Tips for Communicating with Recruiters to Land an Interview

Working effectively with a good recruiter requires time and research.

As you advance your career, you may be running into more executive search firms, agencies, and headhunters than ever before. Job seekers who fail to recognize “how it works” with an executive recruiter often find themselves frustrated and unrepresented

External recruiters get paid by the employer to find the best candidate for the job. The information that follows will help you to understand how external recruiters operate and how to avoid misunderstandings during the hiring process, and may even lead to your next great job opportunity.

Know the advantages to working with external recruiters. While some people may be skeptical of external recruiters, the reality is that there are several advantages to working with one. For instance, if you are introduced to the company, that’s a good indication to the employer that you are solid candidate.

Recruiters also often have information about company culture, especially if they’ve worked with the company in the past. This allows them to coach you on what you may encounter.

Overall, there’s really only one major difference when working with external recruiters: You have to get screened before interviewing with the company. Everything else about good job hunting practices remains the same.

Realize the executive recruiter works for the company and not for the candidate. Look at the payment trail: An executive recruiter is paid by the company to find precisely the right talent—and they are willing to pay a premium for it. Candidates that take the stance that the recruiter is working to find them a job show the recruiter their lack of business savvy and self-centeredness. Don’t let this be you. Savvy candidates recognize the economic aspects of the relationship and work to be a resource to the recruiter. Recruiters want to work with savvy candidates.

Know what external recruiters can and can’t do for you. TheLadders polled a group of recruiters and asked them how job seekers could improve their relationship with them. One major complaint was that job seekers did not understand the role of an external recruiter.

An external recruiter is not getting paid to help you with the hiring process. That is to say, they aren’t there to teach you how to write a proper resume or coach you for an interview. They are simply there to screen candidates for their clients. With that in mind, if you are clearly not the right person for the job, do not try to convince them otherwise. This will only sabotage your chances of working with them in the future

Find out and understand how external recruiters get paid. When speaking with a recruiter about a potential job, simply ask them how they came across the vacancy. This should give you clues as to how they are being paid by the employer. There are pros and cons to working with different kinds of recruiters. At the end of the day, no one method is better than the other. As a result, you should always keep your doors open with recruiters, no matter how they are being paid.

The Contract

The contract between an employer and the recruiter usually is done in one of three ways: on a retained basis, a contingency basis, or a contained basis. Here’s a breakdown of these methods and what they mean for you as a job seeker:

  • Retained recruiters: When recruiters work on a retained basis, it means they are charging the employer an up-front fee to conduct a search. It also means they are working on an exclusive basis. Working with retained recruiters is usually a slow process because they work very closely with their client. They even will use an agreed-upon methodology to screen and interview candidates. The service doesn’t come cheap as recruiters may charge up to 50 percent of the candidate’s salary. As a job seeker, this means that interviewing with a retained recruiter is almost equivalent to interviewing with the actual company.
  • Contingency recruiters: Contingency recruiters get paid once they find the right candidate for the job (usually up to 25 percent of a candidate’s salary). Recruiters working on this basis often are competing with the client’s internal HR department, which also is conducting a search for the same job. They also may be in competition with other recruitment companies. Since the pressure is on for contingency recruiters, the process is usually a bit faster. They also will be delivering more candidates, meaning job seekers may be in competition with other candidates represented by the same firm.
  • Contained recruiters: Contained recruiters are a hybrid of the previously mentioned payment methods (CON-tingency and re-TAINED). They collect a portion of the fee up front and the rest is paid upon the placement of a candidate. Some would say you’re getting the best of both worlds: a recruiter working very closely with the employer (possibly with less competition) with the ability to get hired quickly.

Some Tips

  • Take the recruiter’s unsolicited calls. You never know when your new best friend is calling with the next best opportunity for you or someone in your network. These relationships are built over time, so do not ignore the calls. Instead, consider it another form of professional networking.
  • Develop an online relationship with recruiters. You likely can find them on LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. Building these relationship can help get a foot in the door, but be careful—tweeting a recruiter every day about your resume and job hunt can be just as irritating for them as flooding their inbox. Just as you would in person, cultivate a relationship over time and give before you receive.
  • Initially, external recruiters will conceal the employer’s identity. Do not be alarmed if an executive recruiter cannot give you a company name off the bat as this is normal. External recruiters cannot tell you which company is hiring unless you come in for a screening and advance to the next step. They are protecting the identity of the employer who specifically has hired them to take care of the process.
  • External recruiting companies vary in many ways. No two recruiters are the same. Recruitment firms vary in terms of policy, environment, and even the kinds of jobs they have available. It benefits job seekers to know which kind of recruiter they are working with and then approach them accordingly. (Note: If the job ad was posted by external recruiters, it should say so somewhere within the ad. You can use this information to research them.)
  • If the job lead is not right for you, help the recruiter with applicable leads. A recruiter’s lifeline is found in the information he or she receives. By providing leads, you are not only helping your network (kudos!), but helping a recruiter can pay dividends in opportunity and in karma. Good recruiters will go the extra mile for people who provide them quality information. So if you help them, savvy recruiters will help you.
  • Don’t waste your recruiter’s time.  Do not test the waters with a recruiter—do that on your own time. If you waste a recruiter’s time once, rest assured you will not get the opportunity to do that again.
  • Make yourself worthy of the recruiter receiving a 25 percent fee. Remember, companies are paying recruiters to find the cream of the crop—that hard-to-find, desirable candidate the company cannot find on their own. So if that is not you, apply to the company directly on your own. This is a simple lesson in economics. To be placed by a recruiter, you need to have a background or skill set that warrants a fee to be paid that hovers around 25 percent of your salary. So help the recruiter market you by being fabulous and in-demand in the first place. If you cannot be placed by a recruiter, it does not mean you won’t get hired at all, it just means you may have to go a different, more direct route (not a bad thing, by the way—a majority of candidates are hired directly).
  • Have your resume in a reverse chronological format. Do not use functional resume formats or skills resume summaries. Recruiters find those useless, so do not use them. Executive resume formats are essential to making the best first impression with a recruiter. I also suggest not going back more than 15 to 20 years for most professionals. While there are exceptions for every rule, erring on the side of less is typically better for most executives. Frankly, you will not get hired in today’s market, nor can a recruiter get a fee, for something you did 20-plus years ago. Keep it recent and relevant.
  • Recruiters are not the final decision-makers. You must understand that external recruiters are not the decision-makers when it comes to an available position. While they often have input, the final decision always lies with the company. That said, recruiters will be a strong advocate for you when the company is in the process of making big hiring decisions.

Working effectively with a good recruiter is like a lot of other relationships you have developed in life. Like all worthy relationships, these require time and research. If you find you are not getting calls back from executive recruiters, shift gears and put in as much effort with an executive recruiter as you do with other professional relationships. You soon will find that you will be well on your way to having successful dealings with the right executive recruiters.

Lisa Rangel, managing director of Chameleon Resumes, is a former search firm recruiter, paid LinkedIn contributor, certified professional resume writer, and holder of nine additional career certifications. As a former recruitment professional for more than 13 years, Rangel knows first-hand what resumes get a response from reviewing thousands of resumes and identifying high-caliber talent for premier organizations. She is the author of the books, 99 Job Search Tips from An Executive Recruiter, Beat Ageism In Your Job Search eBook – Strategies for the Overqualfied and Interview Confidently, Get Hired and Don’t Sell Out.


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