Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Back End of the Bell Curve

Or. ...  Being a recruiter is hard

With GDC 2016 around the corner, I wanted to prep some topics for the Art Leadership Roundtable. One of the topics I'd like to discuss is identifying and addressing poor performance. In fact, this whole post was going to be about what I call "the ass end of the bell curve"

I won't go into an elaborate description.  Succinctly, in any organization there is a distribution of performance. For those who haven't done this, if you plot performance against population, you see a bell curve. A select few inhabit both the bottom and top performer ranks with the rest being scattered in the middle ground -- this is still true even in "high performance" environments.

I've been fortunate enough through my career to really work with some amazing developers who clearly inhabited the top tier of performance. Like everyone else, I've also witnessed a number of people who inhabited the "ass end."  But, as I said, this was going to be about the bell curve.

Instead, I've decided to talk about recruiting.

Recruiting for a studio is hard. I've had to source talent for projects over the years.  I recently received a message from a third-party recruiter that was such a powerful example of the ass end of the bell curve that I couldn't help but share.

I'm keeping the recruiter's identity confidential, but it's worth sharing this as I see it as a teachable moment:

First of all, this initial contact lacks even the vaguest attempt to personalize the message. Other than my name, this is likely the same block of text that several dozen other potential candidates received.  One of the first rules of sourcing a candidate is to know who you're contacting. Do a little research. How long have they been in the industry and what types of positions have they held?  Is it someone at the beginning of their career, or a veteran?  The reason to do this is to make the candidate feel special.  Even if the candidate isn't interested, the recruiter should make an effort to make the candidate feel valued.  This is not accomplished via bulk email formatting.

Now, let's break down the information in the message:

Sony Amsterdam, huh?  Okay, this isn't a problem for the recipient but highlights a lack of experience by a third party recruiter. You don't tell the candidate who your client is. For those who may not know, third party recruiters almost always collect a commission if the person they source is hired (percentage of starting salary).  If the candidate knows who has the opening, then there's nothing stopping that person from just applying directly and bypassing the recruiter entirely.  Also, sometimes companies don't like the recruiter mentioning them by name in initial contact as some people don't like working with recruiters.  For this reason, the client may not want their company's name associated with a poor recruiter experience.

It's never a bad idea to mention a few perks. However, I question this recruiter's choice of "perks" for the initial email.  Free games?  Great, but that's not really the bait you use to attract talent with more than a handful of years of experience. Subsidized public transportation?  I don't know what to make of that.  Are you implying the pay grade is so low that public transportation represents a significant portion of the salary, to which the studio is willing to contribute?  It's just a ... weird ... choice to list as a perk.

Just to be clear, this recruiter is trying to sell me on international relocation.  Two months free rent?  I wouldn't classify that as an amazing offer, but rather standard and certainly a minimum for international relocation.

2000 euros?  Seriously?  This recruiter is trying to pitch me international relocation at that price?  We've already established that the author knows nothing about me. Am I single?  Am I married or have a family?  Do I rent or own a home?  The author quoted actual numbers in initial contact - generally considered a faux pas in almost all situations - without learning a thing about me.

For those who are interested (converting to USD but without adjusting for inflation) that's a little less than what it cost me to move myself and my wife from Indiana to California in early 2000.  The suggestion that I could relocate my family to Amsterdam in 2016 within a 2000 euro budget is either absurd or the recruiter left off a zero.

Hopefully you readers now understand why I'm sharing this as an example of the ass end of the bell curve.  Recruiting is an incredibly difficult job and I have a lot of respect for those who do it well.  It is worth noting that this is not the worst interaction I've ever had with a recruiter in my career.

However, this was bad. This was so bad in fact, that I had to share. I wanted to share it with you readers. More importantly, I have many good friends who work at Sony.  As such, I passed this message along to the head of talent acquisition at Sony. I know that, we're I working at Sony, I would want to know if a third party recruiter was poorly representing my organization.