A contract recruiter with a "trial first day" policy

(Jon) #1

I dealt with a recruiter today who is wanting to represent me for a Birmingham client. He had my CV already, and I reminded him I was still available, and he thus undertook to send my CV on.

He says that as part of the recruitment process for all roles going through his agency, contractors will get a telephone interview, and then a trial first day. This means that if both parties agree to go forward after the initial conversation, the first day becomes something like an extended interview.

That means that if both parties are happy with the arrangement at the close of business on that day, the contractor will get paid for it, and a mutual agreement is made to see out the remaining length of the contract. If however, one or the other side is not happy, both parties walk away, and the contractor is unpaid. I expect that since contractors are unlikely to want to quit, this policy is ultimately put in place for the client.

I suppose I could envisage this happening in rare cases, but it has not been spelled out so explicitly to me before, and sounds like the kind of hard-nosed practice that gets recruiters a bad name. Is this normal in the industry? I can see how it is used as an insurance policy against bad contractors, but it still makes me a bit nervous.

For what it’s worth, I am not too worried about my technical skills; I am more concerned about the slow creeping of practices designed to avoid paying workers. I am wary also of agreeing to terms that feel like an unequal power dynamic, in case that gives the impression the eager contractor will agree to anything just to get some work.

(Jessica Rose) #2

What the six shades of grey-blue hell is this?!

I have never heard of this sort of arrangement (and I’ve heard of all manner of exploitative foolishness) and would strongly warn against working with any recruiter doing this. I’m also really not sure about the legality of this process. Would they extend you a working contract for the first trial day with these terms? Would be pretty exciting to see if they’re willing to put this potential liability on paper.

Would you be comfortable talking about who this recruiter is (or private messaging!) so that we/I can be sure that we’re not recommending folks work with them?

(Jon) #3

Ha ha, thanks Jess - that made me smile! God knows I need it at the moment, some of them are driving me around the twist :crazy_face:.

I guess since I have a Limited Company and the recruiter has the same, things like minimum wage legislation do not apply (or they might, but that would relate to how I pay myself from my Limited Company as a PAYE employee). My guess is, as a Director, I can agree to anything, including the risk of pro bono work.

Ooh good question, I don’t know. I hadn’t thought that the contract might start on the Tuesday, but it is feasible. In the process of trying to normalise it, my contact said that an on-site interview plus code-testing normally takes the best part of the day anyway.

My bind is that although I am a seasoned engineer, I am relatively new to contracting, so I don’t know what level of nonsense I should put up with (and I am already greatly tuned to signs of day-rate skimming).

It strikes me the recruiter’s client could avoid this risk area pretty easily by just offering a one-day notice on both sides (say for the first week) and paying regardless of the outcome of the first day. Surely a firm that can afford to pay contractor day rates can afford to take that financial hit?

If this one develops further, I will ask for that. Good shout.

Sure, the agency are called Oscar Associates (https://www.oscar-tech.com/) and they are looking for PHP/Laravel developers in Birmingham. They have a Brum tel number, but when the recruiter calls me, it’s from their Manchester head office.

Incidentally, these terms are not just on one specific role - my recruiter says they are on all contract positions they handle, and they arrange this of their own volition, and not by client request.

(Jessica Rose) #4

I’ll let some other oldschool contractors weigh in, but I’ve never heard of this and this is super weird. I’ll also flag on the Slack that these contractors have this pants-on-head-bananas requirement.

(Greg Robson) #5

That’s just sounds wrong.

Things that come to mind:

  • Can the recruiter not sell you as a capable contractor?
  • Is this client so bad at getting in contractors that they need to trial them. Do they do this with their employed staff?
  • Do they not trust references or your portfolio of other work?

I could understand a telephone interview (so parties are clear on the requirements) and perhaps meeting in person for an hour to get a “feel” for the person that there won’t be any conflict… but a whole day?

Life has taught me that if something sounds wrong… it probably won’t end well. YMMV.

(Andy Wootton) #6

I’ve met contractors who should have been thrown out on the first day, so the client’s concern is reasonable but the suggested arrangement is not fair.

I always asked for ‘back to back terms’ if anything seemed dodgy. If the contractor decides not to stay or the company decides not to keep them, it’s at the contractor’s expense? I’d offer to not be paid if I decided to leave. To be paid if they’ve wasted your day. Shared risk.

I’d also make it clear that you don’t expect them not to want you. It sounds like lack of confidence in their own judgement, so you being confident may impresses them. You can’t afford days to leak away. Your total income is more affected by the number of days you work than the rate, so don’t let people steal your time.

