A friend of mine recently complained that when he was looking to leave his previous job, he couldn’t get the attention of a recruiter. But that when he landed his current job at a well known prestigious company, he was overwhelmed with unsolicited recruiter interest trying to lure him away.

It’s not that my friend suddenly developed an amazingly more comprehensive skill set in those short period of months. I have friends who have fantastic skillsets and who aren’t contacted at all by recruiters. I have other friends who are similarly skilled who get so much contact from recruiters that they don’t bother responding anymore and explicitly state that they aren’t interested on their LinkedIn profile.

So why are recruiters a bit like trams, none for ages and then six in a line?

The IT job market is like a pyramid

The IT job market is a bit like a pyramid when it comes to candidates and skills. At the bottom of the pyramid you have many people that have little or no experience. Towards the top you have an ever decreasing number of highly experienced people.

When a job comes up for someone with a great deal of specific experience, it’s possible that more than one recruiter will be asked to find candidates to fill the position. More than a few times, I’ve been contacted by multiple recruiters who end up describing exactly the same position to me. I have a unique set of skills, and if multiple recruiters are trying to fill a position that matches those skills, they don’t have a big pool of possible candidates.

At the start of your career, you need the help of a recruiter.

At the start of your career, it’s more to your advantage than to the recruiter’s advantage to meet with you. That’s because you’re just one of any number of inexperienced candidates looking to climb those first few rungs of your career. The jobs that you are suitable for are less likely to demand high wages. The lower the wage of the job, the less the recruiter is likely to make off filling it. A recruiter is unlikely to get the same amount of money filling a $40,000 position as they do a $300,000 one.

Less beneficial for the recruiters to place early career candidates.

For most recruiters, there is a larger financial benefit in placing a candidate at the top end of the market than there is in placing a candidate at the bottom end of the market. When you are getting started, you’re competing with a large number of people for positions that recruiters are less enthusiastic about filling because they’ve got a finite number of minutes in the day and they are trying to make the most of them by chasing bigger fish. So not only are there plenty of small fish in the sea that they could catch if they wanted to, there’s not as much reward in doing so compared to catching a single big fish. If filling one job is going to earn you a hundred dollars and filling another job is going to earn you several thousand, you’re likely to go with trying to fill the job that earns you several thousand.

Reasons why highly skilled and experienced people are ambivalent about recruiters

As you become more experienced and command higher wages, it becomes more to the advantage of the recruiter to meet with you than it does to your advantage. There are a couple of reasons for this.

More skilled you become, the less likely it is that the recruiter can offer you something better than what you already have. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a recruiter has got me on the phone to tell me about a great offer that is substantially less than what I’m already earning. This isn’t necessarily the recruiters fault, it can be almost impossible to figure out what someone is earning from public information about them on LinkedIn and they certainly wouldn’t be ringing me if they thought they were offering me something worse than what I already had as it would be wasting both our time.

Because you can find your own job

It’s also because that once you reach a certain stage in your career, you’re likely to find jobs through your existing network rather than through a recruiter. People who are at the top of the pyramid generally feel they don’t need to use the services of a recruiter. It’s harder for recruiters to catch big fish for their clients because their clients may already know some big fish and already have them half way into the boat.