Dear tech recruiters: Stop trawling for shrimp


Yes, this is a screed. A necessary one.

A shrimp boat in ocean waters.

A shrimp boat in ocean waters.

Photo of working shrimp boat by Tomas Martinez on Unsplash.

Tell me if you recognize the following rules you’ve been told you must follow to have any hope of landing a UX job.

  1. Proofread your resumé and cover letter. Any typo is instant death for your application.
  2. Use a professional email address.
  3. Use meaningful keywords that match the job description so you can “score high” in the automated applicant tracking system.
  4. Draft a cover letter that is tailored to the company’s mission, explaining why you are the perfect fit for the role.

Sound familiar? Well, the message hasn’t sunk in with all too many “tech recruiters.”

In 2018, when I was on the market in tech for the first time (UX is considered tech, vs. graphic design, my focus earlier in my design career). What passed for tech recruiting back then was jaw-dropping to me: random emails about jobs I wasn’t qualified for (easily discovered by actually reading my profile on LinkedIn), in locations thousands of miles away from home (not a remote job), sent by people with tenuous connections, if any, to the companies whose job descriptions they sent me. Apparently, there’s a cottage industry of foreign nationals who trawl LinkedIn for jobs and resumés, make flimsy connections to job ads, and send out mass emails hoping they might get a finder’s fee from the employer, or maybe “prove” that there aren’t any American workers qualified for a job. (Think I’m exaggerating? Read this thread.) The emails were typically full of typos and used a tone of voice suggesting that I should be grateful to be asked for an “updated resumé,” of course in MS-Word format.

Even after I’d gotten a full-time position–so indicated on LinkedIn — I’d still get random “let’s throw a net out and see how many shrimp we catch” messages, which for the most part I ignored. Some of the inquiries were the equivalent of: Our company uses computers. You use a computer. Interested?

Despite the massive upheaval in worker-employer relations since the pandemic, some tech recruiters still have not gotten the message that their lazy, copy-and-paste, keyword-matching approach to their job doesn’t cut it.

Exhibit A: Why use periods when commas will do?

Your resumé came to my desk…in a gust of wind?

Where do I start? Are “fortune [sic] 500 clients” okay with this recruiter’s apparent disdain for punctuation? My resumé came to his desk? How? By carrier pigeon? Or did he hop into a time machine from the days of Mad Men? Perhaps in his haste to dash off an email before my resumé flew off, there was no time for full sentences. Rest assured, if a candidate’s cover letter was written this way, it would go straight to the trash bin.

What in my resumé, lying there unbidden on his desk, prompted him to think, “oh, she’ll be perfect for this position”? I recently emptied my email trash, so I can’t show you the job description, but I’m sure it was the usual laundry list of requirements with zero indication of why a candidate would be interested in the job — in other words, lacking the information that employers expect candidates to offer up in their super-duper custom cover letter created after a deep-dive search into the company’s staff pages and mission statement.

Exhibit B: Another mysterious profile sighting

The company is located in Sweden. I’m not. Care to explain how this would work?

This recruiter couldn’t even be bothered to address me by name; apparently, mail merge is a tool too far. The salutation is a bit better than “Hey” but only by a nanometer. OTOH, applicants are told that we must research the company and find an actual name to use. She claims to work for Crealon Media, but uses a personal, rather unprofessional gmail address with several numbers at the end. There is no link provided for the company’s website or job listings, leading me to believe this is another stealth faux recruiter. Not to mention, what the heck does the company do? And if she’d actually “had a look” at my profile (wherever that was, perhaps flying past from recruiter A’s desk), she wouldn’t be inquiring about my interest in the role of Website Designer. I haven’t been a web designer for more many years and previous jobs ago, not to mention that “website designer” sounds oh so 1999.

My brother had a boat for many years. He competed in fishing contests. Like all anglers, he knew the keys to success: know the local fish, know what they eat, learn what kind of lure to use and how to display it to the fish, and carefully plan the time of day and year to go fishing. Most tech recruiters, instead, behave like tropical shrimp trawlers, discarding more than half of what’s caught in their nets. If employers want to be competitive in attracting, rather than insulting, top talent, recruiters need to up their game by several notches.

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