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30 September 2008

UK Software Consultant Nightmare: The IT Recruiting Agents

UK Software Consultant and Recruiting Agent

Working as a .NET software consultant in UK, I spent ages with the IT recruiting agents on the phone and had suffered their tricks. So, in this post, I thought of educating my software consultant colleagues of the agents’ sneaky tricks and dodgy tactics.

Recruiting agents, especially in the current credit crunch, are having less ‘productive’ work to do due to the reduced demands in the market, so they are spending more time wasting our “software consultants” time and resources rather than doing their actual role which is, obviously, recruiting!

Below are some of their tricks, tactics and some commonly used phrases on the phone:

1 – “I need two references from your current and ex employers”

This is the most famous phrase that you will hear and probably if you are a software consultant in UK then you know what I am talking about.

When: This happens after the agent does the sale pitch for a non-existing job. The job miraculously matches your skills, highly paid, in a location near you and the client is willing to train you for the skills that you don’t have.

Claimed Reason: His client, which is mostly a blue chip or a company that he can’t give its name at the moment, requires the references to validate your suitability.

Real Reason: As you have already left your current job, then there might be a vacancy in the company, so the agent will call the reference and offers him/her some candidates that match the used technology as you have already told the agent everything about the projects and used technology.

Implications: Your references will get TOO MANY cold calls which will put you in a bad position and in the worst case you will lose your references.

What Should I Do: You should only give a reference, if asked, after a successful interview with the company and to the employer, not the agent! So, you could apologise by saying that you cannot do it as your references are getting too much calls from recruiting agents. Don’t go with the “I will give you two references but promise me that you won’t contact them for marketing purposes” route.

Always remember that you are the sale, if he hires you then he gets the commission, otherwise he won’t, so he needs you! If the agent insists on having the references, then ask to end the conversation as the agent is not serious and he doesn’t have any vacancy.

2 – “Are you currently lined up for interviews?”

The idea is that you are a pro and you should have many interviews at the moment so you should be telling the agent ‘Yes’ and that you are in demand (this is what he wants you to say to get to his next question).

When: This question is usually proceeded by “How do you find the market?” This part of speech usually happens in the beginning of the conversation.

Claimed Reason: The agent is chit chatting with you and wants to know what you are doing at the moment.

Real Reason: The agent wants to harvest the current vacancies and offer them his candidates; you are not a sale to him as you went through another agent.

Implication: The agent might call the interviewer and push his candidates. In the worst cases, he might call the interviewer and claim that you have a bad reputation and the interviewer shouldn’t interview or hire you.

What Should I Do: Answer with “No”, if the agent asks why, you could tell him that you have just started searching.

3 – “What employers did you submit your CV to”

When: This is proceeded by that “We have a lot of vacancies and we will be sending your CV to [put big number here] of employers and we want to make sure that your CV haven’t been submitted to that employer.”

Claimed Reason: You don’t want the employer to get a duplicate submission of your CV as this will give an unprofessional image about you.

Real Reason: Yes, You guessed it!

Implication: Same as the previous point.

What Should I Do: Don’t go down the route of giving clues about the companies that are of interest to you, note that the agent will be pushing for clues if you refuse to give the company name and details. If you give clues then a colleague of the agent will call you later and offer you the same job that you gave clues about and expects you to say “I have already applied for company X, so please don’t put me forward for this.”

4 – “I have a Vacancy for You [sale pitch goes here], I will tell you the full details this [time goes here]”

This is just for harvesting your details and buy some time to keep you out of the market as long as possible as if you get hired by another agent then this agent lost the sale!

5 – “I will put you on the phone with the employer who wants to keep his details hidden”

Probably, the employer will be a colleague of the agent who will try to extract the reference information from you as now he is the employer which you assumingly trust more!

6 – “Oh you have worked at company X, I know [false name] from the HR department, who do you know there?”

Well, probably you know the reason behind this question by now which is information harvesting. Just refuse to give a name or give a false name.


7 – “He is on the other line”, “He is out of the office”, “He is in a meeting”

This is what the receptionist will tell you after you call the recruiting agency, giving your name and reason for call when asking for a specific agent.

