These days, Jessica (not her real name) is used to seeing messages from unfamiliar faces pop up in her LinkedIn inbox. They come with enticing job offers. Like, would she be interested in learning about a new gig at X company? What about one at Y company? Based on her profile, they assure her, she would likely be a great fit.
“Sometimes it’s just something that I’m not interested in, but fortunately a lot of the recruiters that are looking for social media managers in [Los Angeles] have niche markets, I guess,” Peterson says. As a result, the social media manager and influencer coordinator says recruiters regularly scout her on LinkedIn with news of job openings, resulting in “a ton” of messages throughout the year.
At the moment, she’s handling messages from seven recruiters. And, having recently quit her job managing social media for a retail company, she’s spending her time trying to carefully vet her options, rather than jump at the next offer.
It’s a lesson, she explains, she learned the hard way.
An enticing offer that was too good to be true
Almost two years ago, Peterson said she was contacted by a recruiter looking to fill a spot at a competitor company. The message couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Peterson was already looking to leave the company she was with and had been communicating with a handful of recruiters. Each one had news of a much higher-paying job. But this new recruiter? She worked with a reputable agency and was looking to fill a job with a salary twice what Peterson was making at the time. So, she took the call.
What followed was a few more calls with the recruiter, a coffee shop meeting with a rep from the brand and then an offer the following day. Within less than a month of Peterson’s first contact with the recruiter on LinkedIn, she had a splashy, new, well-paying job. Two months later, though, Peterson quit.
A not-so perfect match
“[They were] the most toxic people I’ve ever been around in my entire life,” Peterson said of her coworkers at the company she had been placed in by the recruiter. “People were screaming, I mean I would compare it to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.” While Peterson said staff employees treated her fairly well, the work environment wasn’t one she could see herself in long. The people who did stick around seemed to do so because of the pay, but even so, within six weeks’ time, half the of the marketing team quit.
It seemed like she’d joined a sinking ship and worse still, she wondered why she didn’t avoid the situation. Hadn’t she told the recruiter a good company culture was at the top of her criteria for a new job? “I feel like she just kind of shoved me into it, without really researching the integrity of the brand,” Peterson said.
It’s a candidate-driven market
Suffice it to say, not all recruiters are created equal. Yet, in the current job landscape, recruiters can sometimes play a crucial role in helping staff valuable positions within a company. With a low nationwide unemployment rate, companies are more often looking to poach valuable talent away from competitor companies.
But doing so often requires having a sense of who’s out there who might be open to a new role, even if they’re not looking for a new job. “A lot of individuals that we work with or we network with … they’re working and they’re doing a good job where they’re at, and they’re only going to make a change for a specific opportunity that’s going to offer them the career growth that they’re looking for,” Jennifer LaQua, executive search consultant with gpac, a staffing and recruiting company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says.
“A good recruiter has the power to get you an interview at a company that maybe wouldn’t have been on your radar…”
In fact, the majority of the global workforce (70 percent) is made up of talent who are not actively looking for new roles, according to a 2017 State of the American Workplace Report from Gallup.
Recruiters, unlike an internal hiring team, typically have their ear to the ground on movement within a particular industry. They have not just a list of open (or soon-to-be-opened) positions to fill, but ideally a rolodex of potential candidates. That’s because they’re networking with candidates year-round to see who’s willing to make a change and under what circumstances, LaQua explains.
While their clients are companies looking to staff a position, candidates can reap the benefits, too. “A recruiter really can be your best friend in your job search, because our job is to match our client with potential employees in roles that are going to be a perfect fit for what your skill set is and what you’re looking for,” LaQua says.
A good recruiter, she explained, has the power to get you an interview at a company that maybe wouldn’t have been on your radar because certain searches might be confidential hires. This is often the case for higher-up and senior roles where the right cultural fit is just as important as the skill set. (Indeed, “cultural fit,” is the second trait recruiters look for in job candidates, after “job experience,” according to 2016 Jobvite Recruiter Report.)
“While it’s good to know a handful of recruiters scouting in your field, they may not be able to help you no matter how skilled you are unless there’s a job opening they know about.”
In an ideal situation, recruiters play the role of middleman between a company (their client) and a candidate (the talent) to make successful hires that are mutually beneficial to all parties. A company gets the satisfaction of not having to do the hard work of sifting through resumes, conducting background checks or interviewing less-than-stellar candidates.
Candidates get the benefit of getting a new role, with a better company and (hopefully) a higher pay. Recruiters who successfully place hires in a company not only reap the goodwill of a happy client, they also very often get a commission based off the final negotiated salary for the new employee.
But, as was the case with Peterson, this potentially mutually-satisfying relationship doesn’t always pan out. The question is: How do you ensure it does? To find out, Girlboss asked people who’ve worked with recruiters, hiring managers, and job seekers about the best practices for making the most out of this relationship. Here’s what we learned.
How to best work with recruiters
Understand what your recruiter actually does
If you’re a job-seeking candidate, one of the first things to understand is that you might be working with either an internal or external recruiter. A company might have their own representative who is helping their team facilitate the process for onboarding a new member. Or, they may hire an external, third-party company (a.k.a., the “head hunter,”) to find candidates for executive roles or in fields their HR team isn’t too knowledge about. The key here is to remember that “the client” in this situation is the company.
So, while it’s good to know a handful of recruiters scouting in your field, they may not be able to help you no matter how skilled you are unless there’s a job opening they know about, says Catherine Crabtree, senior recruiter at LearnSearch, a recruiting partner to companies looking for professionals in the corporate learning and development industry. After all, it’s the company making the final hiring offer which pays the recruiter.
