How Do I Break Into Software Recruiting? (And Should I?)

A software engineer who I once placed at a company in Boston eventually moved out to Silicon Valley. We still keep in touch, and he recently told me he thinks he’d enjoy combining his love of technology with his ability to work with people to become a software recruiter. He wasn’t sure how to make the transition to working for a recruiting agency, and he asked me if I could tell him how to go about it.

Well, I sure can. In fact, that’s exactly what I myself did back in 1987. And I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to write a blog post about what it takes to successfully make such a transition. But additionally, I want to say a little bit about what being a recruiter is – and isn’t – in terms of the rewards it offers as a career.

First off, let’s get it right out on the table for everyone to see. Recruiting is SALES. It’s not human resources, it’s not career counseling, it’s not social work, as important as all those professions are. Sales is involved in capturing the search assignments to work, in the painting of a compelling vision of better opportunity for passive candidates, in the qualifying and matchmaking of putting employee and employer together, and in the negotiation of mutually-acceptable offer packages.

We all know recruiting firms that take this idea to the extreme. Almost everyone has had experience with an overly-aggressive, hardball salesy type of recruiter. That’s not what we do here at Lynx, and that’s not the kind of sales that I’m talking about. You also don’t have to be a total extrovert either. Recruiting tends to work well for the type of personality that’s very good in a one-on-one listening and communicating situation, not necessarily for the “life-of-the-party” type.

Sometimes a person will tell me that they want to become a recruiter because they want to “work with people.” That by itself isn’t enough to be a good recruiter. You have to enjoy the process of building relationships, of constructively seeking to understand and discover what another person (candidate or hiring manager) is looking for, and then working to help them realize it. Sometimes, what they want may not be realistic to achieve, so an important part of your sales approach is to help uncover what’s truly important to them, and then suggest alternative ways of getting to that outcome. If you’re a good recruiter, you’re never trying to push someone to do something that they don’t feel is in their best interest, but you often are in the position of trying to influence someone to push beyond their comfort zone in order to get what they want.

You’ll have to be a good reader of people and situations, because a lot of what’s being communicated in any of these transactions is not being explicitly expressed. As a recruiter, you’ll have to face a lot of rejection, and you’ll have to persist when you feel like giving up, in order to finally achieve the rewards that come from succeeding, both in job satisfaction and in the above-average earnings that you can have when you’re good at this. And, hopefully obviously, you have to love and enjoy people to have a hope of being great as a recuiter.

In my experience, although I came from a technical background and spent four years working as an engineer, having actual technical experience isn’t nearly as important as having a high degree of interest in the technology field. I’ve known many fine recruiters who have liberal arts degrees, but who are so passionate about what’s happening in technology that they work to stay informed about the players, the trends, the technologies. That’s what’s really important. I’ve also worked with a few engineers-turned-recruiters who were very poor at the people-relating part of the job.

So, when you’ve decided that maybe this is for you, figure out who the best recruiting firms are in the niche that you’re interested in, and then contact the owners or managers of those companies. Take the time to find out what kind of business they do, and then tailor your approach to show that owner/manager how you can help him or her be more successful. Don’t wait to see who’s advertising a recruiting opening, but instead, be proactive, and make it happen!

After all, the first candidate you have to place is yourself.