You probably are calling after you have submitted your CV to discuss this matching vacancy further with the agent. But the agent has posted that FAKE ad to harvest CVs and has no time to waste on the phone with you. Good luck trying to get him on the email as well.

8 – “What is your current rate at your current employment?”

In the case of a software consultant, they want to try to squeeze down your rate to get a higher share themselves.

I believe that this question should only be asked after explaining the job they want to propose to you so you could decide your rate based on the given factors.

If you have been asked for your previous rate, ask what his proposed role is paying and what is it about.

9 – False Job Ads

The majority of posted ads on famous job sites like are fake! Their aim is to harvest CVs:

  1. To be ready when they get a client.
  2. Because they don’t want to post information that will lead their competitors to the client, so they will contact you and tell you that this vacancy is taken now and they have these new vacancies.

10 – Threatening of blacklisting you if you are not going to cooperate

Agents might get very rude when you refuse to give information and will start threatening of blacklisting you and tell other agencies how bad you are.

In this case I would beg the agent to blacklist me as I will be more than happy not to get contacted from agents from the same nature.

11 – The Job is Posted Else Where But With The Real Company Name

Agents might go as far as copying a direct employer’s posted ad from some where, change the employer’s real info into vague ones, then post it as if it is their own without the employer’s consent and even though, in most cases, the employer has mentioned the phrase “strictly no agents.” The reason might be:

  1. Using a good targeted ad, written by an experienced employer and use it to harvest CVs for the agent’s own benefit, i.e. to be used for other jobs.
  2. Will take the CVs, filter it, then send it to the employer to show him that “we are a good agency” and we can get you good candidates.

12 – Removing Your Contact Information From the CV

Now the agent called you, agreed with you, and is going to send your CV to his client. The next step is removing any contact information or anything that might lead to you before sending it to the client.

Why? You probably know why! He is an agent and since he is working in an enviroment that is ‘unsafe’ where you can’t trust anyone, he assumes that this also applies to software consultants. What a shame…

13 – Agents Might Push You for an Interview for a Job that Doesn’t Meet Your Skills

  1. Maybe to send as much candidates as possible to the employer
  2. Who knows? It might work! After all, the agent isn’t the one who is wasting his time, it is the candidate and the employer!

Ask for a phone interview at first if you are not sure of the requirements or if you have any suspicion. This will save both your and the interviewer’s time.

Frankly speaking, it might not be the agent’s fault, it might be that the employer did not supply the agent with the full requirement.

Agent Smith, of The Matrix, laughing

Honest to God Words to the Recruiting Agents

For the honest recruiting agents, I am sorry that these practices, which are employed by some agencies, have ruined your reputation and please note that this post has no intention of generalisation. For the other types of agents, these are my words to you:

  1. Don’t insult our intelligence by using cheap tactics, because if we work as software consultants then that mean we are intelligent enough to perform such a job.
  2. Stop wasting our time to harvest information as we really have more important things to do.
  3. Stop using these phrases: ‘brilliant’, ‘fantastic’, ‘I’m going to pass your CV to my colleagues’, ‘we have [employer quantity]’, ‘leave it with me, I’m going to take it from there’ and ‘you have a fantastic CV’.
  4. “Largest TV Group in Europe” means Sky and “Europe’s biggest B2B media company” is RBI. Come on guys, Britain is too small for this, could you make the ad description more vague please? This is so easy and software consultants are not dump, you know.
  5. If you are honest and not a time waster then please display your phone number, that shows more consideration to the candidates.

Advice To the Software Consultant

  1. Don’t give your real phone number to the agents as they will keep cold calling you every [set amount of time] to harvest information and update their database, use a pay as you go phone if you are job hunting.
  2. Same goes for email, use a different email for recruitment as you will get loads of irrelevant emails with apologies in the beginning if this is irrelevant.
  3. Educate your colleagues with the tactics mentioned in this post as we should all stand against such tricks and have a better, mature and more professional recruiting environment for software consultants in UK.

