– by Jack Kelly for Forbes Magazine
There has been much-heated discussion over the hot job market—lengthy discourse around the war for talent and Great Resignation trends creating one of the wildest job markets we’ve ever seen. From the March and April 2020 depths of despair—as millions of Americans lost their jobs—it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that businesses now can’t find enough workers to meet the insatiable demands at their companies.
What’s left out of the conversation is an important part of the hiring process—the recruiters. Back in the early days of the virus outbreak, recruiting professionals, in-house corporate human resources and talent acquisition personnel were furloughed or fired, as hiring screeched to a dead stop.
Now, it’s the polar opposite. The Wall Street Journal reports that there are not enough recruiters around to help place people. “Recruiters are busier than ever in today’s labor market, and there aren’t enough of them to go around. As companies strain to fill openings, from the C-suite to the shop floor, postings for recruiter positions have exploded, more than doubling since the start of the year.” A search for “recruiters” on LinkedIn shows 421,918 job listings.
The Inside Story About Recruiters
Recruiters are in a unique profession. They generally don’t require a college degree, certifications, licensing or accreditation. The industry isn’t heavily regulated. You could have a high-school degree, no recruiting experience, hang out a shingle and call yourself a recruiter. It is an area that people oftentimes fall into after trying and failing at many other endeavors (including myself). It’s rare that a young child tells their parents, “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, fireman, pro athlete, or recruiter.”
Since the barrier to entry for becoming a recruiter is low, the industry gets saturated in booming times. Fast-growing sectors, such as tech, attract recruiters trying to make a quick buck. Many will move to the next hot industry when the former cools down. The upswing in job openings was so swift that there wasn’t adequate time for recruiting firms to hire and train people. Another reason for the lack of recruiters is attributed to the fact that a sizable number of people quit the industry and pivoted to other roles during the pandemic.
Types Of Recruiters
The vast majority of recruiting firms work on a contingency basis. In this relationship, the recruiter and their firm only get paid if they deliver the winning candidate who is offered, accepts and remains at the job for a specified period of time. Contingency recruiting is the type of search in which a company gives a job requisition to multiple agencies at the same time. The company is free to simultaneously search for applicants too, in direct competition with the recruiters they’ve asked to help. There is no exclusivity offered or a monetary reward for trying, but not succeeding in the search. It is a brutal, Darwinian “eat what you kill” environment. If you don’t succeed in the placement of a candidate, you don’t get paid—it’s all or nothing.
The life of a recruiter is intensely competitive. In a typical contingency search assignment, there could be three to six recruiting firms all competing to fill the same open position. Each firm could have at least three or four people on the assignment. In addition to the recruiting firms, the company also posts the job on LinkedIn, the career section of its website and on numerous other job boards. The jobs further end up on aggregation sites, such as Indeed.
The recruiter must race against time to find the best candidate before all of their competitors, or the company itself. They don’t have the luxury to “waste time” on people who aren’t a fit. The business model forces a recruiter to become relentlessly focused on potential candidates that meet the job description demands. The dynamics make the recruiter lavish time, attention and love on the few strong contenders and neglect everyone else. If the search professional spends too much time with every person who submits a résumé that isn’t on target, the recruiter will lose out to the competition. This may help you understand why a recruiter becomes pushy or blows you off. If you possess the right skills, they’ll love you. If you don’t, they’ll want to quickly move on to a better prospect.
Many recruiters get discouraged within the first year or two and quit the industry. The majority that remain, grind out a meager living for a few more years, then they also leave or try to obtain an in-house corporate recruiting role. A small minority, however, gets really good at their craft, gaining a wide network of corporate clients and pipeline of candidates.
Retained Executive Search
Another type of recruiting is referred to as a retained executive search. This is characterized by a company selecting only one firm to manage the search process. This recruiter will be the only one working on the job assignment. Since this is an exclusive relationship, the recruiter does not have to be concerned about any other competition. The firm will be paid an upfront fee to start the search and receive the remaining fee upon completion. The rates are about 30% or more of the placed candidate’s compensation.
