This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Laid Off: Day 21 - Working with recruiters

Posted By Paul

Hello from day 21 off my layoff experience. I wanted to keep everyone updated on my journey back to gainful employment, and hopefully share some useful information along the way.

I won't repeat anything that I have already mentioned in my previous post

Currently I am what I would call right in the middle of the job hunt process. I am sending out resumes, doing phone screens and (in some cases) interviews, working with recruiters, and generally doing whatever I can to get a job. I had forgotten how tiring it can be to job hunt all day.

Now one thing I wanted to mention is that I am focusing on getting a job that might actually be a good long term fit for me. I'm not trying to find "any port in a storm". After looking at my finances, my emergency fund, severance, unemployment, and so on I feel that I can try to find a good job as opposed to just any job.

So one thing I've been experiencing a lot recently are recruiters. I wanted to share my impressions and experiences since they are becoming more and more common within various fields. My experiences are with recruiters that work in the high tech industry but I believe that the information in this post will apply to recruiters for numerous industries. Also I'm referring to third-party recruiters, which in my experience are the most common.

Here is an article describing the different types of recruiters in greater detail.

So let's start off with the basic question. What is a recruiter? Well a recruiter is someone who serves as your agent and tries to find you a job. If you have read my recent post:

Know Their Agenda

Then you're first thought might be: "What's in it for them?" That is a very good question.

Let's say you are a company and you are looking to hire someone for a particular position. Finding qualified candidates for a position can take a lot of work. If you just post a listing on a web page you may have to sift through literally hundreds of resumes to find one candidate that is actually qualified for the position. So you may decide to involve a recruiter.

What you do is give the recruiter the job description and you promise to pay them a commission if they find you the candidate that you ultimately hire. It can be a pretty good deal for you, as now you have this other party finding resumes, filtering them based on what you're looking for, and forwarding the best candidates to you.

Some may say, why wouldn't the recruiting company just barrage you with every resume they can lay their hands on in the hope that they'll get lucky? Well the reason is simple...if you were working with a recruiting company to help you find candidates, and instead they just barrage you with resumes would you work with them again?

So the idea is that the company gives the recruiter the job description and the recruiter does all of the leg work to find a small set of candidates that the company can interview. Now of course the company is not required to limit their search to JUST candidates that come from the recruiter and if they find a candidate through a different channel (like one of their employees refers them) then they don't have to pay the recruiter anything.

So what's it like working with recruiters? Well I think that sometimes recruiters get a bad reputation. I think recruiters are like many services, where a good one can be a great asset and a bad one can be a nightmare.

I really believe that if you are going to work with one or more recruiters that you should really work to manage the recruiter to make sure you are always on the same page.

Here is an example that happened to me. This was about 4 years ago when I was working for a company but was interested in other opportunities. A recruiter contacted me with a job that sounded really good. It was in a field that I had a lot of experience in, and I even knew a person who worked there. I talked to the recruiter about my ideal job. We discussed things like work environment, salary, and so on. They forwarded my resume to the company, and the company brought me in for an interview.

The short story is that I have never felt so much like I had aced the interview. I knew all of the software they were talking about, had experience with all of the tools they used, it seemed like a perfect fit. I came out of that interview excited about the new job.

My recruiter got back to me and sure enough they offered me a job...at 50% of my current pay! In our first discussion I had told my recruiter how much I made and said I wanted to stay in the same ballpark. The recruiter responded that the company wanted to hire someone much more junior so they only budgeted for a much less experienced person, but they liked me a lot (of course I would have liked me a lot at the salary they offered as well, it would have been a bargain). Suffice it to say that I didn't take the offer and never worked with THAT recruiter again. This is a great example of a BAD recruiting experience.

Now keep in mind, working with recruiters doesn't have to be like this, but you have to make sure that you and your recruiter are always on the same page. Here are some tips I suggest for working with a recruiter:

1) Be REALLY clearly with what your salary expectations are. The more ambiguous you are, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. If you don't even want to look at a job under a certain salary then tell them that. If you have some flexibility then tell them that too. I've heard some people say you should NEVER tell someone a specific number when talking salary, but I think that in the case of a recruiter you really should if for no other reason than to make sure you don't have the terrible scenario I described above.

2) If there is anything that would keep you from taking a job, let them know up front. If you refuse to commute more than 20 minutes, or you don't want a job where you have to wear a tie every day then let the recruiter know. It's in their best interest to make sure that they find you jobs that meet your criteria, so let them know what that is.

3) Be honest about any lead they present you with. If a recruiter sends you a lead, then look it over and give an honest opinion of how much the job appeals to you and also how good a fit you think you are for it. If there is something about the job that doesn't appeal to you, then the process can stop there, or you can go forward and hear more. It's really up to you. The recruiter doesn't want to send you on interviews when you have no chance of getting a job (or of taking the job), that just wastes their time and burns their credit with the company.

