Posts tagged ‘Recruiters’

What Recruiters Say vs. What Job-Seekers Hear

I recently came across an interesting InfoGraphic published by an organization called MedReps — a job site geared towards Medical Sales jobs. While that site focuses on a specific industry niche, the InfoGraphic is quite universal in its message to job-seekers of all types. Basically, it uses a number of well documented statistics (annotated at the bottom) to illustrate the typical gap between what recruiters say to job-seekers, and how those things are often misinterpreted by job-seekers who “hear what they want to hear.” Many of the messages shown in this InfoGraphic are great pieces of solid advice on how to best work with recruiters. [Read “The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters” for more info on this topic.]

Among the many messages contained in this InfoGraphic that I think are especially important for all job-seekers:
► Constantly continue your personal networking activities in addition to working with recruiters.
► Only apply to jobs that you are truly qualified for — don’t try to stretch your qualifications or mislead recruiters with exaggerated information.
► Try to clarify the hiring timetables for any positions you discuss, and the expectations for follow-up communications with recruiters you speak with.
► Keep in touch with any recruiters you are working with, but don’t over do it. Remember: recruiters don’t find Jobs for People … they find People for Jobs — a very different concept!

So here it is. (You can click on the image below to open a full-sized version in a new tab. Then click it again in the new tab that opens to zoom in.)

February 14, 2017 at 11:47 am 2 comments

Job-Seekers’ Top-10 Lists and New Year’s Resolutions

Every year around December, people in the media seem to feel compelled to wrap up each outgoing year with various Top-10 Lists – usually featuring news events, movies, songs, TV shows, books, etc. Each December since I started Recruiter Musings back in 2009 (our visitor count recently surpassed 1 Million hits and we’re still going strong!) I’ve been posting a couple of my own “Top-10 Lists” for Job-Seekers, as well as a list of suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Job-Seekers. In reviewing those prior lists, I found that they are mostly still very relevant and timely! Oh sure, a lot has changed in the world during the last few years. But in terms of my view of the most annoying and the most helpful things for job-seekers … well, my opinions and suggestions have aged well! I’m still very annoyed by people who don’t return phone calls, and I still think Twitter is a huge waste of time! And I’m still a firm believer in the power of Networking as the number one job-seeking methodology with the best chances for success. Likewise, my suggested New Year’s Resolutions from the last few years are still the same ones I’d advise today’s job-seekers to aspire to for the coming year.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I simply went back and re-edited the past year’s postings to make sure they were still accurate and up-to-date so that I could simply refer back to them. (By referring back to those newly edited original posts instead of re-posting them as new, the readers’ comments at the bottom of each of those articles have also been preserved.) SO … here are the links:


 Top 10 Most Annoying Things for Job-Seekers

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things for Job-Seekers

 New Year’s Resolutions for Job-Seekers


December 1, 2014 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

Let the Jobs Find You: Making Yourself More “Searchable”

If you are an active job-seeking candidate, then I think it’s safe to say that you are in pursuit mode, right? You are probably spending the majority of your time searching for and pursuing target companies, networking contacts and decision-makers within those companies, HR people, recruiters and any job opportunities you hear about that match your background and experience. All in all, these can be very time consuming and often frustrating activities. Wouldn’t it be great if the reverse were true: if jobs would find you, instead of the other way around? Wouldn’t you like to be the one who was being pursued instead of you always trying to chase others down? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if hiring managers from companies, HR people and recruiters would search for and then contact you about jobs they thought you matched???

First of all, we need to start with the assumption that you possess all the necessary skills and experiences that truly match a particular job’s requirements. If that is true (and that’s a huge assumption) then connecting you as a candidate with a specific job opportunity is the name of this game! In my world as a recruiter, there are basically two types of candidates that are considered targets for us to pursue: Passive and Active. The difference between these two types of candidates is fairly easy to describe:

Passive Candidates are people who are currently working and not really looking for a new job at all. However (and this is a key point) they might be open to new opportunities, depending on how they are approached. Companies with jobs to fill rarely solicit passive candidates directly. Instead, they will engage Executive Search Firms and recruiters who specialize in placing people in permanent, full-time positions and who usually target passive candidates on behalf of those client companies. Passive candidates are highly sought after by so-called “Head-Hunters,” whose goal it is to get someone to leave one job and go to another. [Read “The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters” for more on how “Head Hunters” differ from other types of recruiters.] For a variety of reasons (not all of which are logical) candidates who are currently working are perceived in a better light than unemployed job-seekers by most potential new employers. This is especially true if someone is working for a client company’s competitor!

Recruiting passive candidates is not an easy process … but can actually be a lot of fun and quite a challenge for many recruiters. It involves a lot of networking, cold-calling and old fashioned sleuthing. It boils down to pure consultative sales techniques. Once a passive candidate is identified and contacted, the recruiter has to establish trust and rapport with that person, find out what their career goals and desires are, and then convince them to consider interviewing for a job with their client — something they were not looking for, or really even thinking about before that initial call. There needs to be a compelling story to be told by that recruiter which explains why moving from company A to company B would be in that candidate’s best interest. That usually comes down to one of three things: higher compensation, opportunities for career growth/advancement, or a better company culture — or some combination of all three.

