How can Candidates decide which Recruiters are worth talking to?

By Mitch Sullivan

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Job boards have become very popular over the past 10 years or so, but like most things that achieve critical mass, with that comes a very discernible drop in quality.

Most notably, the quality of the advertising (the copy, the duplications, etc..) and the quality of the candidates (unqualified, too active, no visa, etc..)

However, in this article I’d like to explore the quality of the recruiter.

Whilst there are many recruiters who complain that the quality of candidates has declined in recent years, there are probably many more candidates that would level that same accusation at recruiters.

The most common accusation candidates level at recruiters is that they receive lots of calls, but then get very little follow-up.  They’re also often accused of not knowing very much about the hiring company – and that’s assuming they will even disclose the hiring company’s identity, which most don’t.

So how can you, the candidate, wrestle back control from these recruiters who waste your time?

First, you have to understand who they are.

There are fundamentally four types of recruiter that might call you after seeing your profile on a job board or on LinkedIn.  I’ll rank them in order of how seriously you should take them:

1. Inhouse Recruiters

2. Agency Recruiters who own the vacancy they want to talk to you about.

3. Agency Recruiters who don’t own the vacancy.

4. Agency Recruiters who are idiots.

Let's take a closer look.

Inhouse Recruiters 

There are two things that elevate these kinds of recruiters over the others.  They’re calling you about a job they HAVE to fill and they’re calling you from a company that they should know quite a lot about. 

All calls from these types of recruiters should be entertained. If you're unsure if they're inhouse recruiters when they call - just ask them.

Agency Recruiters who own the vacancy they want to talk to you about 

These recruiters are rare, but they do exist and they tend to be pretty good at their job - given that they’re capable of convincing the hiring company to only use them to fill the job. 

They’re nearly always niche specialists and are able to tell you the name of their client – if not straight away then definitely on the 2nd contact and/or on receipt of your CV via an email.

Before engaging in any conversation, ask them if they are working on the vacancy exclusively.  If they say they are, check them out by asking questions about the hiring company – ideally questions on things they’re unable to get from the hiring company's website. 

If they sound fluent, commit to the conversation.

Agency Recruiters who don’t own the vacancy

These are the vast majority. Spotting these can get a little tricky as some of them will be quite good, but the majority will just be number-crunchers. 

The better ones will sound credible when you ask them about the hiring company - mostly by regurgitating text from the company's website.  You may also want to ask them how long they’ve been recruiting and what they specialise in.

Many will try to bluff you. 

Here’s a phone conversation I once had with a recruiter who had seen my profile on a job board a few years back:

Agency Recruiter:  “Hi Mitch, I’m calling from ABC and I’m recruiting for a role that I think you’d be suitable for and I’d just like to find out a little more about your situation?”

Me:  “OK.  First can I ask if you’ve been retained on this vacancy?”

Agency Recruiter:  “What do you mean?” (I think they were buying time here)

Me: “What I’m trying to find out is if you’re the only recruiter working on this vacancy or are there others?”

Agency Recruiter:  “What difference does that make?”

Me:  “It makes a lot of difference. If you’re the only one, you’re likely to have done more research before calling me and know a lot about the company, which means I won’t have to waste my time talking to a recruiter who has minimal commitment from the hiring company.”

Agency Recruiter:  “But I do know a lot about the company.”

Me:  “OK, I’ll ask you two questions which you have to answer.  Once you do, I’ll tell you whatever it is you need to know about me. Deal?”

Agency Recruiter:  “OK.”

Me:  “First question is; What problems are the company having that this person would need to solve?  Second question is; Are you the only recruiter working on this vacancy?”

Agency Recruiter:  “The company aren’t having any problems.  And no, I’m not.”

Me:  “Thanks.  I know that I’m not going to be interested in this job.”

Agency Recruiter:  “How do you know that?!”

Me:  “Because only the most boring jobs don’t have problems that need fixing and I’m guessing this job probably isn’t boring, but that you don’t know much about the company, the job or the culture.  Which brings me to your 2nd answer...”

Agency Recruiter:  * click *

My point being, if the recruiter doesn’t know much about the job, company and culture then despite your potential suitability for the job, statistically the chances of that recruiter securing you an interview is probably less than 5%. 

That will be primarily because they don’t have much of a relationship with the hiring company and/or that same company has given them a very narrow brief (you know, the one that talks about the almost mythical "ideal candidate") because it’s only this rarity they’re prepared to pay a fee for.

Agency Recruiters who are idiots 

These recruiters you can spot, then ignore, if they:

1.  Insist on asking you questions about your experience before telling you anything about the hiring company.

2.  Ask you about anything that is made abundantly clear on your LinkedIn profile.

3.  Call you “mate”.

4.  Ask what other companies you’re interviewing at.

The only vacancy going on with these types of recruiters is between their ears.

It’s worth taking the time to put recruiters through their paces before deciding to trust them with your candidature.  This is especially true if you’re looking for a better job than the one you’re currently in.

If you need another job because you’re unemployed or trapped in a job you hate, then you may not have the luxury of turning away recruiters - even those who are statistically most likely to waste your time.

Either way, sometimes even a cursory examination of a recruiter's credentials upfront, can save a lot of pain later.


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