Years ago, I worked in a branch office of one of the 10 biggest law firms in the world. I had moved there from a boutique firm, where I worked as a self-taught network admin; after five years I was ready to move on and learn other technologies.
The interview at the big firm went perfectly, I landed the job—and in five months I was miserable. I hadn’t yet developed the political muscles to survive in a large corporate environment that was built on deflecting blame. On the recommendation of a friend, I called a recruiter and poured my heart out about my situation.
If I was bad at work politics, I was worse at recruiter politics. I thought sharing the agonizing details of my workplace fiascos would prove cathartic, but it turned out to be a bad move. When the recruiter didn’t do anything for me, I went to another one, who helped me score a successful interview at a midsize law firm. The job was essentially mine. But then a few more days passed without definitive word; when I queried, I found out they had dropped me from consideration because the first recruiter had repeated my story to my potential employer so she could get her own candidate in.
Yes, recruiters can help you land a high-paying job at an incredible company. But for every great recruiter who executes his or her job with skill, there seems to be another who can’t seem to manage an effective relationship with candidates and clients. You want a professional who knows your skills and sets you up with the right people, not someone who e-blasts your CV citywide, including to your current employer.
Part of the problem, as headhunting expert Nick Corcodilos wrote on his blog last year, is that a significant portion of the recruiting process is now automated. “Both the HR profession and independent recruiters don’t really recruit,” he wrote. “To recruit means to go out into the world to find, talk to, assess, judge, cajole, seduce, convince and bring home the best people to fill a job for a client. This still requires getting one’s duff out of the chair from behind the desk and the computer display to actually meet people.”
You see examples of this excessive automation all the time. This year, I made the leap from desktop applications engineer to information security engineer, which has led to a sharp uptick in requests for resumes from recruiters. One glance at my profile, and you’d know the security engineer position is still too new for me to start jumping jobs. But these recruiters aren’t looking at my profile; instead, they’re just searching for the term “Security,” and querying any potential applicants who appear in the search results. Nor is that good for employers, who face a flood of not-quite-qualified candidates.
Before engaging with a recruiter, it pays to do some due diligence. “If you’re a job-seeker using a recruiter, try to find out a bit about how they operate,” Alison Green wrote on her blog Ask A Manager.
Look out for warning signs: If they can’t really give you any details on a prospective employer, or don’t seem to know much about a particular job, that could be a sign they’re e-bombing your resume to everybody in your area code. In addition to due diligence, make sure the recruiter knows your requirements and your area of expertise: If he or she can’t seem to produce jobs you want, why are you still hanging around?
Of course, recruiters can be effective. The recruiter who landed me the interview with that midsize firm—before the other recruiter spilled all the details about my then-current employer—stuck with me, and eventually got me an interview with another boutique firm. I got that job, and learned a valuable lesson in the process: People have their own agendas, which don’t necessarily align with yours.
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