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Tips from a Recruiter on Using a Recruiter

by Ryan Guina

Note: A good friend of mine is an experienced recruiter in the IT space who wanted to share some tips to prospective employees on how they can get the most of their experience using a recruiter. The author wished to remain anonymous, due to company policies. I hope you find this beneficial!

Using a career recruiter to land your next position is both a golden opportunity and one full of pitfalls that could ruin your professional reputation. Let’s start with the obvious. A good recruiter can help you advance your career, increase your pay, and bolster your professional reputation. That is why you went to a recruiter in the first place. But many people don’t realize that the wrong recruiter can actually set you back in your job search and actually harm your ability to land a job. Let’s take a top-level overview of how to take a proactive approach when using a recruiter, and how to avoid some pitfalls that may get your resume thrown out before you are even considered for an interview.

Find a Recruiter Specifically for Your Industry

Tips from a Recruiter

A good recruiter can help you land a job; a bad recruiter hurts your chances.

The right recruiter can be worth his weight in gold, but finding the right one can be challenging.

Here’s the problem: there are hundreds of industries to work in, and within each industry there are hundreds of staffing agencies. Some agencies staff multiple and diverse industries under the same name while others break up those industries into separate companies under one large corporate umbrella. Some recruiters focus on one industry, or even a specific skill set, while others have a broad reach.

All that boils down to a lot of phone calls for great candidates, and judging which recruiter to go with can be difficult. Here is a simple rule of thumb: only work with recruiters and agencies that focus on your industry and/or skill set.

You don’t want the same person calling you about web development jobs that turns around and calls administrative assistants. There is no skill overlap and they are likely to forget you. In this area it is better to go narrow and deep rather than shallow and wide.

Compare Your Recruiter to a Real Estate Agent

Another way to look at potential recruiters you work with is to judge them like you would a real estate agent.

Would you buy a home without ever having met the agent and just having one or two phone conversations? Would you expect the agent to be able to provide hard data about their local market as to what trends they are seeing? Would you expect them to know good neighbors and bad?

You should expect the same of your recruiter. If they’re calling you about a job from five states away how much do they really know about it? If they can’t sit down with you in person— do they even have a local office?—how much trust can you really put in them?

Your career is among the largest decisions you will ever make. Don’t fly blind and work with the first person who picks up the phone to call you.

Provide Explicit Instructions on Submitting Your Information

One of the biggest problems in the recruiting industry is the same candidate being submitted by more than one recruiting agency. It puts the hiring manager in the awkward position of deciding who sent the candidate first, who better qualified the candidate (meeting them, doing references, and so on), and picking which recruiter gets to represent them.

Of course picking one over the other makes the agency left out pretty mad, and hiring managers don’t want that either.

So you know what they often do in this situation? They throw the candidate out so no one gets to submit them.

That’s not good for you.

To avoid this issue you need to give very clear instructions as to when you are comfortable with your information being submitted. Maybe you want to meet the recruiter first, or think about the job, or talk to your spouse. Don’t assume the recruiter won’t just throw your resume “over the fence” to the hiring manager. They will, and it can severely damage your chances of getting an interview.

Likewise, if you do want  your resume to be submitted by that recruiter, you need to make sure that is being done as well. You don’t want to assume your resume is in the hiring manager’s hands for two weeks only to find out the recruiter never submitted it.

Give clear instructions, make sure your wishes are followed, and make sure your resume is submitted when you think it is.

Two Important Questions to Ask a Career Agent

Continuing with the real estate agent theme, you need to know which kinds of questions to ask the recruiter about the job and how they will represent you. Here are a few to remember:

Can you tell me about the job in your own words?

Many recruiters work off of job descriptions that are electronically sent out to every staffing agency under the sun. (That’s why you’ll get a call from Portland about a job in Atlanta.)

But when was the last time you landed a job where the job description was 100% accurate? 75%?

If the recruiter offers to send the job description that’s fine, but I want to know how much that agent actually knows about their client. Can they tell me in their own words what the job is, what the project is, who the hiring manager is and what their personality is like, and why I would want to work for said client? Have they actually been to the company’s office?

If they stutter and stammer because they have no idea about the details besides the job description, then I know they don’t know the client or the job well. This is a red flag. If they’ve never seen the client’s lobby (because they aren’t in the local market) then how are they going to impress the hiring manager enough to get me an interview?

If they don’t know the manager or the project well, how do I know I’m not walking into a minefield? It could be the coolest sounding job or project on the planet, but the reason the company is struggling to hire is because the manager is horrible to work with. Or there is a hostile office environment. Or fill-in-the-blank. You don’t want to accept a new job, only to despise going to work every day.

Why is the job open? 

If you ask no other questions, please ask this one. It is by far the most critical answer to get. Why is the job open? Why is the company willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars in salary, benefits, and so on to hire you?

You need to know whether it is growth, someone quitting, or someone getting fired. Don’t accept surface level answers and don’t freak out if it is one of the latter two.

Here’s why: okay, so this is a growth position… what is driving the need for the growth? Are they selling twice as much product/service and they need someone because of that? Or is it “growth” because that sounds good to say but isn’t really the case. If they can’t tell you what’s driving the growth I’d be nervous.

You may be thinking, “What if someone is quitting or getting fired? Isn’t that bad?”

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A person might quit a company because they have to immediately move to take care of their elderly parents, or because they’ve decided to be a stay-at-home parent, or for a hundred other reasons. Then again they might quit because it is a horrible place to work that pays 25% less than the going market rate for their skills.

Likewise if someone is getting fired that can be a good thing. Have you ever worked with someone that was slacking or pulling the rest of the team down, but management wouldn’t do anything about it? Firing an under-performer can be a sign of good management.

These tips aren’t the only things you should think about when working with a recruiter, but they can help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Dig deeper, ask tough questions, and trust your gut when working with a recruiter.


Published or updated September 11, 2013.
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