Active Candidates on the other hand, are people who are actively looking for jobs. These are candidates who are either “in transition” (i.e. not currently working full-time) or are actually employed somewhere but unhappy and seriously looking to make a change from their current job. Companies with temporary or permanent jobs to fill, as well as staffing firms and recruiters who specialize in contract-consulting jobs tend to target active candidates since they are generally available immediately. Unlike passive candidates, active candidates typically post their résumés on job boards and respond to job postings. For recruiters, active candidates are not as difficult to find as passive candidates — or at least they shouldn’t be! If you are an active job-seeker, it is obviously in your best interest to maximize your online visibility as well as your “searchability” in order to be “found” by recruiters and HR people at companies searching for candidates with specific matching skill sets.

LinkedIn Frustrations
It’s no secret that LinkedIn has now eclipsed all the standard job boards as the number one go-to place for recruiters to find candidates. LinkedIn has radically changed the way potential employers and recruiters find candidates, and companies search for and uncover details about potential employees. Many companies are now actually dropping their Monster and CareerBuilder accounts and relying on LinkedIn as their main source for talent acquisition. Creating an effective online profile on LinkedIn is one of the most important things a job-seeker can do right now. From a recruiter’s point of view, one of the most frustrating aspects of LinkedIn is that it is not always easy to figure out if a person is an active job-seeker or not. Many people portray themselves on LinkedIn as working full-time, when they may actually be active job-seekers who simply don’t want to reveal their true status. They might think (as per the reasoning explained above for passive candidates) that they will appear more desirable if they are not unemployed. The trouble with that reasoning is that if I, as a recruiter, am looking for active candidates — I might not contact someone who appears to be working full-time! Another LinkedIn frustration is that even active job-seekers who say they are looking for new opportunities usually fail to provide any direct way to contact them (i.e. an email address or a phone number.) If you are not a first-degree connection, the limitations of LinkedIn’s messaging system will be a big road-block to anyone trying to contact you with a job opportunity.

Making Yourself More “Searchable”
If you are an Active Job-Seeking Candidate with marketable skills and experiences, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of being seen and pursued by those jobs instead of you being the one doing all the chasing. Following are some tips on how to maximize your chances of being “found” by either a company or a recruiter:

  • Keywords
    Keyword searches are usually the first method used to find résumés and LinkedIn profiles with specific skills that match job descriptions. If the right words or phrases are not present in your résumé or profile, you simply won’t come up in a search done by a recruiter or an HR person. You should make sure that your résumé uses the language and commonly used buzzwords or phrases that appear in the typical job descriptions within your industry niche. Study those job descriptions and copy those buzzwords and phrases into your résumé and profile. Also look up other people who do what you do, and see what keywords appear in their profiles for more ideas. Try using a free keyword search tool like “WordStream”, or any number of other keyword generating tools that you can easily find online. When someone searches for keyword matches on LinkedIn, the results are ordered first by how closely connected you are to them, and then by how often those keywords appear in your profile. Test your own profile’s effectiveness by using LinkedIn’s Advanced Search function: pretend that you are a recruiter and search for people who do what you do in your own geographical area. Try copying and pasting some key phrases from a job description you think fits your background into the keyword search field, or a job title you are seeking into the title search field. Does your profile come up anywhere near the top of the search results? If not, look at who does and try to figure out why: what do their profiles have that yours doesn’t? What keywords do they have that you don’t — and how frequently do those keywords appear? Now add those things to your own profile (if they truly apply to you) and try the search again!
  • Frequently Refresh your Online Résumés
    In addition to LinkedIn, you should also have your keyword-optimized résumé posted on all the major job boards (Monster, CareerBuilder, etc.) Companies, Staffing Firms and recruiters pay lots of money to subscribe to and be able to search in those job-board résumé banks. Did you know that when someone searches the job board’s résumé banks, the results are often displayed in the order of who is the most recently updated? Anyone who has ever done a basic Google search already knows how that process works … you click through the results on the first two or three pages, and most people rarely go any further. Does anyone actually look to see what’s been found on the hundreds of pages that follow those first few? If your résumé doesn’t appear on those first few pages of a keyword search, your chances of being found drop off dramatically. How can you fix that? Easy: edit and then re-post/refresh your résumé posts at least once or twice a week. Change something/anything on your résumé or profile to refresh/re-post it online. It can be something as small as one word! Refreshing/Re-Posting it will bring it back closer to the top of the search results.
  • If You Are an Active Candidate, SAY SO!
    Make sure you clearly declare the fact that you are seeking new opportunities in such a way that it is crystal clear to anyone who views your résumé or LinkedIn profile online. Put it in your headline. Put it in the Summary section. List it in your professional goals. Use phrases like: “Seeking New Opportunities” or “Available for Projects.” (Recruiters actually use the words “Seeking” and “Available” in their keyword searches for active candidates!)
  • Add Contact Information to Your LinkedIn Profile!
    As explained above, failing to include basic contact information (email address or phone number) somewhere in your LinkedIn Profile will make it much more difficult for anyone who finds you to contact you … unless you are already a first degree connection. Relying on LinkedIn’s internal communication tool is much too limiting. Add your contact information in such a way that anyone who views your public profile can see it and email or call you.
  • Include a Photo on Your LinkedIn Profile
    Speaking strictly from personal experience as a recruiter, I am much more inclined to reach out to people on LinkedIn who have photos than those who do not. I always prefer LinkedIn profiles with photos, as long as they look professional and not goofy. I tend to spend more time reviewing the photo profiles … they seem more honest and inviting. Plus, it helps me remember people I’ve met, puts names and faces together, and makes me feel I am more connected to people. Profiles without photos seem more generic, incomplete and anonymous. I always suspect that they are hiding something!