Finally, I am happy that I wrote this post and shared my experience, and nightmares, with the rest of UK’s software consultant colleagues. If you are a software consultant in the American market, then let me know if you have a similar experience. Please let me know if I have missed an important trick or if you had a bad experience. If you like it then please Digg It and Kick It.

leave your own
  • redsquare October 1st, 2008

    How refreshing to hear someone speak what we all think. I really don’t know what these con merchants offer end clients anymore, especially for a 15-30% daily cut. They do no filtering of candidates as they are only interested in sending the contractor who will do the gig for the least amount of money. They lie and scam, never return e-mails or phone calls and really offer no service whatsoever. I can honestly say the agents with real jobs never ask you for references or who your current reporting manager is. I have even had to take certain clients names from my cv as they have become so frustrated by cold calling agents trying their underhand tactics. I have thought about giving this whole game up due to the problems that these agents cause. Nightmare

  • Suprotim A. October 1st, 2008


    A very honest post indeed. It’s fun to read a non-technical post at times that is so full of relevance and good advice.

    These agents have got a little smarter. They send across bulk job postings via email (relevant to your requirement), however with links containing adsense/3rd party ad url’s. You click and they get paid 🙂

    Wonder what’s next!!

    Suprotim A.

  • Andy October 1st, 2008

    Aargh, how true these points are. I’ve worked as a contractor in the UK for over 10 years. I have a slightly different take on it, as I’ve got to the point where I actually find it kind of fun to interact with agents when sourcing and going for jobs.

    some points:

    1. Many of the big agencies are actually controlled by an umbrella group called S3

    So, it’s almost a cartel in London financial circles — S3 owns 12 of the big agencies. I don’t know how these people were allowed to get so powerful. It’s not a good competitive situation. I doubt they share too much data though.

    2. Agencies and particularly agents vary dramatically in their dodginess

    MSB (remember them?!) were the worst. I went through them for my 1st contract and I had some other person from MSB ring me within the 1st week to try and poach me from her colleague. On the other hand, I’ve dealt with an agent who went out of his way to get me into a very good firm. Well and truly over and above the call of duty.

    3. Take control of your rate and commission to the agent

    I make a point of knowing what the agency commission is. The preferred supplier lists have sort of taken the fun out of this (they always mandate something like 10%, and only for a year). If the commission is high, I’ll try to get it pushed down. PSLs have more or less fixed this problem though.

    4. The agents are clueless about IT

    I mean seriously clueless. It’s quite amazing how bad they are. I’ve had an agent get angry at me for not going for a job designing RF circuits (I had digital broadcasting on my CV). I’ve spent some time with a few agents, who’ve eventually opened up to me and admitted how clueless they were. Cue then to a night at the pub explaining to them what a programming language is (even though they’d placed people for years), what an OS is, the difference b/w Unix and Windows guis (what’s this X11 thing?) etc.

    It’s getting better, but most of the agents still do keyword matching (you say you have Java, J2EE and Oracle?). Best to make sure you hit all the right buzzwords on your CV.

    5. The agents are not all snakes

    Many of them are decent people. The trouble is that they get rewarded for being idiots — i.e. knowing nothing about IT and pushing for leads.

    6. The agents are never really your friends

    I’ve worked with some agents for so long now, that we meet socially about 3 times a year. We chat about kids, we laugh about the football and split the bill. But even so, they can’t leave the “agent’s hat” behind. They really can’t. If they had to betray me by using info I’ve given them in confidence to land another role, they would do it. Sure, at this point given the friendship, they’d feel a twang of guilt, but remember *they are not your friends*

    7. Make sure you get a commission for successful leads to agents

    Agents get a lot of money for permanent placements etc. If you give them a lead that results in a placement, make sure you get some money from them. I’ve fallen down on this before — I gave a top lead to an agent that got a good friend a job at a large inv bank. The agent thanked me, took me out for dinner, but didn’t give me the £1k or so that they really otherwise should have. I would have then split it with my mate. The agency got arount £25k upfront for the posting. Suffice to say, I am now in a position to push or otherwise stall on the agency PSL status at a large firm. Guess how much effort I’ll put in!? And this is my Iate mentioned earlier 😉 He’s still my mate, but remember *the agents are not your friends*.


  • koder October 1st, 2008

    I personally believe you are being too kind. I suppose that is out of professionalism.

    IT Recruiters – tend to be the most insincere, two faced, slimy individuals you could possibly meet.

