"I never take calls from recruiters!" bragged the colleague.
Of course, that proud boast was made when times were good and he wasn't in the market. A few months later, when the business had taken a decided turn for the worse, he had a different point of view:
"How come those #)%$ recruiters won't take my calls?" he muttered in frustration after his fifth attempt to reach a well-known consultant in his area of expertise. And we seriously doubt this guy even realized there was a connection between his two statements.
It was because of experiences like this that we decided to collaborate on an article about the how and why of recruiters. These consultants can be a critical part of your job search network -- but only if you understand what they do, how they do it, and who they do it for. We'll provide you with viewpoints from both sides of the desk, the recruiter and the recruited.
Three Different Kinds of Recruiters
You'll find executive recruiters working within all job categories of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. In fact, in any growth industry -- each with its own very specific kinds of in-demand talent -- you'll find "headhunting" an accepted part of corporate life. The problem is that many people misunderstand the recruiter and his or her job; they assume that the consultant works for them, and that there's an "employment agency" aspect to the relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The recruiter works for the employer, and while the better ones represent your interests as well, they are legally and ethically responsible to the party that pays the bill -- and that would be the employer.
Good recruiters have a very close relationship with their client companies. They know the company culture, the background of key staff involved in the decision, and the personalities of those you'd be working with in the job. In short, it's a great way to gain entré to a new organization, but only if you know how to maximize the relationship. A lot of that is determined by what variety of recruiter you've been contacted by.
Retained executive recruiters are generally engaged for positions at the VP and C-Level, and their relationship with the client is tied to someone in a senior position, often not in the H/R department. Their fee is paid regardless of whether or not they fill the position, as they act as consultants to the firm as opposed to simply filling a position.
Another type of executive recruiter works on a very similar basis but may only charge a portion of this fee in advance, leaving the balance due or even the full amount contingent upon whether or not the job is filled. It is often very difficult to distinguish these exclusive contingency executive recruiters from their retained colleagues, as they have reached a level of performance that puts them on the same ground as the retained firms.
Finally, some companies work with a great number of employers, with a large number of open positions, on the basis of pure contingency. In other words, if they happen to get you an interview and you are later hired, they bill the employer. There's much less loyalty involved from the client with this type of supplier, and some companies may farm a search out to four or five firms, each competing to find the best candidate.
Regardless of the type of company, recruiters are the expensive way to hire, so many companies use them only for positions with salaries over $75,000 or more; the Internet dominates the way that employers fill entry-level jobs. Throughout this article, our suggestions and examples apply to Executive Recruiters, and may not apply to a caller from the pure contingency firm. Your decision about moving ahead with that type of contact will depend upon how you feel your relationship has developed with the caller.
There are a lot of different kinds of people in this business of recruiting, but only the retained firms and the exclusive contingency consultants seem to operate from the same rulebook.
How a Recruiter Makes Initial Contact
Recruiters will usually make initial contact by telephoning you on your business telephone. They do this because that is generally the number that the person who recommended you will have given them. When they call, and you are unable to answer, they will typically be quite discreet. If a secretary answers your line, they may not leave a message, or if they do, it will be something innocuous like "his friend Bill Smith suggested that I call him." They typically won't leave a company name, as that could be recognized as belonging to a recruitment firm.
On voice mail, they'll be a little bit more descriptive. They'll typically give their name, indicate that they are a recruiter, ask for your help in a search that they are doing, and give a call-back number.
Even if they get through to you on the initial call, they will probably ask for your help in a search, and ask if the timing is convenient for you. If it is, say so; if not, arrange a time when you can speak without being interrupted. It is not bad manners to ask if they can call you at home; they will respect your discretion and do their best to accommodate you.
The Initial Conversation
In the initial conversation, the recruiter will typically make a personal and a corporate introduction, and then explain the nature of the search being conducted. He or she may not reveal the name of the client at this point unless they already know you fairly well. Of course, how you answer depends upon your level of interest in the position being described.
If you're not interested, by all means tell them so -- but ask that they give you enough information to help you to think of someone else that they should call. This does not necessarily have to be someone who will be interested in the position, although that is always appreciated. At this point, the recruiter is still doing some ground-level sourcing, and you may help by providing the name of someone who may know candidate-prospects. Remember, recruiting is a business of networking, and by allowing them access to your network, you become part of their network in return.
Even if you're not interested in the position, they may ask for a copy of your résumé. Don't be offended . . . In fact, if they don't, offer to send it even if you are not in the job market. This bestows several advantages. First, you are now in the recruiter's database, and they are more likely to remember you if you're there. Second, it will remind them of your offer to help them on future searches (you will make this offer, but wait a few paragraphs to see why). Thirdly, and most importantly, if they are given the search to fill your dream position, and you are not in the database, the odds of you being contacted will be slim.