The goal of all of these steps is quite simple: make it easier for recruiters and potential employers to find and then contact you. Instead of you doing all the chasing, you want to make yourself more “Searchable” which will increase the odds that the perfect job will find you!

January 10, 2014 at 11:50 am 2 comments

Beating the Résumé-Elimination Game: Where Do Recruiters’ Eyes Go?

A while back, I wrote about how job-seekers get screened out or eliminated based on someone looking at their résumés. [Read: “The Brutal Truth About How Résumés Get Eliminated.”] In my many years as a recruiter, I’ve certainly read my share of résumés. There were times when I went through over a hundred a day. I certainly know how the elimination game works! This process is even more brutal now in the current candidate-flooded market caused by the economic downturn of the last few years. It’s been said that the average résumé-reader will give your résumé less than 15 seconds of eyeball time on the first pass. If they don’t quickly see exactly what they think they want or need right up front … bye bye – delete key for you!

I recently read a fascinating report about a study sponsored by The Ladders purporting to be a scientific analysis of how recruiters actually read résumés. I say “purporting” because one must always consider the source of such studies. Since The Ladders is a for-profit Job-Seeker Service which commissioned and paid for this study, it’s not surprising that their conclusions supported using their own services. It suggested that job-seekers should use The Ladders’ own professional résumé-writing service, and that The Ladders’ online profiles were more effective than LinkedIn’s free online profiles. Their study made use of a technique called “eye-tracking” which produced visual “Heat Maps” showing where and for how long the recruiters’ eyes lingered on the résumés and online profiles they were reading. (See the bottom of this article for an example of such “Heat Maps.”)

Here’s a link to the report that describes the actual study: “Eye Tracking Study.”

Thirty recruiters were studied over a ten-week period. The researchers tried to determine how long the recruiters spent looking at each résumé, what items caught their attention, how quickly their eyes moved from item to item, which items were overlooked, and how quickly they made a basic yes/no decision on a candidate. I imagined a room full of recruiters all chained to desks, forced to stare at computer monitors with their eyes propped open! The whole thing reminded me of a certain iconic scene from the movie Clockwork Orange:

Despite its obvious bias, there were several things in this study that jumped out to me as information I felt could be very useful to all job-seekers. Here are my observations:

How long did recruiters actually look at résumés?
When surveyed, the recruiters told the researchers they spent 4 to 5 minutes on each résumé … but when actually observed, the average time spent on each résumé was a mere 6 seconds for the initial “fit / no fit” decision!!! So much for that masterpiece you slaved over for so many hours writing, re-writing and perfecting. Pretty depressing, eh?!

What parts caught their attention, and where did their eyes linger?
The recruiters in the study spent almost 80% of their résumé review time focusing on the following six things:
1) Name
2) Current Title/Company
3) Current Position Start and End Dates
4) Previous Title/Company
5) Previous Position Start and End Dates
6) Education
Sadly, beyond those six things the recruiters did little more than scan for keywords that matched the jobs they were trying to fill. They characterized the rest of the descriptive details in the résumés (the parts you probably spent the most time perfecting!) as “filler that had little or no impact on their initial decision-making.” Again, kind of depressing, eh?

Why did “professionally-written” résumés seem to be more effective?
In a word — it’s the formatting. Look at the Heat Maps below. What distinguishes the one on the right from the one on the left? When you consider the low importance placed on the actual descriptive details (as noted in the answer above) the only thing left is the physical look and feel of the page. On the right-hand example, notice the use of bold type and grey boxes for the headings, the lines separating the different sections, the way various keywords are bolded throughout, etc. Those are the elements that guide the eyes and focus the attention of the reader. The entire format looks organized and logical. By comparison, the one on the left looks like a big jumble of words, with no clear path to follow. It takes too much work for the reader to figure it out. (Hint: if you click on the graphic below you’ll see the full-sized image, where it’s much easier to examine the different elements on each résumé.)

