How to Network and Work with Recruiters
As a job seeker at any career level, you want to have a diverse job search and career growth strategy.
It may include:
- applying online
- networking with colleagues and decision-makers
- working with recruiters or executive search agencies
When you apply online, you are joining a pool of 50-300+ candidates from which the employer will choose 3-5 people to interview. If there are two or more equally qualified candidates after the interview process, the employer is in the position to choose a candidate based on their price. If you are an online applicant, you have more competition and your cost to the company plays a role.
When you network actively and become a referral, you are one of the few candidates the employer is considering seriously. They may be hiring you based on your reputation and unique skillset. Perhaps you already have a connection in the organization who is advocating for you or you have previously established a connection with one or more executives at the company. Perhaps you are the only name on their mind when a new role opens up. The role may never even get announced on job boards because the company has qualified candidates (like you) within their network or does not want the competitors to know about the changes on their team. In other words, as a referral, you are competing on your value (not your cost).
When you work with a recruiter, you are partnering with a specialist in a certain niche or industry who works for their specific corporate client. A recruiter may identify you as the best qualified candidate and advocate for you. A recruiter facilitates candidate selection, interviewing, and salary negotiations to help you find the best work conditions for your goals.
All of these three approaches are valid if you are clear and strategic in your job search.
In this post, six experienced career professionals from the US and Canada answer frequently asked questions about how to work and maintain relationships with recruiters.
I’m a mid-career professional. I have never worked with a recruiter before. What should I know about the way recruiters work?
Maureen McCann: There are different types of recruiters. None of them work for you. All work for their client (the company/employer that hires them).
✔ Hiring Agencies are staffing agencies that looks to place full-time, part-time, and temporary hires (Randstad Canada, Agilec). They often work with lots of different companies at the same time.
✔ Executive Search Firms are headhunters hired by a company to source senior leaders for specific roles (Lupiano Executive Search, Odgers Berndtson).
✔ In-house recruiters are employees of the company (Deloitte, Brookfield Asset Management). These recruiters find candidates for roles within the company where they work (similar to hiring managers).
✔ Conversely, career professionals do work for you. You hire them to support you with the best advice, tools, and recommendations on how to land the job you want—quickly and efficiently.
Ed Lawrence: There are two things you should know about recruiters. First, recruiters do not work for the job seeker; they work for their corporate clients. Their job is not to get the job seeker the job. Their job is to find the overall best qualified candidates for their corporate clients.
Second, recruiters work fast. They are under much pressure. They often work long hours for their money and work on commission or what’s called a draw. When you work with a recruiter, be conscious of their purpose and time.
Shelley Piedmont: While it might seem obvious that an internal recruiter works for the company, so does an agency recruiter. Both types of recruiters have a goal of satisfying their clients’ needs. This means their focus is on filling the employer’s need, not on finding you a job. If you do not fit an immediate need, you may not get attention from recruiters. Don’t take it personally.
How and where do I find the right recruiter for my career goals?
Maureen McCann: In Canada, you might start with a list of recruiting companies by the Association of Canadian Search Employment and Staffing Services (ACSESS). As you conduct your search, look for recruiting companies that specialize in the industry you’re targeting.
You might also reach out to your connections to learn more about recruiting organizations:
1. Check whom your company uses to recruit.
2. Review the established relationships you might already have with a recruiter.
3. Ask your network about recruiters they use and have had success using.
4. Ask your network for referrals and recommendations.
5. Follow recruiters online to learn more about how they work and the types of roles they source (for example, Ed Han or Adam Karpiak).
Shelley Piedmont: Here are some ways to find recruiters in the US:
✔ Get referrals from family, friends, or colleagues. If looking for agency recruiters, make sure that the referral is from someone in the same industry, profession, or geographic region, so you have a higher chance of being a match for the agency’s specialty. It makes no sense to approach a recruiter for an agency specializing in supply chain and logistics, for example, if you are looking for a job in marketing.
✔ You can do an internet search and put in the search term “recruiter” and industry, profession, or area (in quotation marks), for example: “recruiter + software sales”. When you review the search listings, you will find both internal recruiters and agency recruiters. On LinkedIn, you can also put in the term “contingent searches” or “retained searches” to see if those words show up in a profile. That would likely indicate an agency recruiter.
✔ Jack Kelley has an agency recruiter directory on his site, Wecruitr. Other directories include Online Recruiters Directory, i-recruiter, and HeadHunters Directory.
Ed Lawrence: A lot of it may be simply luck. You discover the recruiter when you apply for a job. I find that the right recruiter is the one who has their own interest in establishing long-term relationships with job seekers and qualified candidates. The best way to find a good recruiter for yourself is to get referrals: ask your friends, colleagues, and previous managers with whom you are on good terms.
Marcia Wall: An easy way to meet recruiters is to go to job fairs and register with employment agencies. You can also research specialty search firms for job seekers in your field. Another popular way is to use LinkedIn to find out what recruiters work at which companies. Ask your network partners about the “go-to” recruiters in your industry.
What information can I comfortably get from the recruiter about the employer?
Ed Lawrence: I asked a few recruiters from my network to gain their insights on this question. You can get quite a bit of information from your recruiter! Recruiters often find that candidates are reluctant to ask enough questions and would like the candidates to show more interest. The information you can easily get from a recruiter includes a salary range, information on the company culture, why the position is open, and who you will be reporting to.
As one recruiter told me, “On the business front there are probably no questions that are bad to ask; the recruiter needs as much information on the candidate as possible in order to be effective.”
Marcia Wall: A recruiter can share with you what the hiring process looks like from start to finish, if you will be asked to submit any work samples or do any demos, and what types of interviews you can expect to encounter. They may also be able to share information about the people, the department, or the team that will be interviewing you.
Maureen McCann: Before you ask any questions, do your research. Your recruiter is not your confidant, so presenting your best self is encouraged. Find out what you can from online sources, your network, and informational interviews. After that, I’d take a “nothing ventured nothing gained” approach to asking questions. If it’s important to you, find a way to (tactfully) ask questions about the job, the company, the reason for the opening (is it a new role, or an anticipated / recently vacant role), and whatever else is crucial for your decision-making as to whether or not to take the job, if offered.
What is something I should not ask a recruiter?
Esther Schvan: Never ask a recruiter what financial arrangement they have with an employer and/or how much they are making on every hour you work.
Ed Lawrence: Don’t be afraid to ask anything that is professional and related to the job.
Do not ask illegal or immoral questions or anything that may put recruiters in the position of revealing confidential information.
Marcia Wall: Do your research. Don’t ask recruiters for information that you can easily find online. And certainly do not ask questions that seem self-serving or that might raise red flags in the recruiter’s mind: How quickly can I get promoted? When can I take my first vacation?
Maureen McCann: Do not ask the recruiter to break confidentiality and share information about other candidates they are putting forward. You can ask them how you’re stacking up against other candidates, but do so tactfully and diplomatically.
Most importantly, don’t be a nuisance. Think strategically about how to present yourself to the recruiter. When you develop a strong relationship with your recruiter, they may become your biggest fan and ally in the competition. (But they may not have the power to influence the final decision, so keep that in mind too).
How can I best maintain a relationship with a recruiter?
Shelley Piedmont: The best way to maintain a relationship with a recruiter is to stay visible and be of help.
✔ Have your network help you to get the word out about a recruiter’s openings. Recruiters love referrals.
✔ Comment on a recruiter’s social media post. Also, join recruiter groups on social media. If you have value to add to the discussions, participate in the conversation. It is a way to get visibility.
✔ Recruiters often have fields of specialties. They may belong to professional organizations in those areas. Attending meetings or events of those organizations is an excellent way to meet recruiters who specialize in placing people in your field. For example, when I was in HR, many agency recruiters attended the monthly chapter meetings of the local SHRM chapter.
Esther Schvan: Build a relationship with one recruiter per agency who then becomes your point of contact. Touch base with them periodically. Ask them what’s the best time to connect with them again and follow up as promised. Building and maintaining trust is important. Remember: they vouch for you every time they submit your resume to an employer.
Marcia Wall: Be grateful for their service. They are busy and overwhelmed, so being genuine with them will go a long way. Do connect with them on LinkedIn and keep them updated on your career needs and your job search. And, remember that good relationships are cultivated for long-term mutual benefit. Once you get a job, keep in contact with your recruiter. You never know how you can help each other in the future.
Maureen McCann: Look for ways to support their work and add value to your relationship. Promote their postings on social media (if that feels appropriate) and most importantly, introduce them to your network. If you see they have an opening and your friend “Ali” is a perfect fit for it, facilitate an introduction.
Do you have a (personal) example of success with a recruiter?
Ed Lawrence: I had two recruiters land me two jobs each, and I keep in touch with each of these recruiters. I consider it a success that I got four jobs through them. Either I was the best candidate or they were able to persuade the company that I was the best candidate. During the years that followed, I kept in touch with them, referred people to them, and invited them to networking events.
I created successful long-term relationships with these recruiters because I worked with them. I made my case; I worked quickly, and I was conscious of their time. I followed what I call a give-to-get principle.
Marcia Wall: I have worked as a recruiter in the past at two employment agencies. The candidates who did well were prepared, communicative, gracious, genuine, and reliable.
A positive person will always make a positive impression.
Career Confidante podcast episode on working with recruiters
About the authors:
Ed Lawrence offers a full range of career services to the unemployed and career changers. He is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW), Certified Interview Coach (CIC), National Certified Online Profile Expert (NCOPE), and Certified to administer Myer-Briggs (MBTI), The Strong Interest Inventory, DISC and Skillscan assessments.
Maureen McCann, BA, CCDP, MCRS, MCIS, MCCS, MCES is a fierce advocate of career development, committed to preparing Canadians for the future of work. Founder of Promotion Career Solutions, she is one of Canada’s top executive resume writers.
Shelley Piedmont, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, is an HR professional with 20+ years of experience as a Corporate Recruiter and HR Director. She has hired for various roles on behalf of Fortune 500s, small and private businesses, and everything in between.
Esther Schvan is a bilingual consultant, career transition coach, and facilitator with 20+ years of experience in coaching executives, managers, and team members. She is a Career Development Practitioner in Canada and a Certified Professional Facilitator.
Marcia Wall is a career coach, resume writer, and former English professor with 20+ years of experience helping people to live their best professional lives. She is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator (CCE) and a Certified Career Services Provider (NCDA). Her newsletter, Joyful Journeys: Stories of Client Success is published bi-weekly on LinkedIn.