If you are interested in the position, say so. They will then give you more particulars, and may reveal the name of their client. They may not, since sometimes the client has its own reasons to keep the search confidential. For example, the client may be searching for a replacement for an employee who is not yet aware that he/she is about to be terminated. If this is the case, ask the recruiter that your name not be revealed to the client, and that your qualifications be described in general terms. If there is interest on both sides, names can then be disclosed.
The recruiter will ask you for an updated résumé, which you should send as soon as you can. In return, ask that you be sent a position description. Recruiters generally have a job specification that they work from, and they will almost always share some version of it with you. After you each have the other's information, it provides a foundation for further discussion.
Communicating with Recruiters
Discretion is a key element of communicating with recruiters; they understand it, they expect it, and they get a little bit concerned if you don't appear to understand the need for it. Your lack of discretion could well suggest to them that you are seriously lacking in good judgment.
Company Resources should never be used to communicate with recruiters. True, their first approach to you will almost certainly be on your business line, since that is the number that most people will have for you. After that, communication via your cell or home phone is best. If you have an office, and are able to talk privately and discreetly, that is certainly acceptable; however, if you're in an open plan office (also known as a "cube farm"), do not use the company phone under any circumstances.
The most common way of communicating with recruiters, especially when receiving position descriptions and sending résumés, is e-mail. Do not use company e-mail to do this. Companies, especially large ones, often monitor e-mails automatically. This is done for their protection, and they're typically looking for keywords that could suggest various forms of inappropriate behavior. These e-mails would then be forwarded to the proper corporate department for action. It is a simple matter to include keywords like "résumé", "new position" and the like into the automatic monitoring program. Most companies now explicitly say that you have no right to privacy when using their system, so you shouldn't expect any.
So send your email from home, always using a professional user name on your email account. Even if you're using one of the free services, choose a name that is business-friendly. Something containing your actual name is best (i.e., JohnDoe4), since it helps the recruiter instantly identify the e-mail source. Names such as "redhotmama" or "partyguy" convey a lack of judgment or common sense, and will probably result in your paperwork being discarded (at worst) or filed away and forgotten (the best scenario that you can hope for).
Recruiters get hundreds of e-mails daily. About half of these have as the subject line "My Résumé", "As Requested" or something equally generic. When sending things such as your résumé to a recruiter, it is polite to list the e-mail subject as "John Doe's Résumé". This helps them find it quickly, which is always a good thing; it makes their job easier, and helps you stand out from the crowd.
In the same vein, e-mails with the subject "My Résumé" usually have an attachment entitled "Résumé". This requires the recruiter to change the title before adding it to their electronic files. They'll probably change the title to some variety of your name. Do them, and yourself, a favor – call the document "John Doe Résumé". Remember, a simple typo when the recruiter changes the title can have you listed as "John Ode", and you might be lost forever.
Maintaining Contact with Recruiters
Any time that you are contacted by a recruiter, before the conversation closes, make an offer to help the recruiter in future searches if he or she needs some suggestions for names. Make this offer sincerely, and mean it. Life is a two-way street -- if you are willing to help them, they become more willing to help you.
Maintain a database of all of the recruiters you have contact with. In addition to the obvious contact information, it is a good idea to record when you last spoke to them, and what version of your résumé they have in their files. When your résumé changes (e.g., through a promotion, additional accomplishments or the like), e-mail them the updated résumé with a short note that, while you're not currently looking, you wanted to make certain that they had the latest version of your résumé in their files. Reiterate your offer to help them with searches. By doing this, you make certain that you are remembered by your recruiter network.
Finally, if you do change positions, e-mail all of the members of your recruiter network. Describe your new position, and be certain to include your new contact information. At this point, it is probably unnecessary to send them a new résumé, since there's not a lot you can say about your new position. Instead, send them an updated résumé in six to nine months -- after you can add not only your new position but also your accomplishments in that position. By doing this, you have created the opportunity for another contact.
A Final Thought
You may ask yourself "is this all worth it"? That really depends on you. If you plan to stay in the same company for your entire career, and you are utterly confident that the company will always be there for you (i.e., you own the company and it's insanely successful), you probably don't need to worry too much about dealing with recruiters. For those of you who are in somewhat more normal circumstances, working with recruiters can be an important part of your career strategy. If you don't want to have the same problems as the fellow mentioned in the beginning of this article, we strongly urge you to devote some time to cultivating your network of recruiters.