How To Choose a Competent Recruiter
Part III in a series of articles on TPF recruiting
by Dianne Edmondson

Choosing a competent recruiter can be a real challenge. You'll want to deal with someone who is both ethical and effective. And it won't hurt if you actually like each other as well, although judging strictly by personality can be somewhat superficial.

How can you be sure that the recruiter you are talking to meets these criteria? The same way that the recruiter can check to see if you are good at your job: Check some references.

Any ethical recruiter won't mind at all giving you the names of some folks he's placed so that you can check with them regarding his methods and effectiveness. He can also give you professional references from client companies with whom he places people. If any of your friends or co-workers have used recruiters in finding a new job, check with them to see who they used, and if they were satisfied with the recruiter involved.

Additionally, as with any service you are considering using, ask how long the recruiter has been in business and also about professional memberships (such as the Chamber of Commerce), personnel associations, recruiting organizations, etc. Chances are, the most professional and reputable recruiters will have affiliations with these kinds of organizations; and while longevity in and of itself doesn't equate with ethics, if a firm's been around for a number of years, they're doing something right.

Mutual honesty is the most important factor in the candidate/recruiter relationship. Another good sign is if the recruiter is willing to call you at home, rather than conduct a lengthy conversation with you while you're at work. This introductory conversation should be at a time you deem convenient, not just when the recruiter wants to talk.

Control of your resume is a cornerstone of ethical recruiting practices. Beware the recruiter that asks lots of questions about your education, experience, etc. during your phone conversation. Chances are he may be writing a resume or data sheet about you that will be sent to companies without your knowledge. Yes, this really still happens -- more frequently than you may think -- and the results can be devastating to the candidate.

To be safe, just answer a few general questions (such as how long you've been in TPF and your area of expertise) and send a resume only if you want to pursue the openings discussed. Make sure the recruiter understands that your resume is to go only to whichever companies you authorize. The abuse of this principle by unscrupulous firms has resulted in an increasing number of employers requiring that resumes be submitted only with candidate permission, and in some cases, requiring written proof of that permission.

You can't expect a recruiter to get you an offer; only you can do that for yourself! But you should expect your recruiter to discuss as many options within the TPF marketplace as you want to hear about. Turn off the headhunter who's recruiting only for a specific opening and tries to "force feed" you into that position. There's certainly nothing wrong with an honest sales job on the part of the recruiter on behalf of his client, but if you're just plain not interested in that location, type of job, etc., you shouldn't be pressured into anything.

Once you've discussed which openings appeal to you, then you should forward your resume as soon as possible, with a letter listing the companies to which the recruiter may submit your resume. (You may wish to keep a copy of that letter for your own records.) Within a reasonable period of time, your recruiter should get back to you with feedback from his or her clients as to whether or not an interview will be set up. (If there' s no interest on the part of the company, your recruiter should be able to tell you why.)

Your recruiter should handle the interview arrangements as much as possible within the guidelines of a particular company: some companies like for the recruiter to virtually everything, while others prefer to deal directly with the candidate as to dates, flights, etc. Sometimes companies like to conduct a phone interview first. This should be treated as if it were a personal interview if at all possible, with a definite time set so you won't be caught off-guard by an unexpected phone call from a potential employer. It's your recruiter's job to inform you of any potential calls prior to the calls being made.

Before your interview (whether personal or by phone) the recruiter should tell you as much as possible about the company, the project, and the person to whom you will be speaking, so you are prepared to make the best possible impression.

Once you have interviewed, the recruiter should follow-up with both you and the company to determine if there's mutual interest. He or she can help you compare your offers, (if more than one is in the picture) and when you know which job you want, your recruiter should handle all salary negotiations, work out an acceptable start date, and make sure there are no loose ends concerning relocation, your resignation, etc.

Mutual honesty is the most important factor in the candidate/recruiter relationship. Just as you expect the recruiter to be honest with you about the openings he or she has, you will be expected to be honest about what you're interested in, and what you're not. If possible, it's best to work with just one full-service recruiter. (You will be referred to other recruiters he considers ethical if he doesn't work with some of the companies you are interested in.)

But if you are already working with another recruiter, or have contacted companies on your own, don't keep it a secret! It does no one any good to have less than total honesty. After all, you and your recruiter are partners in your job search.

One big "no-no" that will get you a black eye fast in the TPF community is to go around a recruiter and contact a company directly after he or she has told you about the job. Most ethical recruiters don't withhold a company's name from you when trying to interest you in the job, but woe be to those who use that information in an inappropriate manner!

Another area where total honesty is required is your resume. Some candidates, perhaps getting bad advice from their buddies, fudged about their degrees, and/or padded their salaries. Again, such abuses have caused some employees to require proof of salary, and to deal with either salary or resume inaccuracies resulting in swift dismissal. If you are badly underpaid, don't fib about your compensation. A knowledgeable recruiter can suggest companies who are apt to disregard what you make now, and offer you what the job is worth. But no reputable recruiter will be party to salary tampering.

Likewise, a spotty job history or a very short-term situation should be openly discussed with your recruiter, who can then determine the best way to handle it with a potential employer. Finally, if you accept an offer from his or her client, your recruiter expects you to honor your commitment. Nothing gets around quite so quickly, (or follows you quite so doggedly) as the reputation for going back on your word to an employer.

So what do you do when the headhunter calls? Kick back, put on your Sherlock Holmes cap, and take control! Remember, it's your career, and it's up to you to make sure that the handling of that career is entrusted to the best possible representative of your interests.