Category Archives: Recruitment

Bad / funny excuses people make up to go to interviews

I seem to have spoken to a lot of hiring managers recently who are having a bit of a time with it with members of their teams taking time off work for spurious reasons… naturally as a recruiter I sympathise and appreciate that any excuse is better than no excuse, but some really seem to take the biscuit!

Dental / GP / Hospital appointments
I’ve just had my front door kicked off its hinges
Working From Home
Amazon Delivery
Someone stole the water pipes.
Diarrhoea / last minute illness
A tragedy in the family that is so terrible its too painful to discuss any details
My train is stuck in a tunnel and I have no signal
I fell asleep / my alarm didn’t go off
I woke up feeling confused
My car broke down
My child is ill
My wife has a headache
I had a particularly bad curry last night
I normally use wash n go but today I had to use shampoo and conditioner separately so it took longer to shower this morning so I’m late.
I was abducted by the carebears.
I’m locked in my house
I was attacked last night with a machete.
UPDATE: My dog’s tail got caught in the shredder and I had to take him to the vet


How can you tell if you are working with a good recruiter?

I’m going to pretty heavily caveat this list because I think that different skills are required for recruiters to be successful in different markets. Its also quite common for recruiters to specialise in either permanent positions or contract positions, and most recruiters will tell you that there is a big difference between the types of personality that do well in one compared to the other. Furthermore I’d say it takes a different set of skills to be successful in a growing market (eg 2003 – 2007) versus a bad a market (2010 to now).

However I think as a general rule of thumb I would look for the following factors in a recruiter I was considering working with.

A good recruiter should:

  • be a specialist in something (development for financial markets for instance or high frequency trading for instance)
  • display a knowledge for what is going on in their market (who is currently hiring, what companies are good to work for, what sort of salaries are being offered at the moment)
  • be sincere. You’ve got to be able to trust this person
  • be able to give straight answers to direct questions. Try asking a few, see what happens.
  • be happy to tell you about what sort of clients they work with
  • have thought about why you might be interested in the job they are calling to tell you about and have a broad understanding of what the job is and why the company are looking for to fill it
  • sound like they enjoy their job, or at least like their job. Surprisingly recruiters who are unhappy with their jobs are not going to do a very good job at representing you
  • be reasonably attentive / a good communicator. How long does it take to get back to you answer phone message or email? Another way of putting this is what signs are they giving to show you that you are being treated like a priority
  • be accessible. Calling on a withheld number every time and never being there when you call (no-one is that busy) is bad sign, but then you knew that already
  • push back on you sometimes and tell you when you are being unrealistic about what you can expect to find. If a recruiter is a push over with you – just imagine what they will be like with their client when it comes to negotiating your financial package!
  • make sure you feel well prepared for an interview they secure for you and have done some investigation to make sure you are preparing for the right things
  • take an interest in meeting you in person.
  • be professional in the way they work with you. I mean like acting in the sort of way that means you might actually want to work with them again in the future
  • question you about the extent of your Java / technical skills and show some kind of understanding of what programming in a professional SDLC is all about.

To this I would add:

  • I don’t think choosing to work with a junior consultant is by any means a bad choice. If you have been contacted by a junior consultant I would suggest you think about whether you feel you can trust them and what clients their company works with. Junior consultants can be much better in some areas than more experienced consultants (enthusiasm, drive, accessibility and honesty about what is actually going on during the recruitment process for example). On the other hand there is likely to be another, more senior recruiter acting as a conduit between you and the client, so you might not get everything first hand. Its also worth bearing in mind that the more experienced a consultant is, the more they will know how to effectively handle unexpected situations.

Speak like a recruiter 103: “Bullet”

bullet (spoken)
a candidate who is such a good fit for a client that he/she is will open doors for your recruitment business, win you clients and progress to offer stage quickly and easily.
Gavin: How are you doing with that tough role you’ve got? Sandy: Don’t sweat it no more, I got a bullet
Etymology: Golden Bullet, one shot kill
See also: Golden Bullet, legend, walking invoice

What matters to a junior Java developer?

