By Cindy Atoji Keene
When a software engineering job opens up, recruiter John VanderSande has a database of almost 2,000 names that he can turn to help fill various roles, whether java architect or big data processor. But he is very selective when approaching this pool of contacts, whether asking for a referral or approaching a new graduate and gauging their interest. “Competition for talented coders, programmers and developers is fierce, and there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work in finding and hiring the best tech talent,” said VanderSande, who has been a software technology search consultant at WinterWyman staffing firm for over a decade.
Q: You recruit for Massachusetts-based high-tech and software companies, especially startups. What are the hot skill sets that companies are looking for?
A: Believe it or not, 10 years ago there was no such thing as an app developer or data miner and even five years ago, there wasn’t a lot of demand for cloud service specialists, big data architects, iOS or Android developers. Today, top UI (User Interface) engineers are among the employees with the toughest skill sets to find. Technology companies of all sizes struggle filling this role due to the gap in skills between a web developer developing simple websites and a UI engineer developing the front end for a dynamic, complex and scalable Web application. Due to the ubiquitous nature of Web and mobile web applications, demand for these engineers is not going to decrease for the foreseeable future.
Q: What does your day as a recruiter look like?
A: I work on a “blended desk,” which means I am working with roughly 12-20 different companies to fill openings while also helping highly qualified individual candidates advance their career by finding good positions for them. A software company might be going through a big push to hire and looking to hire, say, three, five or 10 engineers. They’ll give us the details and then we need to find talent that fits with what the company is looking for.
Q: Are recruiters, as brokers, threatened by LinkedIn?
A: No, we use LinkedIn as one of our many tools. But LinkedIn, while it has become a big name in the industry, is a little over saturated. It was very useful at first but has become less so over time. Qualified engineers are now getting 5-10 ‘in-mails’ a week – that’s LinkedIn’s version of an internal email – so it’s a lot of noise to them and they’re just hitting ‘delete, delete, delete.’ I would rather use a couple of very focused websites for engineers, such as GitHub or Bitbucket, which are both social coding sites. These help you get a sense of what an engineer is interested in. But of course, the best way is to build a relationship. Cold calling emails usually aren’t that helpful.
Q: How much can a recruiter like yourself earn?
A: I’m 100 percent commission-based, and I have a wife, three kids and mortgage payment; you know, the American dream. It is challenging right now because engineers can be very picky. A recruiter’s salary is a difficult question to answer – it depends on the recruiter, their network, reputation, and experience level. Someone who is just starting out will make a salary plus commission, and total compensation would be in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. A more experienced recruiter working on commission only – someone in the top 20 percent – can make in the $150,000 to $250,00 range, and an exceptional recruiter in the top 5 percent will make $350,000 to $550,000 or even more.
Q: What’s your recruiting success story?
A: I started working with an early-stage startup in July of 2013. At the time, they had just raised a round of funding and were getting started on building their prototype. Over the next nine months, and with the help of my team, we helped place 40 percent of their engineering team. Last spring, they had an unbelievably successful exit and were acquired for a huge sum of money by one of the most recognizable and prominent tech companies in the world. I love stories like this, because when I start working with a company, especially an early-stage startup, it’s very difficult to tell which startups are going to make it, and which aren’t. The best case scenario for everyone involved is a massive exit where the founders and engineering team are rewarded very handsomely for their tireless work. A few days after the news became public, I had an unexpected visitor at my office. One of the engineers I had placed there showed up with a very generous ‘thank you’ gift.