(Richard Gale) #7

As discussed on Thursday, this sounds dodgy as all hell to me (8 years in recruitment; 4 years agency, 4 years internal, business owner).

My main worry wouldn’t be around creeping unfair business practices (which would be a concern) - it would be that it’s used as a ploy by agencies to “guarantee” a fee, at the potential cost of hiring a suboptimal engineer. The greatest cost of hiring a “bad” contractor is not the up front cost, but that they will wreck the code base, introduce bad practice, short term thinking etc. Eliding part of the recruitment process, and not being as discriminating for expedient reasons seems dangerous to me. When hiring folks (contract or no), I’d always advise having a somewhat rigorous screening process up front. How rigorous is a good question, and we can have intelligent debate around this - but a false positive is orders of magnitude more damaging than a false negative in hiring, and I fear this practice practically invites false positives.

(Andy Wootton) #8

As a system manager (sysadmin) I once had an interview in which I was asked “So, can you do this?”. If I couldn’t have, I’m sure they’d have thrown me off-site at the drop of a hat, as soon as they realised. The guy told me he wouldn’t know but he clearly wanted to check if he thought he could trust me. If a company has lost a specialist, they don’t always have anyone capable of interviewing for a replacement. Many people put far too much trust in agencies that don’t deserve it.

(Richard Gale) #9

Been thinking about this more today; for some reason it’s been stuck in my head for a few days. Well, I am an internal recruiter after all…

The trust issue above is important - even if you don’t have anyone in the business that can do a tech screen for a specific technology, you should sit down face to face (or VC, or phone if nothing else) to see if they’re trustworthy, and do a bit of digging there. I fear that with no personality / culture fit screen of any kind, you could bring someone into the business who’s got dark triad personality traits (psychopathy, for instance), which would be potentially disastrous (for any number of reasons). Those people who have to move from company to company every few months once everyone around them realises. They’re somewhat rare, I know, but this model might reward folks like that and keep getting them work. I’ve come across a handful in my time.

You might say “Well, if you can’t pick it up in the first day, what makes you think you can pick it up in 1-2 hours of interviews?” - a reasonable point, but in an interview your questions can be a lot more probing, and precise. In a day’s work, you probably want to let them get on with setting up and do some work, and not be able to probe to the level you might have done in a direct interview (or oversee their activities with sufficient attention as you’re busy yourself).

(Also; day one is lots of setting up machines, provisioning accounts / tools etc. The more I think about this, the worse this idea sounds!)

Playing Devil’s Advocate - perhaps there is one circumstance in which this arrangement could work. If it’s a low impact, very short (1-2 weeks) project with a hard deadline (perhaps from a client; a prototype or POC or something), and you need someone right now to do it - and there aren’t lots of future dependencies with other projects / products - maybe you could risk it?

(Richard Gale) #10

By the way - I’ve been thinking about this from the perspective of the company working with the recruiter, not from the candidate’s perspective (which was the original question). I do this, because the agency is probably “selling” this model into the company (perhaps with some resistance). “Ah, you can trust our contractors”.

From the candidate perspective, it sounds like taking the piss - and I’d make a whole set of inferences about the company that thought this might be a good idea (state of the codebase, culture etc.)

Hey; it’s good for the recruitment agency in the short term. They get a fee, don’t have to put much work in to get it, and don’t have to risk much. “Bums on seats / money on the board” mentality. Probably not a great mid to long term strategy though.

(Jon) #11

Thanks for continuing the discussion @GregRobson, @RichardGale and @Woo. I’ll respond to your points more substantively tomorrow (when I am not just wanting to relax and listen to 6 Music :musical_score:).

I’ll add a bit more colour and detail to my story, in case it helps.

I have dealt with this recruiter before. His demeanour feels rather sales-oriented and abrupt, and he’s not keen to give away useful information even knowing I am a genuine seeker (e.g. client location). It’s probably fair to say that in dealing with recruiters, I make unfashionable judgements about whether I think they are nice, and interact with them accordingly.

I made the assumption his agency works on a closed-book (no declared percentage) basis, and so when I experienced some pressure to reduce my price, I decided to resist, on the basis that discounts on my labour go into his back pocket. Initially, based on my CV, an interview sounded very likely (same day or next day). However, when he found I cannot lay claim to commercial framework X experience, he changed his tune, and failed to call back. I expect that I have not even been represented to the client, even though learning framework X is well within my skillset.

(I was moderately minded to apply to the client directly, as I can easily demonstrate aptitude if I am allowed to represent myself, but it could be a risky ploy, and I’d rather not give any commission to this recruiter, for the various reasons stated in this thread).

