Aptitude tests and headhunters

I have good news. I’m waiting for an offer to be extended from a rather large company. I don’t want to jinx it, so I can’t say whom. But all the signs are good.

As part of the application process, I was asked to take an aptitude test. The questions were about things like number sequences, math word problems, and matrix pattern recognition. The test is designed in such a way
that it’s pretty hard to finish it before the timer runs out. I think the idea is to get some kind of metric that describes how well you can reason logically under pressure.

That’s not the only test I took yesterday. Here’s the setup.

Consider a fictional company – we’ll call it StreamSmart. Exciting new start-up, loads of VC, hiring like mad, groovy offices someplace downtown. So, way back when I first started out on my jobless journey, I got a call from a recruiter – let’s call them Hungadunga. After a few hard sell phone calls from one of their reps, I agree to go down to Hungadunga’s posh offices for an interview.

You forgot a Hungadunga!The interview takes place between me and the rep. Let’s call him Kenny. He’s a nice guy, much younger than I am, and I can tell he likes to hit the clubs at night. He probably golfs on his weekends, has a few beers, takes it nice and easy. He takes me through my resume, makes plenty of thoughtful notations in the margins, explains to me how Hungadunga is well placed directly with Hiring Managers in many Really Important Companies, and promises to get my resume over to StreamSmart right away.

My resume is not a great fit for StreamSmart, and I know it. They’re really looking for someone in their late 20s to early 30s who’s a total Flash head, not a senior dude with management experience trying to dial down into an individual contributor role. But I figure, what the hell, this is the price of admission to Hungadunga’s pool of Really Important Companies.

So, imagine how underwhelmed I am when Kenny from Hungadunga calls me and tells me that there’s no interest over at StreamSmart. OK, I say, what else have you got for me? Nothing at the moment, chirps Kenny, but we’ll keep you posted. Your resume is at the top of my pile.

As the weeks go by, I get approached by a horde of headhunters using the same tack. I’ve got the job for you, come out and interview with us, send us the updated resume, bla bla bla. One recruiter told me that it was her company’s policy that they couldn’t work with anyone they hadn’t met face-to-face. I suppose that I could have just refused on the spot to continue, but she was a nice kid, so I took the morning and drove to Burlington to meet her. It turns out that the more I learned about the position, the less I wanted it. Guess they didn’t want me either. She calls me on occasion to “check in”, but she’s got nothing for me. Nice kid.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten in to a few conversations through direct contact with a couple of actual HR managers at different companies, and these conversations are actually going someplace. I’m totally in the clear in these dialogues, not a whiff of a technical recruiter in the wind. I’m getting in the door for interviews. Stuff is happening.

Conversations with recruiting firms get me nowhere. Conversations with companies that are hiring get me somewhere.

Slowly, a trend develops. I start getting calls from recruiting firms that I haven’t heard of yet, but the jobs they are pitching to me sound very familiar. Note that recruiters are very guarded up front about telling you which job they’re shilling for. After all, if Kenny from Hungadunga told me at first about StreamSmart without getting me to agree to have him represent me, I could just go straight to StreamSmart and apply for the job – cutting out Kenny and his fat commission. But since Kenny has already put my resume in at StreamSmart, it’s a bad idea for me to pester StreamSmart directly. Even if I succeeded in persuading StreamSmart to hire me – with no help from Hungadunga – StreamSmart would still have to pay a finder’s fee to Hungadunga. And the fees are steep.

Here’s the real deal: if you get in the door through a recruiter, you are less attractive a hire than someone who sails in under their own power. Think of it from the hiring manager’s point of view: if Candidate A, represented by Hungadunga costs an extra 40K to hire than Candidate B who just walked herself in the front door, and both candidates are equally as good, which one would you choose?

Think twice about who you agree to have represent you, and how many representatives you have out there “working for you”. It’s like real estate – they’re not really working for you. They’re working for themselves.

Which leads me to the other test I took yesterday.

Craig from Cubitron Staffing (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) contacts me about an exciting position with a start up firm doing great work with video and Flash. Am I interested? You bet. Does Craig tell me more about the company? Not enough to trigger any red flags. Craig tells me, the client has set up an online test, to screen for knowledge and aptitude. Am I willing to take it? Sure, I say, thinking that worst-case-scenario is that I’ll learn how well I stack up against the client’s expectations. That kind of information might come in handy. Somehow. Not sure how. But I’m still game.

So I log in to the test site, and I have an hour to complete 42 questions about Flash MX 2004. I buzz through it in 16 minutes, knowing that I got a few wrong, but I played fair and didn’t look stuff up in the reference books. I send Craig an email telling him I’m done, and asking him how well I did. He and I are on for a face-to-face next Monday by the way, the usual take-me-through-my-resume meeting, I’m sure.

Craig calls me, tells me I got 71% correct, which puts me in the 80th percentile, which is OK enough to send me over to StreamSmart. Hm. Okay, waitaminnit. I tell Craig that Hungadunga has already introduced my resume over at StreamSmart. All of a sudden, Craig is no longer my good buddy. He cancels the Monday meeting. He gives me the usual weak promise that if he sees something that’s a good fit for me, he’ll call me right away. He’s obviously pissed.

I come away knowing that after five years of doing something completely different, I still know enough about Flash to put me in the 80th percentile on his little test in 16 minutes without cheating. So maybe it wasn’t a total waste of time….

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