How can you create your own “professionally-formatted” résumé without paying someone else to do it for you?
There are many resume-writing services out there who will be happy to charge you lots of money to re-format and re-write your résumé for you. I’ve never been a big fan of such services. I’ve seen way too many crappy résumés created by such so-called “professionals.” This is one of those rare cases where the old phrase “you get what you pay for” really does not apply at all. The truth is that anyone can create a professional-looking résumé themselves — totally for free. The easiest way to do it is to “borrow” someone’s professional résumé that you like and then copy the format! Just get a good résumé from someone you know — or simply search for professional résumés on Google — and then save them to your computer. Then just replace the text with your own words, retaining the nice-looking formatting of the original! Another fairly obvious source for pre-formatted résumé templates is Microsoft Word, or other desktop writing and publishing programs. Just open the program and search for templates when you choose to create a new document. Microsoft has even more free résumé templates available online. Here’s a link to a generous number of free, great looking professional résumé templates designed for users of Microsoft Word: “Microsoft Résumés and CVs.” Numerous other free examples and templates are out there online, ready for the taking.

Final thoughts … some résumés actually do get read more carefully!
Keep in mind that the focus of this entire study was the initial “yes/no” assessment process … that first quick scan where the elimination often happens. But not every résumé gets eliminated. When a résumé does pass that first test, then the descriptive details that were completely overlooked the first time will actually get read and considered. So in the end, the experiences and achievements you write about on your masterpiece do really matter a great deal. The trick, of course, is to beat the résumé-elimination game and get to that next step!

For more tips on creating an effective resume, read: “The Résumé Test & Checklist: Does Yours Pass?”


Above: These “Heat Maps” show where recruiters eyes go (yellow areas), and where they linger (red areas) when reading résumés. The one on the left is a “self-written” résumé, and the one on the right is a “professionally-written” résumé. Note the formatting differences. (Click on the image to see a full-sized version.)

April 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm 6 comments

Contract / Consulting Jobs Explained … Available in Three Different Flavors

In today’s ultra-challenging job market, there are many opportunities out there for so-called “contract” or “consulting” jobs. Historically in the staffing business, it’s a well known pattern that when the economy is down, companies tend to rely more on contract resources to get work done rather than hiring permanent employees. When the economy is up, the reverse is true and permanent jobs tend to outweigh contract opportunities. It’s a very cyclical and predictable shift in how companies approach hiring.

I think it’s safe to say that most job-seekers — especially those who recently lost their permanent positions as a result of the economic downturn over the last few years — are hoping to find another full-time, permanent job. They might be reluctant to accept a contract position for fear of being unavailable if a permanent position suddenly presents itself elsewhere. On the other hand, working is better than not working, right? And very often a person will start out as a contract employee and end up being hired by that same company on a permanent basis because they performed so well. Still other job-seekers actually prefer the world of contracting, and only pursue those sorts of temporary positions. Such professional contract/consultants usually have a very specialized skill-set that is in high demand, and can actually make more money contracting than they could as a permanent employee. Those contract/consultants also often move around a lot, accepting contract positions in different locations for varying lengths of time. In other cases, there are many senior-level semi-retired professionals who no longer wish to return to the grind of a permanent position, but are still interested in remaining active in their field by taking on interim contract assignments.

By the way … for those who are collecting unemployment compensation, it’s worth noting here that accepting any type of employment, contract or otherwise, will certainly affect one’s eligibility to continue collecting unemployment benefits. If the amount you earn on a weekly basis is less than your unemployment benefit amount, then your benefits will likely be reduced to reflect the difference. If you earn more than your benefit amount, then your unemployment payments will stop while you are working. If that happens, and then the contract assignment ends (through no fault of your own) then theoretically you can simply resume your unemployment benefit payments, which should be extended past where they might have ended before … you should still get the full amount you were originally allocated. However, in such a case you will most likely have to re-apply to get your benefits re-instated. And here’s my disclaimer — there is no guarantee that your re-application will be approved. For better information about his issue, I would advise you to contact your local Unemployment Office and discuss the particulars of your situation with a representative there. Here’s a website with links to unemployment information in all 50 U.S. states: “Unemployment Information.”

Among many job-seekers, there is a lot of confusion about contract jobs. I’ve gotten many questions about contract positions that indicate how confusing it can be: What exactly is a contract job? How is that different from a “consulting” job? What’s the difference between a “1099” and a “W-2” contract job? Is a contract the same as a “part-time” job? Is “full-time” the same as a “permanent” job? Can a contract job be “full-time?” Can a “permanent” job be “part-time?” Who invented Liquid Soap, and why? (OK, I just threw in that last one to see if you were paying attention.)

