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Working with recruiters: what you're doing wrong and how to fix it

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Recruiters can be an amazing asset to your career, whether you’re actively looking or just hoping to be considered for any great opportunities that might be available. However, many people have misconceptions about recruiters and are not taking full advantage of the potential help they offer. This cheat sheet will provide you with all of the information you need to know about working with a recruiter, whether you’re reaching out to one for the first time or you get several calls per week. Follow the basics and you’ll be surprised what a help it can be in your efforts to meet your career goals.

Witholding information
Witholding information Getty Images

Witholding information

Why it’s wrong: While it may be intuitively your first instinct to withhold any information you see as a detriment to landing a job, it’s not going to help you to keep this information from a recruiter. Keep in mind that there is a specific distinction between a recruiter and a hiring manager; namely, the recruiter has a vested interest in seeing you get the position, while a hiring manager is looking for reasons not to hire you. Recruiters get paid when they place candidates, plain and simple. Hiring managers, on the other hand, are shelling out money in this equation, so they will be keenly watching for any reasons not to do so. You need to remember that the recruiter is not trying to harpoon your chances of getting this job, so any information you give them will be used to help you. If you left your last job on not-so-good terms, it’s going to sound a lot better to a hiring manager with some spin on it from your recruiter than it would from a potentially disastrous reference check.

Recruiters also need to know about your personal information. What’s going on at home has just as much (if not more) of an impact on your career preferences as your life in the workplace does. They have to have the full picture before they can really be of use to you. Head hunters are paid to be discerning, so they will probably be able to tell if you aren’t disclosing everything. Remember that when they present you to a client they are putting their paycheck and their reputation on the line. If they sense anything amiss, they are not going to risk their livelihood with a gamble on you. If what tell them does eliminate you from the running, you can rest assured it would have come out in the interview process eventually, so you’ve saved everyone involved a ton of time and money. What’s more is that now the recruiter is better equipped to match you with positions that would be more in line with your circumstances in the future. The bottom line is that, even if there is a risk that what you say could take you out of the running for a specific job, it nowhere near outweighs the benefit that a recruiter with all of your information has. If your recruiter is well-armed with info, then he or she can anticipate potential areas of concern for the employer and get ahead of them, giving you a better shot at getting in the door.


The fix: Keep in mind that there are some things recruiters can’t ask you, for legal compliance reasons. This doesn’t mean that you can’t provide that information voluntarily. It may feel odd discussing your personal life with someone in an interviewing capacity, but it’s the only way that a recruiter will be able to help you find the jobs you are really interested in. For example, if you have a disabled family member who relies on your current health plan through work, then the benefits package with any potential new employers will have a higher degree of importance than it would for most people. Another common example is for those who have had legal trouble in the past. It’s understandable why you wouldn’t want to make that known, but you can rest assured it will come out in the background check process anyway, and there’s no faster way to ruin a relationship with a recruiter than to lie or withhold information that costs them (and you) the placement. If you’re single and want to stay in the city where you can have a social life, tell them that. If you have kids and have concerns about school systems, let them know. If you’re underwater on your home mortgage and relocation might be tricky, give them advanced warning. If the job you’re considering is an hour and a half away and you aren’t certain that you’re willing to make that commute, disclose it. Essentially, they need to know everything that might affect your ability to be considered for a job or to consider a job. Don’t feel obligated to disclose this right away, but if you are seriously in talks about a role with a recruiter, you need to make sure they are ready to tackle any potential obstacles standing in the way of placement. Don’t balk if they ask you for your compensation information or info on your current employer. It’s ok to make sure that you’re dealing with a reputable recruiter first by asking them some questions about their firm and the nature of their relationship to the employer, but once you have established that trust you need to be ready to spill your guts. Don’t feel queasy about giving them all of the info on your current company – they could get in some very hot water if they breached your trust or shared the wrong info with the wrong people, so they take great care to use discretion.

