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Seven secrets for romancing your recruiter

This article offers another perspective on working with recruiters.

When Vince Fernandez lost his job last fall, he – like thousands of others who have suddenly found themselves unemployed in this economy – wanted to connect with headhunters for help in finding a job again.

He expected it would be tougher than ever to get on recruiters’ radar, given the flood of résumés they’ve been receiving from anxious job hunters since the economy started its swoon last fall.

Yet, Mr. Fernandez managed to snag interviews with a dozen different recruiters over the course of his job search.

Not only that, he had them calling him for advice and discussing possible jobs. Despite being frantically busy, they were happy to talk to him. Moreover, he topped the candidates’ list in several recruiter searches that led to three firm job offers this spring.

In May, the former vice-president and senior portfolio manager at RBC Financial Group in Toronto accepted one of them: a position as vice-president of a private family-held investment company.

How did he do it? Mr. Fernandez’s secret was to offer the recruiters something in return.

When no position that matched his skills was available, Mr. Fernandez offered recruiters his insights on industry trends. He also shared contacts from his network to help them track down the right people for positions they were scouting for.

“In return, they helped me focus on how my skills and experience could fit in different companies, and they worked hard to find a position that was a good fit for me,” he says.

Such relationship-building is a winning approach, recruiters say. They were busy enough before, but every morning has become a triage process to clear their desks.

Sadly, up to 90 per cent of résumés get summarily trashed after a cursory look, recruiters say, because even the highest-powered executives who should know better don’t understand how to grab and keep their attention.

So with fierce competition, what’s the best way to grab a recruiter’s attention? Here is some insider advice from recruiters themselves on the key steps to take in forging a relationship, what many candidates do wrong and what you should do right to get them working for you:

Choose your target

Doing it wrong

A big turnoff for recruiters is a generic “blast” e-mail that is obviously being sent without regard to whether it is reaching the right target, says Kathryn Young, a partner with executive recruiter Ray & Berndtson in Vancouver. Recently she’s seen a proliferation of CVs e-mailed to every partner in the company, with a subject line such as “for your consideration.” It’s a tactic that will get the sender disqualified as a time waster, she says.

Doing it right

Do homework by consulting network contacts, employment postings and professional associations to find the recruiters who specialize in the professions and roles you’re seeking, Ms. Young advises.

Such recruiters can be identified by looking at the company website or calling and asking. Address your pitch to just that person at the firm.

“Like any relationship in business you are trying to create, it has to be respectful of time, mutual and personal. The recruiter doesn’t want to feel that they are just one in a hundred you’ve approached,” Ms. Young says.

A standout résumé

Doing it wrong

A conventional résumé that lists past titles and experience but nothing to immediately hook a recruiter will likely be trashed. “There are probably four times the number of qualified candidates approaching us this year, compared to a year ago, and sheer volume means short attention spans,” says C. Justin Stephenson, executive search consultant for Western Management Consultants in Vancouver.

Doing it right

Highlight what you offer, front and centre, along with the type of role you are looking for and specific, exceptional achievements that prove you deserve it as brief bullet points in a box on the first page of your résumé, Mr. Stephenson recommends.

“The summary should say what you bring to the table right now to move projects forward,” he says. For instance, your initiative saved the company $1-million or your handling of labour negotiation helped win concessions.

Breaking the ice

Doing it wrong

“Cold calling is dead” as a way to get busy recruiters to take the time to schedule an interview, Mr. Stephenson says.

Doing it right

Being referred by a networking contact or acquaintance who has done business with the recruiter is more likely to get you attention because it demonstrates that you are connected and recommended, Mr. Stephenson says.

Cultivating a network of industry associates who have ongoing relationships with recruiters is good advice even for those who feel secure in their current roles, because you never know when you may need them, he says.

First impression

Doing it wrong

Immediate turnoffs are candidates who don’t know what they want and who say they are “open for anything,” observes James Coburn, who for 15 years was a recruiter for Mandrake Management Consultants Corp., before a recent move to become vice-president of Oxygen Design Agency in Toronto.

Other off-putting comments are hackneyed, generic statements like “I am a people person” or “I’ve always been known for creativity,” Mr. Coburn says.

Doing it right

“The kinds of assignments we get from clients these days are for people who can fix immediate problems or help restore sagging  balance sheets, and find opportunities for efficiency. The more focused a candidate can be on what they can do in these areas, the better,” advises Tom Long, managing director of recruiter Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. in Toronto.

“The more you can demonstrate that you have done your homework and grasp the situation employers in your industry are in and the challenges you could help them solve, the more likely it is you are going to be seen as a potential solution” in a recruitment search, Mr. Long says.

Give and receive

Doing it wrong

Too many candidates think the discussion should be all about them. There’s no give and take.

Doing it right

“The candidates who are consistently impressive are those who go out of their way to make it a two-way conversation,” Ms. Young says.

The kinds of things candidates can provide that recruiters will be grateful for are references to other people who would make good prospective candidates or links to contacts in the industry who have good connections, Ms. Young says.

A good touch would be to have the numbers and e-mail addresses of such contacts handy to give the recruiter, Ms. Young adds.

Mr. Fernandez did just that. While he would open conversations asking to talk about whether he was a good fit, he kept it going by turning to their needs: “I would say, ‘How can I help you?’ ”

Show gratitude

Doing it wrong

Too few candidates even acknowledge the time and assistance that recruiters have given to them.

Doing it right

A simple note of thanks goes a long way toward developing a link with a recruiter, Mr. Coburn says.

For maximum impact, he advises using old-fashioned snail mail.

“Headhunters talk with many candidates, and this can be a prod and a way of recalling and visually remembering you,” he says.

“E-mail is easy to discard but when recruiters actually hold a card with personal thanks and a little message of what you found useful about your discussion, it can go a long way toward keeping you at the top of the recruiter’s mind.”

Follow up

Doing it wrong

One mistake is to treat recruiters like employment agencies: If they don’t have an immediate position available, candidates just move on.

Doing it right

Recruiters don’t hire directly, nor may they necessarily have an immediate opening for which you’ll be a good fit.

You need to keep the conversation going. Mr. Fernandez ended each interview with a recruiter by asking whether he could call to follow up in two weeks or a month.

And because he was dealing with a number of recruiters, he found it essential to take careful notes about each meeting, detailing what was discussed and to schedule follow-up calls on his calendar, which he was meticulous about making.

Always have something fresh to share with the recruiter, such as new contacts or new industry tidbits. If you have something to give, the recruiter will be anxious to give you help in return, says Sean Stewart, executive search consultant for Feldman Daxon Partners Inc. in Toronto.

“Don’t think of it as stalking. I really appreciate follow-up calls, as long as they are keeping me up to date and continuing to offer information and potential leads,” he says.

“The fact that you do make a conscious effort to keep in touch is something that keeps you on my mind, either for a future search or to recommend to someone else.”

The article was written by Wallace Immen and published in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, July 15.

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