it was the PASS Summit deal that finally pushed me to do so. Twitter is the medium of choice for a great majority of people involved with PASS and SQL Saturday. Since this is my first PASS Summit, I needed a way to contact people if I needed to do so. And since nearly every speaker there is on Twitter, well…

So, therefore, it is with great trepidation and reluctance that, last week, I finally broke down and created a Twitter account. I’ve been sitting on it for a week, and really only made it publically known this past weekend at Albany SQL Saturday.

I’m still trying to figure out how to use the thing. Deb Melkin mentioned to me this past weekend that there were some hashtags that I should’ve used with my first tweet — at which point, she turned to some of our colleagues and said, “he’ll get the hang of it. We’ll teach him!”

I honestly don’t know how much I’ll be using the thing. I already use Facebook to post about my personal life, and I use my LinkedIn for professional endeavors, so I don’t really feel a need to do either on Twitter. I’ve connected my ‘blog to it, so you’ll see my articles on it whenever I post one. Beyond that, we’ll see.

So if you really feel a need to follow me, my Twitter profile is PianoRayK.

I’ll see you out there in the Twitterverse…

You gotta do you first

This morning, per my typical Monday morning, I stopped at Cumberland Farms for my morning coffee. The fellow behind the counter — I’ve written about him before — was understandably disappointed. We’ve been talking about his career and things to help get him jump-started. He had been looking forward to attending our SQL Saturday this past weekend (which went very well — I’ll write more about that in a separate article), and was excited about it every time we spoke.

As it turned out, fate had other plans for him. He had a family emergency he had to address, and was unable to attend SQL Saturday. He sent me a LinkedIn message and was very apologetic. I told him, no apology necessary. Things happen. I told him this morning, “you gotta do you first.”

This is effectively true no matter what we do. Important events come up, and it’s really disappointing when you miss them. Missed opportunities are always unfortunate. But sometimes, sh*t happens. An emergency that involves you or your family always outweighs any once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that might come up. But you can always come up with opportunities. You can only live your life once.

As for my friend’s missed SQL Saturday opportunity, I told him of three more upcoming SQL Saturdays all within a three hour drive or train ride: Providence, Boston, and New York City. Although he missed this weekend’s opportunity, I passed along three more.

Generally, most of us work to live, not live to work. Careers may be important, but our selves and our family are the foundation upon which they stand. You need to take care of yourself and your family first. If something happens to you or your family, anything else is pretty much a moot point. You won’t be able to take care of anything else if you don’t do you first.

Networking for introverts

I’m sure that many of my friends would describe me as being outgoing, and even outspoken. I’ve spoken at a number of SQL Saturdays, and (as a musician), I’ve performed in front of audiences (I’ve long since lost my fear of performing int front of a crowd).

So it might surprise some of you when I say that I can sometimes be an introvert.

It mostly depends on the situation. When I’m doing a presentation, I’m expected to be doing the talking, and I can hold my own. When I’m discussing a topic that I enjoy, such as baseball, college sports, music, movies, or CrossFit, I can talk your ear off. When I’m among friends, I can converse for hours.

However, I wasn’t always like this, and there are times when I can revert back. When I’m in a room full of people that I don’t know, I can just as easily be the person sitting off the in the corner all by himself. In years past, especially during my adolescent years (and even for a few years after college), I had trouble with mingling with people and breaking the ice.

So for those of you who consider yourselves introverts, I feel your pain. I get it.

I also want to tell you that if you want to network but have trouble doing so, there’s hope. If you’re shy or introverted, it is possible for you to network with other people.

Let me start by saying something that you probably don’t want to hear: it will likely take some effort on your part. I realize that that can be a scary thing, and it will likely make you uncomfortable. Experiencing some discomfort is a part of growing and making yourself better. As I’ve written before, getting ahead will take some degree of discomfort.

That said, you don’t have to fear being uncomfortable. You don’t have to dive headfirst into the pool without learning how to swim. The process (as any) can be done in a number of small steps.

Let’s start by talking about initiating contact — breaking the ice. This is probably the most difficult — and scariest — part of networking. Once you’ve broken the ice, the rest goes downhill. But it’s easier said than done. So how do you start the conversation?

I’ll start with one of the simplest ways: say “hi!” It might not seem like much, but by using this simple little word, you’ve just broken the ice. You’ve initiated contact. Once you’ve said that, you can build from it and connect. Some suggestions for following up: “How are you?”, “How do you like this event?”, “What do you do?”, “Where are you from?”, and so on.

I do want to point something out regarding these followup statements. You might notice that they all end with a question mark. They ask questions geared at getting to know the other person. If you show interest in the other person, chances are that (s)he will be more likely to engage you. Dale Carnegie (of How To Win Friends and Influence People fame) had a great many quotes about how to engage people. Many of them involve showing interest in the other person.

That said, be careful not to be too personal, deep, or overbearing. Instead of making other people interested, you might end up driving them away. Bear in mind that we’re not talking about how to pick up people of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you’re into) at a bar; we’re talking about professional networking. Granted, these approaches will likely work in social situations, but that’s not the point of this article.

Finding some type of common ground to talk about will likely go a long way. If you’re attending some kind of event (SQL Saturday, a class, your kid’s concert or Little League game, etc.), discussing the event in front of you is a natural place to start. If you’re attending the same event, chances are that you’re there for similar reasons, so that makes for something of mutual interest to discuss.

I often find that a fun or neutral topic makes good fodder for conversation. (Note: “neutral” is a key word — more about that in a moment.) For example, I’m a sports fan, and although not everyone is into sports, I usually find that sports is one of the most universally beloved topics that people like to talk about. Whether you’re into baseball, football, basketball, soccer, cricket, rugby, or underwater hockey (yes, that really is a thing — I looked), sports is usually a good, somewhat neutral topic to discuss. Even if the other person is an opposing fan, it could make for fun conversation. I’m a Yankee fan, and I get into the best conversations with Red Sox fans.

I said that “neutral” is a key word. There are some hot-button topics that are verboten and should not be broached. Probably the number one topic to avoid is politics (race and religion are likely a close second). Personally, I absolutely despise politics, and will not talk about them. If you want a sure-fire way to get me aggravated, start talking politics with me. A conversation about politics will drive me away and make me want to avoid you, not engage you. There are some subjects that make me say “get the hell away from me,” and that’s at the top of my list. You’ve been warned. (And, for the record, if you really must know where I stand, I’m a registered Democrat, and I consider myself a left-leaning moderate.)

Bottom line: if a topic is controversial, stay away from it. Don’t even bring it up.

I’ve talked about things you can do to break the ice. But what about a few ways for someone to break the ice with you?

How about clothing? I wrote an article a while back that talks about how what you wear can initiate networking. I often wear T-shirts, sweatshirts, and caps that depict my favorite sports teams, interests, fraternity, and my alma mater. I’ve sometimes been called a “walking billboard.” But in many cases, it’s enough to encourage conversation. Your own clothing can often be a conversation piece.

Being cognizant of your body language can also be helpful. Your own actions often speak louder than what you actually say. Be mindful of smiling, crossing your arms, or making eye contact. Sometimes, it could be the difference between initiating a networking contact and remaining a fly on the wall.

These days, even if you’re uncomfortable with meeting people face-to-face, you have the option of networking online. With the advent of social media, even introverted people can often break the ice online.

And as I previously wrote, it’s also helpful to have business cards with you, ready to be handed out.

So if you feel socially awkward and are uncomfortable with networking, be aware that you are capable of joining the conversation. It might take a little time and practice, but even people who are shy or introverted are capable of networking.