(Andy Wootton) #12

“…our contractors” :slight_smile: The contractors whose CVs they have on their database, who they may have spoken to on the telephone but are unlikely to have ever met, let alone interviewed.

(Richard Gale) #13

@halfer Trust your instincts - I think you’re probably on the money in this instance.

  1. Not getting back to you
  2. Lost interest when you didn’t have the experience necessary for him to get his fee
  3. Probably getting you to lower your fee to pocket the delta (way too common a practice, I used to disclose candidate day rate and my margin when I was in agency)
  4. Being Sales-y, abrupt and doesn’t seem to care…

I wouldn’t say that you’re being “unfashionable” in thinking that; you’re being necessarily prudent.

I don’t think you’re not within your rights to contact the company directly if you know who they are. A few reasons:

  1. You don’t know if they’ve submitted you. They’ve ghosted you.
  2. Even if they did; you have no idea how well they respresented you. If he was like that to you, he’s probably no more proficient in client comms
  3. What do you have to lose? Getting on the agent’s bad side? Companies use external recruiters because they have to, they have little sway to affect clients’ minds about a candidate (in most instances). An individual recruiter (or agency for that matter) has little power to negatively affect your ability to get future contracts. Besides; they wouldn’t hold a grudge if you get them a fee now / in the future (unless they’re stupid and vindictive)
  4. They might get a fee anyway - if they did submit you, and you get the contract. They wouldn’t be upset by that!

If you do go down that road, though; don’t overtly rubbish the recruiter to the company. Simply say you hadn’t heard back from them (maybe put it down to a comms issue, so you’re not throwing them under the bus obviously), and say that you’re super keen on them / their project. Even if they had doubts - perhaps you could win them over.

PS - What’s the framework they want, and which frameworks do you have experience with? I know PHP relatively well. Doesn’t sound immediately insurmountable to me (though of course, it might be).

(Richard Gale) #14

@Woo precisely. They’re playing both ends (client and candidate) to try and maximise revenue, and trying to make anything stick. Sorry that you’ve had these experiences…

(Marc Cooper) #15

My 2c.

If they want a day’s work then they pay for the day. Cost of doing business and all that. (And your day rate for short term should be much higher than long term.)

re: @woo’s comment about let’s say “wrong bod for the job” contracts, there’s often a five working days get out clause in most dev contracts. Again, cost of doing business. (Not all contracts work out, so let’s be grown up about it.)

Richard’s obviously given some great advice from the other side of the fence.

Walk away from recruiters that won’t disclose figures. It’s an unhealthy practice not to do so, and we can wipe it out by not dealing with them.

(Jon) #16

Great comments, all - much appreciated. Today I spoke to a (much nicer) recruiter, and this discussion came up. I have sent her the link, based on the view that any greater understanding of workers here is an excellent thing for recruitment folks to acquire.

@RichardGale: yep, indeedy. He could argue, I suppose, that he suspects me as one of the contractors you mention, who warm a seat for a couple of months before being kicked out.

I think you are right about contacting the company directly. In fact, I did this with my first contract, leaving a sheepish recruiter wondering what he’d done to get £80/day for his agency. That carried on for 16 months, with three renewals.

I’ll ponder whether to contact directly in this case; a handful of new things have emerged in my pipeline, so they may be better bets for now.

I agree that if I did go for this one, I’d push for equal terms for the first day, with everything inside a contract; the advice in this thread is unanimous, and I’ll take it.

The framework is Laravel. It has quite a big ecosystem but my experience is that most users of a framework do not use all of its capabilities. I could cheerfully build my own MVC framework from scratch, so understanding the design pattern is not an issue.

That’s an excellent thing to aim for, and I agree in theory, but I don’t feel I can afford to do that yet. I can only name four open-book recruiters (Senitor, Real IT, Reed Tech, Michael Page) and all the others I have spoken with as a contractor (around ~50 others?) I would assume to be closed-book, since they did not declare otherwise.

Good point. The answer, probably, is that “technology specialist” recruiters don’t understand technology like technologists do. In one of my last interviews, I walked senior engineers around an infrastructure diagram of a micro-services project I built from scratch. I discussed my design choices and showed a depth of understanding that recruiters do not have the training to appreciate or ask questions about.

Thus, once I get to interview, I have a good track record; the primary problem is being filtered out by someone whose amateur antennae are giving entirely the wrong readings. :snail:

(Martin Meredith) #17

Sure, the agency are called Oscar Associates (https://www.oscar-tech.com/)

Oh, I’ve had interesting dealings with Oscar in the past. I basically ended up complaining to the ICO about them when they would NOT stop contacting me even after asking a LOT of times. The ICO upheld my complaint :slight_smile: