Recruiters suck, and why I became one.

Because we take confidentiality very seriously, all of the names (except mine and my wife's) have been changed, along with the countries. Also, my wife handles most of the recruiting side. I'm a freelance consultant/trainer, so no, I'm not giving up programming.

Nisar (not his real name) lives in Unknownistan (not his real country) and was extremely concerned about the climate in the country he was seeking work in. We were confused. He was willing to accept just about any programming job for any pay rate. With his desperation to get out of his third-world country, why would he really care about the weather?

The answer, it turns out, was rather simple, though surprising to Western ears: if Nisar couldn't find a place to live with heating, he was worried about being able to handle the winter.

To someone living in Europe or the US (or most countries reading this, for that matter), having someone worried about whether or not they can find a flat with heating, particularly on a programmer's salary, sounds bizarre, but the candidates we're speaking with are truly from all around the world and the comforts that most Westerners take for granted aren't universal.

Sadly, while Nisar had some skills as a developer, he didn't have enough. Unknownistan simply didn't have reliable enough Internet access or electricity for him to be able to seek remote full time employment, much less develop his skills in a manner that a Western company would expect. And as you might imagine, Unknownistan doesn't have a rich technology job market. We were able to arrange a Skype interview with him, but the connection was very poor and at the end of the day, it turned out that his English was also poor.

Welcome to the sometimes heartbreaking world of international IT recruiting.

As some of you know, I started writing the Overseas Exile blog several years ago in an attempt to help anyone, anywhere, live their dream of living abroad. I had no idea where it was taking me. Eventually I started receiving so many emails from people desperate to "get out" that I started contacting recruiters and letting them know I had a tech-savvy audience willing to relocate and I was happy to post the recruiter's job adverts for free. Despite contacting many recruiters who had international job postings, only one recruiter took me up on the offer. All but two even failed to acknowledge my email, despite my offering to start sending candidates their way free of charge. It was disheartening.

Naturally, employers started contacting me, too. Because of this, I managed to help people find jobs in the US, the Netherlands and Malaysia, but it was too random, too "hit or miss." I love programming, but I also love being an expat and I want to help others live their dream of being an expat. Thus, All Around The World was born. My wife, Leïla, runs the company (everyone involved is grateful for this), and I help out on the technical side. I handle much of the technical consulting, training and organization, while she uses her background in recruiting and project management to help companies explore the global job market. We're starting small because we're taking a lot of time to work with each candidate, but so far we've been very happy with how things have turned out. We also help companies unused to international recruiting understand how international labor laws work and what is needed to help people who have just moved to their country.

And then we got savaged on Hacker News (note: that's from someone who impersonated brian d foy, but I contacted brian directly and he confirmed that that the poster was an imposter. For various reasons, it also appears that the fake "brian foy" (sic) is also behind a few other "one post" accounts all designed to attack a former employer.).

This really isn't surprising given the awful reputation that many recruiters justifiably have. I'm tired of recruiters on LinkedIn contacting me about an "awesome opportunity" for a company I already have on my LinkedIn profile, or offering me an "incredible position" for a pittance of a salary (£35K in London? Are you kidding me?). I've had recruiters lie to me about their postings and once I had a recruiter send me to a job interview but fail to tell me that they were sending me to interview for a different position (after all, the one I wanted had already been filled!).

So why do we do recruiting? Both my wife and I are serial expats (four and five countries, respectively) and we want everyone to have the same opportunities we've had. Living and working in another country will give you an outlook on the world that is almost impossible to get any other way. Whether it's sipping a Bordeaux on the banks of the Seine in Paris, laughing with friends over bitterballen in Amsterdam, discovering the hidden delights of Kuala Lumpur, the excellent beers in Germany, or the open, friendly culture of the US, exploring the world by living abroad is incredible.

So what do we do? We work really hard to understand both the company we're recruiting for and the candidates we're recruiting. We try to make sure that the company knows what it takes to help international candidates have a smooth transition and we help candidates understand what to know before moving abroad and what to do after you move to your new country. We also give candidates full information about the company they're applying for and we research the area they will be living in so they can make an informed choice about whether or not it's the right opportunity for them. Because Leïla and I have lived in so many countries and want others to have the same opportunity, we try very hard to make sure that everyone is a good fit and we spend more time working with our candidates than most recruiters. (Because of the volume of CVs we're receiving and the amount of time it takes to go through all of them and how much time we spend with candidates, sometimes people slip through the cracks and sometimes we make mistakes. If you haven't heard from us, give us a nudge and we'll follow up.)

Take the case of Jonathan (not his real name) from the US (not his real country). He applied to us for one position and after reviewing his CV and interviewing him, he turned out to be an incredible candidate. Sadly, he turned down the job we thought he was going to get because he got an excellent opportunity in another country that offered him a great opportunity to pursue his life's dream. That's tough to argue with. While we would have loved to have placed him, it's more important that he managed to chase his dreams.

And then there's Martin (not his real blah, blah, blah), from a country with a high crime rate and high unemployment. Thanks to us, he now has a solid job in a great country and we're very happy for him and for the other candidates we've helped.

And then there's Nisar. I wish we could have helped him. He's in a tragic situation, but like many people who contact us, he's not in a position to build up a CV that makes him attractive to suitable companies. I really, really wish we could have found a way to help him get out. Sadly, this is understandable: given the financial risk of importing an employee from another country, companies who recruit internationally often set a higher bar for hiring. While I try to think of ways of changing how nations recruit internationally, I'm certainly not in a position to make this happen. Until then my wife and I will keep trying to help people move abroad. It's a wonderful experience.


Really a nice post. I am going totally with you about the "heart breaking" thing. I myself was one year in Cameroon on a technical position. It is really difficult...

One thing I'd like to mention here. Please don't take it as a negative critique on your project. But just as a thing to reflect on...

One super huge problem in those technically broken countries is, that skilled workers leave the country. During my one year there, the two most skilled IT-guys left Cameroon and went to the US. Ok, one had to come back after a year, because it was a training program which forced him to do so.

This is really a huge problem. Because companies who actually train people in those countries, lose those people after they have been trained. This is like poison for those companies.

Now I'm not telling that you should stop this thing! It is really a good thing what you are doing. But to help those countries in the long term, there must be real business created at place. This can actually only be done by moving there and starting a venture. But this will be difficult... because the "poison" I mentioned above. :-(

As I've said in person, I'm sure Leïla and you will do a wonderful job. You have the knowledge (social, administrative, technical), experience and passion for it.

so does that mean your business will be recruiting for international telecommute gigs as well?

The reason I ask is that it's a longstanding want of mine to go and spend a long summer (say 3 months) somewhere in south east asia with my family. Admittedly my current situation would allow me to do that anyway (given sufficiently adequate 3g connectivity or better) if I hadn't got myself distracted by small projects like building a house or finishing a PhD ...

About Ovid

user-pic Freelance Perl/Testing/Agile consultant and trainer. See for our services. If you have a problem with Perl, we will solve it for you. And don't forget to buy my book!