Tech & Work

Turn a clueless recruiter into a job-search asset

Desperate or nontechnical recruiters are more of an obstacle than a help when it comes to giving you job leads. But if you use the right communication strategies, you can use their shortcomings to your advantage.


Ever worked with recruiters who just don't get it? They call for jobs you obviously can’t do or don’t want, they don't know Java from a CPU, or they can’t answer even basic questions about the job. You may say that you can’t work with someone like this, but I say you have just been given an opportunity to drive the application process. Here are two communication strategies that can help you put ineffective recruiters to work for your job search.

The Last Call Ranger
This person calls you for even the most unlikely of jobs. You want to develop, the recruiter is offering you a job installing software. You have two choices:
  • Take the offer as an insult, hang up, and badmouth the recruiter to everyone you know.
  • Take the opportunity to work with the recruiter and become his or her resource for filling the job.

The first choice is certainly the easy one. But even though it would be gratifying to tell the recruiter to call you “when a real job turns up,” after you hang up, you are still unemployed.

The second choice is much more intriguing. Put away your ego, politely decline the job, and ask the recruiter to take a minute to talk about what your skills are and what you are interested in. If the recruiter doesn't have time (may be in a hurry to fill that current job), ask if there is anything you can do to help.

You might be surprised. This recruiter is obviously struggling, and your offer to help may be just what's needed. You might suggest a skill set that is better suited for this job so that the recruiter can refine the pitch in future calls. Maybe you have a friend who could do this job or could at least suggest some possible candidates. Maybe you could suggest a publication in which the recruiter could advertise for these jobs in the future. Each situation is different, but you get the idea.

The important thing is to offer your assistance and allow the recruiter to retain dignity in the process. Finally, even if you can’t really help this time, ask the recruiter to call you for help anytime. Remember, just because this job is not a match for you does not mean the next one won’t be. And whom will the recruiter remember when that job comes up? You!

Here’s that strategy again:
  • Politely decline the job.
  • Ask if there's anything you can do to help.
  • Offer assistance as you see fit.
  • Ask the recruiter to call anytime.

The nontechnical recruiter
The other category of recruiters is even more frustrating to work with. Often, they have to recruit for every position at a company, and computers are not their area of expertise. They can’t answer even the most basic technical questions and they aren't trying to learn. This is an even better opportunity for you than the desperate recruiter.

Put yourself in their place. Obviously, they're out of their element and are likely failing in their quest. They're probably great at recruiting some kind of professional, just not geeks, so they could probably use a little help from you. You should not waste this opportunity. The opening move is the same as with the Last Call Ranger, but the long-term strategy is a little different.

You want to find out exactly what the job is and try to get around this gatekeeper. Now is the time to turn this into a chance to speak to someone with some real power.

Ask the recruiter a few questions about the job and don’t be shy about making them hard questions. If the recruiter can't answer, say that you really need to know the answer to make a good decision and ask if you can speak to the hiring official. At worst, the answer is “no.” There’s no real harm to you, and the recruiter may route your resume to the hiring official anyway. It’s the easiest way to save face. At best, the recruiter will put you through, and you are now, in essence, getting an interview before anyone else.

When you speak to the hiring official, keep your sales pitch to a minimum. Give your name and then ask for the official's name and write it down. Ask enough questions to get a real feel for the job.

If you're not interested, explain the type of work you do and ask whether there is anything coming up where you might fit in. You might get lucky.

If the job does sound like a match for you, ask a brief question or two to make sure the hiring official knows that you are interested and that you know the subject. Say that you intend to apply, reiterate your name, and ask the official to watch for your resume. Then, say thanks and wrap up the conversation. Mission accomplished. You are certain to get an edge when the official selects interview candidates.

The clincher to this technique is to send a thank-you letter—not an e-mail, not another call—a letter. If you don’t know the address, call the company's main number or look it up on the Web. Be brief in your letter, but be prompt in sending it. That always impresses, in part because almost no one does it.

So when you're dealing with a nontechnical recruiter, remember to:
  • Ask questions.
  • Ask to speak to the hiring official.
  • Determine whether the job is a fit.
  • If you're not interested in the job, ask about upcoming opportunities.
  • If you are interested in the job, ask a question or two and leave your name.
  • Send a thank-you letter.

Creating opportunities
Developing a new approach to working with recruiters can help you make the most of a bad situation. Lousy IT recruiters can make you mad enough to burn a bridge. Before you do, consider building one that may help you get a job instead.

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