Four things you should never mention to a recruiter

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Working as a recruiter for three years – and now working with them on a near-daily basis – I can tell you that, despite their sometimes less-than-stellar reputation, most operate with a strong moral compass. It’s become a pre-requisite for building the job into a lengthy recruiting career. Those that cut corners, lie and burn bridges in this economy simply won’t last.

Still, recruiters are sometimes faced with situations where it’s in their best interest to advise you to move in one – and only one – direction. In these situations, there is simply no upside in involving them in the conversation. Whether their bias is overt or sub-conscious, it’s bias nonetheless. Look to fight these four battles on your own.

When You Receive a Counter Offer: As our readers astutely point out, recruiters hate counter offers. Search any job site – including ours – and you’ll find comments from recruiters advising you to never take a counter offer. Now that isn’t to say there is no merit in the argument (after all, you are taking a job that you just quit) but there are times when accepting a counter offer may be in your best interest. It’s never in the best interest of recruiters, who lose in multiple ways.

Not only do they miss out on a hefty commission check, they are also forced to call their client and explain that you’ve walked away from the position, despite the verbal acceptance they just delivery on your behalf. It’s the least fun conversation a recruiter can have.

If you look to a recruiter as a sounding board to discuss the merits of a counter offer, expect a hard sell in the opposite direction. Choosing whether or not to accept the same position that you just left is difficult, but you are better off making that call on your own. Be 100% committed to the decision when you dial a recruiter to break the bad news as you’ll be forced to defend your position with vigor.

When you realize you may have made a big mistake: Every recruiter has dealt with it before. A candidate happily accepts an offer, and then calls you a month later wondering if they’ve made the wrong decision. No matter what the circumstances, recruiters will urge you to remain where you are.

Again, there is plenty of logic behind staying the course. At the very least, leaving prematurely will stamp a red flag on your resume and rob you of any leverage in your next job search. But only you know what is best for yourself and your career. If you mistakenly joined a sinking ship or your boss mistreats you, it may be in your best interest to move on sooner rather than later.

And yet again, it’s never in the best interest of recruiters. Most contracts with clients stipulate that companies receive a full or partial refund from recruiters if the employee leaves before three to six months from the date of the hire. You won’t get advice – you’ll be told to stay put.


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If you’ve already decided to leave: Say a year or two has gone by since you took a new role, the recruiter has been paid in full and you’re ready for a new opportunity. You still may want to think twice about calling the recruiter who originally placed you.

The problem lies in the nature of the relationship. Recruiters get paid by clients, not by candidates. They can also place dozens of people at one client, and there is only one of you. In short, recruiters by nature hold allegiance to clients over candidates, and it’s not close.

At best, they’ll tell you that they can’t in good conscience pull you from their client. I personally had to have that conversation with multiple candidates who were working at active clients. At worst, they could mention to the company that you are looking, putting your stability at risk before you are ready to move. Unless you know for certain that your desire to leave will be kept in confidence, you may want to tread carefully and put out some feelers on your own.

However, if you know the recruiter no longer works with your firm, feel free to give them a call without worry.

If there is a reason you may not be able to take the job: This is a tough one. Conventional wisdom says you should be forthright with your recruiter about all the circumstances surrounding your job search. But that may not always be in your best interest.

Say, for example, you are looking for a new job but you’d strongly prefer to wait six months until your bonus arrives before moving. Still, you tell your recruiter you would like to take the interview. They may not set it up for you.

If a recruiter has three other candidates who are motivated, packaged and ready to place, what motivation do they have to include you: the wild card? The goal in recruiting is always to eliminate the unknown as much as possible. If you have some “unknown” in your background, it may be better to keep it to yourself if you want to maximize your opportunities. Although, it may then be you who burns the bridges…