The Care and Feeding of Headhunters and Recruiters

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by Kathryn Lee Bazan

In 1981, I entered the fascinating (?) world of high-tech recruiting. I wish someone had given these guidelines to all those whom I tried to place; the process would have gone a lot more smoothly. So to save countless headhunters/recruiters/personnel gurus from trying to commit Hari-Kari after dealing with yet another uncooperative candidate, and to save even just one candidate/job-seeker/potential employee from wanting to say “sayonara” to the world after another totally unfruitful encounter with a recruiter, I commit these words.

Ground rules:

A personnel counselor waits for you to walk in the door. Then he or she matches you up with a job order that he or she already has or finds a job that fits your specs. The first person I ever interviewed was an electronic tech. I asked him what he really wanted to do if he could have any job in the world, and he said that he’d really like to get back into television production. I called a video production company, presented three points about Don, and got an appointment for him. He was offered the job. I closed my first placement four days after my hire at the agency.

A recruiter or headhunter is hired by a corporation to find exactly the person the company needs. Most recruiters are hired for their sales abilities. A few agencies hire someone with extensive experience in a field (e.g., electrical engineering) and teach him or her how to recruit and place. Because recruiters know the field, they can tell whether the candidate is “blowing sunshine up their skirts” or if the candidate actually knows the topic.

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 1:

It is really OK to talk to a recruiter, even if he or she calls you at work — just don’t start ranting on about what a benighted organization currently employs you. Give the headhunter your home number. The recruiter should ask a good time to call. You can answer questions with “earlier” or “later” until you agree on a time. Now, all you have to do is to convince your teenage daughter not to be on the one and only phone line at home at that time. The fact that this recruiter sought you out should be taken as a compliment.

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 2:

Never assume that the recruiter actually knows what you do — let alone the nuances of what you do. Explain what you do in small words and slowly since this person is probably taking notes.

I’ll give you an example of the process of informing the recruiter. About two years ago, I orchestrated an Internet jobhunt for a close friend who is a UNIX systems administrator. I posted his resume, responded to job postings for him, and investigated Web sites for him on weekends. During the weekdays, he had the glorious opportunity (?) to return calls to headhunters. (Quick side note: While it’s cute having your 5-year-old twins tape the outgoing message on your answering machine, that message is not what you want a recruiter or prospective new employer to hear first. Record a professional message. Once you’re hired, the twins can come back.)

At least half of the recruiters presented jobs that had nothing to do with UNIX in any way, shape, or form. Another 48 percent had no idea that a UNIX systems administrator with AIX working on an RS/6000 could not be absolutely brilliant on Sun Solaris right now. The last 2 percent were willing to actually listen to Jerry, find out what he knew and didn’t know, and then — lo and behold — actually present him to jobs for which he was qualified. But Jerry had to spend time educating one recruiter. One way was in a bullet format e-mail cover letter of career and education highlights. This effort paid off; the recruiter knew how to present Jerry to his best advantage, and Jerry eventually got the job at a 25 percent salary increase over his previous job.

You’re probably wondering what I sent, aren’t you? [Keep reading.]

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 3:

The theory on how and what to put into this cover letter accompanying your Internet resume is:

  1. Keep it as short as possible so that it fits on a computer screen without having to scroll down.
  2. Use bullets.

Here’s an example:

My name is Jerry W——. I am responding to your job posting for a UNIX Systems Administrator. Briefly my career includes, but is not limited to:

  • M.S. Computer Information Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
  • Ten years as a UNIX Systems Administrator in AIX, DG/UX, AT&T System V.
  • Rapid learning curve as demonstrated by becoming literate on AIX in one week based on my earlier experiences.
  • Integrated an AIX UNIX system with an Ethernet TCP/IP Windows 95/NT network within 21 days of my hire.
  • Converted to PCs, which emulated terminals, thereby eliminating dumb terminals and two systems on each employee’s desk.
  • Wrote and presented papers at international conferences on computer security issues.

Since I am employed, please call me at home at — — —- after 5 PM EDT or e-mail me at ———@—-. —–. My resume follows.


