Recently I was at the best recruiter conference for tech recruiters on the planet — Talent42. This topic came up; the head of a major tech firm said it was harder to find a good tech recruiter than an engineer in Silicon Valley.

I had to really bite my tongue on that one. Then the topic of retention came up as well. At that moment I had to bite my tongue again, but the inner angst and anger found its way to my vocal cords and could not be suppressed, so I spoke out.

Why is contract recruiting the predominant road for senior roles rather than entry level? Why are you complaining that there is not enough talent, then turn around and say that you will not invest in the talent that you have? Only one panelist answered, and the answer was the typical smoke and mirrors BS that EVERY company resorts to.

Let me explain my take on the subject.

Too many companies treat recruiting as just overhead

There is a bottom line that many companies must have from a financial standpoint, and it’s a bottom line of profitability that will please the shareholders they are beholden to. The C-Suite is going to jump on any moves that the firm can make to increase profitability. This is especially true when it comes to overhead, the bane of any corporate existence, and human resources falls under this category.

It’s a necessary evil for too many in the C-Suite since they have little understanding of what is being accomplished by the HR group, but they control multiple functions that help the company not get sued for various infractions that the government and society sling at them.

I prefer to call them “the gatekeepers of lawsuits,” but they don’t seem to like that terminology.

Yes, it could be concluded that HR is actually overhead and that it helps the corporation from incurring lawsuits from employees that, in the minds of the C-Suite, are an acceptable operating cost. Recruiting, however, is an albatross that is often maligned and misunderstood, an easy projectile to deter and misdirect said C-Suite.

Large companies have an ebb and flow, with profits sometimes soaring while at other times tanking so fast that it’s as though they were the Hindenburg crashing in flames. When the bad happens, the layoffs come and the people that are most susceptible are not the high dollar players, the ones making the big decisions. No, the perceived overhead staff are usually the ones targeted for layoffs — the receptionist, the janitor, the recruiter.

You are either with them or against them

Yes, it seems CEO’s love to go to a TED Talk or other motivational conferences and spout out how great their companies are and how hiring is the most important thing to them. That is, until they get back to their business and determine the bottom line is to cut spending.

I have personally gone through this multiple times. After four years with Booz Allen Hamilton, a government contractor in Washington, D.C., 19 of my peers and I were told on a Wednesday that the coming Friday was our last day. It was sort of a “so long and thanks for all the fish” moment.

A few months later my old boss hit me up and asked me not to poach people from the company as managers because there were employees complaining about me. You are either with me or against me, it seems.

They never asked me back — shocker!

But I promised, in the title of this missive, that I would break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of working as a contract recruiter, so here is my take:

The Good

  • Some roles are virtual when contracting. If you have a home office and good discipline, this is a viable option and one many can take advantage of. I personally did this with multiple companies. Also, you can write off your home office on your income taxes.
  • The money is usually better than a permanent position. Since the overhead factor for a company is that you are not actually an employee, but a vendor, most good companies will pay top dollar for a contractor, especially in the IT field. If they offer less or the same that you would make as permanent employee, walk away.
  • There is less pressure and fewer metrics. You don’t have to actually justify your salary as you are there to perform a task and then move on.
  • You know when it is going to be over. There is a limit, usually six months, but I have worked stop gap projects as well. You know when it is time to move on with no fuss.
  • There is less, and usually no, office politics. You are not going to be there long enough for that. However, I have seen some contractors make stupid choices by deciding to get into the fray.

The Bad

  • Only certain companies offer health insurance. And, it can be pricey unless you are working for a company that has lots of contractors in their stable.
  • You are never really part of the “team” — you are always an outsider. Many companies will not even allow you to come to the company Christmas party! I know this one first hand. Thanks, Booz Allen —  again — for nothing.
  • Even though you are not an employee, most companies will expect you to act like one. They will treat you as such when it comes to hours, when you are scheduled to leave, etc. It’s total bullshit to call a person a vendor when it is convenient for you then demand that you behave like an FTE.
  • I tried to sugarcoat the real deal above, but your numbers DO mean something. Usually, they mean that you are more than likely pissing on an FTE in the company, especially if you are killing it. And the FTE will find a way to get you canned, believe me.
  • When the order comes down that you have to come to the office to work, or that is what is required in the initial contract, you will get:
    1. The crappiest computer that they can offer;
    2. A workspace more fitted for a coat than a human; and,
    3. Limited access to applications, company information, websites, etc.

The Ugly

  • You pay for everything that you use. Although there are some little work arounds, they are not money saving. If you are independent, this means all the insurance is covered by you.
  • If you go the 1099 route to make more money, you are sort of being screwed with. The IRS will tax you quarterly, AND you will need to cover the employer’s share of the taxes. In short, you are going to be paying out lots of money.
  • You get reimbursed for nothing at all. Some companies will give a contractor a stipend, but since you are not technically an employee, they really don’t need to.
  • They don’t care about you. You are brought on to solve a problem, and once that problem is solved, or at least managed, you become expendable. It does not matter if it is a right to work state or not, you are a vendor, remember?
  • As I mentioned at the beginning of this missive, they can kick your ass out as fast as they want, because they can, no matter how long you have been there and no matter how good you are. Period.

They are always getting something from you

It’s time to get real, and I mean REAL. Contracting, for some, is a great benefit to the lifestyle the person wants but it comes with real caveats and pitfalls. So, the more you know, the smarter you are.

As Matt Charney says, there are no free applications out there. They are getting something from you even if you don’t know that you are giving it to them. Play on player!


Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.