Putting recruiters to work in your career

Good Monday morning,

I hope it was a glorious Thanksgiving for you, with much to give thanks for.

Gearing up for the New Year, it’s a good time to think about refreshing your contacts with recruiters in 2020.

Recruiters can be powerful allies: terrific sources of information about the market, helpful agents in filling key roles on your own team, and, of course, indispensable gatekeepers when you’re looking to land your next gig.  Understanding a recruiter’s incentives, and building relationships with them throughout your career, are important parts of being a successful professional.

Recruiters are matchmakers, and working with a recruiter carries the same advantages and disadvantages as working with any matchmaker.  You need to understand that you’re not the only party to the transaction, that the motivations around the table vary — and sometimes are the opposite of yours, and that you need to keep your head up and your thinking clear if you’re going to get the best deal for yourself.

Recruiters, to state the obvious, would like to make a match.  That’s what their job is. That’s how they get paid. If you’re far and away the clear No.1 choice for a particular role, you’ll find the recruiter quite eager to advocate on your behalf and bring the search to a successful, mutual “yes.”

That being said, you need to remember that the recruiter is not your agent.  In fact, he’s a paid agent of the company or client for whom he works. The recruiter owes you no duty of loyalty, and does not put your interests first.  The old adage “he who pays the gold makes the rules” applies.

The best time to get to know recruiters is when you don’t need a job.  Throughout your career, recruiters will call you looking for candidates or assignments.  In the course of your work, you’ll hear about outstanding recruiters in your field, your city, and your industry.  And, occasionally, you’ll be reaching out to recruiters in response to a role you need to fill, or that you’d like to take.

I know it can seem like the lowest thing on your list in any particular work week, but take the time to return these calls, emails and texts.  If recruiters from Korn Ferry, Robert Half, or Randstad give you a call, return the call, answer the email, spare 15 minutes for a chat.  Establishing good working relationships to share leads and information from the time you cross over into the $100K+ Club is good career sense.

Take advantage of each of these interactions in order to build a good rapport.  Judiciously sharing information, leads, insights, and names, is the best way to get the relationship going.  

Speaking intelligently on industry trends, and personnel establish your bona fides.  If you’re not the perfect candidate you can recommend someone who is. Doing favors for recruiters adds to your favor bank over the years, which may be helpful to you at a time when you least expect it.

You can’t be indiscriminate in this activity.  Not every recruiter deserves your trust, not every search professional warrants your friendship.  But learning by trial and error, and keeping your ear to the industry grapevine, will eventually yield valuable contacts in addition to the occasional hooligan you wished you’d steered clear of. 

Paying recruiters to do searches for you at your current job is also an excellent way to build good relations.  Regular contact and the opportunity to assess their judgement is good for developing a fully rounded assessment of a search professional.  Using these opportunities when staffing your own team to extend your network of recruiters is smart business and smart career planning.

When it comes time for you to move to brighter horizons, reach out to your recruiter contacts far ahead of time.  Recruiters can help shape your thoughts about the market and growth opportunities. They may even be able to advise you on improving your chances for a successful move in the market. 

Remember to be explicit about how discreet they need to be.  If you’ve simply got an itch, but you’re not yet ready to scratch, let your recruiter friend know that it all has to be kept on the down low.  Likewise, if you’ve already made it known that you’re exiting in due course, and you’re looking to land something soon, be open with that information.

As with all things careers related, it’s a numbers game.  Assuming you speak to a couple hundred recruiters over a 40-year career with a dozen job changes, the hit ratio will obviously be low.  In aggregate, however, you’re likely to be placed by a recruiter a third of the time, so those small investments add up.

By the time you get to the top of your industry, you should know all the relevant recruiters in your business: their strengths in recruiting, their weaknesses; their best connections and the connections they’ve not been able to develop; and when their ability to persuade is most effective and when it’s least effective.  

Investing the time in recruiter relationships throughout your career will pay off for you, again and again, both as you look for new roles, and as you look to build your teams and succeed in those roles.

Next week I’ll cover the narrower topic of working with a recruiter on a specific role.

Have a great week, readers!

P.S. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to wait for 2020 to get started.  You can return the calls of the December recruiter, right now.  While your competition is napping, nipping, and nodding off for the holidays, you can be getting far, far ahead.