Career Advice, Interviews

How To Evaluate A Job & Career Recruiter

Liz Ryan brought up a good point last week – corporate recruiting doesn’t often work the way it should. Reactions to corporate recruiting tend to range from “amazingly bad” to a “soul-sucking, dehumanizing experience from hell.” Everyone agrees that things could be done a lot better. But you can make it better.

We have been talking about ways for you to take control of your career, to make sure that you are in the driver’s seat when the email or call comes from a recruiter. But what happens when that first contact actually happens? How can you make sure that this call is actually worth your time? Do you really want to be behind the velvet rope at this particular event?

Every recruiter approaches that first contact differently. Of course we are all looking for relevant qualifications. But experienced recruiters know that experience and education aren’t usually all they are cracked up to be. As we have discussed, the world of work is changing fast. Talking about what you learned 20 years ago at college isn’t quite the hook that it used to be.

Good recruiters avoid the “tell me about yourself” knee-jerk exploratory party-starter questions. They know that time (yours and theirs) is their most limited resource. They want to figure out quickly whether you are worth their time. But don’t forget: you are in control. Your time is even more valuable than theirs. Hanging out on a phone call with a bad recruiter who is wasting your time is like going to the dentist without the fun. You need to be able to evaluate the recruiter, just like they are evaluating you.

Here are four areas a good recruiter will try to explore in the initial conversation. Turn-about is fair play.

  1. Business Focus: The recruiter needs to quickly determine whether you get ‘how to’ add value to a business, regardless of the type of job. Recruiters are decreasingly interested in a narrowly-focused specialist as it is easier to outsource and automate those kinds of jobs. A good recruiter will be able to tell you how the job they are pitching relates to the success of their business. A good candidate can talk about what kinds of businesses excite them and how they have added value in the past.
  2. Problem Solving: Hiring managers are starting to figure out that no matter how well they plan, s*&t happens. Positions that don’t require good problem solving skills are most likely going to lower cost locations (see a pattern here?). A good recruiter knows how to tell you what kinds of problems this job will likely face and why solving those kinds of problems is important to the business. A good candidate can talk about specific problems they have solved in the past and what those examples demonstrate about the value and importance of their capabilities.
  3. Agility: If there is one thing that is going to be important in any job that stays local, it is going to be agility. Some call this flexibility or adaptability. It all comes down to the same thing: ability to shift gears rapidly, to respond to change gracefully and actually take advantage of the new situation. If a recruiter tells you that this job is stable, challenge them. A stable job can be easily outsourced.  If the recruiter is pitching security they probably don’t know what they are talking about (and are therefore wasting your time). Be prepared to talk about how you react to change and have used it to your advantage in the past.
  4. Purpose: We have discussed this at length. Be prepared to answer the lotto question: “If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do?” As we have discussed, a good recruiter knows that the specifics of a job can change from day-to-day but that the long-term objectives of the business are likely to stay the same. They need to be able to tell you about what is really important to the business and the management (the “business purpose”). Similarly, you need to apply the lessons we have talked about previously and be able to determine whether the job being discussed is something that is part of your purpose, and not just another way to turn you into a zombie.

Final advice: get to the point, and demand the recruiter do the same. You really don’t want to be getting phone calls, emails and offers from a company that runs a business you are not interested in, can’t tell you what problems you would be expected to solve, isn’t honest about the importance of change, and doesn’t align to your core purpose. You certainly get enough spam already. Put yourself in the driver’s seat, be ready to answer these questions, and be ready to show the recruiter why they should be working for you.