BLOG: Winning while working with a recruiter

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BLOG: Winning while working with a recruiter

Anthony McCormack sits at a desk looking smart

Do you have a recruiter on your side?

Okay, I admit it, of COURSE I am going to say that it is beneficial to work with a recruiter when on a job search. So for the sceptical among you, this blog will show you the many benefits of having someone on your team working for the best outcome for you.

Whether you are committed to an active job-search or are a ‘passive’ candidate who wants to keep an eye on ‘what is out there’, it could be a worthwhile strategy to get connected with one or more recruitment consultants.

I know what you are thinking…I would say that wouldn’t I?

Well I hope to persuade any doubters out there that it really could be of benefit, for many reasons.

A common objection that I come across from people when sceptical about using a recruiter is: “I don’t need a recruitment agency, I’ve always been able to find my own job”.

This is fair comment and if this has worked well for you so far, then you likely don’t ‘need’ one – in a similar way to the fact that you can find or buy your own holiday or house, right?

However when you want to ensure you are making the best possible choice of next job, then why leave it to the fickle finger of fate. Rather than picking from what ‘happens’ to be advertised or going with a job that ‘happens’ to be recommended to you by a contact of yours, why not consider engaging with a professional recruiter?

I would argue that it’s the ‘discerning’ not the ‘desperate’ candidates that will be working with a good recruiter. The challenge for, and the value of a recruiter, lies just as much in screening job opportunities for candidates with lots of options as shortlisting candidates for jobs with lots of applicants.

A quality recruiter in your space will give you access to ‘the hidden job market’, consisting of roles that are not advertised and even positions that are created for and filled by a specific candidate on the basis of a referral or recommendation of a trusted recruiter. They will act as a consultant, agent and advocate for you in the way that a sports agent would in pushing for maximum interest, highest value and ultimately the best ‘deal’ for you.

The recruitment industry hasn’t got the best reputation and I’m sure you are aware that all recruitment agents and agencies are not created equal. It is quite literally the good the bad and the ugly. So I suggest to do your homework and align yourself with those that can best act as ‘brand ambassadors’ for you.

In many cases I find prospective candidates, especially if they are not working, have a ‘the more the merrier’ approach to recruiters. I would argue that who represents you in the search for your ideal next role is actually a very important job which you don’t just want any old muppet doing for you!

Careless or incompetent recruiters can cause you some damage if you are not careful. This can be anything from, not being equipped to successfully argue for your place on the interview shortlist, to breaking confidentiality exposing you at your current employer, to costing you money at offer stage through ineffective or just one-sided negotiation.

So I would recommend quality over quantity when ‘shortlisting’ recruiters to work for. Certainly don’t work with everyone who calls. Check out their company website, and the LinkedIn profiles of your potential consultants. Especially look for case studies, recommendations and any evidence of a track record in the kind of jobs and placements you will be looking for.

Feel free to ask some questions to ‘qualify’ the ‘consultants’ expertise and track record. Be careful of those who have been working in another sales or customer service role until recently and are now promoting themselves as a go-to recruitment ‘expert’ in your industry.

Recruitment is a largely un-regulated industry with little legal and mandatory controls. However the REC (Recruitment & Employment Confederation) is the governing body for the UK recruitment industry. Member agencies are approved on the basis of some entry criteria including an exam for key personnel and a commitment to their professional code of practice. Quality agencies, such as Macstaff will likely be REC members and I think this is a good check or balance to put in place. However, as with many certifications, it is still possible to earn the award but still not be consistently good in practice.

Of course, if you are given a referral or recommendation, as with any professional service, this is good advice if from a trusted source. Just be aware that what works for them, may not work for you.

In general, for permanent roles, especially at mid-to-senior level, a ‘specialist’ recruiter with a particular industry focus and a deeper network, is going to be better representing you than a generalist.

It’s also a good sign if the recruiter is able to meet you. Or depending on the geography, to do an in-depth telephone or skype pre-screening consultation. If they appear to be CV spammers looking to bang it out to poorly targeted contacts, then this is not going to be adding value to your applications. In fact, I would argue that your CV potentially being ‘everywhere’ can not only be a confidentiality issue but can also decrease your perceived value in the market.

If you get the sense that they understand your job and industry, care about your career and are well networked and able to open doors for you, then maybe they are a good fit for you?

