Secrets to Working with Recruiters
Ross Macpherson MA, CPRW, CEIP, CJST

Recruiters can be a vital resource in your job search strategy, but you have to understand how they work (and therefore, how you need to work with them). Most frustrations that arise from working with recruiters are the result of not knowing how to get within their radar, and not fully understanding what their role is and how they can help you.

The first point to remember is that recruiters are not there to find you a job - they work for the company that hired them, not for you. Their job is to consult with a company and find the right candidate for an open position. In essence, they broker relationships between employers and talent, but they work for the company.

Your job, then, is to be on their radar when they have a position for which you're a good fit…and there are a few things you need to know to achieve this.

Two Types

There are two different types of recruiters - contingency and retained. Their approach is different, and therefore the way in which you approach them is different.

Contingency recruiters:

..... * are paid only once they have successfully found and placed the right candidate

..... * may be generalists and work across any number of industries, or may be specialists focusing on a handful of related industries

..... * may place positions that pay as little as $25,000 all the way up to senior executive positions starting at $100,000

..... * will accept unsolicited resumes from you

..... * are more likely to push for you even if you're not the perfect fit (after all, they're looking to get paid)

Retained recruiters:

..... * are an exclusive bunch who get paid up front before the search

..... * focus almost exclusively on high-level executives starting at $100,000

..... * are looking for the "exact fit", and will not likely to press on your behalf if you're less than perfect

..... * are less likely to accept unsolicited resumes (their motto "If we want you, we'll find you")

It is important to realize these differences, because you need to target the right recruiter for you (there are books available that list recuiters and their specialities).

What to Look for in the Right Recruiter

In order to get better results, you need to carefully select which recruiters to deal with - the right type of recruiter, the right industry, at the right salary level. That's your first cut.

You also want to consider their reputation within the industry. How long have they been in business? Do the search consultants hold industry certifications? Can you find out what kind of companies they generally place for? Try accessing their websites to find out these types of details

Lastly, if you truly want to "partner" with a recruiter (which is the ideal) you want to consider how they interact with you. If they take the time to listen, you stand a better chance of developing a symbiotic relationship with them that can really pay off. On the other hand, if they talk AT you and don't listen to you very well, then you know a partnering relationship is unlikely - with these folks, simply shoot for getting into their database and hope for the best.

How to Contact a Recruiter

Recruiters are very busy people who have neither the time nor the inclination to hold your hand or go hunting for your next perfect job for you. So you want to respect their time. Your first objective is to get into their database - nothing else matters up front - and you want to get there as quickly and as easily as possible. Here are a few guidelines:

..... * don't cold call them (unless you only want to get basic information, such as email addresses, their areas of specialty, etc.)

..... *email your resume!!

..... * avoid faxing your resume (it can work, but is far less desirable and will take longer to get you into their database)

..... * never mail your resume - it virtually guarantees that you'll fall through the cracks

How to Properly Email your Resume

Remembering that 1) recruiters don't have time, and 2) that you want to get into their database through the path of least resistance, you need to send a resume in plain "text" format. Yes, they will need your nicely formatted version to present to a company, but that version cannot go straight into their database. So, you need to provide 2 versions of your resume. Here's what your email should look like:

..... * you should open with a "brief but informative" statement that will serve as your cover letter

..... * below that, you should include a copy of your resume in plain "text" format within into the body of the email itself (you'll have to convert your formatted version to "text only")

..... * include a second, formatted version of your resume as an "attachment"

..... * make certain that your resume is chock full of the appropriate keywords (the same keywords that the recruiters will likely use when searching their database)

..... * in your email, never refer them to your resume website or your Monster posting…they won't go

..... *if you are contacting them cold, put a nice pithy description of your expertise in the Subject line ("Supply Chain Exec - Intern'l exp.")

..... *if you are responding to a position they've posted, put the position title in the Subject line (not the job number, which is often generated by the posting site and has nothing to do with the recruiter)

..... * if you haven't heard after a few days, call to confirm receipt

How to Get the Recruiter on Your Side

..... *
don't be pushy and impatient if they don't call you right away - if you haven't heard anything yet, assume that they are not currently trying to place a suitable position

..... * when you do get a chance to speak with them, ask what they are currently looking for and offer your assistance in finding a suitable match - if you offer yourself as a resource (a "partner") and you do happen to know a friend or colleague who's a good fit, you stand a better chance of developing a relationship that will pay off down the line

..... * be friendly and personable on the phone at all times

..... * tell them everything they need to know - if they are going to help you, they need to know your salary expectations, why you left your last job, any legal or dubious issues from your past, etc. Be honest and open

..... * cultivate recruiter relationships even when you're not looking for a job - if a recruiter approaches you when you are not actively searching, capitalize on this contact by asking the recruiter about his or her niches, briefly discussing your background, and then (if possible) referring the recruiter to a colleague who might be a good match

Recruiters can be a tremendous resource, and vital component in your job search and career management, but you need to know how to work with them if you are going to reap rewards from the relationship.


Ross Macpherson is the Founder and President of Career Quest, a Certified Professional Resume Writer, and professional Interview Coach with over 12 years' experience in career development and training. You can reach Ross by emailing him at