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Have you ever thought connecting with a recruiter could lead to your dream job? It’s possible; a good recruiter can be an asset. But be warned: She is not your golden ticket, nor your advocate.
So before you dish the dirt of your recent layoff, whine you can’t find a job that fits your personality, or ask her for advice on your resume, know this: Recruiters don’t work for you. Instead, they work for and get paid by the client or company looking to fill a position. Mistaking a recruiter as your career confidante can mean the difference between snagging that corner office and hitting a dead end.
If you have at least five years of work experience, focus your energy on impressing retained recruiters, those under exclusive contract with companies to fill mid- to senior-level executive slots that aren’t listed anywhere in the public domain (as opposed to in-house recruiters and contingent recruiters, also known as freelance headhunters, who primarily screen for widely advertised entry-level positions and charge the employer a percentage of your first-year salary). Desperate job seekers beware, though. Most retained recruiters get paid a percentage of your starting salary by the client (generally 33%), and they’ll only put forth one candidate to fill each open slot.
“The recruiter is delighted to talk to you if they see dollar signs over your head. But if you say, ‘I need a job; what do you have?’ the retained recruiter is going to move on to candidates who are more serious about the process,” says Karen James Chopra, a certified career counselor in Washington, DC.
For the inside scoop on what recruiters expect—but won’t tell you—read on.
1. Don’t Call Them (They’ll Call You)
What if you haven’t been contacted by a recruiter, but want to work with one? Unless you know her personally, never cold-call a recruiter. Most prefer email as an initial contact. Just make sure that email is clear, concise, and has a resume attached. Make it as easy as possible for the recruiter to know who you are and why she should get back to you, says Patricia Lenkov, chair, executive search for N2Growth, a boutique global executive search firm specializing in C-suite and board searches. “People don’t really get that the recruiter is getting hundreds of emails from job seekers every day,” says Lenkov, who spends about a minute on each resume she receives.
Whenever possible, network with your industry contacts, contact previous employers, use your college alumni database, and mine your LinkedIn account for direct referrals to recruiters. “Recruiters are highly networked individuals and appreciate insight from their network on worthwhile candidates. A recommendation from a respected source goes a long way,” says Charley Polachi, managing partner at Boston-based Polachi Access Executive Search, a top-ranked executive search firm.
Mention the referral in the email subject line. Otherwise, the subject line should state your current expertise or ideal position. For example, if you’re a sales manager with 15 years of international experience, say so.
2. Polish Your Act
Before you hit send on any email, make sure you have chosen a recruiter who works in your job field or industry and is looking for candidates on your career level. “Recruitment firms often post their recent searches and placements, which is a good place to start when understanding their specialties,” says Polachi, who places executive-level candidates.
If you need help with your resume, career bio, or other aspect of your employment package, reach out to a career coach or counselor prior to contacting a recruiter, says Chopra, who coaches job seekers from entry-level to post-retirement. Approaching retained recruiters with anything less than your A-game won’t get you very far. “You should be very clear what your brand is, what you have to offer, and what you are looking for,” says Chopra. “Approach a recruiter as a fully polished package.”
Be focused when it comes to what type of position you want and what you hope to accomplish, says Rick Aronstein, director of product recruitment for AC Lion in New York City, a retained agency specializing in jobs in the digital marketplace. “With many jobs and many applicants at the same time, everybody is looking to catch a unicorn,” says Aronstein. “People who are unfocused are going to find it to be a very challenging market because they aren’t going to be able to sell themselves to the right person.”
3. Maintain Your Professional Social Media Presence
If your resume isn’t online, recruiters won’t find you, says Chopra. And Aronstein, whose clients include high-growth startups, calls LinkedIn the “Big Kahuna” when it comes to tools recruiters use to find candidates. When recruiters conduct Google searches on potential candidates, LinkedIn profiles come out on top.
Just make sure your LinkedIn profile reflects a professional image, which means a professional photo and up-to-date information, says Polachi. “Few things seem sloppier than a candidate with an out-of-date LinkedIn account,” says Polachi. “You never know when a recruiter is looking through your [LinkedIn] credentials.”
Polachi advises deleting extraneous information from your LinkedIn profile, particularly endorsements and unrelated recommendations or positions held. “I never look at endorsements,” he says. “They’re like online reviews of hotels—suspect and meaningless.”
