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Advice / Job Search / Networking

What to Do When a Recruiter Contacts You Out of the Blue

confused person

Job searching is stressful. So whenever you learn a company wants you, it’s a reason to celebrate. And, when you hear—out of the blue—that someone thinks you’re perfect for a particularly exciting or impressive job, you’re pretty pumped.

But tempering your inner Taylor Swift “OMG I won” reaction is another little voice telling you it doesn’t make sense. Maybe you actually love your job and have no desire to leave. Maybe this position’s based in another city and relocation’s not an option. Or, maybe you can only squeeze out an extra 10 hours a week for new clients and this would require 25.

I know it’s a ton of emotions, because I recently experienced it. Recruiters from two different, pretty cool companies—as in, I called my mom and told her these organizations know who I am—asked if I was interested in full-time roles in California. And other than the fact that I didn’t want to leave my current job or city, I was very interested.

In all seriousness, I wanted to see if it would be possible to learn more about these organizations and build valuable contacts there—without technically embarking on the job search process.

Through trial and error, I learned you can reach back without showing interest in the position advertised.

Step 1: Assess Your Current Situation

This needs to be step one. I’m assuming that, like me, you have some clear (billboard-sized and neon flashing) signs telling you when don’t want to pursue the opportunity. But make sure that’s not just complacency. There’s a big difference between thinking “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting this—and I’m not even sure how I’d break my lease or transition a big project I just started,” and “I love my job and am not willing to relocate my family.” If you’re more surprised than anything else or somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes, treat this exchange how you would any other regarding a prospective job (you know, by entertaining it and putting your best foot forward).

If you know the position isn’t a fit right now, but might be one day, pursue it as a future candidate. See this as an opportunity to network with someone at an awesome company. Focus on making a good impression—answering emails promptly, proofreading them for spelling and grammar—but know there is one key difference. If you’re asking to learn more for fun (as opposed to for real), you must share that fact with the other person.

Step 2: Manage Expectations

I’ll be honest: After years of begging people to read your writing, it’s really hard to say you’re not interested when you learn an impressive company wants to pay you—actual money—to write. So, the first time I was recruited, I sidestepped my deal-breakers. I said something to the effect of, “I’m not sure I’d be up to relocate, but maybe once I learn more about the role I’ll have a better idea.”

Fast-forward and I’m on the phone with a C-suiter who said he’d make it a temporary, remote role so long as I commit to 40-hours a week for three months. (Oh, did I mention that I didn’t have that kind of time to give either?) To make a long story short, when I ended up declining the position, he didn’t take the news well. Mostly because he felt jerked around due to the fact that I kept leading him on by continually saying “I just want to learn a little bit more.” Safe to say that I burned that bridge once I said no—after all, he took the time to interview me and adjust the position (something that probably took a few conversations with other people).

So, the second time around, I was transparent. I said something more like: “I am a huge fan of Company ABC, however, I’m really happy in my current role—and on the East Coast. If you have time and interest to connect, I’d love to set up a time to chat. But I also understand if you only want to focus on candidates who are seriously entertaining the position, and unfortunately, I can’t say that I am at this time.”

Step 3: Build a Relationship

So, something kind of awesome happened when I took the honest approach. The recruiter told me that she’d still love to talk, just to connect. She started referring to me as a passive candidate, and we had a terrific phone call where we talked shop and mutual interests. Sure, she didn’t offer me the role—or even a follow-up interview—but that was OK because I didn’t want it anyhow.

Still, this approach yielded so many benefits. First, I got the insider scoop on company culture at a dream company. Second, I built a positive relationship that will keep the door open for future correspondence should anything ever change; she told me that if I ever see a position that catches my eye, I should reach out to her personally.

Being recruited when you’re not even looking for a job is a pretty cool situation to be in. It feels good to know that your hard work is paying off and people are noticing you. Just don’t get carried away. Be honest—with yourself and with the hiring manager—and even if you don’t come away with a new job, you could still build a valuable, new relationship.