Best Practices When Working with Recruiters
Despite potential obstacles, recruiters can be invaluable to both the company seeking to fill a position and prospective candidates.
Whether you’re a staff engineer open to a new employment opportunity or the hiring manager of a company overloaded with work and desperate for talent, a good recruiter can lead you to the best possible outcome. Conversely, working with the wrong recruiters can leave chaos in their wakes—mismatched people and positions, inefficient processes, wasted time and money, and total frustration.
In the current tight job market, with unemployment for engineers typically running below 2 percent range, it is especially important for both employers and candidates to know how to work with recruiters.
Employers—vet your recruiters
Most hiring managers have worked with recruiters at some point, and dissatisfaction with the results is common. Frequent complaints include poor and inconsistent communications, failure to understand the client’s industry, and too much focus on filling the job with any candidate instead of the right candidate. When considering using a recruiter, hiring managers and engineering firm leaders should ask the following questions:
Contingency or retained?
Most engineering firm leaders and hiring managers know the difference between contingency recruiters who you pay only when they make a placement and executive search consultants who you pay regardless of the outcome. In the latter case, the consultant typically conducts extensive research to identify target firms and candidates and promises a minimum number of qualified candidates.
When considering which approach is best for your hiring needs, consider that contingency recruiters usually receive a percentage of the new hire’s annual salary—about 25 percent is the going rate. Most large agencies work on a contingency basis. Executive search consultants tend to be boutique firms with a clear specialization and relatively static pricing structure. This is one reason companies often use contingency recruiters for lower-level hires with multiple openings, and executive search consultants for higher-level positions that may be more difficult to fill.
Do they know engineering?
“It’s incredibly important to hire a recruiter who can serve as an effective ambassador for your firm,” said Richard Friedman, founder and president of Friedman & Partners, an A/E/C industry consulting firm whose services include executive search. “This entails having a knowledge of the engineering industry, and the recruiter doing homework on both your company and your competitors.”
Friedman explained that he works with his clients to develop up to a six-page “talking points” and “pitching angles” document that provides candidates with relevant information about the client’s firm and the benefits of working there. It also includes an honest assessment of the opportunity, including any. “It’s really important to include the challenges” Friedman said. “It can’t be a pure sales pitch. You need to engender trust with the candidate and in turn, candidates will be more open with the recruiter.”
What is their outreach process?
The worst recruiters simply post their clients’ job ad and wait for candidates to come to them. Average firms will use social media such as LinkedIn, and possibly send an email if they can acquire the address easily. The most successful recruiters use every possible means to contact a candidate, short of showing up at their doorsteps. They’ll use social media and email, but also aren’t afraid to contact a good candidate on their work phone. Further, they’ll reach out more than once, if necessary. Friedman says recruiters need to be “professionally tenacious,” particularly in the current tight job market.
Do they collaborate?
You don’t want a recruiter who gets the job, says, “I’m on it,” then disappears. The most successful recruiters, whether contingency or retained, work closely with their clients to collect as much pertinent information as they can to help in the search. This way, the recruiter can create a profile of the ideal candidate and work from there. Which firms and people would they target (and who would they not)? Do they have anyone specific that they would love to hire? What qualities of that person would make them a good hire? What will the priorities be for the person that ultimately fills the role?
One best practice is for the recruiter to review with the client the draft list of target candidates identified during initial research. This strategy offers the opportunity to highlight specific candidates as attractive, “hands-off” (such as with a teaming partner), or “no-go” because of prior knowledge of the candidate.
Candidates—know your recruiter
Whether actively seeking a new job or open to the right opportunity, engineers who understand the role and responsibilities of recruiters can leverage the relationship to improve their careers. Here are some things to know.
Recruiters work for the company, not the candidate
Like a seller’s agent in a real estate deal, the recruiter’s primary concern is pleasing the client, not the candidate. Good professional recruiters truly want to find the best fit, so it may seem that they exclusively have your best interests at heart. But ultimately a recruiter’s goal is to fill the client’s position. This is especially relevant for contingency recruiters who don’t get paid if they don’t get a hire. So don’t be afraid to ask which type of recruiter they are. Don’t be coerced into something that isn’t right for you and filter any information you get accordingly.
Use them as a resource
Recruiters can’t tell you everything about a job opportunity, but they can give you exceptional insight into the company they represent and position about which they’ve contacted you. Your goal is to glean as much information as you can to help you make informed, low-risk decisions. Probing a recruiter about compensation, which can be a sticky subject in an interview setting, is one major benefit. A good recruiter will also help you prepare for the interview, give you a brief biography of the company interviewers, offer advice on what to expect, and provide immediate feedback about the client company’s thoughts and next steps. Strive to get everything you can out of the relationship, such as advice on your resume and business media profiles (e.g., LinkedIn).
Treat the recruiter respectfully and professionally
Act as if the recruiter is a key member of the company you may be joining—because that’s exactly what they are, at least during this engagement. Communicate with them the same way you would a client. Be punctual, return voice mails, ask good questions, do your homework, and do what you say you will. These are differentiators to a potential new employer.
One of the most common complaints about working with a recruiter is that, after a surge of initial excitement and engagement, they seem to lose interest. If this happens, don’t assume that the prospect is dead. The client company may be dragging its feet, or the recruiter may be suddenly overwhelmed with work. If it’s a position you’re truly interested in exploring, don’t accept a ghosting. Reach out to find out what’s happening with the opportunity before writing off the entire experience.
Recruiters often get a bad rap, and sometimes it’s deserved. But in a business climate where engineering companies have been struggling to fill positions for years, and exceptional growth opportunities are widely available for technical professionals who may feel stuck or disenchanted in their current positions, talented recruiters can transform companies and careers. The key for all involved is to be transparent, honest, and to do everything possible to make sure that the square peg is going into a square hole.