    I agree with your sentiment that this does not encompass ALL recruiters – just some. But it is this “some” that is giving the rest of them a very bad name.

    We are NOT stupid. And crediting us with some intelligence would be nice. And what’s with the overly friendly or condescending attitude from them?

    I and a few friends in the industry were going to write a book on our experiences. THAT is how much material we had on the subject! The title was simply “c***s”

    Good article!

  • Blue Chip October 1st, 2008

    I’ve been contracting for the past 17 years, and to the best of my knowledge, the agencies were originally started by a group of IT professionals (analysts, programmers etc) who realised they had more knowledge of IT than the people employing them.

    Great idea. I can do this myself, or for a small cut, I can find you the right people to do it for you.

    I no longer contract, but when I worked in London, I always found my contracts on the Internet before I arrived. The best way to deal with these agencies is to build you CV full of keywords rather than sentences explaining what you have done. Check out their webpages (or now, take an RSS feed) and look for the positions you are interested in. As soon as one arrives, e-mail them your CV and then keep on calling them until you speak to someone. That is the only way you can succeed. If you leave it for them to contact you, they wont. Once you speak to them, you can find out immediately from them wether or not they know what they are talking about and if the job is any good.

    I was never unemployed during my times in London and I constantly moved contracts every six months or so, increasing my hourly rate each time. I worked with some massive Blue Chip companies and the fact that an agency took a percentage didn’t matter to me, the company or the agency.

    They can find you good jobs, but like anything in life, you need to take control of the situation yourself and speak to them personally.

    I was never once asked for a single reference, although I always had a one from my current and previous employers on my CV.

    Hope this helps any of you still out there contracting.

  • Adam Tibi October 1st, 2008


    Mate, don’t give up. I believe you can tell an honest agent after 10 seconds on the phone.
    – No filtering: Agree! However, a specialised agent would filter more and select a better matching candidate.
    – Never return calls or emails: because the posted ad is for harvesting information. It is like Google bot (crawler), can you talk to Google crawler?

  • redsquare October 1st, 2008


    I also mean after interview, say you don’t get the gig for whatever reason, can you ever get hold of the agent to find out info/feedback etc. Can you heck.

    @Blue Chip point taken but London is a million miles away from the IT world up north. I get 5 calls a day for London gigs but I am tied to the north for the moment. Roles are quite thin on the ground here.

  • Adam Tibi October 1st, 2008

    Suprotim A.,

    They are getting creative! I didn’t get a similar email yet, but probably I will get a similar email soon.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Adam Tibi October 1st, 2008


    Wow!! Thank you for sharing all this, I can feel the pain.
    I knew about the S3 giant company recently, I assume it is the trend in all markets not just this one.
    Thank you for sharing all this. I much appreciate it.

  • Adam Tibi October 1st, 2008


    I have agent horror stories to tell, and I guess so do you, but I’m sharing them in the pub with friends and have a good laugh.

  • jim mc October 1st, 2008

    6 – “Oh you have worked at company X, I know [false name] from the HR department, who do you know there?”

    Agree, and say ‘yes I know Mr Madeupname’. Their reaction is priceless.

    I guess it’s the agents’ job to act this way, and if they don’t do it they’ll be without income. It’s just a shame that, especially in the current climate, the contract may go to the lowest bidder (hence highest margin), rather than the best candidate.

    I think that as long as IT contracting in the UK remains lucrative (which, let’s be honest, it is), there’s going to be people trying to cash in on it in this way.

    The solution I guess is to build up a network of companies to whom you offer services directly, rather than having to go back to the job board every time.

  • AJ October 1st, 2008

    Excellent post and comments. I’m sure the same stuff goes on with recruiters here in the US. I’m usually very forthcoming about the companies I’m submitted with just so that no toes are stepped on, but I’ll play it a bit closer to the vest next time I look around for a developer gig.

    I’m considering boycotting the whole recruiter scene next time around. I’ve had much better luck with direct-hires rather than recruiters, anyway.

  • Sam October 2nd, 2008

    I think in my short experience the IT recruitment agents specialising in finance in London were perhaps the slimiest people I’ve ever known.

