Job Hunting

Recruiters Are People, Too

Building a long-term relationship with an executive search firm can pay big dividends. Just don't tick them off.
Lisa YoonMarch 5, 2003

Looking for a job in a weak economy can be a daunting undertaking. In addition to the usual challenges — creating a compelling resume, preparing for interviews, negotiating a salary — just finding an opening often requires inside information.

While all that seems like a lot, an executive recruiter can help ease the load. This may not seem like earth-shattering news, since many executives already rely on recruitment firms as part of their search strategy. But in the rush to find a job, some job-hunters often overlook the importance of cultivating relationships with the recruiters themselves.

“The biggest mistake people make is when they’re forced to look for a job and they think, ‘Well, I have to go work with a recruiter now,’” says David Opton, president of Execunet, an online executive career-management resource. “These are relationships you should be building all along.”

In fact, according to a recent poll by search firm FPS, executives said they use recruiters to gain access to better jobs; to get help marketing themselves; to get insight into companies and hiring managers before interviews; and to get help negotiating compensation. Only two percent said building a relationship with an executive recruiter was a top priority.

According to experts, the other 98 percent are missing out on a lot. Admittedly, recruiters are in the business of filling positions, not finding people jobs. Still, in the right relationship, recruiters can offer useful critiques of resumes and interviewing skills, as well as leads to promising networking arenas. More importantly, a recruiter who’s familiar with an executive will know the types of jobs the executive is right for — and the ones that aren’t a good match.

And while it’s important to maintain a relationship at all times, it’s particularly important in an environment where corporate executives are under increased scrutiny. “Career-savvy executives would be wise to establish relationships with the right recruiters now,” says R.D. Whitney of Kennedy Information, a publisher of executive-search directories for executives. “Employers will increasingly be asking their recruiters to present candidates with whom they have deep relationships.”

How to get the most out of the recruiter relationship? First, narrow your recruiters down to the ones that focus on your industry or function. Then contact them with a resume and a letter — even if you’re not looking for work, say Whitney and Opton.

Of course, many recruitment firms operate on “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” basis. To get their attention, experts say finance executives should write articles in industry journals or speak at events. Becoming an expert and making yourself known are the best ways to get recruiters to come calling.

Once in the door, maintaining the relationship is the crucial last step. Whitney suggests sending a revised resume and a note if you haven’t been in touch in a while. Opton recommends sending articles on relevant topics such as the industry you both specialize in, or a company you think might be a potential client for your recruiter.

Also, notes Opton, a recruiter may call to ask for referrals of candidates for other positions. Recommend the best people you know. “A little bit of your reputation is attached each time you refer someone,” Opton points out. In addition, there’s a chance the recruiter will return the favor later.

Don’t write off the relationship if you get turned down for a job. Hiring decisions aren’t personal, but a matter of fit between candidate and job. Ask the recruiter for feedback on why you didn’t get the job. Such info could prove invaluable in future interviews.

Ironically, even highly marketable job candidates can alienate their recruiters. Whitney says wasting a recruiter’s time is particularly annoying. If you’re not interested in a job opening, he notes, bow out early. And don’t go through a job search and cultivate an offer just to negotiate advancement at your own company. “That really ticks recruiters off,” says Whitney.

Badgering a recruiter is always a bad idea, says Opton, as is getting into arguments about why you didn’t get a job. Those acts pale, however, to the one deed that Opton says is sure to get your name on a recruiter’s black list: “The number-one rule is, never go around a recruiter to contact their client [your prospective employer.]”

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