4) Make sure that a recruiter will only send your resume to places with your permission. This is pretty standard, but I have heard of recruiters that will just send your resume out to various places without even telling you about the lead. This is just asking for trouble. If you catch a recruiter doing this, I say stop working with them and go with someone else.

5) Be honest about the job hunting you are doing on your own. Let's say a recruiter comes to you with a job lead for a company, but you already sent your resume over to them that morning (or maybe some other recruiter has already sent your resume over). Tell them that. The worst faux pas in the recruiting world is to have your resume submitted by two different parties, because if that happens and you end up getting the job, who gets the commission?

6) Be aware of how the recruiter is motivated and get that to work for you. Recruiters want to get you A JOB, not necessarily the best job for you long term. If they can get you hired into a company that is a two hour commute for half the money and if for whatever reason you are willing to take the job then they're happy to do that. Keep that in mind and give them the information that lets them find you a great job.

7) Job hunt on your own, and don't feel obligated to work with only one recruiter. If the recruiter had their way, they would like you to only work with them and to do no job hunting on your own; however recruiters don't realistically expect you to do that. I think you should job hunt on your own. No one knows your skills and job preferences better than you do (and besides what else do you have to do all day?).

8) Track EVERY job lead. Whether or not you work with recruiters this is a good idea, but if you work with a recruiter (or more than one) and job hunt on your own it is imperative that you do this. That way you know who your resume has been submitted to, and by who. You don't want to be in a position where a recruiter calls you with a job lead for a company but you think (but aren't sure) that you've already applied there.

9) Keep your recruiter in the loop. I think that's just courtesy. I'm not saying that you have to call your recruiter every time you send a resume to someone, but if it looks like you might be landing a job (either one you found on your own or through a different recruiter) a recruiter will appreciate knowing that you might be off the market soon, and if you DO get a new job, they'll really appreciate knowing that you're off the market.

If you work with recruiters here are a few things I see when dealing with them:

-Sometimes you get a recruiter who implies they have a lot of job leads, when in fact they have one, and if you don't want that job, or have already applied for it you never hear from them again. It happens, you can always find another recruiter.

-Sometimes you get a recruiter who isn't familiar with your particular field and so they send you job leads that don't really match your skill set. The good recruiters will learn what you are specifically looking for quickly.

-Sometimes you get a recruiter who tries to push you into applying for a job that you don't really want, or maybe accepting an offer for a job that you are on the fence about. Remember they are motivated to get you placed, so don't let yourself be bullied into getting a job that you don't really want. The ultimate choice is up to you.

Another thing I've heard stories about (but never experienced myself) is where recruiters try to convince a candidate that the job market is much worse than it is, or that they're not as qualified as they think they are so the candidate gets desperate and scared, and is more willing to grab at the first thing that comes along. Of course if you do your own job hunt then you'll never fall for this.

I hope I haven't made recruiters sound like villains in this posting. In fact there are some great things recruiters can do for you. Here are some examples from my own experiences throughout my career:

-I had an interview with a company that a recruiter set me up with. After the interview the company told the recruiter that they liked me but they were worried that I didn't have a particular skill that was key to the job. The recruiter called my references and summarized what they had to say (which included 'quick learner' as part of their endorsement) and sent that summary to the company. That was something I could have never done on my own.

-A recruiter sent me a posting and under the list of 'must have' skills there was one thing that I didn't have. I told the recruiter this. They called the company and mentioned that I lacked this key skill, and the company said that considering my other experience they were willing to relax this restriction. If I had come across the posting myself then I might have sent my resume anyway, but it helped to have that feedback to know that my lack of a particular skill wasn't a deal-breaker.

-In a job hunt several years ago I had a job offer in hand, but there was another company (that I found through a recruiter) that I interviewed with that was my first choice. I told the recruiter that I had an offer but I REALLY would like to give this other company a chance to make me an offer before I accepted the first offer. The recruiter (seeing the possibility of losing a commission) was more than happy to call the company I was waiting on and let them know the situation so that they knew that I was about to go off the market but that I really wanted to hear back from them.

Wow, this ended up being a pretty long post, but I hope someone out the finds it useful. To summarize, recruiters can be incredibly useful agents in the job hunt, but you have to manage your relationship with them properly (which can be a lot of work unto itself).

My view is that I never assume a recruiter will find me a job, but I'm happy to work with anyone who wants to take my resume and find job leads for me. After all, you never know which lead will be the one that pans out.


Liz said...

I just found your blog today and I think is great. What a great resource for folks who are the same situation you are in. If you would like a complimentary resume review let me know...I feel bad that you guys got laid off and would love to do my small part to help. Also if you think it would be helpful at all I have an e-book of interview tips including a full page of questions you can use to practice. you can find it at

I'll check back and see how your search is going and in the meantime dont hesitate to reach out if you need any advice, help or resources as you go through this process.


Liz Handlin

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