Fine-Tune Your Recruiter Connections

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For many job-seekers, working with search firms is an emotionally laden topic. We asked recruiters and career counselors for some do's and don'ts to help you make the most of opportunities these agencies can offer.

The first step is to understand their role in the hiring process. If you believe the recruiter's mission is to "help you get a job" - as one eFinancialCareers reader commented on a story - then you hold a misconception that could leave you feeling disappointed and betrayed, even when recruiters properly go about their work.

"A lot of candidates will contact a recruiter, and think that recruiter is working for them. They assume they are the recruiter's client. In reality, the recruiter is working for the employer, because that's who is paying the fee," says Benjamin Normann, vice president at the Weatherly Group, a New York executive search firm that includes investment banking, private equity and hedge funds among its major niches.

Only 10 percent of all jobs are found through search firms, says Kate Wendleton, president of The Five O'Clock Club, a nationwide career counseling network. So, instead of relying heavily on either recruiters or advertised job openings, she advises putting more effort into researching and contacting potential employers on your own, and networking.

Recruiters stress the importance of open, candid dialogue. They say they will need to know where you applied, your specific career interests and needs, current and required compensation, willingness to relocate, and any other factors that will affect your decision if you receive an offer. For example, does your spouse have final say over where you can go?

What Not to Do

The surest way to sour a relationship is to go on an interview arranged by a recruiter without telling him you already approached the same employer. If that employer already had your resume, the recruiter might be ineligible for their fee if you ultimately get a job offer, says Brenda Wisniewski, manager of New York Networking Group, a contingency recruiting firm. If you don't tell, you'll be taking unfair advantage of the recruiter.

Another big turn-off is harboring doubts about an employer or job that you reveal only on receiving an offer. Negotiating is one thing. Deciding at the 11th hour that you don't want the job is something else. Employers hate getting blind-sided that way.

However, The Five O'Clock Club's Wendleton cautions against being too candid with recruiters. She tells applicants to divulge nothing they wouldn't tell an employer, and to field questions about sensitive issues the same way they would when talking with an employer.

Experts say that when searching for a job, it's important to limit the number of recruiters you use. "More doesn't mean better," says Normann of the Weatherly Group. If employers receive the same resume through multiple channels, they will view that applicant as "unfocused" and lacking control over his job search.

This is especially important when pursuing junior positions handled by contingency recruiters as opposed to retained search firms. While the former earn a fee only if they bring in the applicant who is ultimately hired, the latter get exclusive contracts and collect a fee whether they fill the opening or not.

Wendleton says an unscrupulous contingency recruiter might blast a resume to numerous employers without telling the candidate. These fishing expeditions can actually cost a candidate interview opportunities with employers they could have approached on their own, she says.

Keeping in Touch

Even when you aren't interviewing through a particular recruiter, it's smart to stay in touch. But there's a right way and a wrong way to handle these contacts.

First, don't be a pest. Although there's no consensus about how often is "too often," following up at intervals of one to two months should be safe. "Too many (calls) will be really annoying and you'll end up ruining it for yourself," explains Wisniewski.

Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. Phone calls are more personal than e-mail, and so may be more likely to draw a response. "I feel guilty if I get a voicemail and I don't answer it," Wisniewski says.

The Weatherly Group's Normann suggests reviewing a search firm's own jobs board if they have one, and inquiring about a specific opening that interests you.

Wendleton advises using a still older communication mode - regular mail - to bring selected recruiters up to date about your activities. She advises writing once every two months, briefly stating your areas of expertise and including a thumbnail version of your basic sales pitch, to remind them who you are. She says you shouldn't expect these letters to be answered.

Originally published May 10, 2007

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