Working on specific roles with a recruiter

Good Monday morning, 

How do you work with a specific recruiter on a specific job?  Last week, we covered working with recruiters generally and this week we’ll dig into specifics.

First fact to keep in mind, always: the recruiter is paid to get a deal done.  Recruiter success is not measured in enjoyable conversations, lengthy emails, or resumes reviewed, but in placements made.  Getting a candidate hired into an open role is the life’s purpose of a recruiter, and there’s no better reward.

If recruiters have any bias in the process, it’s a bias in favor of the person signing their checks.  The company or hiring manager that hired the recruiter to fill an open role gets to call almost all the shots — the position description, responsibilities, role, and compensation.  She who pays the piper, calls the tune.

While It can be easy to forget in the rush of a recruiting, that “your” recruiter is not your agent.  They are not seeking to maximize your payout. They’re not trying to optimize the offer much beyond what it takes for you to accept, and stick, in the role.

So if you’re one of the leading candidates in contention for a job with a recruiter, you’ll need to represent your own interests, and stick to your guns on what you think you’re worth, and what would be required for you to accept the role.

Set expectations

Back in September, I shared a list of 24 questions to ask a recruiter when you begin a conversation on a new role.  Use these to get calibrated with the recruiter’s standing with their client, your standing in the search, and the potential fit for your career plans.

On each subsequent call or email, set expectations explicitly.  There is enough variability in what’s considered appropriate that your experience with any one recruiter can’t be generalized to all recruiters.  With that in mind, clarify explicitly, with each recruiter, for each client and role, what type of feedback you’ll be getting next, and in what timeframe.

Will the recruiter be following up with you only if there’s good news?  Or will they touch base regardless? How often will that be? Every week, every two weeks, every four weeks?  

Do they want you to call or email them after each contact with their client?  Or will they reach out when they need to know? Is there anything else about working together on this role that they’d like to make explicit with you, or that you should make explicit with them?

Be explicit

At the same time as you’re having these conversations, you’ll need to be realistic.  As “people people”, recruiters are in the midst of a tremendous day-to-day swirl of calls, meetings, follow-ups, phone screens, interviews, client pitches, negotiations and congratulations calls, and simply can’t be expected to provide you with daily updates.

If the process starts going your way, the recruiter may coach you on feedback and negotiations.  As with any part of the job search, you may ask for explicit feedback — is there a good match in terms of working styles, scope of role, skills, background, etc.?  In general, the longer a recruiter has worked with a particular company, the better they’ll be able to give you targeted feedback. But the recruiter may not be completely candid with you.  And they have little reason to share the unvarnished and confidential viewpoints of their client with you.

Be the ‘sure thing’

In working with a recruiter on a role, try not to be the “out of the box” candidate.  When companies have decided to pay good money – 20% to 33% of first year’s total compensation is typical – they are looking to get a very solid, dependable, low risk return on their recruiting fee.  If you find that you are not a very good match, or are fulfilling the role of the quirky, take-a-chance, alternative sort of candidate, you should manage your expectations and your exposure accordingly. 


Pushing too hard on the process can therefore be counter-productive.  A recruiter, as the person in the middle, is satisfying a client who has a specific set of requirements and who wants to see perhaps the six to 12 best candidates for a role.  There’s not much a recruiter can do to change a client’s mind if, after being armed by you with an accurate view of your future prospects and your current resume, the client has not selected you in that top dozen.

Advocate for yourself

On the other hand, when it gets to the offer stage, pushing back is essential.  There is nobody in the process representing your interests except for you.

The common advice that you should not share your compensation with a recruiter is true.  

Perhaps keeping in mind the old maxim, “If information is to be exchanged over whiskey, let us get it rather than give it,” you should allow the recruiter to share their client’s compensation expectations.

Should they push, it’s always better to demur:   “Putting the shoe on the other foot, what ballpark are they expecting full compensation to be?  I wouldn’t want to waste either of our time if there’s just a mismatch.”

Or another approach that explores expectations without committing yourself is:

“I think peers looking at jobs such as this tell me that they’re hearing {middle range} to {high-end of range} in terms of compensation.  Does that match up with this employer?”

Having established expectations at the outset, you may be following up with the recruiter regularly, or she with you.  In the absence of an explicit understanding, you may find it helpful to follow up every two weeks, which is often enough to be timely without quite becoming bothersome.  Most searches do have some major evolution over the course of two weeks.

With all of your follow-ups, simply remind the recruiter of your details while being upbeat: “this is {firstname} at Acme, calling in to check on the status with the Giant Corp. interview opportunity.  I remain very interested in the role and you can reach me at…”

Despite temptation or frustration, never show irritation or anger on these follow-ups.  If the recruiter does not follow up with you after two months of these polite messages, you’ve been ghosted.  Add that recruiter to Santa’s Naughty list and move on.

On the other hand, should your conversations with a recruiter end up in a job offer, do be polite about following up with them when they reach out to you.  It’s important for the recruiter to know their client is happy, and that you’re happy with their client. 

I hope you’ve found these last two weeks helpful, Readers!