Be careful who you connect with on LinkedIn. Recruiters not only use job references provided by the job seeker to verify their experience, but top recruiters will also interview those in your LinkedIn network and previous co-workers to learn more about your work style and past performance, says Lenkov.
Unless you keep your Facebook page, Twitter account, and other social media platforms strictly professional, don’t link to them. For the most part, says Aronstein, recruiters will rarely check out those platforms, unless you include them, or unless they’re relevant to the job position.
You should, however, make sure any online searches on you show you in a professional light. “If you have silly pictures popping up on a Google search, you have to figure out how to get rid of those,” says Aronstein.
4. Cultivate Your Relationship—Even if You Don’t Need it Now
Retained recruiters actively search for job candidates to fit their open slots and often contact executives who are already happily employed, hoping they’ll jump ship. Lenkov says here’s where many of the gainfully employed make a big mistake: They fail to answer when a recruiter comes knocking.
“It’s important to build a recruiter relationship when you don’t need it,” says Lenkov. “You never know when you’re going to be fired or the company is going to be acquired. We’re in a tricky, fragile job market, and you have to be prepared.”
Recruiters have great memories, so make sure you return their calls, advises Polachi. Your helpfulness will get noted in the recruiter’s database. Conversely, if you are rude, that will get noted, too. If you’re not interested in the position, offer the recruiter a referral to someone who might be. “If you are the type of person who can be relied upon to offer referrals, you’re also going to be the person who gets the call when another appropriate job is available,” says Lenkov.
5. Expect to Complete a Personality Test
Your resume and job interview aren’t the only measures recruiters use to select candidates for jobs. The companies they work for are increasingly relying on personality assessments to determine how you’ll handle a role and whether you’d be a good fit within the company.
“The use of assessments, workforce analytics, and personality data are really about job fit,” says Nancy Martini, CEO of PI Worldwide, a Boston-based firm that provides corporate clients with workforce analytics and its own proprietary personality assessment to screen potential employees.
When you’ll be asked to take a personality test depends on your career level. “When the size of the candidate pool is large, and for more entry-level positions, the employer will conduct assessments earlier in the process, to narrow the candidate pool,” says Martini. “At the more senior-level positions, the assessment will be used later in the process, to determine how you’ll perform in the position.”
You’re not being singled out, says Martini. If an employer requires a personality test of one candidate, they have to, by law, also require it of all candidates. The assessments will be used to inform what questions you’re asked during the interview process.
Be candid and honest when taking a personality test. “There’s no make or break on these tests,” says Martini. “They aren’t job eliminators. Personality assessments are just one component in an employer’s data set.”
6. Talk Money Early, But Strategically
When it comes to compensation, retained recruiters want job candidates to discuss salary expectations early on. “It’s good practice to get that on the table at the outset so you don’t waste anybody’s time if expectations and compensation packages are not going to be met,” says Lenkov. “You don’t need to get down to dollars and cents and benefits, but certainly to get a ballpark figure to make sure we’re on the same page.”
Recruiters will usually tell candidates the job salary range from the first conversation. If they don’t tell you, feel free to ask. “You don’t want to go through a process and then find out the job is going to pay $20,000 less than what you wanted,” says Aronstein. “There’s so many jobs out there right now, you have to find your way to the right one, with the right compensation.”
Because retained recruiters usually get paid a percentage of your starting salary, most have an incentive to get you the best possible salary. “We work to get a fair compensation package with the client and with the candidate,” says Aronstein. Remember, retained recruiters fill mid- to senior-level executive positions and want to maintain their relationship with the company that contracts them. They also want to build a relationship with you throughout your career. A reputable recruiter won’t overinflate your salary, but they won’t sell you short, either.
When it comes to salary negotiations, avoid using an outside negotiator, suggests Aronstein: “It’s best to not create too many layers to the negotiation, and to remain close to the recruiter so they can act on your behalf.”
7. Work With Multiple Recruiters
It can take from three to six months for recruiters to help clients fill an executive post. Even if you’re already working with one recruiter on an active job lead, reach out to as many other recruiters in your field as possible. Again, use email to tap recruiters you’d like to work with, but also connect with or follow them on LinkedIn.
“Once a recruiter puts your name forward for a job, she won’t put your name forward for any other jobs until that slate has been resolved, or until a hire has been made,” explains Chopra. “That recruiter is of no use to you beyond that one job.”