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.
A Recruiter Can Help You Get Noticed
But not everyone that is employed is happily employed. Our economy has greatly improved since the economic recession. But many employees took jobs because they had no other option. As the economy continues to heat up more jobs will be created. That’s a good thing.
However, as the economy improves, there will be more competition for the same number of jobs. Whether or not potential employees are even qualified for those jobs doesn’t even matter.
What does matter is how many resumes get stacked up on a hiring manager’s desk while she tries to do her job and hire three new team members. The average hiring manager looking to fill an IT position will end up with 40 to 80 resumes on her desk to fill one position. That’s why you hear advice like, “You only get 30 seconds for them to look at your resume so make it short.”
All that competition and tons of resumes for the same jobs… that my friends is where it pays to get noticed by a good recruiter.
Find a Recruiter Specifically for Your Industry
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. Recruiters that focus on one or two industries usually have better reputations, have a larger professional network, and a better understanding of how much you should be paid compared to others in a similar position.
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.
Steps You Need to Take to Help Your Recruiter
Your recruiter shouldn’t be expected to do all the work for you. The most successful placements we’ve made in our agency have come from the employees who are most prepared for their job search. Being proactive is a trait that will help you not only find your next job, but succeed when you land it. These tips will help you help us.
Update Your Resume Frequently
What were you doing 11 months ago? What projects were you tackling at work? What new skills did you pick up? What else was going on in your life?
I can’t remember what I did last week sometimes, not to mention months ago. I’m guessing you can’t either.
So spend some time every three months to think back on the previous quarter of the year. Ask yourself, What did I just do for 90 days at work? If you suddenly remember some stuff that isn’t on your resume… update it and keep it on file.
NOTE – Don’t upload your resume to every job site on the planet! Unless you are unemployed and willing to take just about anything do not ever put your resume on a massive job board. That is unless you like getting 12 calls per day from people asking if you want to do 100% commission door-to-door insurance sales.
You want to have your resume updated and on file in your own records so when that right job comes along that you’re interested in you can quickly get your information in front of the hiring manager via the recruiter. Taking 2 to 3 days to update your resume can be the difference between you getting an interview and the next guy getting it.
Don’t Fret About Resume Length
One of my favorite resume rules of thumb I love to destroy is that of resume length. Everyone from college career counselors to your best friend that’s never worked in a human resources role will tell you to keep your resume down to one page… maybe two if you have to.
That’s… an interesting take. So how do I accurately describe the positions and projects I’ve worked on in enough detail to excite a hiring manager if I’ve been working for more than 5 years?
The bottom line is you can’t fit everything onto one page unless you are using microscopic font. Your resume needs the right kind of detail—not just fluff —but that detail is what tells a hiring manager you aren’t just stuffing keywords onto the page. You actually have experience in the things they’re looking for. Keep your resume to a reasonable length but don’t leave you’re your valuable experience.
Of course this advice doesn’t work if your resume goes in the stack of 70 sitting on the hiring manager’s desk. That’s why you only get 30 seconds.
The right recruiter will get her candidates to the hiring manager directly and bypass the stack of resumes sitting there untouched.
Use LinkedIn to Connect with the Right Recruiters
LinkedIn is a gold mine for you and for the recruiters looking for you. It’s online networking for people that want to move their career along. It still baffles me to run into people in the IT industry who either don’t have LinkedIn profiles or have them… but never use them (have 2 connections, no detail, and so on).
If you’re not posting your resume to job boards (see above!) then the only way a recruiter is going to find you is either 1. on LinkedIn or 2. via word of mouth from other people you both know. And since you can control who can and cannot contact you on LinkedIn it is the best balance of keeping your information out there while not getting bombarded with phone calls about jobs you don’t want to hear about.
It probably isn’t very often that you get a call from a real estate agent wanting to see if you’d like to buy another house or sell yours. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that call. (I do get the occasional random mass mailer in my mailbox, but that doesn’t bother me.)
Yet if an agent called me out of the blue and used the right approach I would probably stay on the phone with them. I’m not looking to buy or sell right now, but I’d have a conversation with them and be polite.
Again, I know this happens because recruiters have a bad name thanks to the terrible ones, but you’d be surprised how many people are complete jerks on the phone. Someone saw your background online, got excited about the prospects of moving your career along, and reached out to you in some manner… even if I’m not looking for a job I probably take it as a compliment, thank them for their time, and get off the phone.
What’s ironic is that I’ve had multiple people in my career hang up on me one day, and a few months later call me back looking for work because they were laid off. How do you think I feel about those candidates?
On the flip side I’ve talked to a multitude of people in my career that had no interest in leaving their current job but were supremely polite like you would expect any other business person to be. I’ve kept in touch with them, sometimes for years, without a single job that interests them. Over time I learn what they really want… and then along comes that job that is a perfect match.
So be polite. You never know when you might need to make that dreaded phone call to ask for some help in finding a new job.
Changes in the Recruiting Industry – And How They Affect You
Thanks to technology, the economy, and rising costs, hiring and recruitment are changing. The old realities of looking for a job are fading away. You need to adapt to the changing job market, or you could find yourself passed over for positions that you want. Here are 3 hiring and recruitment changes that you need to know about in order to increase your chances of being hired:
Social Media has Greater Importance
Technology and the prevalence of social media has made it possible for potential employers to find you online. Recruiters are on web sites like LinkedIn and may actually approach you, if you have an attractive profile. When you turn in your resume, some hiring managers will Google you, or look for your tweets and Facebook posts. What you do online can impact whether or not you end up with a job. Your penchant for sharing inappropriate photos can result in a company deciding that you are too much of a risk to hire. Pay attention to what you share online. We’d like to think that our personal lives are private, but if you put it online, employers could see it.
More Employers are Turning to Freelancers
Are you willing to be a contract worker? The recession, and the increasing costs of providing employee benefits (like health care) are encouraging employers to look for ways to gain workers at a lower cost. One of the ways to do this is to hire freelancers and other contract workers. It’s possible for employers to find competent people to do the job, but without a lot of the costs that come with hiring full-time workers and covering benefits.
If you want to compete in today’s job market, you need to be ready to do freelance work if it called for. Becoming self-employed might be an elegant solution if you are looking for a way to earn money. You can contract out to businesses as a freelancer, or work as a consultant. With today’s technology, you might not even have to leave your house to be a freelancer. However, you need to be prepared for the tax implications and other issues that come with providing contract services. But the flexibility to work as a freelancer can be very valuable in today’s job market.
Niche Expertise is Valued More
The idea that a jack of all trades is more valuable than a master of one or two is fading. You are more likely to find success if you are highly skilled in a desirable area. It’s about being an expert in one or two areas, and proving your worth in those areas. If you can show that you are beyond competent in an area, or develop a specific skill that is in demand, you will have more success. Consider how you can get extra training in a particular skill, or how you can earn a certification that others value. Developing a skill that others will pay for is an increasingly important of being hired; few employers are looking for generalists right now.
Once you recognize these realities of the job market, and adjust to take advantage of them, you will more likely be hired.
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.