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Job Seekers: How to Work with a Recruiter

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Curiosity ...

In my informal conversations advising job seekers, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: a misunderstanding of a recruiter’s role in the job-seeking process. The misconceptions about what we do, and who our “boss” is, are illuminating.

When I introduce myself in social settings, a response I often get is, “You help people find jobs, right?” Sure, but not exactly. While it is the outcome of my work, it’s not the core business model.

In contrast, consider the role of an agent. Fictional characters such as Ari Gold from Entourage and Estelle Leonard from Friends spring to mind. In the realms of sports or entertainment, an agent filters job opportunities and presents the best ones to the “job seeker.” As I understand it, an agent’s compensation is tied to the pay received by the “talent”.

This arrangement doesn’t really exist for most other jobs. I’m unaware of any “job seeker agents” for less public professions. A resume coach or career coach can address some needs of a job seeker—providing feedback to refine your materials, interview skills, and overall career goals—but I don’t know any professional you could hire to scour job boards, network with employers, or submit applications for you.

My client is the hiring organization. The business model for a contract recruiter like me is that revenue comes from employers who pay me to run a process to identify candidates for an open position. This “client” relationship is even more direct for an in-house recruiter. Contractually, a recruiter’s fundamental interest is finding the best fit for the employer.

With this in mind, when and how does a recruiter support someone in the job-seeking process? [Note: My experience is in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector; recruiting for tech or finance might differ significantly.]

Networking Unrelated to a Specific Recruitment

Helpfulness TL;DR: Unlikely.

If you reach out to a recruiter outside of a specific role we’re working on, you may not receive a response. “Cold call” networking via email or LinkedIn is unlikely to lead to a conversation, unless the recruiter specializes in roles that match your niche. You also shouldn’t expect us to introduce you to a current or former client in our LinkedIn network.

A personal introduction has a higher chance of success. If someone I trust introduces me to a job seeker, I’m more likely to prioritize a “get-to-know-you” call or at least respond with some general advice.

Informal Call for a Specific Recruitment

Helpfulness TL;DR: Definitely.

When working on a particular role, recruiters often conduct an “outreach call”. These informal conversations are usually initiated by the recruiter, following a direct message we sent to a potential candidate who then expresses interest in learning more about the opportunity.

As a job seeker, you can proactively take advantage of this process step. If you see an interesting posting, and the recruitment is supported by a search consultant, feel free to contact the recruiter(s) listed to request an informal chat before submitting a formal application.

This is an excellent avenue for asking questions—not just to decide whether to apply, but also to gain insights that perhaps weren’t explicit in the job posting.

Following Up After Interviews

Helpfulness TL;DR: Common.

Once you’re in a formal interview process, recruiters aim to keep strong candidates engaged. I make a point in my conversations with candidates of indicating when they can expect to hear from me next. That way, you know not to follow up with me before then. However, if the indicated timeframe has elapsed, don’t hesitate to reach out.

As you advance through the interview stages and interact directly with the hiring team, keeping the recruiter informed can be helpful. Our involvement varies depending on the client and the position. Speaking personally, I am usually keen to monitor each candidate’s status, and can offer updates when appropriate. Recruiters can also forward post-interview “thank you” emails to the hiring team if you don’t have their contact information.

Resume and Interview Feedback

Helpfulness TL;DR: Infrequent.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the application and interview process is the scarcity of actionable feedback. Typically, the feedback is binary: you either advance or you don’t.

However, I cringe at the overabundant advice I read in blog posts or hear from university career centers that encourage job seekers to request feedback. My take is that it doesn’t hurt to ask—but keep your expectations low.

There are numerous reasons why expecting feedback from a recruiter is unrealistic. We are often too busy juggling interactions with hiring managers and multiple candidates to allow us to provide personalized feedback to each non-selected candidate.

Sometimes, we don’t get many details from our clients about how an interview went, so we don’t have much to share anyway. It’s also risky for an employer or a recruiter to provide feedback, especially in the U.S. legal system, where an applicant can file a discrimination complaint or lawsuit based on very little evidence.

Occasions when you might receive feedback:

  • If a recruiter connects strongly with a candidate and feels they might be a good fit for a specific opportunity, the recruiter may help that candidate rework their resume or cover letter to highlight alignment with that role.
  • When the recruiter has been involved in each interview, they can provide context on the hiring team’s decision-making.
  • If you’ve made a personal connection with the recruiter during an unsuccessful recruitment, they may be open to a general conversation about your career next steps and what would be a good fit for you.

The best thing you can do if you’re seeking feedback as part of troubleshooting your job search process is to budget for a few hours with a resume coach or career coach.