Advice for universities and students.

Hey there generic University,

I strongly believe that University 101 should be one of your lecturers standing up in front of the commencing class and saying, “University is a social experience for you, one where you’ll undoubtedly learn things – both of life and of your chosen subject – but if you want to get a job after it then please aim for more than just a grade!”.

I’ve just once again gone through a round of interviews from a few local universities, looking for gap year students to come in and work with us as a junior developer, and as with the last 3 years I’ve once again found that students today feel that learning how to correctly apply a <br> tag to a page, or how to make a form submit, or how to use a PNG (albeit in the instance of this particular interview incorrectly/for no apparent reason) should be enough to get them a job at a professional level upon leaving education/having a gap year.

University, will you please sit down and tell your students that doing enough to get a first isn’t, at least for most companies I know, going to be good enough to get them a job!

I cut 60 CVs down to 10 interviews and in those 10 interviews spoke to each applicant for around an hour. In those hour slots not one person showed the level of passion, commitment and ability to development in general, the web in any guise, or a glimmer of anything else interesting that I felt would make me want to scoop them up and offer them a placement.

It was with genuine sadness that as I sat through one particular interviews with a Computer Science student who was holding up his ability to create a very basic HTML form as something that everyone should be proud of – I was sat there thinking that at the same age as this student, that Zuckerburg fella was creating The Facebook – and also thinking that creating basic forms is probably what Year 7 students are doing at secondary school now.

So, University, please tell your students to learn outside of class, please tell them a first isn’t enough, please tell them that they need passion – because if they don’t have it now, they won’t have it in 20 years, please tell them that they need to be doing and creating things for themselves, not just essays and things for you to grade, please tell them that until they realise this, a lot of digital agencies are going to think they’re more suited to shelf stacking than wasting space sat on one of their office chairs.


Frustrated hirer

Employer Branding and Skills Shortage? I ReThink so…

I recently sat down and answered some questions from Sam Wilkinson over at ReThink recruitment about the ‘state’ of the market at the moment, how recruiters (at least some of them) have upped their game in the last 18 months, and how I’m strangely perplexed as to how any student thinks they’re ever going to get a job given those that I see applying with no experience and little passion… Enjoy.

  1. How significant is the people challenge for your growth – both attracting and retaining?

Growth is and always will be a key factor for us – it wasn’t much longer than 5 years ago we had 6 developers, now we have 30 – and we’ve had that level of growth across the entire agency!

Whilst retaining staff is always important, numerous client wins mean we find we’re focussing quite extensively on the recruitment of new talent right now. And it’s something we’ve been focussing on for a while now. How are we trying to attract new talent? I’d love to say that web, social and self-advertisement were large and growing aspects of our drives for people, but we’ve not seen a whole lot of traction from adverts on our website or social media releases, and equally who has a hours on top of their normal job to pour through hundreds of poor quality CVs from the likes of advertising on Monster, jobsite or Stack Overflow in the hoping of finding that one special candidate? So I’m somewhat sad to say that recruitment in the development team is usually done through using recruitment consultants.

I remember when I started in my role as CTO and I’d put a .NET job spec out and have 10 CVs of varying quality by the end of day 1, currently it’s hard to pull in 1 decent CV in 10 days.

What’s been interesting to me over the years is that the standard of CV seems to have gone up, or perhaps it’s the quality of the consultants? It’s very unusual for me to get a CV these days that hasn’t been checked and the contents been pre-assessed before it comes over. No longer am I getting CVs that are lazily matched on keywords I’ve supplied – and this can only be a good thing – for both the development industry and the recruitment industry too!

In terms of the roles we have, I think we’ve struggled to at times to fill roles for a number of reasons:

  • Being a digital marketing agency I think server side developers (specifically .NET) wonder whether are we technical enough to give them things meaty enough to get their teeth into? – we do our best to show that the project work is varied and goes from simple to massively complex, but we’ve still had people go to system integrators and software development houses because they’ve had this fear
  • We have separate technology (and departmental) teams – that means having great levels of talent which are very focussed, but also means for example, that giving interface developers who also want to be designers the opportunity to do so isn’t possible – we’ve lost fantastic people because of this and that’s awful, but equally we work the way we work, because it works!
  • Size – at over 130 people there are people who want a more boutique feel, to be a larger fish in a smaller pond – you can’t change this obviously, but you can emphasise the team as opposed to the agency!

In short, all things that we can’t change!

From a retaining talent once we’ve found it perspective I’m particularly proud of the turnover rate within the development team here at twentysix (and also the agency as a whole) – outside of those members of staff who joined in the last 12 months, the development team average for the length of service is around 5 years, and the hope of course is that this continues to go up!

