Headhunter relations: Getting the most from search firms and recruiters

You don't always find good jobs in the newspaper. Sometimes the best opportunities find you. Here are some tips for being ready when the headhunter calls.

Do you love your current job? Would you consider a better offer if one came along? With the high demand for qualified IT professionals, headhunters are busier than ever. If a recruiter calls you, take time to listen to the offer. You never know when the next opportunity will lead to a pot of gold.

Make the headhunter your friend
It’s a busy morning at the office, and before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee, the phone rings. It’s a recruiter promising she can place you in a position that pays a third more than your current salary, plus stock options, a company car, and moving expenses. Your first instinct might be to brush off an offer that sounds too good to be true, but it‘s probably worth your while to continue this conversation.

Experts say the best relationships with recruiters are those that begin with them contacting you. Being visible within your field is the key to a successful career. Working in a hot industry—such as e-commerce or wireless technology—can improve your visibility even further, as headhunters are primarily interested in professionals with blue-chip or high-demand skill sets.

Ask the right questions
As you listen carefully to the sales pitch, be ready to ask questions that will help determine whether you want to work with this headhunter. Career Magazine suggests asking these questions:
  • ·        How long have you been recruiting?
  • ·        How long have you been with your present firm?
  • ·        How long has your firm been in business?
  • ·        How many placements have you made?
  • ·        What is the average salary increase for one of your clients?
  • ·        What type of candidate have you had the most success placing in the past?
  • ·        What is your role in my salary negotiation with the client?
  • ·        How will you market my resume?

Ask for references
In addition, it’s important to ask the headhunter for references. Even the best recruiter will have certain candidates that they simply could not place. Ask to speak with one of them. Find out about that person's experience with the recruiter by asking these questions:
  • ·        How long did you work with the recruiter?
  • ·        Why was the recruiter unable to place you?
  • ·        Was the firm unable to set up any interviews for you? If so, how many? What happened?
  • ·        When you're on the market again, will you let this recruiter know first?
  • ·        Did the recruiter offer to refer you to other sources that might help you in your search?

You’ll also want to speak with a current client or placement. From this contact, you’ll want answers to questions such as:
  • ·        Were you satisfied with the way the recruiter represented your background?
  • ·        Are you happy with the salary and benefits you received?
  • ·        Now that you have been placed, do you still have access to your recruiter?
  • ·        Did your recruiter prep you for the client interview?
  • ·        Did the search firm ask for your references?
  • ·        Would you refer the recruiter to your most respected colleague?

A reputable recruiter will answer your questions openly and honestly. Many factors play into a successful placement, so don't place too much emphasis on high numbers. Generally, you want to work with recruiters who have a minimum of 12 months’ experience in the recruiting field. Finally, ask for a face-to-face meeting. An in-person interview with the recruiter will allow you to distinguish yourself from other candidates and explain your background. The personal meeting will also give you a chance to evaluate and verify the stability of the company.

Choose a recruiter with knowledge of your field
There are thousands of search firms operating across the globe, and the majority of them are reputable. But you stand a better chance of being placed by a firm that specializes in your specific industry. Those firms that have been handling recruitment and placement in your field are more than likely to have the greatest number of contacts and industry resources to help you. Rex Blanton, director of IT support for Thomas Glover Associates —an Inman, SC-based IT consulting and recruiting firm—makes it his business to stay abreast of technology issues within the health care industry.

“We talk with a lot of people who say, ‘It’s finally good to talk with a recruiter who knows the difference between a Cobol CICS programmer and a CICS systems programmer,’” Blanton said. “Many recruiters don’t understand the technology. I’m a former health care IT director, so I’m able to help health care companies because I understand their business.”
You can determine which search firms specialize in your field by consulting The Directory of Executive Recruiters , published by Kennedy Information, softcover $47.95. The hardcover corporate version is $179.95 from Fatbrain . This publication lists recruiters by region and area of expertise.
What to expect from a qualified recruiter
Be wary of the recruiter who wants to place you quickly, without regard for whether the job is right for you. “It’s smart in today’s corporate market to have a relationship with a recruiter who’s willing to work with you long-term,” Blanton said. “A lot of recruiters aren’t interested in talking to someone if they can’t place them today. We have found it advantageous to work with people over a period of years because they’re going to trust you with their careers.”

Blanton also recommends working with just one or two recruiters. With a large number of headhunters working for you, it’s likely that some could be working the same territory. He warns that employers are put off when they receive an individual’s resume from more than one source.

“If you want to change jobs and you’re dealing with a number of different recruiters, there might be overlap. If you broadcast a resume, you probably shoot yourself in the foot” by appearing desperate, and the company may make a lowball offer as a result, he said.

If you’re the one initiating contact with search firms, ask for referrals from your peers. When you’ve selected those you want to work with, press for a realistic appraisal of your chances for placement. If you receive the brush-off, or the recruiter seems wishy-washy, your candidacy might be receiving low priority. In that case, you can pare down your list of headhunters even further and zero in on those who will take a more active role in placing you.

On the other hand, an overzealous recruiter can overexpose your resume and make you vulnerable in your current position. You certainly don’t want to reveal your intention to change jobs to your own company. The recruiter and the candidate should agree in advance on how aggressive your job search will be.
Have you worked with a headhunter? Tell us about your experience by posting a comment below or by sending us a note.

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