I have been doing a lot of work with junior Java developers recently and as such have spent a lot of time trying to work out what their priorities are when considering a new position. (Note: I would consider a developer “junior” with anywhere up to 4 years experience, probably someone making their first or second career decision. Anything experience beyond that and I think it’s fair to say you can no longer be considered “junior”)

1. Where the company sits compared to other organisations in the Financial Markets
2. What the company culture is like, and whether the colleagues are a team of “nice people”
3. The technical standard of developers at the company
4. What opportunities there are to learn and for career progression
5. What they will be doing on a daily basis
6. What business skills they will learn

Perhaps surprisingly I have found that point 4 (“What opportunities there are to learn and for career progression”) is actually the least mentioned point of importance when initially thinking about making a decision. Normally I find I am bringing this point up and then explaining what each opportunity might lead to in the long run. However once you bring it up it tends to be something they take it on board, but still few junior developers have brought it up on their own. Points 2 and 3 are probably the most commonly cited as being important.

My advice for Java developers considering moving to UK

The London UK market is currently fantastic for developers with extensive Java development experience. There are lots of jobs and therefore lots of opportunity to find a really good position with a good salary. Of course you will need a visa, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone come to the UK without the right to work in this country, but if you do have that visa, then there hasn’t been a better time all year than now.

Coming to work in the UK can be an exciting, challenging and rewarding career choice that will give you an international experience that can’t get anywhere else in the world, and will shape your career for the rest of your life; however if you aren’t properly prepared you will struggle to get what you want.

What you will need:

The right to work in the UK
It is still next to impossible to be sponsored by a company in the UK, as such if you do not have the right to work here, it is advisable to not relocate to the UK.

The technical skills
Check on the English job websites that you have the right technical skills for a role in the UK. Some countries tend to still be using the old “EJBs and app server” model which is generally (although not totally) defunct in the UK today. Unless you have extensive low level core Java (think writing your own threads, TCP/IP sockets etc) you will also need at least basic Spring. If you don’t have it, getting an online certification will be very useful. In general you should brush up on all your technical skills and make sure there is nothing on your CV that you would not be prepared to be grilled on in that first interview. One good tip is starting your own blog and posting some of your best bits of code / ideas on there, this can be very helpful to candidates without an established track record in the UK

The English
The London IT market, especially in finance, is probably the most international job market in the world – it is not simply that you will often find yourself in a team where everybody comes from different countries, but its not uncommon to find teams without a single British developer in the team. So communication skills are EXTREMELY important. Basically if you can’t understand spoken English and speak it easily and fluently, you will not find a programming job easily and if you do, it won’t be very good. A good rule of thumb is whether you can answer a set of technical Java questions reasonably easily. If the standard of your spoken English is poor, you should either take a course before you leave or one better – if you can afford it – relocate to the UK and don’t start your search until you have improved it.

A Curriculum Vitae
(The word Resume is American, and is best left on that side of the Atlantic) Globally there are roughly 2 types of CV, the Curriculum Vitae that many of us know and love and the “Europass” CV – hated by all in London. Hated of course because it is completely useless as a professional document in this country. As a recruiter I need to know what companies you have worked for, what dates you were there for, what you were doing for each company and which technologies you used. Instead the Europass is a hideous piece of bureau-bum designed EU-construct aren’t-we-so-different cr@p which is genuinely completely useless and many a good developer has been over-looked simply because their experience was delivered in the utterly indecipherable format of the dreaded Europass. If you have one AVOID, REWRITE or FORGET it

Most hiring managers can get through the first and often the second stage interview in their process on the telephone or through Skype. However no-one is going to employ someone they haven’t met and therefore an appetite for coming over to the UK for interviews and being flexible about it will be very helpful. Today it is rare occurrence that a British company will pay for a candidate to fly over to the UK for an interview. Any good recruiter should help to arrange the process to make it as easy and cost effective for you as possible but you have to realise you are competing with developers who are already in the UK – afterall what is the point of companies paying to see you when they don’t have to pay anyone who is already in the UK. You will also need to have made up your mind that you really do want to relocate to the UK and be prepared to move over as soon as possible once you secure that dream job. Talking it through with wives / girlfriends / Cuban-US-visa-seeking-lovers before hand will be a very good idea.

