If there's one constant in the job market today, it's that things are constantly evolving. In the past few years, the market has experienced talent shortages and layoffs, headcount freezes, and hiring booms. Job switching is also the norm, with people changing jobs every four years on average. So there's a good chance, by choice or unfortunate circumstances, that you could end up between jobs at some point in your working life.
Should this happen, won't it be helpful to have a coach who can help you figure out your next move? A connection to the roles you want to pursue? An advocate who can position you in the best light with hiring managers? By building a relationship with a great agency recruiter, you get all of this and more.
So instead of asking, “Why should I stay in touch with recruiters when I'm not actively looking for a job?” ask, “Why not?”
1. Start in-network to connect with recruiters
Establishing connections with recruiters in your industry can be difficult, and many people aren't sure where to start.
First, I recommend speaking with people in your network. Find out if they've ever worked with recruiters, and see if they have any referrals for you. For example, you could ask:
- Did you work with a recruiter to get your job?
- How did you find your job?
- Can you recommend recruiters in my industry?
Often, the best and most responsive recruiters come from personal referrals.
Next, follow the recruiting firm's posting roles that interest you, and connect with their recruiters on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great way to apply directly to opportunities, and those opportunities can quickly connect you with recruiters.
2. Interview recruiters to find the right fit
It is essential to acknowledge that some things said about the staffing and recruiting industry are authentic. I'm not going to deny that there are recruiters who do ugly things. But there are also a lot of terrific recruiters who work hard for talent, help them get the position they want, and the highest pay possible.
To vet potential recruiters, you should start by asking some questions about their area of expertise:
- Does the recruiter specialize in your industry?
- Have they built a community of talent in your field?
- Who are their connections and followers?
- How many recent placements have they made for talent like you?
If the recruiter doesn't seem invested in your field, it's probably a one-off situation and not a great long-term fit. But if they seem well-connected and have numerous opportunities in the industry, then it's worth exploring a lasting relationship.
A good recruiter is very transparent with candidates throughout the recruiting process. They will tell you upfront, “This is what I have; this is why I have it; and this is why I don't have this information.” “I will do my best to get it for you.” If they're trying to hide or gloss over any information, that's a major red flag.
In addition, a good recruiter is a good listener and responsive to your needs. A recruiter who is invested in your success will consistently:
- Show an understanding of your background, experience, and any other information you've shared.
- Answer your questions and concerns and follow up in a timely manner.
- Feel engaged in the process, not just going through the motions.
Ethan E., an Aquent talent we placed in a Director of Strategy role, shares how his recruiter, Bianca Pagliai, was like a coach. “Every time a new interview was scheduled, she requested a pre-interview call with her and prepped me for success… She kept my impatience and nerves in check. After you search for a year, and find such a perfect fit, the waiting for an answer is nearly unbearable… She was on my team and kept me encouraged.”
3. Get help targeting the right jobs
If you want to generate a lot of interest during the job search process, then you need to be more focused and selective in your approach. It will take more time to vet those opportunities and make those connections, but your response rate will be better as a candidate than if you apply by volume.
If you are going the curated route, recruiters can help you identify the jobs where you're a good fit, including roles you might have missed or not otherwise considered. This can save you significant time and effort.
Recruiters can also help you move into a different industry or pivot into a new field. Since they are immersed in the hiring market every day, it's easy for them to connect the dots between your previous experience and how that relates to where you're going, which builds the story you can tell in your application and interviews.
4. Have an advocate in your corner
You often hear that resumes get overlooked because you don't have that specific experience or you're missing one thing. Recruiters can help fill in some of those gaps for hiring managers.
When a recruiter understands you as a candidate and knows what a client is looking for, they can say, “Hey, this talent might not have one or two skills that you're looking for. However, they compensate in this other area, which you've shared is a skill gap on your team, and other people who have been successful in your organization joined with a similar skills profile.”
Recruiters can also advocate for your soft skills, like aptitude and attitude, which don't come through in a resume or portfolio. By building a relationship and interviewing you for specific roles, they can gather stories and examples to share with hiring managers that set you apart from other candidates.
Recruiters are also familiar with industry standards and can help ensure you're paid fairly and equitably. They have a pulse on the job market and the market rate for specific skills and jobs, and they regularly help negotiate fair compensation with hiring managers. Contrary to popular belief, recruiters do not make money by “taking a cut” of your pay. Instead, they advocate for competitive compensation on behalf of a candidate and charge the client company an additional fee for recruiting services, talent benefits for temporary positions, etc.
It isn't always easy to be your most ardent supporter and advocate. Recruiters bring expertise and an outside perspective that help you recognize strengths and qualities that you may not recognize in yourself.
The time to start building connections with recruiters is not when you are looking for a job but before you need to. When you take a proactive approach, you'll see that a great agency recruiter may be one of the most valuable resources for your career.