SO, let’s start with some basic definitions:

Contract Job: A temporary position with a company. Usually, but not always, has NO benefits included (unless they are available through a 3rd party staffing firm.)
Consulting Job: A fancier name for a contract job. Could be a higher, more senior-level position.
Temp Job: Yet another name for a contract job – usually referring to lower-level administrative positions (secretaries, data entry, bookkeepers, etc.)
Permanent Job: The traditional employee situation with a company. Usually (but not always) includes benefits.
Full-Time Job: 40 hours per week. (“Full-Time” could refer to either a contract or a permanent job.)
Part-Time Job: Less than 40 hours per week. (“Part-Time” could refer to either a contract or a permanent job.)
1099 vs. W-2: A “1099” employee is a self-employed “independent contractor.” Independent contractors bill their clients for their time – usually by using a purchase order – based either on an hourly rate or a flat fee for services rendered. Either way, no deductions are withheld from their payments, and they are responsible for paying all their own taxes (using IRS Form 1099 … hence the name.) On the other hand, a W-2 employee gets paychecks from the company they are employed by, based on the hours they work, at an agreed upon hourly rate. Those paychecks will already have all the standard deductions taken out for them by their employer (federal, state and local taxes, social security, medicare, etc.) Also, 1099 contractors must pay self-employment tax, while W-2 employees do not. In addition, independent contractors are often required by their clients to carry their own liability and other types of insurance.
At-Will Employee: In the United States¹, most “permanent employees” in today’s work world are hired “at will” – a legal term which means that they can quit anytime for any reason (or no reason at all) without giving advanced notice. Of course, the reverse is also true: they can be fired at any time for any reason (or no reason at all) without advanced notice. This really blows the old concept of “job security” eh?! It also tends to blur the line between a contract and so-called “permanent” job.

For the most part, contract jobs are either directly with a client company that has the need, or through a 3rd-party staffing firm that engages with the client company and provides consultants to them as needed. In such a case, the contractor usually becomes an employee of the staffing firm for the duration of the contract assignment. That firm then pays the person an hourly rate for the work they do at their client’s company, and then bills their client for that person’s time — after, of course, adding a significant markup. (Everyone’s got to make a living, right?)

The Pros and Cons of Contract Jobs:
When presented with the prospect of a contract job, it’s fairly easy for job-seekers to evaluate the overall pros and cons of such a position. Of course, each situation is different — but the following things are mostly true for all contract jobs.

1) Income. Money coming in is always good, right? Bills get paid!
2) It looks good on a résumé. Contract jobs – even short-term ones – look way better on a résumé than a gap in employment … especially if it’s work within your industry niche.
3) It keeps you current and up-to-date in your field.
4) A contract job gets your foot in the door of a company that could potentially hire you on a permanent basis.

1) By definition, it’s a temporary position. When the contract ends (and they almost always do at some point) you will most likely be unemployed again. Future unemployment benefits could possibly be affected.
2) Generally, contract jobs do not include benefits (health insurance, retirement plans, etc.) unless they are available through a 3rd party staffing firm.
3) Contract employees often feel like outsiders at their companies. They don’t have the same feeling of “ownership” of their work that permanent employees usually have, nor do they enjoy the same feeling of camaraderie with their co-workers that permanent employees usually feel.

The 3 Different Flavors of Contract Jobs:
Whether a contractor is a 1099 or a W-2, working directly for a client or through a staffing firm, full-time or part-time … contract assignments generally fall into 3 categories or “flavors.” This is something that often confuses job-seekers (and recruiters!) when they hear about a contracting opportunity. I’ve even heard from some job-seekers that the recruiters they spoke with don’t seem entirely sure which flavor of contract opportunity they are working on. Clarifying which of these 3 flavors someone is looking at is critical in evaluating such an opportunity, and deciding if it’s worth pursing.

1) Limited Duration Contract:
This is when the contract has a pre-defined beginning and end date. The duration could be any length … from a few days to a few weeks or months. I’ve even seen contracts last up to a year or more. The main thing that defines this type of contract is that there is no plan whatsoever to bring the person on board as a permanent employee. It’s either not in the company’s budget, or for whatever reason the company does not want to add headcount to their permanent payroll. When the contract ends, the job is over.

2) Contract with the Intention to Hire:
In this scenario, the company already has an approved “req” (requisition) from their HR department to hire a new permanent employee. However, they want to start the person out as a contractor first – mostly to see how they perform and how they fit in with the company and the personnel. It’s the classic “Try-Buy” situation. They don’t want to pull the trigger and hire someone until they are absolutely sure they have the right person for the job. If it doesn’t work out, it’s a lot less complicated for the company to simply end the contract than it would be to terminate a permanent employee.

3) Contract with the Possibility to Hire:
Here, the person starts out as a limited duration contractor, just like number 1. However, in this case, the company has made it known that they are at least open to the possibility of converting the contractor into a permanent employee. The rub is that they do not actually have an approved “req” (requisition) from their HR department allowing them to hire a new person. This can be the most frustrating situation of all. This scenario suggests that if the person does a great job and proves to be a valuable asset to the company, their boss could then request permission to hire the person. But, there is certainly no guarantee that such a request would be approved … and no actual promise of permanent employment no matter how well the person performs. The decision of whether or not to hire the contractor is often dependent on factors totally out of that person’s control.