In fact, if you encounter a recruiter who is trying to charge you for their services—run. Unless they work in contract recruiting or staff augmentation, where it’s very clear they’re going to be billing you out on various contract assignments, recruiters will never charge you for helping arrange your interview with a company, Crabtree explains.
“If you encounter a recruiter who is trying to charge you for their services—run.”
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of the relationship. “I think the number one piece of advice I’d give any candidate is to see recruiters as a friend and not a foe,” Crabtree said. Even if you’re not looking for a new job right now, it’s helpful to respond to their message by letting them know what opportunities you are willing to hear about and in what time frame. In this way, you’ll avoid the recruiters who are merely “spraying and praying, ” Crabtree said.
Finally, recruiters can help when it comes to negotiating for a higher salary. “A lot of candidates get really fishy in negotiations if they don’t understand that the more you make, the more the recruiter makes,” Crabtree says. “So their interests are the same as yours in a salary negotiation.” That’s because a client might pay something akin to a 20 percent cut of the final salary hire.
More money for you equals more money for the recruiter. Be as open and upfront about your salary expectations as early as possible, while understanding that it’s unlikely a recruiter is leaving money on the table if they come back with an offer.
Determine what your recruiter’s ties are
Unfortunately, there isn’t a high bar for recruiters to enter the field, per se. Of course, the ones who succeed are adept at being discreet when necessary, are able to find the top candidates and can handle negotiations tactfully. If you’re a candidate, Crabtree suggests asking a recruiter for a timeframe. If they’re able to articulate what the process looks like and all the key stakeholders, there’s a higher chance the recruiter actually knows what’s going on. Otherwise, the recruiter may only be one of a handful of people who were given the green light to scout on behalf of the company.
If you’re a hiring manager, it’s important to ask about the methodology the staffing agency and recruiting firm employs. Do they actually have a rolodex of potential job candidates? What industries, fields or roles do they typically hire for? How do they go about screening candidates? What’s their success rate for placing candidates who remain in their roles at least one year out? What information will they provide to you, as the hiring manager? If they’re not in a field that’s an exact match, what skills will they search for to make sure it’s a good hire?
“The more you make, the more the recruiter makes … So their interests are the same as yours in a salary negotiation.”
If you do think you have found the right recruiting partner, be sure to give them all the tools necessary for them to help you as well. It’s a lesson that Natasha Miller, founder and CEO of Entire Productions, an event and entertainment production company based in San Francisco, didn’t learn right away. When she first began working with recruiters, she said she wasn’t finding the best of the best candidates.
“I kind of put that in sort of the bucket of, ‘Oh, they’re just looking for the highest paid kind of positions where they’re going to really spend their energy,’” she says. “But what I realized was that they didn’t know my industry and the job, they didn’t understand the kind of person I needed because they didn’t understand my piece of the pie of business.”
So, she set about making sure the next recruiter she worked with knew as much as possible about the company culture and what kind of people thrived at her company. Miller didn’t hold back, either, when explaining who didn’t succeed and why. “I think [the recruiter] got more of a 360 view of the person, rather than just the job description,” Miller says. “I will assume that he was also ensuring, based on the conversation with me, who I am and what kind of person I am.” Since then, Miller has been able to fill one role and is looking forward to filling two more with the same recruiter.
“It saves everyone time if you’re able to determine early on why things might not be a good fit.”
If possible, consider a more immersive experience as well. When Giulia Umile, now COO of Slice Communications, a communications agency based in Philadelphia, said she was first interviewed for a role a the company, the recruiter she interviewed with hardly asked her questions. “One of the first things I said to the CEO was that my experience with that recruiter was very poor,” Umile says.
That led her to bring on new recruiting company, though there were still some kinks to work out in the process. Namely, it boiled down to ensuring the recruiter understood the company culture and type of employee who would thrive there. The solution? Have the recruiter come in to the office for a few days for an immersive experience.
“I asked the recruiter to come work from our office for two days … I fully understand that she has other clients, but I needed her to immerse herself,” Umile says. “[To] come see our offices, see what it’s like on a day to day. The noise level, the buzz, the things we talk about. I invited her to shadow some calls with new business, existing clients and that changed everything.”
Use them strategically for honest conversations
When interviewing for a new role, there’s always certain information about your past you withhold during an interview. Maybe there was a really terrible work-life balance, or you ended up quitting because the pay didn’t justify the workload. But when you’re dealing with a recruiter? Talk about it.
It saves everyone time if you’re able to determine early on why things might not be a good fit. And if there are any not-so-bright spots on your resume, your recruiter will be able to position you in the best light possible. Think of them as another tool to help you prep for an interview or, debrief on what could have gone better.
To be sure this is the case, ask your recruiter about their standards of compliance, which should hold them to a level of discretion and confidentiality. “If I’m on the phone with someone and they say, look I think that you know that X,Y,Z company is bullshit and I never wanna go work with them,” Crabtree says.
“If I’m talking to an individual that works for X,Y,Z company, I am under a standard obligation to position my candidate in the best light and to find the most complimentary relationship going forward.”
The key, she added, is finding a recruiter who is a nuanced storyteller who can handle the blunt details. So, go head and share what your passions are and why you’re drawn to certain roles, environments and projects over others. And don’t be afraid to talk about the little details that maybe didn’t make it onto your LinkedIn profile. After all, companies hire people, not resumes.