Working with outside recruiters is inevitable at some point in your career. The senior-most searches are often handled by executive recruiters to preserve the confidentiality of the search and to access the broadest pool of candidates. Even mid-level searches or entry-level searches with very specific requirements may be farmed out to recruiting agencies to take advantage of a recruiter’s expertise and network in an area or simply because internal HR handles more of the existing employees, rather than the recruiting. So even though relationships with direct hiring managers (e.g., the Head of Marketing if you’re looking for a marketing job) are ideal. You want to have recruiter relationships. Keeping track of unsolicited outreach by recruiters is also a good gauge of your career marketability. Here are four strategies for developing relationships with recruiters and recruiting agencies:
If You’re Never Worked With Outside Recruiters
Get to know how recruiting works. There are two kinds of firms: contingent and retained. Contingent recruiters are only paid if a candidate they present is hired. Retained recruiters are paid to handle the search, regardless of where the final hire actually is sourced. Retained recruiters generally handle the more senior searches and tend to have exclusive oversight of the search (i.e., no other firms are working on that opening. However, there are contingent firms that work on senior searches and have exclusives. Some firms also do both retained and contingent work.
In addition to the retained v. contingent distinction, recruiting firms tend to specialize by industry or function (e.g., non-profit sector, marketing roles). Having this general understanding can help you figure out what types of relationships to prioritize. You want to know recruiters who specialize in what you do, and if you’re vying for an executive role you want to know retained recruiters.
If You Get An Unsolicited Call From A Recruiter You Don’t Know
Don’t just let the recruiter launch into an interview with you right there. If you’re not prepared, then you won’t position yourself in the best light. But more importantly, you need to interview the recruiter and make sure whatever the recruiter is working on is the right match for you. Interview the recruiter – are they retained or contingent? What position are they calling about, or is this an exploratory call? What do they specialize in? Take down the recruiter’s name and firm’s name, and check out their LinkedIn profiles and website – look at clients they have worked for, placements made, history of the firm. Ask friends in HR or who have been placed by recruiters if they know this person or the firm. You want to vet recruiters, as much as they are going to vet you.
If You’re Actively Looking And Want To Start A Relationship
Too many job seekers start their search by trying to find recruiters to represent them. Recruiters don’t work for the candidate; recruiters represent the employer (which is why you don’t want a recruiter handling your job offer). You do want to focus your efforts on networking directly with people at your target companies. However, it’s helpful to be on recruiter radars in case they happen to be working on a search that fits your profile, and recruiters are an excellent source of market information. The best way to get connected to a recruiter is when they reach out to you. So if you get unsolicited calls from recruiters, take those calls. Yes, you want to vet the recruiters (see point above) and if they are legitimate players, help them with their search – recommend people you know who are a fit. Recruiters remember candidates who are helpful.
Other than waiting for a recruiter to contact you, the next best way to connect with a recruiter is to have one of their clients or a candidate that they placed recommend you. Ask your friends in HR which agencies they use, and get an introduction from them. Ask your friends who have found jobs through recruiters who placed them, and have that placement forward your resume. Recruiters get a lot of unsolicited resumes – a recommendation by someone they know (and have made money from) will definitely stand out.
If You’re Passively Looking And Want To Be Found
What if you’re not actively looking but would like to hear about the latest opportunities? You need to be where recruiters look for candidates – word-of-mouth, LinkedIn, conferences, professional associations, publications. Word-of-mouth means those direct introductions I mentioned from your friends in HR or the recently hired. It also means that your name surfaces when a recruiter calls someone in your industry or function and asks, “Who do you know who fits this profile?” Make sure your network knows what you do and what you’re interested in so when those inquiries arise, they know to refer you. Just yesterday, I got two separate inquiries from two companies hiring for their HR teams. I get inquiries like this almost daily because people know I know a lot of people. Are you top of mind for the people in your network who are well-connected and probably get lots of recruiter calls?
In addition, recruiters look at secondary research – e.g., conference schedules to see who the speakers are (if you’re speaking on a subject, you’ve achieved a level of expertise), membership directories (if you’re active, you’re keeping yourself updated), publications (like speaking, if you’re writing about something or quoted about it, you’ve established a level of expertise). Recruiters also search LinkedIn, so make sure you have a complete profile with clear descriptions of what you do and keywords reflective of your skills and expertise. Make sure you also include contact information or check your LinkedIn activity in case a recruiter contacts you via the platform. I can’t tell you how many candidates I have pinged on LinkedIn who respond weeks after my initial inquiry, interested in speaking further but missing the opportunity – if you want to be found, you have to respond when you’re found!
Sure there are some nuances to how recruiting works (e.g., contingent v. retained), but otherwise developing recruiter relationships is similar to developing any other networking relationship. Give, as well as take – return calls, make recommendations, be helpful. A warm lead is better than a cold contact when trying to expand to new relationships. Timely follow-up will ensure existing relationships are maintained.