Those last two flavors are often confused with each other, and many times are both referred to by recruiters as “Contract-to-Hire” or “Temp-to-Perm” opportunities. However, as I’ve just explained, they are quite different from each other in a very fundamental way. It’s up to each job-seeker to dig in and ask the right questions when evaluating these opportunities. The most obvious question should be: “Does the company already have an approved req to go ahead and hire someone on a permanent basis if this contract works out?” If the recruiter can’t answer that question clearly, tell them to go back to their client and find out! I’m certainly not saying that you should turn down any of the 3 flavors of contract jobs defined here. However, knowing what you are getting into, and managing your own expectations is key.

¹ As many astute readers have pointed out, employment laws, the “at-will” status and requirements for giving notice may vary outside of the United States.

January 10, 2011 at 12:01 am 186 comments

The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters

[This article was updated in June 2018]

When I first started my career as a recruiter, I worked and trained with a few “old-school” recruiters who had learned the staffing business in the days before internet searches, online job boards or social media … when recruiters were called “Head Hunters” and kept rotating card files called Rolodexes filled with prized contacts next to their wired, land-line desk phones. Their livelihood depended on who they knew – how many “A” candidates they had relationships with and developed trust with. The implication of the term Head Hunter was that they only went after top talent – usually people who worked for their client’s competitors – and actually recruited them away from one company to come work for another! Some of the best of today’s recruiters still operate that way, only seeking out top talent through networking and personal contacts. Many of those old Head Hunters even imagined themselves to be the business world’s equivalent of a Jerry McGuire … like sports or entertainment agents who exclusively represent top talent, shop them around and negotiate the best deals for their candidates. (“Show me the money!!!”) Needless to say, in today’s ultra-challenging, internet-centric job market, most recruiters have learned to adapt to new ways of doing business.

At the other end of the spectrum from the Head Hunters are the younger, much less experienced recruiters who never learned how to creatively “source” (i.e. identify) and then actually recruit (i.e. sell an opportunity to) so-called “passive” (i.e. employed, non-job-seeking) candidates. They only look at résumés from people who respond to their online job postings – active job-seekers, otherwise known as the “low hanging fruit.” Since most companies know how to do the same thing by posting their own ads and collecting those same résumés, recruiters who operate that way are finding fewer and fewer companies willing to pay them a fee for that type of recruiting.

Most modern recruiters fall somewhere in between those two models. As with any profession, there are good recruiters and bad recruiters. Yes, there are recruiters out there who lie, cheat, deceive, bait & switch, promise things they cannot deliver, and will pretty much do or say anything to get a placement and get paid — similar to the stereotype of Used Car Salesmen. I’ve met some of those people, and their sleaze factor can be quite astounding! Unfortunately, similar to the image problem that lawyers have, those bad recruiters tend to give the entire profession a negative reputation. How can you tell the difference between good and bad recruiters? Just like with any other business relationship, time will reveal the traits of a person worth working with: honesty, integrity, sincerely, responsiveness, timely follow-through, etc. Good recruiters treat everyone with respect, and care about the people they work with. They try to do the right thing, and look out for everyone’s best interest – their own, their client’s and their candidate’s.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about how recruiters work, and how job-seekers can best utilize them as a resource. There is also a lot of confusion among job-seekers about exactly what recruiters do, how they get paid, who they work for, how to approach them, what questions to ask, etc. As a veteran of the staffing industry, I’d like to set the record straight, bust some common myths, and give some advice on how to best utilize recruiters as a resource.

[Click on the image above to expand and see it full-sized.]

The Different Types of Recruiters
Recruiters come in many different flavors. There are Retained Recruiters who typically only work on very specialized high-end C-level positions, and get paid a flat fee for simply producing a certain number of highly qualified candidates – whether or not they get hired. There are “Temporary Staffing” or “Staff Augmentation” Recruiters who work primarily on limited duration contract assignments for their clients and get paid based on their candidates’ hourly billings on an ongoing basis. There are Corporate or Internal Recruiters who work directly for the companies who have the open jobs, and are usually salaried employees of those companies. And then there are 3rd Party Agency Recruiters. For the rest of this article, I’ll focus only on 3rd-Party Agency Recruiters – the ones who work on permanent jobs, usually on a contingency basis. These recruiters work for independent agencies who contract their services to various companies who need help filling open jobs with very specific and often hard-to-find requirements. They search for candidates that match those requirements, and try to present only the top few most qualified candidates to their clients. They are paid on a commission basis if and only if their candidates are hired and after their client company pays their agency’s fee. Those fees are usually a percentage of their candidate’s first year base salary (typically 20-25% – sometimes more, sometimes less.) So naturally it’s in their own best interest, as well as their candidate’s, to help negotiate the highest possible salary from their client during the offer stage. The more the candidate makes, the more the recruiter makes!