As salary expectations have increased over the eighteen months or so there may well be the temptation for people to move on and our staff turnover rate might well change in the future, but the experience I’ve had with most of the people here at twentysix is that they are more interested in growing as developers working on great projects, going on training that they might not get the chance to go on should they work elsewhere, getting extra-curricular benefits such as parties, pizzas and beer, and working in an environment where they work side by side with great people, where everyone is pulling in the same direction and everyone is on board with practices that they know work.

So, will the likes of Sky coming to Leeds with their massive salaries and free TV packages make a dent in our workforce? It’s too early to say either way I think, but I really do hope not.

  1. How do you attract people to work with you in a very competitive market?

I believe that you can only be the agency that you are, and the second you start looking to change your that people coming in – or worse, start lying about what you are and what you offer – then you’re failing everyone, not just the needs of the new staff member but those that you already work with day in, day out.

This can be a very hard pill to swallow and I know we’ve lost a few people over the last 6 months because we haven’t been able to meet their needs as a candidates in one area or another, and whilst it’s disappointing in the first instance I also know that in the long run it’s better for us because we’re a team of people who all subscribe to the same mission statement and want the same things…

Ultimately I think that you have to “be yourself” as an agency and you’ll attract the talent that is right for you – what’s the use in spending weeks or months hiring people that are only going to stay for 6 weeks because you’re not a good fit?

In terms of selling twentysix I think most people that work in the industry know that there aren’t many USPs when it comes to selling themselves, and so I generally concentrate on the things that make us truly great… I know that we do great work and I know that we have great people! And that’s what I focus on whenever I need to sell twentysix!

  1. Why should people stay with you?

You have to have great projects, you have to put in place training, you have to give people a team to work with and learn from, and finally an environment that makes them want to come to work every day

We’re a closely-knit team that works together to deliver projects and to learn – as a department we have development nights out, we have weekly progress meetings for the entire team and also sub team meetings for everyone in their own technology teams to share learnings and concerns. We also have weekly development lunches where members of the team share what they’re passionate about – this might mean that a .NET developer sits through something really tailored for a PHP developer, but even across these teams there are learnings to be made

From a personal growth point of view we have a policy of almost always hiring at mid-level, even when people are coming to us from previous senior roles – we do this because it allows us to gauge what level a person is at in terms of ability not only from a technical standpoint but also in terms of a social one, a tooling one, a project one – fit is extremely important to me, we don’t just want developers, we want developers who have a social side and are able to communicate and get on with both the development and wider team!

This policy on growth means that we promote internally and grow internally – we have people that have been with the development team for over 9 years and have come up from graduates to being very senior within teams. We’re proud of this internal growth and of the low staff turnover it leads to.


  1. What do you think are the best ways to counter skills shortages in technology areas?

You’ve got to rely on not just your own ability to sell your agency, but also the local councils and development agencies to sell the city and the area – are Leeds City Council and the associated consortiums responsible for pushing Leeds doing their job at the moment? I think it’s a very interesting question to ask. As is the one about how digital as an industry works in Leeds. We have a much more fragmented industry here in Leeds than the likes of Manchester (who have the fantastic Manchester Digital) and I don’t think that necessarily works for us or gives us the draw that the other side of the Pennines necessarily has – not to even mention London!

How do you ensure that grads and young people are able to enter the market and not be a burden? You’ve got to be prepared to work with Universities to ensure that they’re teaching the right things! I’m currently working with a local university which is still teaching Action Script – while they’ll claim that this is for syntax and theory, I’d be much happier if they were actually teaching the technologies and languages that we’re using so that graduate developers can more easily slide into my roles – so it’s about having those meetings and trying to influence syllabuses wherever you can.

It’s really hard to do on the job training for people that know nothing – we’ve considered intern placements a number of times in the development team, and as much as we’d love to put apprentices and interns into the team I honestly feel that over the years since I started in my career (back in 1998), people’s expectations about what they need to do to get into the industry has plummeted – I had a portfolio, a good knowledge of HTML and ASP, and a can do attitude, I used to build websites as a hobby and knew inside out what would be expected of me in a web development job. By comparison most every placement, grad, intern and apprentice application I see these days has a personal statement that uses the words ‘dedicated’, ‘self-motivated’ and/or ‘hard worker’ and that’s where it ends – they have absolutely nothing to back the words up – no website (beyond Facebook), generic if any programming skills (if you’re lucky) and seemingly no desire to work in the web beyond it being ‘A job’.

That said, of course we know that some training is always going to be needed – even for seniors etc. – but if people can’t put their own time and effort in to develop themselves to a reasonable standard, why do they expect an agency to pay them to do so? Maybe more needs to be done in terms of training younger people or communicating the above – but I’m not about to take out an Ad in the Metro.

