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How to work with recruiters

Recruiters are valuable in your search. This page describes how to work well with them (to help both parties)

Connecting with Recruiters

  • When recruiters aren’t a fit: Recruiters are great for folks with a clear career vision, with experience in the field they’re pursuing. Recruiters are typically expected to identify candidates who check every box the client is looking for. Therefore, recruiters are usually unable to “take a chance” on someone with a nontraditional background for the role because most clients expect to see the type of professional they asked for in the job description.

  • Researching: Recruiting firms and recruiters themselves have focuses / specialties. Do your homework upfront and only reach out to ones that specialize in what you are focused on. Premium Whispered members can also leverage our Recruiter Database and introductions.

  • Connecting: Ideally have someone intro you for a role before reaching out. Starting the relationship with an introduction from a candidate they thought highly of is a valuable way to start the relationship.

The first call

The first call will almost always be 30 mins.

  • Recruiters are often back-to-back so make sure to be brief/respectful of their time

  • Always take the first call even if opportunity doesn’t sound that interesting. You will get to build a relationship with the recruiter and may learn something that could change your mind

  • Treat the first call as an interview. Recruiters are gatekeepers to the hiring company so be prepared for them to ask you detailed questions about your background.

  • The first call is critical as they will put you in their database as low/mid/high priority and that will affect what opportunities they ping you on

  • Sometimes candidates are cagey with certain information, and it always ends up hurting their candidacy. Be open about your expectations including salary and location

  • Be clear in your focus for your next role. This will help them add you to their database so when they have a role that fits they will find you in their search

  • Have a point-of-view on the sectors and trends that are driving your search / the problems you want to be solving

  • Recruiters are NOT career coaches. Don’t complain, be desperate, be negative. If you need a career coach see this page.

"The best recruiters are not merely matching candidates based on their past work deeds. They also want to understand your specific passions and career objectives, & how your past experience informs them versus constraining you. Being specific here helps too”. Chuck Brotman @ Blueprint.
  • Good questions to ask the recruiter: The questions below can help you understand the search and also communicate to the recruiter you know how to collaborate with them.

    • “What phase in the search?” Assuming the recruiter is candid it will help you understand things like the stage of the search, if the client is difficult, how you might be able to help (see below)

    • “How would you describe the Founder/CEO/Hiring Manager?" A good recruiter will professionally inform you but you might have to read between the lines

    • “What are you working on right now that I might be a sounding board for or even a networking help on?" This might not go anywhere but it can sometimes open an unexpected connection/door and show you're interested in helping them too.

Passing on an opportunity

Be thoughtful and candid with recruiters when passing. By understanding how they work with clients you can also add value.

  • If an opportunity doesn’t initially feel like a fit, it is ok to investigate a little before declining. Generally, we suggest taking the first call but when you are going to be introduced to the client, be conscious that if you don’t engage sincerely, it doesn’t reflect well on the recruiter.

  • A positive approach that also clarifies your interest is to offer “if you need a quality candidate / stalking horse I’d be happy to help”. This shows the recruiter you respect them and can also help them. They may have a client who needs to see different flavors of candidates to move to a decision.

  • Decline based on what you feel (i.e. I know I don’t want to manage a team in India) vs. something subjective they can push back on (i.e. don’t like the CEO)

Communicating during the search

The more you communicate with the recruiter the more effective they are for you.

  • A simple text / email to the recruiter after an interview is so helpful as it gives them (and the candidate) a leg up when communicating with the hiring manager.

  • Recruiters can help candidates get information/access throughout the interview process so the more upfront candidates are about their hesitations, the better. “For example, I recently placed someone who really wanted to talk to a customer before getting to offer and I was able to facilitate it in an organic way vs. it being a "demand" at offer stage.”

  • Although they might like you and advocate for you, recruiters are not decision makers on who to move forward in the interview process. They are, however, usually the ones to pass on the good or bad news.

  • It’s not personal when they tell you it isn’t a fit. They don’t want to waste your time or set false expectations.

"Heard from Bob that the call went super well on his end and you mentioned moving him forward to X" is very different from "How did it go with Bob?" Robynne Templin @ Will Reed

Staying on Recruiters’ Radar

Recruiters get paid by clients rather than candidates so understand that they are unlikely to ping you with new roles. That said, candidate networking is important for the great recruiters so they appreciate hearing from you respectfully. Here are a few ways to engage them, including:

  • Introduce them to companies: It goes without saying but recruiters get paid by working with companies. If you see a C-Level person struggling with a hire, introduce them to a top-notch recruiter (see my database below). If you know of a hot company starting to ramp hiring, share that with your favorite recruiter.

  • Introduce top talent to them: If you have someone you deeply respect who is searching and has an impressive background this is a great way to stay top-of-mind for recruiters. Have a high bar for these introductions.

  • Stay in touch with recruiters, not firms: Have a board of good recruiters in your network. Identify 10 that specialize across different sectors and stay on their radar. Make them your priority to engage with. It's always the person not the company, so if that person moves, don't hand over to someone else in that company, just focus on that recruiter and follow them basically

Other Strategies with Recruiters

  • If a recruiter offers to introduce you to a company that they don’t have a search for, as long as they are reputable you should feel comfortable taking them up on this. While some firms send redacted resumes to "bait" hiring managers, it's not a great look. For most quality firms, sharing great candidates can help them build relationships with companies.

  • Always accept recruiter’s LinkedIn invites, even if you are in a role. You can message them when you start looking with a note like “You messaged me about an opportunity at [Company] back in [Month]. I wasn’t in the market for a new role then, but I am now. I wanted to reconnect to see if you had any roles aimed at [Insert Specifics]. If so, I’d love to connect!”

Do you know how to leverage recruiters, talent partners and investors in your search?


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