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HR Landscape Article Series: A Recruiter Called Me – Now What?

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Why even speak with a recruiter?

Recruiters fill more than 50 percent of the mission-critical positions for American employers. They benefit employers by conducting confidential searches to find them the best-qualified candidates, rather than the most available. Good recruiters benefit job seekers by introducing them to unadvertised opportunities that they would not have otherwise heard about.

When a recruiter calls

If you are good at what you do you will undoubtedly receive an unsolicited call from a recruiter, however, it can be a bit unnerving. As we’ve learned, any number of thoughts can fly through a candidate’s mind when they first receive a call from a recruiter. It’s not unusual for a candidate to tell us that they’re perfectly happy even when they’re not, because they believe that somehow, someone close by can hear both sides of the conversation.

In other situations, we have candidates tell us in the beginning of our conversation that they have the perfect job, only to find out minutes later, when the candidate feels more comfortable with the recruiter, that there are a few components about their current position that they would like to change if possible.

Even if you are very happy, it would still not be prudent to dismiss the recruiter’s call, because:

  • Situations change and you may find yourself in need of an experienced industry recruiter at some point in the future.
  • You may learn something about an industry competitor and find out about your market value at the same time (including benefits and perks you may not currently have).
  • You may know an industry colleague for whom the position is a perfect mutual match. Offering the recruiter some referrals will establish a relationship that will benefit you in the future.

If you receive a call while at work

Certainly, it’s more comfortable not to speak to a recruiter from your place of business. But, recognize that the recruiter is calling you at work because there was simply no other way for them to contact you. What you can say to the recruiter is “Hello ___. I appreciate your call, but now is not a convenient time for me to speak. Is there a number where I can reach you at a more opportune time?” Or, simply offer a personal email address and ask the recruiter to send you some information about the opportunity and their contact information.


The subject of loyalty frequently comes up during my conversations with candidates. Certainly, I respect the loyalty and tenure that employees have with a current employer. As a matter of fact, most of our clients will only consider candidates that have demonstrated reasonable longevity with each of their previous employers. That being said, it’s not being disloyal to try and move your career forward so you can be happier, learn some additional skills and be a better provider for your family.

What questions do I ask the recruiter?

Once you are ready to have a private conversation with a recruiter, you don’t want to share any personal information until you’ve asked them some very important questions.

  1. Is this a retained or contingency search?  

A retained search is one in which the recruiting firm is working exclusively with an employer to find the best candidates. The “client” is retaining (providing an initial payment) to the firm so they will spend more time searching to find the best candidates, rather than the most available. This works in favor of the candidate because the candidate is assured that the recruiter’s goal is to make a solid, long-term overall match that meets both the client’s and the candidate’s needs and objectives.

A contingency recruiter will only get paid if they fill the position. Inasmuch as they are not guaranteed any type of payment, contingency recruiters can’t afford to spend the hundreds of hours it sometimes takes to make the right match. Rather, they want to present as many candidates in the shortest amount of time possible – in many cases at the expense of doing quality work. Sometimes employers will contact multiple contingency firms.

In some instances, contingency firms will be allowed by the employer to be the exclusive/only firm working on the search. This situation would be better for you as a candidate, as long you as you remember that the firm can still only afford to spend a limited amount of time and effort to work on the search.

Regardless of the type of recruiting firm, don’t engage with any recruiter that you just don’t feel comfortable with. With contingency firms, make sure they will never “pitch” your resume to different companies without your prior approval. At the very least, make sure the recruiter can answer the remainder of these questions:


  1. Can you send me a job description? 
  1. Why is this position available? Is it a newly established role? Did someone quit, and why?Was someone terminated, and why?


  1. Will I need torelocate and will the employer cover the relocation costs?
  1. What futureopportunities are associated with the position?
  1. What are the keydeliverables of the position and how will I measured at the end of the year?
  1. What can you tellme about the company culture and the longevity of other employees?
  1. How would youdescribe the person and management style to whom this position reports?


These are just a few of the preliminary questions you will want to ask the recruiter. If the recruiter can’t answer your questions you should think carefully about putting your career in that person’s hands. A good recruiter will have intimate knowledge of the employer and the position, and will be able to answer most, if not all, of your questions throughout the entire process.


Once you trust the recruiter

Once you trust and feel comfortable with your recruiter, speak to them from your heart and be honest. The more the recruiter knows about you professionally and personally, the easier it is for everyone to decide if the position and the company is a good fit for you. Be sure to tell them what you like to do, what you don’t like to do, what you do well and what you don’t do well.


Make sure the recruiter understands all the details of your compensation package. Although some people are reluctant to do so, remember that the recruiter’s job is to make sure everyone’s needs are being met and that no one’s time is wasted. A good recruiter will work toward meeting your and the company’s compensation objectives.


Good, professional recruiters will never present you for an opportunity if there isn’t a solid fit for you, and the company.

Editor’s Note: Have questions about job searches, interviews or finding (and keeping) great employees? Send them our way and Howard may answer them in an upcoming feature! Send your questions to AMN Editor Amy Antenora at

For nearly three decades, APA Search has helped numerous aftermarket companies find great talent. The firm has worked with clients to help fine-tune their organizational structure as well as develop successful succession strategies. In the coming weeks, Howard Kesten and APA Search will continue share with AMN readers practices that will help keep your company staffed with the most qualified executives, rather than the most available. If you’re a career-seeker, we’ll provide you with the secret sauce for effective and successful interviewing. Stay tuned!

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