Winning with a Recruiter!

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

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 then you likely don’t ‘need’ one; just as you can find/buy your own holiday/house. 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, then you may well 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/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!

However, the recruitment industry hasn’t got the best reputation and I’m sure you are aware that all recruitment agents & 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, however I would argue that who represents you in the search for your ideal next role is actually a very important job, which frankly you don’t want any 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 consultant(s). Especially look for case studies, recommendations and any evidence of a track record in the kind of jobs/placements you will be looking for. Feel free to ask some questions to ‘qualify’ the ‘consultants’ expertise and track record. A fair proportion of the time, 3 months ago they will have been working in another sales/customer service role and have done a few weeks agency training before promoting themselves as a then go-to recruitment ‘expert’ in your industry.

Recruitment is a largely un-regulated industry with little legal/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/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 / recommendation, as with any professional service this is good advice if from a trusted source. However what works for them, may not work for you, it’s a personal choice at the end of the day.

In general for permanent roles, especially at mid to senior level, a ‘specialist’ recruiter i.e. someone who has a particular industry focus, meaning over time a deeper network and genuine expertise, is going to be better representing you than a generalist. However as usual exceptions will apply!

It’s also a good sign if the recruiter is willing/able to meet you. Or depending on the geography/logistics, to do an in-depth telephone or skype pre-screen / 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. However, if you get the sense that they understand your job/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/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 in to a right-fit role. If you do think is worthwhile to enter into an exclusive relationship, I suggest you ensure that it is time-limited, typically 1-2 weeks and agree on regular feedback / updates to ensure that something is in fact being done!

I think that in a ‘normal’ job-search scenario that utilising 1-3 recruiters would be fair and reasonable. 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, then what else should you be aware of. How should you get the best or the most 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/aspirations.

Know what you want. This obviously requires giving it some forethought. 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 & interviews. Which is good news on the assumption you have a limited time and effort that you are able to put into this. However do be realistic in terms of target jobs and salaries for example, and I recommend to 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/style and any USP’s (unique selling points) that you can use to differentiate yourself.

Be honest! This is a relationship which requires mutual trust and respect. It’s not fair to have a recruiter side-swiped due to an untruth or omission when trying to represent you fairly and honestly to the best of their ability. This will reflect badly and usually end badly whereas if handled proactively up-front a negative can often be mitigated or removed. i.e if you were fired from your last job, if you left a previous job after just a few weeks, if you have a poor credit rating or criminal record that will come up later etc. etc.

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, offer negotiation etc. and you will find blog post freely available from me on these topics.

Leverage your personal connections separately yourself. Unless confidentiality or desire for consistency determines otherwise, then if you know and trust a specific contact at a suitable/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 if they run such a scheme. However, that said, your person may not be ‘in the know’ about upcoming requirements, may not know the best person to make the referral to, may forget, or may not have the positive reputation or influence that you are hoping. So no ‘right-answer’ here, I think it’s a judgement call. If the recruiter in question is investing time and effort into researching and effecting proactive introductions, throwing a couple of easy ones on to this list may be a win-win!

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! This means no recruiters send your CV to a company you would not be interested to work in and/or a contact that you have or will be approaching yourself. Duplications always reflect badly with the client left trying to work out if it is the applicant the recruiter or both that don’t know what they are doing! Duplications are even worse if they reveal a mixed message e.g. different salary expectation or reason for leaving. This can undermine credibility and trust required later on.

Protect your references. I think a simple ‘references available on request’ will suffice on your CV rather than listing names & 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. NB Especially a permanent recruitment process. I appreciate this may be different if you are a freelancer/temp that needs to be ready and referenced for a quick start. Two main reasons why: 1: You don’t want your references to be contacted to give the same reference on you multiple times because after the first few times it may not be given in as much detail or come across in as positive a light i.e. Use sparingly! 2: The recruiter will likely use the information for ‘market mapping’ for general networking and/or to target the reference for business development and/or headhunting cold calls. Which they may not know you caused but they certainly wouldn’t be thanking you for!

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 e.g salary reviews, treat them as a career doctor/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 as I suppose I am a little bias!

Anyway, enjoy screening recruiters in the same way they screen you and all the best with your ongoing career! If I can be of service in respect to recruitment issues across the spectrum just give me a shout at contact details below.

All the best, Anthony


01275 331307 / 07983255399
TW @MacstaffUK