Recruiters Are Sales People
I’ve always maintained that recruiting is actually a consultative sales position. In fact, it’s one of the purest forms of sales that you can imagine. It involves selling a complete intangible – something that you can’t touch or feel, but rather a concept. In the case of 3rd-party (agency) recruiting, each deal is actually a series of multiple intangible sales events. First the recruiter has to sell the concept of using the agency’s search services to a potential client company (an employer with open jobs.) Once they get a signed Fee Agreement with that client company, then the recruiter has to actually go out and find — and then sell that company’s job opportunity to — a person who fits the employer’s specific requirements (a qualified candidate.) If the recruiter is successful in “selling” both of those intangibles, the next goal is to get the two parties in a room together (the interview) and hope they like each other. Essentially, it’s then up to the candidate to “sell themselves” to the hiring authority during that interview. At the same time, that hiring authority must “sell their company” to the candidate so that an offer will be accepted. If that results in the candidate getting hired (a placement), and then the client company actually pays their agreed-upon fee to the agency – then and only then does the recruiter get paid! When you consider how many things can go wrong with such a complicated series of intangible sales events, it’s easy to see how difficult a recruiter’s job can be!

MYTH: Recruiters Find Jobs for People
Wrong! Recruiters find People for Jobs! If you think about it, that’s a very different concept. While a good recruiter will certainly try to do right by their candidates, it’s important to remember that they ultimately work for and get paid by their client companies. Recruiters do not get paid by candidates, nor are they job counselors. Sure, they “counsel” the candidates that they choose to work with, help them refine their résumés, and prep & coach them on interview techniques. However, they are paid by client companies to find candidates to fill very specific positions with very specific (usually hard to find) requirements. Randomly contacting a recruiter with your unsolicited résumé, and saying “can you help me find a job” is NOT a good tactic … and most recruiters will not respond. I get at least two or three of those a week from people I cannot possibly help. On the other hand, answering a recruiter’s job posting with your résumé and a message that says “I match every requirement you’ve listed …” is a GOOD idea. Calling to follow-up is even better. The name of the game is matching your skills and experience to a specific job they are already working on. That’s what they get paid for! That’s why most recruiters don’t return calls or emails from candidates that don’t match all the requirements of their current job searches. For them, time is money, and they only make money on matches!

Is it Better to Apply Directly to a Company, or Go Through a Recruiter?
The answer depends on who you know at the company. If you’ve already networked your way to a decision-maker, and have a personal relationship there … go direct! If, on the other hand, you don’t know anyone there and you talk with a recruiter who has a personal relationship with a hiring manager … then the advantage goes to the recruiter! The company’s desire to avoid paying the recruiter’s fee might sometimes be a factor … but a personal relationship trumps that every time. Most good recruiters develop and nurture relationships with their clients over a long period of time. Those relationships are invaluable … they have the trust and attention of the decision-makers who are the hardest to reach. They can get you in front of the right people. That is one of the main advantages of using a good recruiter!

Industry-Specific Recruiters
Most Recruiters specialize in a specific industry, and only look for specific types of candidates. Some are more focused than others. For example, a recruiter may be a general IT Recruiter, looking for any and all technical positions. Others may be focused on a smaller subset of IT – for example, only .NET programmers, or only JAVA developers, or only Web Designers, or only users of a particular type of software, etc. Others may focus on totally different industries. I’ve heard of Recruiting Firms that concentrate exclusively on very narrow industry specialties: HVAC Engineers, Paper and Pulp Industry Professionals, Hospitality Industry Executives, Copyright Lawyers, Chief Financial Officers, Radiology Technicians … the list is literally endless. Needless to say, an industry-specific recruiter does not want to waste their time talking to candidates who do not fit their niche. Job-Seekers who want to find a recruiter to work with should figure out which agencies and/or recruiters specialize in their specific industry niche, and focus on getting on their radar.

How Do Recruiters Find Candidates that Match Their Job Requirements?
There are several ways that recruiters might find matching candidates: using sophisticated Boolean key-word searches, they first mine their electronic resources: they look in their own data base of collected résumés; they post their jobs (usually without identifying the client company) on the popular job boards, on Social Media sites, and on their own agency’s website and then screen applicants for matches; they search résumé banks that they pay to subscribe to, like CareerBuilder, Monster, Dice, etc.; they make extensive use of searches on all the Social Media sites like LinkedIn (which has now become the Number 1 search tool recruiters), Facebook, Twitter, etc., and send messages to people they find that potentially match the requirements they are looking for. Finally, they do a LOT of old fashioned cold calling to people within their industry niche, asking everyone if they know of anyone else that fits their job requirements, and asking everyone they talk with for referrals. It’s a laborious time-consuming process where one person leads to another, to another, to another and so on. All along the way they collect résumés from potential candidates who may or may not fit the immediate job they are working on, but seem worth keeping on file for future searches in their specialty area.

