Recruiting a Recruiter for Your Job Search

Many of us have many stories to tell about working with external recruiters during job searches. Some good, some not so good. It is no different than any other professional role--some folks you can collaborate well with and some present challenges. One of the key hurdles specific to recruiters is that you are working with them during a pivotal time in your personal life: your career transition points. That's what makes these experiences stand out more.


With this in mind, I'd like to share guidelines for job seekers to use to ensure a best-in-class experience working with their present or next recruiter.


Guidelines for a Good Experience with a Recruiter


The Expectations


  • Before engaging with any recruiter, realize that the recruiter's role is to serve the companies that pay him or her. The recruiter's primary role is to find the very best candidate for a job.
  • Be clear about what you are interested in pursuing: type of job and company, size and location of company, company culture and type of clients. Also make sure your recruiter understands any question marks in your work history.
  • Set boundaries. Make sure your recruiter knows which companies you are pursuing on your own or are absolutely off your list.
  • Don't assume you know the level of knowledge or size of your recruiter's network. Many recruiters have "reach" into companies that may not even being hiring, yet.
  • Good recruiters should know a great deal about the company, employees, and the job itself. You can leverage this information.
  • Don't expect recruiters to be career coaches. Those people are out there, too. These specialized coaches are professionals and can help more than a recruiter, especially when career direction is involved.
  • Only pursue jobs you really want. Wasting employers' and recruiters' time will hurt a reputation in the long run.

The Process


  • Recruiters should always let you know when and to whom your resume is being submitted. Make sure of this. Recruiters should NEVER submit your resume without your permission.
  • Stay in touch with your recruiter, but not too often. He/she may not be able to follow-up as often with you as you'd like, but you certainly can keep the line of communication open from your end (especially when there is recent activity to follow-up on). Many appreciate emails over phone calls so they can manage their day better. Communication is essential when your situation changes (i.e., another job offer pending).
  • It is not wise to work around your recruiter. With the best ones, you can build a relationship and trust. Be open about your desired strategies and come to agreement as to what the best approach is for each opportunity. If you circumvent the recruiter, the employer may view you as impatient or a rule-breaker.
  • Recruiters can help with the salary question. In many cases, there are other benefits (some monetary, some not) that a recruiter can share that helps with the decision.
  • Good recruiters act as your agent and move as swiftly as the employer process allows. Listen carefully to what the recruiter is saying about the timeline and make sure it sounds sensible.
  • In some cases, there is an online application or audio-screening. These are useful tools for conveying your fit for the job. It can also confirm if you truly want the position.
  • There is no requirement to work with only one recruiter; however, keeping track of what is going on with each is essential. Confusing these facts can lead to some embarrassing moments! And make sure you're only submitted ONCE to any given opportunity.

The Resume


  • When submitting a resume to a recruiter, realize he/she looks at many resumes every week. Your resume should tell a story about you and convey your strengths. An accompanying email can have three bullet points about the job you are looking for, even if you've already discussed this on the phone.
  • Also realize that resumes having exact keyword matches as job requirements have a better chance of being reviewed by a recruiter.
  • Reasons resumes get rejected early in the process: spelling errors, small font, weak summary/objective statements, poor career progression, and unrelated experience.
  • A good recruiter can offer advice on your resume and fit for jobs you are discussing. Caveat: This typically happens only when the recruiter is working on a job that is a good match for you.

The Interview


  • Good recruiters are expert coaches in interviewing. If they don't offer help for a scheduled interview they set up for you, I would question how good they really are.
  • Debrief with your recruiter after the interview. Let him/her know your thoughts on the company/job.

The Person


  • Good recruiters talk with a lot of people each week. Give them a little time to refresh their mind on your last conversations. The very best recruiters are super organized and can reference all notes and activity regarding you and the jobs your are working on together.
  • Consider a recruiter a life-long friend in your career process, not two ships passing in the night. If you have a well-established relationship with a recruiter, he/she is more likely to go beyond the norms to help you (or a friend) when you need it most. And, the recruiter will know you as a person, not just as a candidate. With this in mind, keep your recruiter appraised of all career changes.
  • The best way to return a favor to a recruiter is to network him/her to a new client you know is hiring.
  • Feel free to provide timely feedback, both to the recruiter and the employer. Both stand to learn from this first-hand information.

