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Leveraging recruiters

The dos and don'ts of working with a recruiter

In the glory days of 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 98% of workers in the IT sector had jobs. Today, nearly 5% are unemployed. With so many people looking for work and the economy still sagging, competition for the few available jobs is fierce. In this environment, the tried and true methods of Internet job searching and personal networking may not be enough to land your next gig. But there's another resource that, when you know how to use it, could significantly augment do-it-yourself job hunting: the recruiting agency.

Many recruiting firms around the country specialize in placing IT professionals and, in this economy, most are overrun with people looking for jobs -- so it's important to find a recruiter who will give you the time you need. "You want someone who will be honest with feedback and someone who will get back to you," says Lauren Greenhow, a manager at HireTech Solutions in Wakefield, Mass. Identify an agency with expertise in your field and, if you're looking for a full-time job, seek out a firm that mainly does full-time placements.

It's important to feel comfortable with the recruiter's personality, too, says Joyce Brocaglia, CEO of Alta Associates, a recruitment firm in Flemington, N.J. "If you talk to [a recruiter] on the phone and feel that he's not going to present you the way you want, don't work with him," she says. To start out, gather referrals from friends and contact search firm associations.

Once you find a good agency, there can be real advantages to working with an IT job recruiter. First, if you already have a job, it can seem nearly impossible to conduct an aggressive job search at the same time. "Even if you're not working, it's difficult to market yourself if that's not something you're used to doing," says Josh Liberman, a former recruiter who now staffs IT contractors on projects for Catapult Corp. in Cambridge, Mass.

There are other benefits, too, like the recruiter's contacts and market knowledge. "Recruiters may be aware of job opportunities that will never be in the newspaper," Liberman says. And recruiters don't cost candidates a cent; the clients who've hired them to fill positions pay their fees.

Although a good recruiter can kick your job search into high gear, working with a lackadaisical firm can hurt you. If a recruiter says he'll pursue a job for you and doesn't follow through, you can end up trapped, waiting for him to make a call you could have made on your own.

Another disadvantage of working with any recruiting firm is that some employers may prefer to hire a candidate who has approached them independently, since that person comes without a recruiting fee attached.

With these pros and cons in mind, here are some ways to make the recruiting relationship work to your advantage.

  • Do talk about yourself a lot. The more detail you can give the recruiter about what you're looking for, the better equipped he will be to seek out appropriate opportunities. "If you're really an architect and you didn't tell the recruiter that, you could get a call for a help desk job," says Liberman.
  • Do get answers. If the recruiter doesn't have the information you need, he should research your question and get back to you promptly.
  • Do make sure the recruiter will seek your permission before submitting your resume for a position.
  • Do check in to let the recruiter know how your search is going and to find out about any new leads, not more than once or twice a month because you don't want the recruiter to start thinking of you as a nuisance.
  • Don't be dishonest with your recruiter about your own job search efforts. If you are going to also look for jobs on your own, be sure to let him know. Not doing so could hinder a future job search. "Once you get a black mark in someone's database, [everyone] knows it," says Liberman.
  • Don't work with too many recruiters. "I say two to three recruiters, tops," says Greenhow. "Otherwise, your resume will keep getting submitted to the same places."
  • Don't post your resume on every job site you find, or you risk double submission -- an HR executive may see your resume online at the same time your recruiter is passing it along. This doesn't mean you can't put your resume on, but be sure to let the recruiter know.
  • Don't send a resume to a recruiter who won't tell you where he's submitting it. "A lot of recruiters just want to collect resumes," says Brocaglia. "They may not actually be working on a specific job."

Ultimately, a recruiter's task is to find qualified candidates for positions his clients have listed with him. Recruiters don't have access to every job, and they shouldn't be your only approach to finding a new gig, but they can be valuable assets. And who couldn't use a little help in today's job market?

Kate O'Sullivan is a freelance writer and researcher based in Boston.


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