Taking the shotgun approach
Taking the shotgun approach Alex Wong/Getty Images

Taking the shotgun approach

Why it’s wrong: Again, it’s a very intuitive thing to reach out to as many people as possible when you’re actively looking for a job. While that’s not inherently a bad idea, doing it in the wrong way can tank your chances of landing an interview. For example, sending your resume to every posting on a job board that comes close to your background might seem like a good idea, but your chances of getting in the door through that method are much less than they would be if a trusted recruiter was backing you. If and when a recruiter does reach out to you about a role, if you’ve already applied to the company their hands are tied; you’re stuck in the company’s over-logged Applicant Tracking System, and that’s that. If you’re applying to anything and everything, it will also present an air of desperation, which is a quick way to turn off an employer. Applying to things you’re far overqualified or underqualified for doesn’t look good to recruiters or hiring managers either, so make sure you’re being selective about the positions you consider. Working with multiple recruiters is completely fine, but don’t over-do it. It’s a very small world in recruiting, with many firms traveling in close circles. It’s better to foster a close professional relationship with a few firms than to send your resume to every recruiter you find.

The fix: Talk to recruiters and to friends/colleagues before turning to job boards. See if anyone you know can get you in front of the person you need to talk to before you try to go it alone. Referrals from employees and recruiters have an overwhelmingly higher chance of getting a job offer than traditional applicants. Don’t send your resume to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who happens to have a LinkedIn account, either. Choose a few select firms or recruiters that you feel you can trust and who work with clients you think you’d like to work for, then stick with them.

Not maintaining the relationship
Not maintaining the relationship Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Not maintaining the relationship

Why it’s wrong: You might be happy at your job now and not interested in making a move, but what happens if the unexpected occurs? If you find yourself suddenly on the market, you are going to be way behind the eight ball, meaning it’s going to take you much longer to ramp up your search and start getting activity. Keep in mind that the longer you’re unemployed, the harder it is to find a job, so you’re going to want to make it as easy as possible if/when you do have to start looking for your next move. Another way to look at it is that, even if you’re happy where you are, there’s always something you’d change if you could. If a recruiter has a relationship with you and knows what your “dream job” looks like, they will be able to send it your way if the perfect thing happens to land on their desk. That’s not a call you want to miss, just because you didn’t keep in touch with your network when you weren’t job hunting.

The fix: Connect with recruiters on LinkedIn and keep their contact information, even after you land a job. If you change your email address, cell number, or make a move to a new company, try to pass the contact information along to them. Don’t hesitate to call them if you have a feeling something on the horizon is going to change for you. Good recruiters maintain close relationships with candidates, sometimes for many years and through many different jobs. They may present you to multiple clients before finding the exact right match, so stick with them and make sure you don’t stop networking, just because you aren’t on the market at the moment.

Bonus points – Sending your recruiters referrals is a great way to stay in touch and keep tabs on the market. It will ingratiate you with the headhunter and keep you on the forefront of their mind more often for new opportunities.

Going behind your recruiter's back
Going behind your recruiter's back Getty Images

Going behind your recruiter's back

Why it’s wrong: Recruiters spend a lot of time talking with hiring managers to determine what they look for in candidates. Their livelihood depends on being able to successfully interpret what a candidate needs for each open position, boss, or company that they work with. Because they have this insider information, you need to trust their judgment. If you apply for a role and your recruiter lets you know that you’re not a fit, don’t push back too hard. Even if you are 100% certain that you can do the job, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the employer will feel, and your recruiter is uniquely qualified to determine that, based on the information that you provide. If you go around your recruiter’s back and apply directly to the company, not only is the likelihood that you’ll make it very far incredibly low, but you’ve also blocked your chances of being presented to future opportunities with that employer that might be a much better fit for you. If a recruiter finds out you’ve tried to circumvent them, you’ve probably lost out on being presented to ANY future opportunities with their clients.

The fix: If you are still convinced that you want to apply for a role, but your recruiter is unwilling or unable to present you, have an open dialogue about it with them and be honest about your intentions to submit independently. If nothing else, you have salvaged a very beneficial relationship and they may at least be able to provide you with some guidance on the best way to go about doing it solo.