Some agents and agencies, will ask to work with you ‘exclusively’ meaning you cannot work with other recruiters while this agreement is live. If I was a candidate, I would be sceptical of this, potentially limiting arrangement and as a recruiter I only ask for exclusivity it is required by a client in a retained search situation – or if I am 99% certain that I will be able to place the candidate into a right-fit role.

If you do think is worthwhile to enter into an exclusive relationship, I suggest to ensure that it is time-limited, typically 1-2 weeks and agree on regular feedback and updates to ensure that something is in fact being done.

In a ‘normal’ job-search scenario, utilising 1-3 recruiters would be fair and reasonable. Having just one may be limiting your options too much as different recruiters have different clients. More than 3 and you start to get diminishing returns and you increase the likelihood of ‘duplications’ which never looks good. Even in a ‘big industry’ it is typically a ‘small world’ and the number of well-researched introductions is going to be quite limited, assuming you are looking within a defined geographical area.

So let’s assume that you have selected one or more recruiters to work with – what else should you be aware of. How should you get the best out of the relationship?

Meet your consultant. Have an up-front conversation about your skills and experience but also your search criteria and career goals and aspirations.

Know what you want. This obviously requires giving it some thought. Not only will this mean that time is utilised more effectively at the recruiter meeting but also that you avoid going down blind alleys with applications and interviews. Be realistic in terms of target jobs and salaries and I recommend you read my blog on Job Search for related material.

Equip them to represent you effectively. You are on the same side at this point. Good recruiters should know the right questions to ask anyway but make sure they understand your strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments, personality and any USPs that you can use to differentiate yourself.

Be honest at this stage. This is a relationship with requiring mutual trust and respect. It’s not fair to have a recruiter side-swiped due to an untruth or omission when they are trying to represent you fairly and honestly to the best of their ability.

Be ready to take advice. As mentioned earlier, a decent recruitment consultant should be a Consultant (with a Capital C). Someone who can give advice based on information and expertise which when followed will improve your approach and increase your likelihood and level of success. I’m thinking for example in terms of CV writing, interview preparation, salary guides and offer negotiations. You will find plenty of blog posts on all of these topics on this website and I have put some links in here so you can find them easily.

Leverage your personal connections separately yourself too. Unless confidentiality or desire for consistency determines otherwise, if you know and trust a specific contact at a target employer, then I suggest to speak to them yourself. No-one is going to want to pay an unnecessary fee at the end of the day, even to their favourite recruiter.

Plus your contact may be in-line for a referral bonus if they make the CV introduction to their employer should they run such a scheme.

Keep a list. Maybe an excel spreadsheet but certainly something that can be easily accessed and updated. Minimally this should be an accurate point of reference on who is representing you to who. Include any companies NOT to approach including as a belt and braces precaution, your current employer.

Protect your references. I think a simple ‘references available on request’ will suffice on your CV rather than listing names and numbers. Likewise, whilst the recruiter may need to confirm that suitable references are available they shouldn’t need the references details at the beginning of the process.

Never pay (as a candidate) for agency recruitment services. I’m pretty sure this is illegal as well as simply bad practice, but there are scammers around for pretty much everything so I assume recruitment is included. The fee may be based around CV consulting or life coaching which becomes a grey area but I think not paying is a strong rule of thumb – read some of my blogs instead!

Avoid exclusives. As I said before ‘exclusivity’ with a recruiter should rarely be required. So avoid exclusives, especially long ones and never sign up for open-ended ones.

So to summarise, I think the right recruiter will be a great asset and ally in your job-search. However choose wisely, use common-sense, listen to your gut instinct and be prepared to review and change your arrangements as your job search evolves and these partnerships are tried and tested.

If you find a good one, maybe offer them a recommendation for example on LinkedIn as this will help them differentiate themselves from the not-so-goods that we touched on earlier.

Also, don’t consider your trusted recruiter to be just a transactional or a one-time relationship. I assume that this person, seeing as they are good, are planning to be around in 1, 5, 10 years’ time. Use them as a go-to for your ad-hoc questions on all things recruitment like salary reviews and treat them as a career counsellor that you can visit for a check-up or problem, keep them as a valuable member of your professional network or even call them a friend. A good recruiter is worth their weight in gold.

But I would say that… I suppose I am a little biased!

Read more: Hiring turn-offs and easy fixes

Watch: VIDEO – Trust and integrity are the key to Macstaff’s relationship