15 Quick Tips for Working with Recruiters and Headhunters

Article by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

If you’re engaged in a full-blown job search, you may wonder if you should work with a recruiter. Or perhaps you find that recruiters are seeking you out, whether you are job-hunting or not. To leave no stone unturned in your search, definitely consider recruiters. These tips are intended to guide you.

Here’s our list of the 15 best tips for making the most of your relationship with recruiters:

  1. Understand that recruiters don’t work for you. The clients of recruiters are employers, not job-seekers. A recruiter will be delighted to work with you — if you meet the specifications of a current assignment to fill a position for an employer.
  2. Consider recruiters who specialize in your field. Because most recruiters specialize in specific industries and job functions, you will likely have the most productive relationships with recruiters specializing in your field and/or job function. Oya’s Directory of Recruiterslists recruiters by industry speciality (as well as geographic location).
  3. Know whether a given recruiter first turns to an “inventory” of candidates or uses his or her inventory only as a last resort.Some recruiters maintain a backlog of resumes that they turn to when a client employer requests that they fill a position. Others prefer to find “fresh” candidates and won’t consult their inventory of resumes unless they can’t find someone. Ask the recruiters you contact whether they’d like your resume even if they don’t have an appropriate active search going on.
  4. Don’t worry about the model (contingency or retained) through which the recruiter is paid because you probably won’t have much control about which kind you work with. You’re probably aware that contingency recruiters are paid when they make a placement, while retained recruiters are paid, usually up front, regardless of the search results. Darrell Gurney, author of Headhunters Revealed! offers a good explanation of the difference and notes that you won’t have much say about which kind you align with. “Which recruiter you work with depends primarily on your professional level, not how good you are at what you do,” Gurney says, explaining that retained recruiters generally work with executive candidates who earn $200,000 a year or more.
  5. Be prepared to put a positive spin on your status if you’re unemployed. If you are unemployed, recruiters may see that status as a red flag. Especially in a weak economy when they can be very selective, recruiters, like many employers, assume that something is wrong with you if you are out of work.

    In the poor job market that began with the 2008 financial meltdown, employers and recruiters sometimes stated in job postings that the unemployed need not apply.

    Of course this judgment is grossly unfair. To some extent, you can combat this bias against the unemployed by engaging in productive, resume-worthy activities while out of work — consulting, project work, volunteering, professional development. It won’t always work, but it’s better than not addressing your unemployed status.

  6. Tailor your communications to each recruiter’s preferences. An exceptional resume and cover letter will always stand you in good stead with recruiters, but do check with the recruiting firms you contact for their resume and cover-letter preferences. You can often find this information on their Websites. Also determine how they want you to submit these materials. Usually, they will want them by email, but it pays to double-check. Research how each recruiter prefers to be contacted (phone? email?) and stay in touch periodically, but don’t be a pest. An initial followup call after you submit your materials and one two weeks later is a good rule of thumb. If you update your resume, resubmit it or contact the recruiter to relay the new information.
  7. Make it easy for recruiters to find you. Since many recruiters prefer not to be contacted unless they have an appropriate search going on, you’ll want to be visible to them so they can find you. Kennedy Information’s Job Seeker’s Guide to Working with Recruiters (to which I contributed) suggests these ways to raise visibility:
    • Write articles.
    • Take on big projects.
    • Give presentations.
    • Be active in trade and professional associations.
    • Serve as an expert source for the media.
    • Be active in your community.
    • Serve as a guest lecturer or adjunct professor at a university or community college.
    • Cultivate a professional online presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
    • Consider your own Web site or blog to disseminate your thought leadership.
  8. When a recruiter calls, ask key questions as you decide whether to work with him or her. Ask what recruiting firm the headhunter represents. Ask about his or her experience with your industry. Inquire about the recruiter’s process. Then conduct research, including among members of your own network, to get a feel for the recruiter’s reputation and decide whether to proceed with this recruiter. Note whether the recruiter is a good listener. He or she is not working for you, but you do need the recruiter to understand your needs and desires. Source: Kennedy Information’s Job Seeker’s Guide to Working with Recruiters
  9. Once you are in the process of working with the recruiter and interviewing with the client employer, don’t contact the employer directly. Doing so is tantamount to going over the recruiter’s head. Trust your recruiter to see you through the process.
  10. Don’t back out of your commitments once you have agreed to be a candidate. Be sure you’re willing to see the process through. Don’t toy with the recruiter if you’re not serious about pursuing this opportunity. You will quickly fall out of the recruiter’s good graces if you back out, say, just as the employer makes an offer.
  11. Trust the recruiter. In most cases, the recruiter has the experience and wisdom to give you the best advice as you work through your interactions with the client employer. It’s not a good idea to argue with or antagonize the recruiter.
  12. Let the recruiter negotiate your compensation package. Not only can you discuss your compensation package with your recruiter and get his or her advice, but the recruiter can present your requests to the employer.
  13. Thank your recruiter at the end of the process. Failing to express gratitude is a significant mistake. A simple thank-you goes a long way toward cementing your relationship with the recruiter — yet few candidates exercise this simple common courtesy. Giving the recruiter a LinkedIn recommendation also can’t hurt.
  14. Be open to contact from the recruiter even after you’ve landed a job. You never know when you might need the recruiter again. You can get great support from recruiters, but “only when you stay connected with your recruiters — not by waiting until you need to make an emergency move,” says Gurney.
  15. Serve as a resource to recruiters after you have the job. One of the best ways to ensure a productive relationship with recruiters long into your career is to help them out by recommending top-performing friends and members of your network to them.

Final Thoughts on Working With Recruiters

Recruiters can be strong allies in your career advancement. Use these tips and the other resources in our Recruiter Resources and Directories for Job-Seekers to learn to leverage your relationships with them.    Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

By Megan Bauml
Megan Bauml Assistant Director, Undergraduate Career Services