Feedback from Job Search Professionals Around the Country:


I originally posted the information above in my own personal blog which I shared with many colleagues I follow on Twitter. I requested their feedback, and what I received was very positive and several folks took the time to offer their thoughts on the subject-matter.


The following is offered as a recap of their thoughts. Much of the commentary emphatically stated all this information should be "required reading for anyone using a recruiter." More specifically, the more people that understand how to approach using a recruiter, the better the process works for everyone.


When it comes to my comments about building a relationship with your recruiter, Steve Jones emphasized that “recruiters talk to each other, and if a candidate burns a bridge with one recruiter he may be burning a bridge with many others, including clients.” David Benjamin agrees there are good and bad professionals in the recruiting just like every other industry. He highlighted that “a good recruiter cares more about ‘fit’ than making a placement.” Brad Hogenmiller emphasized once you find a recruiter you really like, “it’s important for job-seekers to maintain those relationships just as they would with an employer.”


Dawn Bugni whole-heartedly agreed about the advice, “Don’t do an end run around your recruiter.” She provided very important feedback that “many candidates think if two recruiters submit their information, they doubled their chance at the job. WRONG! They’ve just knocked themselves out of the running. Few companies get into a candidate/fee argument between two recruiters. They disqualify the candidate.”


Susan Burns shared that the #1 frustration she has heard from job seekers is that recruiters aren’t following up with them. She went on to say that often times, exec recruiters are responsive when they have a specific job they’re working on, but at other times when the job seeker is trying to reach out and build a relationship, too often the recruiter does not respond. She raised an interesting question that asks, “with the technology and tools available today, what should a job seeker expect from an exec recruiter?”


The answer to the question lies in understanding the recruiter’s world. Abby Locke’s article on Building Effective Relationships with Recruiters highlights that recruiters’ daily responsibilities may include:


  • four to five hours a day on the phone
  • making contact with about 500 people every week
  • receiving anywhere from 500 to 1,000 emails every day

Regardless of technology assistance, job seekers need to OWN the relationship with the recruiter. By this I mean, realize a job seeker can remember a lot more about their recruiter than the reverse. And, a job seeker can check in with them more consistently than the reverse. Additionally, the relationship can be further strengthened, as Abby suggests, by having:


  • specific job targets and a well-defined message
  • a "comprehensive" resume
  • a compelling subject line in all email correspondence
  • something to offer the recruiter

In reading my original post, Jenifer Olson thought it wise to share the difference between the two main types of recruiters: retained recruiters, who are paid by a company to focus on filling a particular position and who are more or less guaranteed payment (usually for a higher level management role); and, contingency recruiters, who compete with recruiters from a number of agencies to fill the position and who are paid only when and if their applicant is hired.


In Jennifer’s experience, the type of recruiter can make a big difference in both the amount and quality of time spent with a job seeker. Therefore, knowing which type you are dealing with is often helpful in managing your expectations about the recruiting process. I agree that retained recruiters may operate a little differently where they can take their time and not worry about competition. In the end, both SHOULD be searching for the best candidate. If a job seeker is a true fit and presents themselves as such, the right result should occur regardless of the type of recruiter. As Jennifer is eluding to, working with contingency recruiters can sometimes be challenging when they are only trying to present a high volume of candidates to increase their chances of placing a candidate. The best recruiters focus on the “A-List” (or best fit) candidates.


Jennifer McClure advised job seekers to "always ask the recruiter how their process works, what happens to their resume if they send it to the recruiter and what should they expect from the recruiter in terms of follow up or actions." She added that many recruiters do not operate the same way, and “if job seekers would ask these questions of each recruiter they interact with, it would go a long way toward eliminating some of the frustrations with recruiters.”


One of my favorite peers in the industry, David Graziano, offered an additional resource on a related topic: How to Choose and Partner with a Recruiter. In this post, job seekers will learn, amongst other things, questions to ask the recruiter and what they should ask you.


Karla Porter and Grethen Benes appreciated the post and summarized the recruiters' responsibilities well. Karla stated the post “serves as a great reminder to be all you can be with your clients.” Gretchen accurately stated, “It all comes down to the relationship and being “present” for the process and conversation.”

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