What is the Best Way for a Job-Seeker to Use Recruiters as a Resource?
Try to identify an agency, or a specific recruiter who specializes in your industry niche, and put yourself “on file” there. Send them your résumé to get into their searchable electronic data base so that when a new job comes up, they’ll “find” you later during a future search. You should also regularly check that niche agency’s job posting on their own website, and look for jobs that match your background. If you do spot a matching job, contact the agency and ask which recruiter in their office is working on that search … and try to reach that specific person to alert them of your own matching qualifications. Needless to say, you should also keep your online profiles (LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, Dice, etc.) up to date and filled with as many “keywords” in your niche as possible. You want to make yourself “find-able” when a recruiter does a search for someone with your skills and experience.

What Questions Should You Ask of a Recruiter Who Calls You About a Job?
  What company are they recruiting for? (If you’ve already applied directly to that same company or been called by another recruiter for the same position, they would probably not be able to represent you there.) Find out everything the recruiter knows about that company. If they cannot tell you the name of the company, ask why. (If it’s truly a “confidential” search, OK … but more often than not it’s a trust issue, and failure to identify the client could be a red flag for a job-seeker.)
  What are the job requirements? Ask them to send you a job description. Help the recruiter see how you fit those requirements, if you do. Be honest about any requirements that you really don’t have.
  What is the salary range defined for the position? You should be honest and up front about your own salary history and the salary range you would accept going forward. If your salary history and expectations do not match the job’s defined range (or seem unrealistic) most recruiters will not consider it a match worth pursuing. Like it or not, it’s a primary factor recruiters use to decide who they’ll represent to their clients. [Read “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question” for more info on how to deal with this issue when working with recruiters.]
  What is the history of this position? (New or replacement … and if the latter, what happened to the person who left?)
  Who is the hiring manager, and how well does the recruiter know that person? What is their management style? What is the company culture like? Can you get any inside intelligence?
  How many other candidates is this recruiter representing to this job? Are there other agencies that are also sending candidates, or is this an “exclusive?”
  What is the client’s hiring timetable? What steps are there – how many phone interviews and in-person interviews will there be, and with whom? When do they want someone to start? How long has this position been open? How high is their degree of “urgency” to full it?
  What is the next step? Will the recruiter definitely be sending your information to the client – and if so, when? How soon should you expect to hear back from the recruiter?

Good recruiters should be able to answer almost all of these questions and more. If they can’t answer those basic questions … then they probably don’t know their clients very well, and I would question whether or not you want them to represent you. Good recruiters will also be able to help you tweak your résumé to better fit the job specs, prep and coach you on how to successfully interview using their insider knowledge of the company and the decision-makers, and they will help you negotiate the best salary if and when an offer comes. Good recruiters will also follow through with things they say they will do, and will be good about keeping you informed with updates and progress reports. Expect good communication … and beware of anyone who suddenly stops returning your calls or emails — that’s a telltale sign of unprofessionalism that is certainly not limited to recruiters!

Also, always verify that the recruiter will never submit your résumé to any companies or jobs without your knowledge and approval. Believe it or not, that happens quite frequently. I’ve recruited many candidates over the years who swore they never even heard of my client company, only to find out later that the company had already received that person’s résumé from another recruiter! Not only did that make me look stupid, but more importantly it ruined that candidate’s chances of getting the job – most companies will automatically eliminate any candidate who is submitted from multiple sources. They don’t want to get into the middle of a turf war.

What NOT To Do When Working With Recruiters …
  Never ever agree to pay any money to a recruiting agency for their services, or agree to any future financial obligations – e.g. re-paying their fees if you leave a job before their guarantee period is up. Recruiters who ask for money from candidates are not to be trusted. Run away quickly, and don’t look back!
  Never do an “end-run” around a recruiter and apply directly to a job they told you about. That is extremely unethical, and almost never ends well. If, on the other hand, the recruiter does not submit you to their client company for whatever reason – then you have every right to go ahead and apply directly to that company on your own.
  Do not sign any documents that promise “exclusive representation” by a recruiter (except specifically for the one position/company they are working with you on.) You have every right to work with multiple recruiters (as long as they are not working on the same job with the same company) and to continue applying directly to other companies. You should, however, inform your recruiter of other opportunities you are working on – especially if you are actually interviewing elsewhere, and may be getting close to an offer at another company.
  Never lie to a recruiter about your qualifications, your experiences, your education, your salary history, or anything else! Be honest about everything, and expect the same in return.
  Finally, do not put all of your job hopes into working with any recruiter, no matter how good they are. The real truth about working with recruiters is that while they can be a great resource … the vast majority of job-seekers today will NOT find their next job through a recruiter. Job-Seekers should concentrate on their own networking activities designed to get them in front of decision-makers in their target companies. [Read “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job-Searching” for more detailed information on how to do exactly that!]

February 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm 99 comments

Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn

 The Power of a Positive

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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