The company and recruiter will have a close, deep and personal collaborative relationship. Retained search firms usually have a rigorous process to search and select candidates that are appropriate for the role. The retained firm will compile a shortlist of candidates to present and the company will select a person after the interview process is completed. It is a much cleaner and more efficient setup for the recruiter, as they know they will be paid for all of their time spent and hard work. Since retained searches are structured primarily for C-suite and top executives, these executive search professionals won’t generally be able or interested in helping someone who is not at that level.
Start by asking current colleagues and former co-workers with similar backgrounds as yourself who they would recommend. It is always a little tricky, as you don’t want too many people at work to know that you are thinking about finding a new job.
Search LinkedIn to find recruiters that specialize in placing people in your field. Send an introduction and invitation to connect on the social media platform. Once connected, see if there are any people you recognize in their network. If you find some familiar faces, ask them about their experiences with the recruiter.
Look at the recruiter’s activity on LinkedIn. Check if they post jobs that are in line with the types of opportunities you are seeking out. Review any negative or positive comments posted about the recruiter. Check if the recruiter has been with the same firm for a reasonable amount of time or if they seem to jump around a lot. If you see a lot of movement, it could be a warning sign.
You want a recruiter who specializes in your niche, as they’ll know the space and hold relationships with the important players. If they have longevity, it is fair to say that they will have many contacts and clients that could help you in your search. You want to see that the recruiter is connected with relevant human resources and applicable managers in your area of expertise. If so, that is a good sign they have many connections to help you. Search to find out if the recruiter has a website and how many relevant jobs they have on it. If there are a large number of current jobs that match up with your skills, it is a good sign.
Check out all of the job boards and search for opportunities in your space. Are there a few recruiters who consistently post jobs that are relevant to you? If so, bounce the names off of your work associates to find if they have any insights.
What Recruiters Look For In A Candidate
Recruiters are required by the companies—who pay the bills—to find on-target candidates. The business, which is the client, demands that the recruiter produces people who possess all the relevant, specific experiences, background, credentials and academic degrees for the job.
It’s important that the job seekers demonstrate the ability to clearly and concisely articulate what they do and how they can add value to the company. It’s important that a prospect has a positive attitude, is motivated and easy to work with. Hiring managers want people who want to specifically work for their company and are put off by people who are obviously seeking out a big payday. Recruiters love candidates that possess strong social skills that show the candidate will sail through the interview process. They understand that people on the job hunt want the most money possible, but would like to see that they are also realistic when it comes to salary, benefits, corporate titles and the ability to adjust to a new fluid in-office and at-home hybrid work model.
What You Should Do When A Recruiter Contacts You
Unless it’s one of those clearly obvious suspicious solicitations, you should at least respond to a message from a recruiter. Even if you’re not searching for a new job, it’s a great way to inquire about the job market in your field and the compensation ranges for your particular role. If, however, you are open to looking for a new opportunity, it’s a fortuitous contact at the right time.
If you are free to talk or engage, take advantage of the situation. It’s fine to ask the recruiter how they found you and inquire about who they are and the types of roles the person specializes in. The goal is to feel out the recruiter to see if they are a good person to work with. Just be yourself. There’s no need to play games, like “playing hard to get.”
If you are interested in the opportunity that is being shared with you, let them know. If not, be direct and honest. Respectfully decline and ask for you to be kept on their radar for future opportunities. If you feel guilty turning down the offer, recruiters love referrals. You can point them to someone you know that has a similar background to you and is interested in seeking out a new opportunity. As we’ve seen in 2020, as the pandemic raged and millions of Americans lost their jobs, you never know when having a relationship with a recruiter will come in handy.
The recruiter should not ask for any money, since it is standard procedure for corporations to pay a placement fee to the executive search firm. If the role presented seems intriguing, let the recruiter know that you’d like to pursue the opportunity. To ensure that you are both on the same page, be direct. Share a brief summary of your background, responsibilities, prior employment history, compensation requirements and the specific roles and target companies you desire.
Since the communication wasn’t planned, you may have a legitimate commitment and can’t engage right now. Be honest with the person. Let them know that you have a meeting, but would like to continue the conversation (via email, text, video or phone call). If you find a couple of good recruiters, keep in touch with them.
They’ll be a great resource for you throughout your career.