It is a good market in the UK for good Java developers and its rare that I hear of foreign candidates who have the right to work in the UK, the marketable technical skills, good English communication skills, a proper Curriculum Vitae and flexibility to attend interviews going home having failed to find a job. However, nothing good comes easy in this world, and no matter how active the market is you will always take a couple of weeks or maybe even months to find the right position for you. So be brave, be tenacious about your applications and have patience that the right role will come along.


Is Portugese for Recruiter!

On the other hand a programmer is a “Programador”


How to write a perfect Java developer CV

This is it boys and girls… the real thing, all you need to know about writing a good CV.

What is a CV for?

To get you the first interview. And nothing more. When you are writing (or re-writing) your CV, bear in mind that Java developer CVs are reviewed on the following criteria:
– does this candidate have the necessary intelligence?
– do they have the necessary skills?
– how have they applied those skills?
– have they done anything interesting with their career that makes them stand out?
– what is the ratio of achievement / career progression to years of experience?
– are they going to stay in my team for enough time to make it worth me hiring them? (minimum 2 years)
– are there any warning signs on this CV?
Hiring managers value one thing above all at this stage: honesty. So if it looks like you are trying to hide something or can’t get the dates right, that is an instant reject.

Writing the perfect CV for a Java developer comes down to two things: Format and Content. I like to start with the Format first, because it gives you a skeleton to hang the rest of the CV on.

Formatting, believe it or not, is probably one of the most important things about your CV and one of the most consistently ignored by developers. Most of all your CV has to be easy to read and a well formatted CV will deliver the most important information in the most accessible way. The trick is to keep the formatting logical, uniform and simple.

At the CV weeding stage hiring managers will have somewhere between 20 and 50 CVs to get through. At this stage they are actively looking for a reason to reject your CV, so if your CV is not clear and easy to read you put a question mark above your name. Any question marks get put in the same pile as the rejected CVs after all what is the point of following up on a strange CV if you already have 5 good CVs you want to interview.

So it needs to be easy to read and answer all of the questions above.

When ordering your CV I suggest you stick to the following section headings:
– Introductory Paragraph
– Education (with training and certifications as a sub heading)
– Technical Skills box
– Career history
– Interests
Both the introductory paragraph and the Personal headings can often be deleted.

No automatic spacing. No text in boxes. No boxes at all. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES use any colour other than black. No italics. No boxes. No Certification badges at the top. No underlining. No dividing lines. No highlighting of key words in sentences. No random use of font sizes. No different use of fonts. No random paragraph alignments. No photos and no banner pictures at the top. No hyperlinks to or descriptions of companies that are household names.

You can convey everything you need to using Arial, font size ten, bold for section headings, justify all paragraphs, bullet points and good use of the English language.

If you fill your CV up with all the word processing cr@p that Word has to offer what you have got to say about yourself will be lost on the intended audience as their eyes struggle to negotiate the kaleidoscope of diversion you have hidden your experience in. Many hiring mangers tell me that they purposely don’t even read the keywords that have been highlighted with bold or underlined.

What to write:
– only the truth
– no hyperbole (don’t bulk it out with waffle, less is more).
– try to repeat yourself as little as possible. Does it make any difference if you send the same letter twice? The message only needs to come home once
– try to describe each job in this format: Say what challenge was that the team was addressing, then say what the solution to that challenge was (including main technologies) and then say what part you played in that solution.
– Gaps in your experience – explain them! Don’t leave question marks on your CV, just explain any gaps.

How to write it:
– write in a professional tone but keep it in normal English, don’t get flowery or rely too much on jargon. Use the first person. If you are struggling to find the right tone, try writing your experience down as if you were explaining it to a friend in the pub
– write your CV in the best English you can – if you want a job in an English speaking city you are going to need good English communication skills.

