Dear Liz,

I’ve been trying to contact recruiters in my job search, but I’m not getting anywhere. I had assumed their role was all about helping people like me, but it seems like agencies just put you on their books and never offer you anything - you are just a number.

Am I going about this all wrong? How can I get recruiters to actually pay attention to me and help me find a job?




Dear Recruiter-Hungry:

I hear your pain, my friend. And you’re not alone in feeling it -- if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me how to get more favorable attention from recruiters, I would have a nickel bank the size of Kentucky.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to hand off your job search and have someone else find you a job? (Yes!)

Shouldn’t this be a match made in heaven? You want a job, and recruiters want to fill jobs... (Seems right to me!)

But unfortunately, if recruiters are your go-to strategy for finding your next job, as my grandmother used to say “You are barkin’ up the wrong tree and bound to come home empty-handed.”

Let me explain.

As a job seeker, here are the most important concepts you need to understand about recruiters: 

Let me first say that many of my friends are recruiters. They are phenomenal people who genuinely care about helping job seekers. It’s often why they choose the profession!

But although caring about job seekers is a significant priority, it’s not their first priority.

There are nuances in the recruiting world of course -- differences between in-house recruiters vs. headhunters; small vs. large company recruiting; recruiters who only source candidates vs. those who also interview, negotiate, and manage the hiring process entirely.

But generally, at their most basic level, recruiters are hunters.

They are assigned a specific job posting (a “job req”), and then hunt to find candidates likely to be hirable for that specific role. Recruiters ‘win’ when a candidate they sourced gets interviewed, hired, and retained.

Tell me this: If you were a recruiter, and this was your mandate, would you spend time speaking with and finding opportunities for every job seeker who reached out to you?

I don’t think so! 

Like most recruiters, you’d engage in targeted sourcing -- 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn (plus a few other methods) to search for candidates who fulfill the exact qualifications required in the job.

The important takeaways here:

  • Recruiters are only aware of a sliver of relevant, available roles at a time.
  • Recruiters are incentivized to find the right candidate for a specific role -- not to get to know all potential candidates in a city or industry, and not to find “out of the box” candidates.
  • Trying to build relationships with all recruiters in your industry or assuming one recruiter is your ticket to multiple job opportunities is unrealistic and a waste of your precious job search time and energy!

Yes, recruiters serve up strong candidates to hiring managers.

But hiring managers (the ultimate decision makers) typically interview some recruiter-recommended candidates in addition to promising candidates coming from other highly-trusted sources: their personal network, recommendations, and internal candidates.

And what do all of these highly-trusted sources have in common? A personal connection.

Referral candidates are 10x more likely to land an interview than online applicants, and are quickly becoming the most hired group of job seekers.

The important takeaways here:

  • It’s wonderful to be recommended for a role by a recruiter -- it can’t hurt!
  • That said, referrals are the most powerful hiring strategy today. Your odds are highest when a trusted individual recommends you personally.
  • Even better, getting in touch with and forming a relationship with the hiring manager is the best possible approach, maximizing your chances of landing the interview and offer.
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Because of the above context, I give all of my clients the following guidance:

  • Don’t chase recruiters -- make them chase you: By optimizing your LinkedIn profile with keywords from the job descriptions you're pursuing, you can make your profile pop to the top of the list when a recruiter searches for strong-fit candidates for a specific role. Spend less than 30 minutes making your brand your recruiter calling card, and then focus the majority of your search time on...
  • Referrals, referrals, referrals: By reaching out to individuals who work at your target companies for informational interviews, you stand to gain insight, introductions, and advocacy that make you a shoe-in for the interview and the offer. And, by being connected on LinkedIn to people in your target companies and industry, your profile will appear even higher in recruiters’ search results (bonus!)

Yes, there are a couple of exceptions

It’s likely to your benefit to invest time researching and reaching out to relevant recruiters early on in your search if:

  • You are pursuing a ‘niche’ opportunity -- a highly-specialized role type, a specific industry, and/or a small city or geographic region. If your universe of opportunities-to-candidates is small enough, there may be a small enough pool of relevant recruiters who are incentivized to know all potential candidates, will know when any relevant opportunity arises, and are likely help you land the interview.
  • You have hours and hours of extra time on your hands and want to try an ‘all hands on deck’ strategy for your job search. You can’t hurt your candidacy by reaching out to recruiters, and something could shake out. Recruiters also move between companies, so being connected to relevant recruiters could result in future boons like unexpected job opportunities, or an 'in' at your dream company.

But you do have something to lose: TIME

And as a job seeker, time can be your greatest need and asset. So choose how you use it wisely!

Don’t bark up the wrong tree, thinking that if you bark long or well enough, you’ll get better results.

Rather, recognize how recruiters operate, and choose thoughtfully how they should fit into your overall job search strategy.


* This article is the latest edition of Job Seeker Love Letters where Liz responds to job seekers' questions with "tough-love and love-love." If you have a love letter to submit, you can feel free to send it directly to Liz at [email protected]