Tech & Work

Set yourself apart when using a recruiter

More consultants are using recruiters to help them scout for their next contract. Use these tips on choosing a recruiter and making your strengths and level of flexibility clear; they'll help you make the most of the relationship.


Terryn Barill is an IT consultant in Princeton, NJ.

Question
I’m a telecom consultant/engineer/project manager and I’ve been looking for a job for four months. It doesn't seem like recruiters are replying much to a resume blast or an e-mail regarding a position from a job post. In follow-up calls, they request a Word-formatted resume and they want it sent or e-mailed to another address not mentioned on the posting. I’m starting to believe that sending resumes via job postings is a waste of time. I feel like I should just get the contact info and make the call. Do you agree? Please advise on the best method of getting their attention.

—Peter

Answer
Recruiters have a front-row seat for the ups and downs of the marketplace. Five years ago, they couldn’t find enough candidates to fill all the positions. A year ago, they might not have been able to find certain specialists, but for your run-of-the-mill programmer or admin, no problem. Now they’re being swamped with resumes for every opportunity, and some have even stopped posting all open positions.

To work successfully with recruiters, it helps to understand their side of the problem. Employers have fewer open positions, even for contract or temporary work, and they’re often more specific than ever about what they want. Java experience isn’t enough—they’ll ask for someone who’s experienced in high-volume B2B e-commerce, with Java, Fusion, Flash, Web security, and a “fast-paced team environment.” With fewer dollars to spend, they’re looking for candidates that can do more for them than just fill a position. Recruiters are assigned to find that candidate, and it’s getting harder to do.

“So what?” you say, “That’s their problem, not mine.” Yes, it is their problem, and unless you can help them solve it, you’re not going to stand out from the flood of high-tech refugees clamoring for job scraps.

Here’s how to set yourself apart:

Target your recruiter
Sending out a thousand resumes won’t work if they don’t go to recruiters or agencies that get the kind of jobs that you’re looking for. Work with two or three agencies—no more. Make sure they aren’t all shopping you to the same clients; there’s nothing worse than having your resume submitted for the same position by two recruiters. Most importantly, know what kind of recruiter you need to work with; most of them specialize by the following criteria.
  • Geography: Does the recruiter work with companies in locations where you want to work? Sometimes the best way into a company is through its preferred agency.
  • Technology: Does the recruiter have a particular technology specialty, like help-desk personnel or network administration? This isn’t too typical, but if an agency has two or more recruiters assigned to the same client, they may split the workload by job description.
  • Industry specialty: Does the recruiter place technology professionals in a wide range of industries or focus on one particular industry, such as financial services or pharmaceutical?
  • Experience: Does the recruiter work with IT professionals who have your level of experience? Some may work only with senior-level techies, while others may specialize in recent grads or mid-level workers. This division by experience usually happens in agencies that are specializing in senior-level positions but willing to take lower-level openings for favored clients.

Repackage yourself for the new tech market
You’re not just a technology worker anymore, and your resume should show it. Employers aren’t hiring only for technical skills, they want soft skills, they want experience, and they want professionalism.

Not that they didn’t want this before, but in the heady days of the dot-com boom, employers were grasping at anyone who could harness the power of technology. Millions of investment dollars later, they want a return on their money, whether it’s for a software upgrade or a new hire. Define what you can bring to the table that others can’t, and make sure it shows on your resume.

Resumes themselves should focus on accomplishments and include specifics. “Senior Systems Administrator” means different things in different companies. Make sure you have a readable resume in both Word and text formats. Resumes are often submitted electronically or through an in-house system, so you should make sure yours looks good in all formats.

If appropriate, show a range of experience. If you understand how FDA regulations affect biotech companies, say so. If you participated in your company’s ISO 9000 certification effort, point that out. Can you train end users or help with sales demos for clients? Experience with global projects, finance, industry specifics, or team leadership all show a more complete picture of your skill sets.

Be sure to observe all of the standard job-search niceties, from clear cover letters to a firm handshake and appropriate attire for the interview. Leave some extra time at the end of the interview to give your recruiter some feedback on how it went.

Be a team player
Being part of the team starts before you even get the interview. Be willing to work with your recruiter to help them decipher what the employer is really requiring. Often, you’ll need to decode the list of acronyms for them, but it gives you a good chance to ask questions about the position. “They’re asking for all this network stuff and then they ask for a developer certification. Are they really requiring that, or do they just need someone who understands how Web apps affect network traffic?” The recruiter has spent a lot of time with the client; they may have a good idea of which items are a “must” and which are a “nice to have.”

Flexibility matters too, especially when you're competing with scores of other qualified professionals. Let recruiters know how flexible you can be when it comes to location, salary, or even whether you're willing to accept anything from a four-month contract to a permanent position. Don’t dismiss a contract or a temp-to-perm position; employers use them to “try before they buy,” and it’s a good way to audition with the employer and build your network of contacts.

In many ways, IT skills have become commodities. Almost everyone in the company can use a computer, even if they use only one program. Anyone can take a class and learn tech skills, but what companies really need are IT people who can work with the rest of the team. Demonstrate to your recruiter how you can fill that need, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

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