How to stand out:
– examples of when you have taken some initiative
– facts and figures (latencies achieves, volumes handled, deadlines hit, impact of solution on the market, etc.)
– what you did that you are proud of and explain why
– examples of programming in your spare time, including details of any web and mobile applications built
– events, conferences, meetups attended. Competitions you came pole position in

How many pages should it be? If you can get it down to one page, great, if not 2 or 3 is average. To justify writing any more than 3 you should have quite a lot to say. So if you have 10 years experience and a PhD, then I can see all of your skills, experience and work academia possibly justifying 4 pages. But no more. Remember the more you pages you have less chance you have of anyone actually reading them!

When is the best time to explore new career opportunities?

Ever tried to do the weekly supermarket shop when you were hungry? If you’re anything like me you would have got home and found a half eaten box of jam donuts and a load of expensive items like icecream and chocolate that probably weren’t on your shopping list when walked in.

What happened was that you went shopping for something when you were desperate… and the same applies to each career move you make, if you only look for a new job when you hate your current one (or think you are starting to be pushed out) you are never going to be in the optimum frame of mind to make a valuable career move.

Ever meet a girl who only fancied you because of the wedding ring on your finger? Well it’s the same thing for potential employers – you are the most attractive to employers when you are performing at your best and things are going well in your current job. Imagine going in to an interview where you have all the cards in your hand: you can be confident, self assured and evaluate the opportunity before you with a clear mind – and if it’s going to make your life better in the long run you know you’ve done the right thing.

But my boss would be devastated!
So what? If they really like you so much he/she will be disappointed but if the role is better for you they will understand your decision. And its your responsibility to manage your career progression, not theirs.

What is happening to the financial IT contract scene?

Will things ever be the same again?

In this recession some people continue to do well, some people are just bobbing along as usual and some people are really struggling. In the main this final diagnosis applies very much to IT contractors for the big banks.

Things were starting to look bad at the start of the year when it became clear that certain banks were actively stopping the renewal of large numbers of contractors (HSBC was one of the first in January). Some of this may have been a natural result of the fact that certain banks have 2 year limitation clauses on their contractors’ contracts and a lot of hiring was done in 2010, but with the economy continuing to flatline it begins to look more and more like the banks are making actively trying to reduce their manpower expenditure.

Then in May and June en masse cuts began. Deutsche Bank, RBS, Goldman Sachs, Barclays Capital started putting legions of contractors on notice. Most of these guys are still around, kicking their heels waiting for the next contract.

Are things really that bad?

In some ways yes. The question is, have we seen a paradigm shift away from contracting towards permanent members of staff? In the long term, no. I don’t think so. When the banks are making money having a section of the employee base which is highly skilled and highly mobile is very useful to the banks, and that hasn’t changed. In the short term it’s the steadily increasing level of regulation, increased capital requirements and general global economic melancholy that means that a £600 a day Java developer looks much less attractive than an AVP on a £65k base. And to make things worse for your career contractor most team leads report that many contractors take a box ticking approach to their daily duties and clock off on-time, everytime.

I have to say that things are the worst for developers with Winforms and Swing specialisms. My advice is get down to Skills Matter and upskill with something modern (Flex or HTML5 anybody?) as soon as possible.

What is happening to rates?

For the first 6 months of the year contractors who were getting new contracts managed successfully kept their rates high, perhaps only seceding £50 or so on their rate. Some of which I believe is down to the Government’s restriction on Tier 1 visas. For BAs and PMs my colleagues report rates falling more dramatically to 500 or just below. I expect the new round of contract positions we are expecting (hoping for) later in September to continue that trend of pushing rates down.

I had lunch with an old contact of mine yesterday who used to be a contractor but successfully made the transition to perm 3 years ago. He told me he thought that it was inevitable that, painful as it may be, contractors would have to start to accept lower rates, as he told me “I may eat with a spoon but I do eat”…

Speak like a recruiter 102: “Time Kills Deals”

time kills deals (spoken)
the concept that any delay to the recruitment process will reduce the likelihood of that candidate becoming a placement.
Sandy: Whatever happened to that guy you had at second interview a couple of weeks ago? I thought he was really keen? Gavin: Only got positive feedback after he’d accepted another offer. Sandy: Time kills deals.
See also: maintaining a sense of urgency