My Rules. Republished.

So, I spend a lot of time complaining about the behaviour of recruiters, mostly because they’re either horrible human beings, or because they’re forced to BE horrible human beings by their overlords who are horrible human beings and are perfectly happy spamming, cold calling, LinkedIn baiting, and all the other awful stuff that recruiters do – like not listening, ignoring requests, only doing rudimentary key word matching etc. If you want to have me NOT complain about you and your behaviour, and if you ever want to stand a chance of being on my PSL, you’d be best to take heed of the following list.

  1. Call me first: If I don’t take your call that’s because I’m busy or don’t want to speak with you. If it’s the former it’s likely that within 4 or 5 calls you’ll get hold of me, if it’s the latter it’s likely I’ll keep “being in a meeting” – of course feel free to carry on but you’re just wasting your own time (and mine, and the receptionists) and so you’re NEVER getting anywhere with that plan!
  2. Do offer to come over and see me: I like to look into the eyes of the people that I deal with, I like you to take the time to explain to me how you work, I like you to show that you understand my agency and my business
  3. Understand who I am and what requirements I have: I don’t use contractors (so if you work the contractor desk, DON’T phone me, it’s a waste of your time and mine, and the receptionists); On permanent I have a PSL, and it’s expandable if you show that you know what you’re talking about – don’t tell me that you’re an expert, prove that you’re an expert – and not at using a database, at what I do (I don’t need you to be a programmer, it would be nice if you knew the difference between HTML and .NET)
  4. Don’t send me emails that I’ve not asked for: my time is limited, I get many emails and if you’re sending me things that I don’t expect or want then that’s more things for me to filter through; I’ll remember your name in a negative light if you keep making me read emails that I’m not interested in. By all means introduce yourself if you think that you’re the right fit for me and my agency, but if you get nothing back then cut your losses (see 1. above, not giving in does not guarantee results)
  5. And definitely don’t send me speculative CVs: absolutely nothing annoys me more – because let’s be honest, it’s going to be either a) someone I’m not interested in, or b) someone I am interested in and have no budget to take on – either way, you just annoyed me, a lot – when I want to see people, I’ll ask you, okay?
  6. When you do send me CVs (because I’ve asked for them), then please put names on them – I’m not going to go off and introduce myself to them, but I am going to look at their social media profiles and try to get an idea of who the people behind the words are – it’s really hard to do when you send me candidate J3576359G.
  7. Don’t add me to your consultancy lists: when you ask if you can send me your details over and I say yes, that’s me accepting you as a person with a face who I’m happy to deal with – I don’t want to be on a list where everyone in your organisation calls or emails me.
  8. Equally, don’t _you_ send me bulk emails, recruitment is about relationships, nothing says “I don’t care” like an email blast with a “personalised” name in the header… I’m not just another faceless public sector HR manager!
  9. That said, please DO keep your records on who I am up to date! Salesforce or whatever other CRM package you use should be able to allow you to create some fairly detailed notes on me and what I like and hate in a recruiter (how I like to work) and in candidates (good personal hygiene)… In an industry where staff turnover isn’t unheard of why do you think I’d want to work with a recruiter who is having to relearn my wants and needs whenever anyone leaves!
  10. Oh, spell my name right. It’s Matt, or it’s Mathew (If you’re my MOTHER). It’s NOT Mat (NEVER), and it’s NOT Matthew (EVER). Oh, and I’m a brand nazi – so you’ll probably want to get the name and capitalisation of the company I work at right too. You’d not call it “CokaCola FizzyDrinks” would you?

Ultimately boys and girls, I’m a person, a human being and if you treat me like one, I’ll treat you like one. That doesn’t mean I’ll always (or ever for that matter) give you a role to work on, but it does mean that I won’t write about you and your consultancies reprehensible policies on the internet. It’s not hard folks, it’s courtesy, respect and understanding. Now, go forth and recruit!

As a candidate…

I’d have thought you’d appreciate that the stupidest thing you can probably do (outside of the interview) is to start telling other recruitment consultants about the roles you’re hiring for and where they are?! This surely only a) infuriates the hirer (me) who then has to deal with recruitment consultants phoning them and asking about roles that I don’t want to give out – thus significantly reducing your chance of the role, and/or b) increases the pool of people that you’ll go up against in the rare case that I’ll give other recruiters the role – thus significantly reducing your chance of the role.

Candidates, please stop being dumb asses, protect your sources!


Whoah Computer Futures, how many CVs?

And I quote…

“Hi Matt,

I’ve attached 10 .NET developers that are all based and looking for a new opportunity in West Yorkshire.”

Yes, TEN, unsolicited, ID’d instead of named, completely unneeded CVs.

Jonathan Maironis, of Computer Futures, you need to read The Rules and play nice!

