The recruiting model is designed to provide hiring companies with a pipeline of people and a junk filter. Recruiters are not paid to find you a job.

This is a chapter from the work-in-progress “ReEmployment Guide” that we continue to work on. Feel free to comment on the working draft.

Recruiters leverage a broken market of incentives. A recruiter knows that even if they treat you badly, you will still work with them in the future if they have a role with a company that you like. Likewise, recruiters tend to be well-practiced conversationalists. They will try to say the right things and work around the conversation to build comfort. You will often find that you are comfortable and convinced that it is worth a look.

Often a recruiter is convincing themselves of the same story they are telling you. Convincing themselves that convincing you justifies the convincing.

Any process started by a recruiter is an exploration without a likelihood of it converting into a job. Less than 1% of the people a recruiter speaks with will end up getting the job discussed. Use the recruiter introduction as a chance to build another connection in the market, follow-up with people you meet and treat it the same as any other referral or introduction you are leveraging to find paid work.

Recruiters often exclude or disqualify potential people for the same biased reasons as their clients. For any role a recruiter speaks with you about, I would encourage you to connect with the relevant people on LinkedIn and via your network and start the conversation. Even if they put you forward, connect with people in the hiring company. Explore, network and chat. The more links you have into a company, the more likely you will be considered for the role. Knowing those people helps you perform well during the interviews by adjusting your language and approach.

Most people don’t follow-up. Recruiters almost never follow-up. If you follow-up with the companies and people you meet via the recruiter (or any intro) you are already standing out from the crowd.

A best practice is to reach out to relevant people in the company the recruiter has contacted you regarding and explore. A message as simple as:

“{recruitername} recently spoke to me about a role with {companyname}. I saw that you have a background in {interestarea} and wanted to reach out to connect. Would be great to chat about the space.”

Ten tips for dealing with recruiters

  1. Disclose what matters — a lot of recruiters go “canvassing for leads” “lead pulling” or “fishing” where they will call up anyone who recently applied for a role and ask them a standard set of questions to figure out where they have been applying and interviewing. This is often done to know “where you have been so I don’t contact you for the same place” but it is very much a way for recruiters to fish information from those most desperate to give it. Recruiters then turn around and try to send relevant CVs similar to that person to the hiring manager or HR for that company. The best way to fight against this is to insist on only disclosing what is relevant to your application/interest of the job in question. If they continue to pressure you for information on other interviews, just ask them: “will you tell me the names and details of everyone else going forward for this role? If so, I will disclose where else I’m interviewing.”
  2. Require a Job Description — another way to get away from waste-of-time recruiters is to require a JD before discussing further. If they feel you are a serious possible person for the role, they will send the JD and be able to talk you through it. If it is a “blind” JD without company details, copy-paste a few of the unique phrases and search around the internet. Chances are you can find the company and role pretty quickly. If the company is advertising directly and you have been contacted by a recruiter for the same role, I’d explore concurrently with both. Just let the recruiter know that “I think I might have applied to this role online as well.” Many companies use recruiters as a way to cut down the screening time and effort and don’t mind if the person applied everywhere — if they are right for the role.
  3. Talk about your interests — when you do speak with the recruiter about the role, spend time asking about the job and talking about your interests — what you want to do next, what interests you, what kind of company you do or don’t want to work with and your reasons for exploring. This information is more important to a good recruiter than rehashing your CV/Resume. And a bad recruiter won’t care what you say about anything.
  4. Give your expected salary as a range — recruiters are transactional and the best way to help them is to make their job easy. Giving them a rough range of what kind of roles you would be willing to explore helps them move faster and ensures that any disputes later on aren’t pushed back to you. While recruiters may say things like “I get paid based on what you get paid”, the reality is that they have little to no control over the whole process. They are at best a messenger with some influence and at worse an outsourced admin assistant. You need to be clear from the start of the process what your comfortable with and what you are looking for. Ideally, negotiate directly with the employer, but be willing to work with the recruiter when they listen and respect your views.
  5. Request a meeting — if the recruiter is based in your country/city/area and even if they aren’t, requesting a meeting over coffee to “chat about the market”, is a good way to build a relationship with someone who “might” be well connected. It is also a good way to understand how serious they are.
  6. Make clear how you want your data used — many recruiters recycle CVs for projects, massmall/SPAM out CVs to their mailing lists and otherwise abuse the personal data of the people they recruit. Once you send them any document you lose control of what happens next. You can make a point to express (and document via email) how you want your data used. “I’m releasing my profile to you only for submission to this client. Delete it from your system after this project completes. If you want to consider me for another role, request my permission again.” Bad recruiters will still abuse your personal data. Good recruiters will respect this and work with you around it.
  7. Document everything — every call, message, etc that you have with the recruiter, make sure you send an email to them recapping the key points. This is especially important as the recruiter will always blame you for anything that goes wrong in the process. If you have documentation showing otherwise, you can save your reputation.
  8. Follow-up — treat the recruiter like any other person at a company that you are interested in working for. Follow-up, approach from different angles. Try sending them market intel. Ask them for a coffee or beer. See if it is reciprocated. If your actions aren’t reasonably reciprocated, it’s a clear sign that they are either too busy to care or uninterested in building a professional relationship. Treat them accordingly.
  9. Don’t really believe them — one of the first lessons recruiters are taught is “rule one: everyone lies. rule two: everyone lies.” Recruiters don’t trust most of what you say and I think you should also treat recruiters the same. Take everything they say through a filter of the self-interest that they have motivating their actions. Question them, dig for information and always look for collaborating information. If the recruiter says it is a great company, find a few people who used to work there and a few who work there now. Ask them all and see what they say. Often people who have left a company will have a more negative impression and people working there a more positive. Recruiters will always have a positive impression because the company is paying their bills.
  10. Don’t ask for help finding a job — I don’t think it is worth your time to go around speaking with recruiters and asking them to help you find a job. If you have an active profile on LinkedIn, ask your network for referrals, actively connect with people, and apply to jobs that interest you, relevant recruiters will find you. Also, recruiters aren’t paid to help you find a job, so asking them to do that just sets you up for an extractive conversation with the recruiter trying to find some way to justify the time they are spending with you when they don’t have any role to introduce you to. Speaking with too many recruiters can also give you a warped perception of the market. Recruiters are transactionally paid to find a square peg for a square hole. They will actively encourage you to specialise, focus and stabilise. As those things make you easier to sell to their clients. They will also discourage you from exploring with companies or industries where they don’t have a network or paying clients. This time is better spent focused on finding people you are interested to speak with, building relationships with good people who could one day introduce you to paid work or hire you themselves.
Recruiters might help you find your next job. They probably won’t.

Recruiters invest a lot of money and time in branding themselves as gatekeepers of the best jobs and access to the top companies. Recruiters are more like the retiring Illusionist are the country circus. They need you to believe to make their money but they aren’t really showing you anything that you couldn’t do yourself with some effort or gain any real lasting value from.

The best way to see recruiters is just as another connection. Someone that you could build a reciprocal and respectful relationship with. Or who will just see you as a number in their project tracker. They might help you find your next job. They probably won’t.