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Job Recruiter: Friend or Frenemy?

Cautionary advice for job hunters from a longtime recruiter


You’re a seasoned worker, ready to throw yourself into a full-blown job search. Whether you’ve held one job or 20 over the course of your career, it’s important to build alliances that can compensate for ageism — the elephant in the room that often disqualifies 50+ job seekers from new opportunities. Partnering with a job recruiter can be a real differentiator when competing with younger candidates. But it helps to understand who recruiters are and what they can and cannot do to enhance your job search.

Truth is, a job recruiter can be your friend or your frenemy.

The reason you might consider working with job recruiters to find your next job is that recruiters have their finger on the pulse of industry trends and can apprise you of unadvertised jobs. Once they engage with you, good ones might critique your resumé and suggest how to enhance your online profile. The best recruiters will also coach you on your approach to job interview questions, to help set you up for hiring success.

But it’s important to remember that a recruiter is not your agent or confidante. Recruiters are paid by companies to fill positions; they are not paid by you. So they will not make it their goal to find your next dream career.

The best role you can play in this equation is to be the best solution to the recruiter’s problem of filling an open job.

The Two Types of Job Recruiters

There are two types of recruiters, and it’s a good strategy to align yourself with both.

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For most jobs you can apply to online, there is a corporate recruiter managing that search; the gatekeeper that either propels you forward in the process or rejects you. This type of recruiter is an employee of the organization. You’ll want to impress him or her, since this recruiter can have some influence over who gets hired.

Getting a corporate recruiter’s attention isn’t easy. A study by TheLadders, a job search platform, revealed that recruiters spend an average of just six seconds reading a resumé before determining if it is suitable for the “yes” pile or the slush pile.

To improve your odds of getting noticed by corporate recruiters, make sure your application and resumé don’t make you appear like a dinosaur. Recruiters these days like to see resumés of specialists, not generalists, and companies appreciate targeted skills that fit the role they are trying to fill.

So remove all old-school resumé fillers like objectives or a list of references. Also, remove college graduation dates and any jobs you held prior to 1990. And by all means, accept and embrace recruiters’ requests for online interviews via Skype or Facetime.

A good approach: If a corporate recruiter contacts you, respond promptly and treat him or her with respect. Build a relationship even if the role turns out to be the wrong fit. If that happens, thank the recruiter; you just might hear back when a more suitable role opens.

A better approach: Research and target companies where your skills would shine and interests align. Then, go to LinkedIn and seek out recruiters who work at those companies. For example, in the LinkedIn search bar, type in “recruiter IBM” and you will see a list of recruiters employed there. Send a message requesting an introductory conversation to get on their radar when appropriate opportunities arise; you might be surprised to learn that they are about to open a search for your skill set. Check in every six months or so about future opportunities, but don’t pester.

Third-party recruiters are outside parties, paid when they fill roles — either through commissions or a retained fee upfront. Many specialize by industry or by function (for example, accountants or administrative associates). While less altruistic than corporate recruiters, the best third-party recruiters are highly valued by companies where they have built strong relationships. Getting on their radar is important to your search strategy.

A good approach: These “headhunters” will want to engage with you if you specialize in their industry, so find them by networking with the business connections you’ve made over the years.

A better approach: Attract third-party recruiters by crafting a strong LinkedIn profile that incorporates buzzwords important to your industry. In 2016, a Jobvite survey revealed that 87 percent of recruiters used LinkedIn to check out candidates before engaging with them. Make sure your profile gets noticed.

What to Expect When Working With a Recruiter

Because corporate and third-party recruiters are looking at so many resumés, expect spotty feedback when you apply for a job online. If a recruiter does engage you in a conversation, ask about the timeline of the search, the salary range and the overall recruiting process as well as whether internal job candidates are being vetted, too.

You, in turn, should be as transparent and forthright as possible with the recruiter. Volunteer your salary needs, but be realistic about the amount you will consider. Be flexible about scheduling onsite or telephone interviews. Don’t cringe after a mention of required travel or challenging hours; if you are enthusiastic about the position throughout the interview process and get an offer, you may be able to negotiate these through your recruiter later.

Building relationships with one or two good recruiters is key to your job-search approach and as crucial to the formal hiring process as meeting the Hiring Manager. The key is making a strong impression so the recruiters will rally for you.

By Phyllis L. Cohen
Phyllis L. Cohen  has been an executive recruiter for Fortune 50 firms for over 25 years as well as a freelance writer specializing in how boomers navigate their careers.

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