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How to use recruiters in your next job search

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Working with recruiters — the hired guns who help companies fill open jobs — isn’t just for aspiring execs at Fortune 500 companies. Chances are you’ll be approached by one someday (or want to put yourself on their radar), and navigating the tricky world of recruiting can pay off. Follow these steps to get the most out of working with recruiters.

Get on their radar.
It’s time to dust off that LinkedIn profile. That’s how many recruiters will find and contact you.

“You want to show in your [LinkedIn] summary that you are current with what the top professionals in your field are attending to … and that you’re making an impact for your employer,” says Patricia Reich, a former recruiter and current assistant dean and executive director of career services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Make yourself easy to get in touch with by adding an email address on your profile page, she adds.

In addition to posting your resume on LinkedIn and job boards like Monster and Indeed, join networking groups for your industry (such as the Greater Washington Society of CPAs for accountants), suggests Josh Howarth, the D.C. district president for staffing agency Robert Half.

If you’re currently unemployed, know that you’ll have to do extra legwork to convince recruiters to take a chance on you.

“There’s always going to be that question: If this person is so good, why don’t they have a job?” Howarth warns.

Find the right fit.
If a recruiter does reach out, figure out if they’re someone you want to work with.

They don’t have to be the only one asking the questions during the initial interview: Find out how long they’ve been a recruiter, how big their firm is (larger teams may have more clients and more job opportunities) and how many people with your skill set the firm has placed in jobs in the last two months, suggests Howarth.

“If the answer is zero, chances are they don’t have a great network for someone with your type of background,” he says.

Some recruiting firms specialize in certain fields, like law. Howarth advises being wary of any firm that charges candidates a fee to try to place them.

Also think about how hands-on you want the recruiter to be, says Kareemah Woodard, director of executive consulting at Randstad Professionals in D.C. Some recruiters will help shape your career objectives, tailor your resume and identify job opportunities you haven’t considered.

“Working with a third party that does this all day, every day can give some different insights that maybe you weren’t aware of,” Woodard said on a May 17 webinar for alumni at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Prepare for the call.
That first conversation with a recruiter — either for a particular opening or to add you to their “inventory” for the future — is crucial. Expect them to ask about the obvious: your skills and career goals, current job duties, notable projects or accomplishments, challenges you’ve overcome in past jobs, and why (and when) you’re looking to make a job change.

“You need to equip them to essentially market you,” Reich says.

Keep in mind that the recruiting firm you’re working with might not have an exclusive deal with the company to fill that role, and your recruiter might be competing with others, she adds.

And don’t forget to prepare your own questions to learn more about the recruiter and the job they’re hiring for.

Make a follow-up plan.
D.C. resident Ericka Hatfield, 36, who works in brand development for a public relations firm, has been approached by recruiters multiple times, and a big frustration is the lack of follow-up.

“They always fall off the grid,” she says.

Head that off by making a communication plan. Find out how often you can expect to hear from them, how often they’d like to hear from you and what’s the best medium, Howarth says.

If you’re not hired for a particular job, or you’re sitting in a recruiter’s inventory, keep looking for new opportunities and ask the recruiter about them.

“They might have contacts at that particular company to get your foot in the door,” Howarth says.

Pay it forward.
Recruiters might also contact you when they’re looking for referrals for other open positions, Reich says, and it’s often worth helping them out.

“The logic on their part is great candidates know other great candidates,” she says.

Whether or not you get a job out of your interaction with a recruiter, consider them part of your network now. Although Hatfield never scored a job from a recruiter, she always adds them as a contact on LinkedIn afterward.

“Relationships with search consultants are not merely transactional,” Reich says. “They can be strategic and long-term.”

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