Talent Agent For Engineers? 🤔

The relationship between recruiters and the tech community is broken. Who hasn’t received a mid-morning “cold-call” from a recruiter when your manager is breathing down your neck? Most recruiters don’t seem to get what we care about, or even what we’ve worked on recently.

When we set out to build a recruiting-focused product, one theme that came up almost every time in 100+ conversations: a talent agency for engineers. Almost universally, engineers hate the job-hunting process. Search is always challenging. There are millions of jobs listed on multiple sites, ironically making it difficult to find the 3–5 best jobs that match a candidate’s background and interests. Interviewing is another issue. Ideally companies should prefer well-prepared candidates who can ace interviews. And yet interviewing practices are treated like state secrets in many firms. Compensation negotiation is another problem. It would be great to have a talent agent to even the playing field for candidates.

Many people have written about why talent agents for engineers don’t exist, most notably Aline Lerner and Dave Fecak. Lerner says:

For engineers, because the shortage is in labor and not jobs, paying out a portion of your salary for a task you can easily do yourself doesn’t make much sense.

Is this really true? Job searches can be draining, especially if you’re searching outside your comfort zone. There are a million jobs out there — how do you find the 3–5 jobs that match your skills and desires?

Lerner goes on to say:

Moreover, from what I’ve been able to observe, most people are looking for a job that’s good enough. After a while, if the company is above some social proof threshold, the work seems interesting, the people are cool, and you’re getting paid well — and with the supply/demand curve looking the way it does now, this isn’t currently a problem — then you accept.

Is this really true? It seems counter-intuitive. If the shortage is in labor and not jobs, then why would any person settle for “good enough”? In a rational, friction-less market, why would people not hold out for the best possible job and compensation? As a software engineer, I find this particularly troublesome. The decision to join a new employer cannot be easy, and settling for “good enough” will lead to regrets very quickly — probably the key reason for rampant job-hopping in tech.

I believe this happens due to incomplete information, irrationality and emotional decision-making. Most engineers are unaware of all available opportunities (especially outside their immediate network).

As per Lerner:

Even if you do get a few more offers with an agent, for most people, interview exhaustion sets in at somewhere around 5 on-site interviews.

Ironically, I believe this is a great reason to have a talent agent on your side. If a candidate can only manage 5 on-site interviews, why not have 5 that are best-aligned with the candidate’s needs?

The main argument against talent agents is focused around incentives and who pays. The common argument goes:

Recruiters are paid by hiring companies. A talent agent is paid by someone looking for work. Candidates will pay talent agents only when jobs are in short supply. In a market like engineering, where jobs are aplenty and engineers in short supply, candidates will not be willing to pay some percent of annual salary to talent agents. Hence talent agents cannot survive.

Makes sense — economics don’t work for a human talent agent. But what about an automated talent assistant? Can we build an intelligent talent assistant which can provide a majority of the assistance, at a fraction of the cost? That’s our challenge.

With CareerBot, we’ve set out to create a Talent Assistant Chatbot. Lets consider services that you expect from a human talent agent and how we can provide them through CareerBot:

  1. Intelligent Job Search: We would definitely expect a human talent agent to be connected, understand a candidate’s skills and capabilities and always be on the lookout for the next great job opportunity. CareerBot aspires to do the same — stay connected with candidates and understand context (e.g. candidates who have just been promoted are less likely to switch vs. those whose growth has stagnated).
  2. Compensation Negotiation: A human talent agent would negotiate on a candidate’s behalf. A chatbot cannot, but we can research competitive salary packages and provide a candidate with just enough info to manage their own negotiations. In many cases, this will be enough.
  3. Interview Prep: Even the best engineers can sometimes need guidance for interviews. CareerBot can provide tips on interviews (e.g. Company A seems to prefer white-boarding). Over time, we will also build a list of people willing to conduct mock interviews and a collection of other resources that can assist in specific situations. Anything needed to help the candidates put their best foot forward.
  4. Detailed Company/Market Info: When a candidate is narrowing job options, CareerBot can provide detailed info on target companies. We save the candidate from spending time on research, with just enough relevant info to make a smart choice.
  5. Marketing/PR: Its amazing how many really talented engineers would rather not talk about their own accomplishments! CareerBot recognizes this — and we would make targeted suggestions that enhance a candidate’s social media/blogging reputation.

So a talent assistant can provide value. The key question is: can economics work for a talent assistant chatbot?

CareerBot aspires to become a data-driven talent assistant that provides objective, unbiased feedback and guidance based on a vast array of internal and 3rd-party resources. Unlike a human, it is not limited by geography, is blind to race/gender and other biases and only cares about finding a candidate the best job and a company the best employee. It charges both candidates and companies a small subscription fee that doesn’t depend on job changes, so there are no conflicts of interest. Economics can work because its a bot 😑.

At CareerBot, its still early days. We’re building and actively seeking feedback. Our platform is currently free for candidates. Would you be willing to pay for a talent assistant? How much? Try it and let us know what you think.

I’m a co-founder of CareerBot, a platform where engineers can find their dream jobs with complete privacy. We aim to build an intelligent career assistant that stays with you even when you’re not job hunting.

Want to find a great job and work with friends and people you know? Join us at CareerBot or try the Messenger Bot here.