    But I would like to repeat what another person said: they aren’t all bad. I did manage to find one agent who actually had a computer science degree and had been a software engineer and he actually managed to find jobs that matched my skillset! So there are good agents out there, but unfortunately I think we all agree that the percentage of them is very small.

  • Ismail Mayat October 2nd, 2008

    i have been hit by most of the above at some time or other over the last ten years!

  • Robin October 2nd, 2008

    oh such a true article, and sadly so. IT Recruitment consultents truely are the vilest bunch of sh!ts I can think of.

    6 – “Oh you have worked at company X, I know [false name] from the HR department, who do you know there?”
    Yep – make a name up but u can take it further than that…
    Consultent: oh yes I know “Steve Argylle”
    Me: Yes, I believe that he is due for his sex change op in the next few weeks and then wants to be called Sally.
    Consulent: oh right I’ll try and remember that next time I speak to him…etc.

  • Robin October 2nd, 2008

    having said all that I got my most recent job in the pharmaceutical sector, and was recruited by a pharma recruitment consultent – the difference was astonishing and so refreshing to be treated respectfully and without having to fend off the nonsense from the usual IT recruiters

  • Steve October 2nd, 2008

    Great blog Adam,
    Another useful tip!
    Rather than buying another pay as you go mobile.
    Sign up for a free YAC number (WWW.YAC.COM)
    Use this number on all CV’s etc, and divert all calls thru Yac’s control panel to your mobile or email or home phone number. That way you can switch it off when you do not want to be pestered by Agencies.
    The email function is great as a message is recorded and forwarded to an email of your choice.

    Has anyone had experience of being asked to provide copies of birth certificates or driving licenses to agencies? I find this rather alarming.

  • Robin October 2nd, 2008

    Once, despite the fact that I live in the midlands and can’t relocate, an agent spent over 15 minutes trying to get me to go to an interview with Vodafone in the Thames valley, even though I told him straight away that I wasn’t interested. God knows why he spent so long trying to persuade me to go for this interview, bombarding me with facts about how amazing the job was. I CANT RELOCATE DONT YOU GET IT?!

    Another time an agent got me an interview for a job when I was due to be on holiday and was incredulous when I told him I couldn’t make the interview as I was away. “What do you mean you can’t cut your family holiday short!?”


  • Dave McLuvin October 3rd, 2008

    Hi guys,

    I’ve got a fantastic opportunity for ASP.NET web windows C# Java with a prestigious blue chip company based in Central London.

    This is an exciting opportunity to enhance your skills and work within an agile environment.

    For more information, please contact me direct at

    Yours sincerely,

    Dave McLuvin
    Senior .NET Specialist
    ARC Recruit

  • Srinivas Gundelli October 4th, 2008


    All I can comment is,,, I have been searching for such a feedback for ages now..and gutting out you experience with us “was wanted”. Even I at some point have been through similar situations inspite being a recruiter (not an AGENT)..

    Kudos to u…

    Do keep posting such interesting bits sometimes

  • Team October 6th, 2008

    hmmmmm! Very true!

    I just experienced this, when I was in need for a job.

    It was good experience to deal with these guys.

    Thanks for the share.

  • Mat October 12th, 2008

    Wow, I know I may be a little wet behind the ears but this is all highly scary. Are human beings actually like this? What sad pleasure do people derive from making shit up just to get a sale? How depressing.

    I have honestly found reading this blog post, plus the comments, an eye-opening experience.

    I decided to go freelance recently (not as software consultant, but network and virtualisation architect) and considered attempting to get some work through a few agencies who match jobs for self-employed.

    Pretty much, reading this tonight has made me decide against trying to use agents, I don’t care if there are good ones. I knew it in abstract, but the point made above seems so obvious now that I think of it: that the contract always goes to the lowest bidder, highest margin, hence never matching the best candidate for the job.

    *Depressed that humans can’t just do things properly and without being disingenuous at every step*

  • Maga October 12th, 2008

    Really good article. Thank you.

    How far no recruiter asked me any of above questions but recruiters who are calling me make me mad. They ask a lot of questions – always the same: what are you doing now, what’s you role etc. And they never call again. It’s so annoying.
    Lately I received an email from a recruiter who asked me to complete some information in my CV. I did that and then he told me that his colleague will contact with me. His colleague gave me a call – told something about his client, asked me a lof of question and promised to send me detailes about his client by email. And he never do that.

