Tech & Work

Screen your recruiters before trusting them with a job search

As a consultant struggling under a sluggish economy, it might be tempting to blindly trust a recruiter, but don't. Use this advice to make sure a recruiter has your best interests in mind.


Terryn Barill is an IT consultant inPrinceton, NJ. This is her first career column for TechRepublic.

Question
I've had a problem lately—IT recruiters from contracting firms contact me about "a great opportunity." When I call them back, it ends up being a lot of fluff, and the conversation revolves around what other opportunities I've been interviewing for. Is it possible they're just scoping for other companies that might be hiring, for their own gain?

—Joshua

Answer
Be very careful about where you put your resume. Many recruiters just want resumes for their database. Sometimes a recruiter just doesn’t understand the job and assumes that all us techie folk are the same.

Most recruiters are reasonably ethical, but I can’t vouch for the ones you’ve contacted. When a recruiter calls, have specific information that you’ll ask about. Make a worksheet if you have to. Ask for the recruiter’s name, company, and telephone number. (I once had a telemarketer call me posing as a headhunter—he got my name and telephone number off an online resume.) Questions about the location of the position, start date, and industry of the employer/client are a good place to start. If the recruiter can’t answer those, there isn’t a job.

If there is a job, ask some tech-specific questions to get a sense of what the employer is looking for. Most recruiters aren’t tech-savvy, so ask them to read you the job requirements. If you find a recruiter that you feel comfortable with, build the relationship. Recruiters see many job opportunities before they’re posted and can talk you up to a prospective employer. Be professional and honest about whether you think you can do the job, and you’ll make an ally out of someone who can put you on the top of a recruitment list.

Consider focusing your Internet job search on a limited number of sites. Track the jobs you apply for and the sites where those jobs are listed. Asking recruiters how they got your number will allow you to track which sites are generating responses for you and help you to determine the quality of those responses.

Finally, avoid posting your resume all over the Internet. The Internet can be helpful, but a job search is an active task. Don’t sit back and wait for the right recruiter to call. The job market is tight right now, and IT spending isn't expected to increase significantly until at least next year. You’ll need to take action to get the job you want:
  • Highlight your hard and soft skills. Focus on your major accomplishments. If you're 52 years old, I don't care that you were an Eagle Scout. I probably don't even care that you were a systems analyst 28 years ago. Tell me what you've done in the past 10 years. Show me how you've developed over time and give concrete examples.
  • Choose a specific position and/or industry. Showcase your skills and experience for this industry in your resume. For example, I consult quite a bit for the pharmaceutical industry. I came from a regulatory compliance background, and I’ve made a point of learning the relevant FDA regulations. There are probably 20 million people who are capable of managing an IT rollout. At least a million of them can do it globally. Half of them are probably senior level and have some understanding of regulations. How many of them can do an enterprisewide IT rollout in 55-plus countries for a pharmaceutical company going through a merger? That's when they call me.
  • Do your homework. Research the players and find out who is doing what. Companies that post losses for three consecutive quarters aren't going to be hiring. If they do, they won't be paying much. Also consider peripheral companies. Using my pharmaceutical example, there are related companies in the industry, including biotech firms, specialty companies catering to the pharmaceutical industry, health care companies, and animal health companies.
  • Network until you can find a contact inside the companies that you're targeting. This is where your recruiter friends can come in handy. Let’s say you've identified a business where you want to work. The larger Internet job posting sites allow you to search by company. Use this function to find out which recruiting agency the business uses, and contact the recruiter who is listed with the jobs that closely match the one you’re looking for. Submitting your resume to the recruiter's database—instead of submitting one to a site such as Monster—is much more likely to generate a strong job lead. If you really have your heart set on a particular company, contact the hiring department directly (usually personnel or human resources). Build a relationship with someone in that department, and they'll call you when something opens up.

Question
I have been in IT for 35 years as a project manager, IT manager, senior analyst, programmer, etc. In recent years, I have been the "victim" of corporate layoffs and have moved to a rural area where I may eventually retire. The problem is finding work in my field. The opportunities are limited here, and traveling extensively doesn't fit my lifestyle.

I am trying to obtain consulting work or a job locally using my talents and am considering consulting as an independent contractor or through a company that will take me on a project basis. I am also working on forming my own company in my home area with business services and computer offerings. So far, it has been slow; my planning is taking time by design, but it is frustrating. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

—Paul

Answer
As a consultant, you either live where the work is or travel to the work. It doesn’t sound like either of those fit your situation. An agency or company that can feed you assignments might be a better fit.

You also talk about “jobs” rather than “career,” so maybe now is the time to take a look at what you really want to do. Taking a step off the typical career ladder requires refocusing your resume or, sometimes, throwing it away. What skill sets are you interested in using (or not using)? Break down your skill sets to remember what you do well.

For example, project management uses a wide variety of skill sets, from the analytical to employee development. What tasks did you really like? Maybe you really liked creating presentations, but hated giving them. Perhaps you liked creating order from chaos in the form of project plans but didn’t like training newbies. Take the skill sets you enjoyed, even if they’re a bit rusty, and focus on them.

On the other hand, you can decide to take a completely different path. I knew a corporate consultant who decided to become a wildlife photographer for a couple of years. Ironically, he ended up traveling more than he had when he was a consultant, so he went back to the corporate life. But he says he wouldn't trade those two years for anything.

You seem to be at a point in your life when you can take a good hard look and determine how best to meet your goals. You said you live where you may want to retire—what does retirement look like to you? Are you looking for full-time work to carry you through to retirement age, or do you see yourself continuing to work at least part time because you love what you do? If you’re looking for a particular IT job just because that’s what you’ve always done or because you think it’s what is expected of you, use the move as an excuse to do something else.

If you're looking to make a change, don't overlook training, especially if you're seeking a position that will allow you to be hands on instead of in a management role. Training is available in a multitude of formats: traditional classroom, "boot camp" or workshop style, online courses, and self-paced training.

If you're not willing to take a complete leap into the unknown, there is always a chance to use your traditional skill sets off the traditional career path. For example, do you have teaching skills? Many schools offer distance learning, and you’d be able to teach from home.

Would you consider working a couple of part-time jobs? Many Web sites cater to freelancers and part-timers. This is especially good for the manager who misses being in the trenches and wants to get back into programming or development.

However you decide to proceed, don't forget about polishing up your resume into something presentable and professional, and don't overlook soft skills—they're often the things that set you apart.

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