Kings of crap mails. Monarch.

Here boys and girls is my favourite email in quite some time. They’ve (Sarah Hayward-White @ Monarch Digital) sent an unsolicited email, to a random info group (not even used the jobs@ email address), about someone with a role that we might employ for (we’re a digital agency after all), at a salary that is definitely a London salary, and to cap it all off… They’ve somehow managed to remove the From field so that I initially had no idea who to send a stern email back to.

I absolutely LOVE recruitment consultants.

Premier league ignorance…

Whether they’re called Premier IT, Premier Media, or Premier Recruitment, I don’t care… what I care about is that as an organisation they don’t seem to be able to action a simple request to remove me from their systems. No means No people!

3 email messages in 5 weeks doesn’t sound too bad right? Except when you realise that when I got the first one on the 2nd of April I responded with… “Could you remove me from your database please Jacob. Thanks.”. When I got the second one from Rachel on the 29th of April, she caught me on an off day and got … “LEAVE ME ALONE”, and on the back of that Nicolas has still had the gumption to mail me today asking to drop in.

In truth I had a brief ‘relationship’ with Premier a couple of years back where I laid out my terms for working with them, including no spammy mails with speculative CVs, no phoning me chasing me for roles that don’t exist and a single point of contact to help alleviate the first two issues – well within 2 weeks they’d broken all of my requests and I cut ties. I guess if they can’t get it right while they should still be able to remember if in their heads, 2 years later is going to be tough for them to adhere to my requests.

Still, their ignorance and inability to handle a simple unsubscribe request shows an epic sense of idiocy.

Well done Premier, you’ve got me writing again.


A new wave of mental.

For the last year or so (probably longer), I’ve had the distinct impression that if the recruitment industry hasn’t cleaned up it’s act for the whole world, it’s at least stopped spamming me on a daily basis (probably something to do with my wonderful bedside manner when they call).

Just recently though that’s all changed and over the last 4 or 5 weeks I’ve been inundated with mails and LinkedIn connection requests from people I’ve never met or talked to before. And I’m not talking 1 or 2 people in those 45 days, I’m talking 2 or 3 a day.

So, it’s looking like I may be returning to the recruitmental fold to write about all the people who are pissing me off through firing emails and speculative CVs at me willy nilly, through sending me generic LinkedIn connections, and through phoning me to talk to me about the role we have open – WE HAVE NO ROLE OPEN!

The fun is going to start again, and I’m naming and shaming. First in the cross-hairs? Oscar Associates and Modis Recruitment… You have been warned.

Page after page after page of Page Personnel

Wow… been a little while since I’ve posted. I don’t know about you dear reader, but I’ve noticed a positive uptrend in recruitment over the last year or so; don’t know if this is down to the competition in the market or what, but nevertheless I’ve had less to complain about.

Over the last 3 or 4 weeks however a certain someone has been getting on my nerves… so, the prize for “making me want to return to my ranting ways” goes to James Denning over at Page Personnel. Why you ask?

Much like lots of organisations we have a number of generic email address set up which drop to a few highly important (:)) people within the agency – info@ is one of these – and James to his ‘credit’ has found this address, and all he keeps doing is emailing candidates over. And then more candidates. And then more candidates. And did I mention that they’re mostly awful candidates? And did I mention that because he’s using a generic email address to spam me, about NONE of the candidates are at all the people that I would be able to hire even if they were half decent?

James Denning and Page Personnel have dragged my arse back to recruitmental through their BAD recruitment practices. I hope to now have a little more time away from the site.

Scraping the barrel?

Good Morning,

I hope you are well.

I have recently made a note of candidates who have registered in the last few years with [recruiter name here] and wanted to get in touch for a catch up.

I may have already spoken with you and if that is the case I must apologise but I wanted to drop an email just introducing myself as the new contact for financial services recruitment in Yorkshire and the North East.

I have 5 years recruitment experience in London and it is important that I meet with as many candidates as possible to ensure I have the greatest understanding of the northern market.


There are a couple of things wrong with this email. I’ve made one of them bold, because it’s the kind of phrase you just skip over when you’re reading, but actually hints at desperation. This is further confirmed to me when I spot the words ‘financial services recruitment’. I did, once, have a job in financial services and they did place me there, but that means the CV they’re looking at is from November 2005. Seriously. What use are CVs that are that old? The subject line of the email was ‘catch up meeting’ but sweet Jesus, that’s a long catch up.

The other bit I dislike is the flippant ‘I may have spoken to you so sorry if I have but’, suggesting you’re just one of hundreds of email addresses that he’s popped in a mail merge.

Makes you feel a really valued candidate, doesn’t it?

Methinks he has targets to hit, and is panicking.