    I’m wondering – how to look for a job and avoid such situations? Any ideas?

  • Martin October 14th, 2008

    A nice hello from Austria…
    One of my partners gave me the link to your website and i found the article and the posting very interesting, but nevertheless its’ a shame to see how bad salespeople can ruin the reputation of a business..
    I am an IT agent, but do live in Austria, do my business here, so no connections to UK and no advertisement therefore anyways…But some usefull tips for finding good/better agents…

    1. Get to know the guy and fidn out what he can really offer and is willing to do for you..
    The “matching database” isn’t really the worst thing in this business- how can i provide a good job for somebody i don’t even know?
    If an agent does have no personal knowledge of somebody, how can he provide real service?
    and i’m convinced that it cannot just be the sales effort at the start that justifies the margin of any agency, it should be a service partnership…
    Last but not least: its allways easier to lie on the phone…

    2. Talk with other developers (as many as possible) about their good and bad experiences with agencys, thats the only true reference in that market and to my personal opinion a good way to find out whom you can trust and whom to avoid- and it will help to make it harder for the black sheeps to trick people…

    3. ask questions, too…and many
    a good agent will have answers for the things you are interested in, and if there is a “give and get” than it can be all right that he asks questions, too…
    If the partnership is just based on the maximum margin/the minimum margin, then there is no use fo it, a data matching internet based platform could do the job better…

    one extra point:
    I don’t agree with the posts concerning that a good and successful agent must be a technical skilled guy:
    he should be your (experienced) sales partner, and maybe helpful with organisational problems, but thats it
    problem is, that most of the guys aren’t good sellers and thats maybe why they need such slimy tricks…
    (its understood that he has to have some good understanding for the technical skills he sells and even more for his market…)

    greetings from austria/vienna


  • kazhchakal October 15th, 2008


    Very good article.
    Good selection of photos too. The laughing agent is perfect!

    I know them even before coming to UK. What I still dont understand is why only very few companies hire people directly.. do they trust an agent than a software developer?

    Btw, anyone of you aware of REC( )? I think its helpful when you have complaints against an agent. I have approached them for one of my experiences:


  • Been there done that October 22nd, 2008

    Going for a job in a financial company in London, I was told at the last minute that my preferred rate was not accepted by the client as they felt my skillset didn’t match that well. This was for a IT management position, and I must have given the impression that I didn’t have a lot of experience in the area they were asking for. Against my better judgement and due to the need for employment I relented and accepted an offer 10% below what I originally requested.

    Fast forward a couple of months, and two things happened : 1) I spoke to the person who was responsible for hiring me and he told me at the pub that no such conversation occured between himself and the agent – in fact they thought I was a perfect fit, which is why they offered the role and were happy to pay my requested rate. Grrr. 2) I got promoted into a position where I would be hiring for a new team of developers.

    The agent who had hired me had worked for years to position himself as the ‘preferred supplier’ for this company. WHen I asked around HR it wasn’t official policy – it was just he was good at keeping himself in the loop and jumping on positions as soon as they came up. I soon fixed that : I placed another 6 people through a different agent, someone who had treated me with respect previously. The original agents greed for an extra 10% commission on my daily rate resulted in, oh, about 50,000 quid in placement fees and his place as preferred supplier in the company. Sucker.

    When I left the company, he rang me on my last day and asked why I had placed all these people through someone else. I told him the truth : because he had screwed me on my original rate and I thought he was dishonest. Hopefully he learnt his lesson, but the lesson he probably learnt was to cover his tracks better, not to starting being honest.

  • Daniel December 23rd, 2008

    Would you all get a grip and stop whinging. Redsquare how many roles have you ever been invited to join without an agent using aggressive tactics to pick up new business? These are sales people providing a service to you they’re not customer services. How do you expect them to find you a job if they dont find new clients? Underhand!!!! what ridiculous statement I hope you do give up because you’re obviously not clever enough to use a pay as you go phone for a couple of weeks untill you find a role and then use the same select agencies you make a rod for your own back my friend!

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