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Careers In High-Tech Headhunting
Monday, November 1, 1999
Out of the din of an economy greedily clamoring for highly qualified technical professionals has emerged a very lucrative career for people to recruit these professionals. They are called technical recruiters, and they’ve carved a cozy niche for themselves in the high-tech industry.
The different types of technical recruiters include a first party recruiter, a second party recruiter, and a third party recruiter. A first party recruiter represents a company and hires candidates onto the company’s payroll, working under the supervision and guidelines set by the company. Corporate and college recruiters fall under this category. A second-party recruiter is an employee of a contract staffing agency who is working for a client company and hiring people on their payroll. Most second party recruiters work under the supervision of the client company’s management and are compensated on an hourly rate or commission basis by the client company.

A third party recruiter, commonly referred to as a headhunter, searches, locates, and matches the right IT professionals with the right position within a client’s organization. The main difference between this recruiter with the other types is that third party recruiters recruit for clients versus within an organization. Most headhunters work on a contingency or retained basis, but will sometimes work on a flat fee. For the purpose of this article, we are exploring in depth the career path of a third party recruiter, or headhunter, for the high-tech industry.

High-Tech Recruiting Vs. HR

The job of a technical recruiter is often confused with that of a human resource professional. Human resources professionals are concerned with what goes on inside an organization. However, you can’t hire employees from inside the building — you have to look outside. That’s where the headhunter comes in. The two disciplines are quite different even though they address the same issues and encounter similar problems.

“A major difference is that the technical recruiter is functioning in a sales position. The HR function is an overall organizational role that can include payroll, benefits, training and such. So the technical recruiter functions as a focused position, whereas an HR function is more a broader administrative function,” explains Rahim Wallani, president of Rainmakerweb, an IT staffing, ERP integration and training firm.

“HR is also responsible for personnel matters like team spirit, job motivation and psychological assessment. A professional technical recruiter addresses only the core technical requirements of the job,” adds Rakesh Kamdar, founder and president of DB Concepts, an international staffing and recruiting firm. When HR departments of big companies send out recruiters, “they have a medium time frame,” says Lalit Kapoor, founder and president of IPEX, a software solutions company. “For example, they know they need to recruit 300 grads every year.”

What Does It Take?

It is often said that people with non-technical backgrounds make the best technical recruiters. “The most important thing for a technical recruiter to have is people skills, selling skills, strong industry knowledge and some PC proficiency,” outlines Kapoor. For example, you don’t need to know Java programming, but need to know what Java is. You would need to know what skill sets are required for Oracle DBAs, what configuration management is, what data warehousing is, and such — but not how to do it.

In other words, you should be able to talk the talk and walk the walk. “A sales person with a technical background or a HR recruiter with lots of technical reading experience is well suited for a career in this field,” says Kamdar. “Due to the availability of lots of automated testing tools, a technical recruiter does not need to have a degree in engineering or computer science,” he added. Other good qualities to have are “good listening skills, patience, service orientation, good judgement of character and resourcefulness,” adds Wallani.

Why is salesmanship such a vital component of this equation? “Due to the high demand-low supply situation in the high-tech marketplace, many candidates have multiple job offers and the choice of selecting the best company for their career. In this case, the recruiter needs to be selling the company’s core values, benefits and job challenge to the candidate so he may decide which company to join,” says Kamdar. On the other hand, “this specially comes into play when there are two candidates who are equally qualified for a position and the client company needs to decide on one. One could be your candidate and the other from another company,” says Wallani. “You would need to sell your candidate as best as you can to land the contract.”

It is very important to keep the consultant’s career path in mind, advises Kapoor. In good salesmanship, the consultant is your customer, just as much as the client. Successful recruiters keep both their client and candidate in mind and do their best to serve both. This is true sales. Although the candidate is not the one paying your fee or commission, he or she is vital to the process and should be considered equally important as your client. “After all,” says Wallani, “this candidate could become a VP one day and you could be dealing with him/her directly.”

Engineers as Recruiters?

It is not easy for engineers to transition into high-tech recruiting, according to Kamdar. “As an engineer, the economical growth is exponential. Recruiting requires special qualities such as selling and patience,” he says. Kapoor agrees. “Asking an engineer to be a recruiter is like asking a doctor to be a recruiter for nurses and other healthcare aides,” he says.

But this doesn’t mean there’s no room for techies to be a part of the technical recruiting business. Large recruiting organizations often like the technical people as resource managers, who serve as technical recruiters but stay out of the sales part. The resource manager does most of the technical evaluation of the candidate and assesses whether he or she has the right skills set to match the job requirement. “So for those in engineering or pure technical careers, a resource manager position may be a good fit,” says Wallani. But before you jump ship and shift careers, “evaluate whether you have the personality traits or desire to spend a lot of time on the phone, a lot of time reading resumes, and a lot of time selling,” he advises.

“Technical recruiting is almost the antithesis to a programmer analyst/software engineer position where you are working from specs for developing code, testing or designing. It is a very linear or logical process. It is more sales oriented and is often times ambiguous, circular but understandable,” he elaborates. “You have no specs or pop-up screens telling you that there is a runtime error. For technical recruiters, the only measuring stick is how effectively you have served your clients and how many placements you have made,” concludes Wallani.

Career Paths

Newcomers may join the recruiting industry as a junior recruiter, and move up the ladder to technical recruiter, senior recruiter, recruiting manager or account manager, regional recruiting manager, director and VP level positions. The growth path can be very rapid in this industry, says Kapoor. “It is not uncommon to see junior recruiters at management levels within two to three years,” he says.

The recruiting business is highly incentive based. Your total compensation can be one or two times your base salary. A fresh graduate entering the recruiting industry can expect to make anywhere from $30 to 40K plus commission (depending on their location). Recruiters with 3 to 5 years experience can expect annual salaries of $50-60K. With commission, these salaries can rocket into the six-figure range. Senior technical recruiters with a good client base can routinely earn $100 to 150K per year. Commissions vary between organizations; recruiters on straight commission assignment for permanent placements earn usually 40 to 50 percent of the fee charged to the client. “So if you place an Oracle DBA whose first year salary is $70 K and the fee to the client is 25 percent, then your organization will earn $17,500. You, as a technical recruiter would earn around $8,000 for this placement,” explains Wallani.

Northern California’s Silicon Valley area, the New York/New Jersey area, Washington D.C., Seattle, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Chicago and the San Diego-Orange County belt are currently hot job markets for technical recruiters. In other words, “where you find a high concentration of IT professionals, that is where you will find a demand for technical recruiters,” says Wallani. It also common to see women in the technical recruiting field. “But I would like to see more Asian Indian technical recruiters with some of the large IT consulting firms and outsourcing companies. It would make it a lot easier for candidates on H1-B visas to find long-term assignments, get better remuneration and move into project management positions,” he adds.

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