When and How to Reach Out to Recruiters

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When you’re ready for a new job, contacting employers is a no-brainer. But the same kind of clear-cut call to action doesn’t necessarily apply to contacting recruiters, leaving candidates to wonder:

  • Do I contact an executive recruiter, or is it better to wait for recruiters to contact me?
  • Once I’ve chosen recruiters to contact, how do I initiate the contact and the relationship?

Large recruiting firms are inundated with thousands of resumes every week, and even small boutique firms may receive hundreds weekly. Job seekers can’t assume that all recruiters want to hear from them. Depending on diverse factors, they may or may not want you to contact them. How do you know when to contact executive recruiters, and what is the best way to do it?

The recruiting industry follows a unique business model in which the client firm (employer) is the customer, and you (candidate) are the product. The recruiter has a choice of “inventory” models regarding how to manage you as the product. A recruiter can “stock” you, that is, put you in inventory and wait for an order or a client position to open up. An organized recruiter will run a search of the database to make sure they check all candidates on hand to see if any active or inactive candidates could be either a potential fit, or source for referrals; however, it’s more common for a recruiter to pursue a fresh candidate and search the database only as a backup.

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How do you know whether to contact a particular recruiter with your unsolicited resume? Some firms may offer a direct answer. Check the firm’s Web site; many recruiters post specifics on the materials they seek and how they prefer you to submit resumes. You can also call a receptionist or administrative person and ask if resumes are accepted and how they should be submitted. This gatekeeper might ask you questions about your credentials and the position you seek. Generally, avoid calling individual recruiting professionals directly; they don’t have the time, they don’t know who you are; remember, their first interest is filling open positions for clients, not finding a job for you.

If a recruiter doesn’t have a position for you currently, you can still be valuable to him or her. Sometimes your best “fit” into a recruiter’s scheme is as a source of referrals – in other words, names of people you know who might be able to fill a slot the recruiter has open. Identify in your cover letter, where and for whom you work in your current organization. If your first few contacts with a recruiter seem to be only to gather referrals, don’t despair. You’re building a relationship – and you’re in the system.

Once you select your target recruiters, build a campaign to contact them. No one right way to contact recruiters exists; each is different, and each situation is different. Having the right materials, using the right methods, having the right expectations, and effectively maintaining the relationship are all important. Here are some basic tips from recruiters:

  • Have a perfect resume and cover letter. The resume and cover letter should be concise and crisp, allowing the recruiter to immediately grasp your profile and expertise.
  • Send your materials with care. Check with recruiting firms to verify if and how they want resumes sent. Call the receptionist or other gatekeeper or check Web sites. Designating materials as “personal and confidential” is helpful. Make your subject line personal, specific, credentialed and targeted – for example, “Resume: John Smith, IT Executive, Excellent Candidate for CIO position” will get you further than simply “Resume.” The same is true of file names for your resume. As you might imagine, recruiters get hundreds of resumes with the file name “Resume.docx.” Personalize your resume with a file name such as “JillKelly_CIO_Resume.docx.
  • Be concise. Since recruiters are inundated with resumes, they may have literally a few seconds to glance at each communication that comes their way.
  • Use the phone, text or e-mail, but sparingly. Hounding recruiters is never appropriate, but a brief follow-up phone call or two may help direct attention to your resume and credentials. A short introductory phone call or voicemail message after hours enables you to advise that your resume has been sent, and perhaps place another phone call two weeks later to ensure that the recruiter received, read and filed it. After that, occasional email check-ins are OK.
  • Keep your information up to date. Federal employment laws require organizations (excluding very small recruiting firms with a headcount of less than 50) to maintain resumes and application for three years, so you should have few worries that yours will be tossed out. The resume may, of course, become out of date; thus, some recruiters recommend follow-up phone calls stating your desire to keep your information updated and correct.
  • Don’t expect acknowledgment, and don’t take it personally if you don’t get it. Recruiters receive thousands resumes. No response simply means, in most cases, that no open positions fit your qualifications.

With these tips in mind, your goal is to obtain an in-depth interview and to start a working relationship. Depending on their business model and situation, recruiters may or may not be interested in your resume; they may wish to search and contact you instead. Nevertheless, planning a recruiter-contact strategy, in which you target recruiters by identifying and contacting them to build a working relationship, is still a good idea.

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