Jerry W——

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 4:

Realize how recruiters work and work with them, if at all possible. Similar to real estate in which you have a buyer and a seller, any placement process consists of the job order and the candidate. The agents for the buyer and the seller split the commission. If one person represents the buyer and the seller, that one person splits the commission with nobody. In this game, if one recruiter produces the job order (a contract with Corporation A to find and hire Person B) and the candidate (the erudite individual taking the job), the recruiter keeps the entire fee. (OK, the owner of the recruiting firm is probably retaining a huge percentage of this fee.) If you are represented by Recruiter A in Atlanta and the Company is represented by Recruiter C in Concord, then the two recruiters split the fee paid by the company.

In a very few cases, the placement office may try to charge you a fee. If the recruiting firm does so, it has to alert you before your interview with the client company. My advice: Run for the hills! You should not pay anyone a fee when thousands of headhunters are out there eager to do this job for you for free.

Recruiter A will brief you before the interview and debrief you afterwards. Recruiter C will present your qualifications to the company and debrief the firm after the interview. Then the two recruiters will share notes and try to convince you to take the job and the company to give it to you.

That’s in best of all possible worlds. What can go wrong? Recruiter C may turn up his or her own candidate and, in an effort to keep the entire fee, sabotage you. Is there anything you can do to prevent this sabotage? Not really.

You may wonder how a recruiter finds a candidate. First, the recruiter gets a job order and a detailed description of the perfect candidate. A headhunter friend in El Paso had a job order for a person with experience in wireless communications. Knowing that Motorola developed garage-door openers and that the company was a bit vulnerable to imminent layoffs, he found a division in Arizona and the man who designed the communication system for garage-door openers. Before you could say, “EE-HAH!” (Texan for “Yippee!”), a placement was made.

P.S. It’s not unusual for the job order to change after you are presented with the opportunity. If the recruiter doesn’t understand what the job requires, you may be presented for a job that does not exist. If you don’t fit the new and improved job description, don’t worry about it; there’s a better job waiting for you.

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 5:

Never send your resume to more than one person within an office or chain of headhunters (e.g., Management Recruiters, Inc.) Why? See #4. If you send your resume to Dave and Karen in same office, and they both present you to Terry, who holds the job order, guess what happens out of your line of sight? A huge fight! Dave and Karen both want to represent you, the candidate. A recruiting fee usually runs 30-50 percent of your first year’s salary. Therefore, on a $60,000 salary, the fee is a minimum of $18,000. Can you see why they are fighting? I knew you could see that, boys and girls. What usually happens? One of three things:

  1. If the boss is a Gandhi of the recruitment world, then Karen and Dave may split half of the fee.
  2. A neutral person will check the incoming e-mails to see to whom you sent your resume first. And the winner is…
  3. Most likely, if you don’t get the job, no one in the office will work with you. Why? To avoid another fight. And recruiters often snub candidates who appear to be so unconscious that they send their resume twice to the same office.

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 6:

Keep in contact with the headhunter. If he or she thinks you want to work with him or her, the recruiter is more likely to make an effort to place you. E-mail any recruiter who contacts you at least once a week – unless the recruiter has an IQ less than 90.

Headhunter/Recruiter Rule 7:

Keep putting your resume out there. The right job is looking for you right now. You just have to be willing to look and keep looking until you find it.

If you care for your recruiter by feeding him or her easy bites of information (information that may be passed on by the recruiter to the client company with no modification, thus making the recruiter’s job that much easier), you have just increased your chances of getting hired.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Kathryn Lee Bazan has been in recruiting and placement for the last 20 years. She joined Snelling & Snelling in 1980 as the first technical placement specialist and set records for the largest rookie placement in the Newport Beach office. In 1981, she was recruited to Control Data Cybersearch to recruit computer hardware engineers. She wrote a college textbook, Job Hunting Made Easy for Environmental Health and Safety Professionals, based on papers presented at two international conferences. Kathy currently consults on Internet job hunting for professionals.

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