What Should You Tell a Recruiter, and What Shouldn’t You? 

November 29, 2016



It’s no secret that recruiters sometimes get a bad rap. Why? Because like people in any profession, some recruiters are more competent, more caring and more compassionate than others. Unlike many other professions, anyone can hang up their shingle and say they’re a recruiter, even if they lack experience actually placing people in jobs or detailed knowledge about the positions they’re recruiting for. These people give recruiters a bad name. In fact, we doubt it’s even fair to apply the same term to these people and people who have spent decades honing their craft and specializing in recruiting for a particular industry.

There’s a lot of advice out there about dealing with recruiters. Lots of it is useful, but lots of it is tailored to dealing with these shingle-hangers, and some of it can be harmful when it comes to working with a recruiter who knows what they’re doing, who knows their clients well, and who intimately understands the jobs they’re filling.

We wanted to take a moment to respond to a post in this vein called Ten Things Never, Ever to Tell Your Recruiter, written by Liz Ryan, with some clarifications. Ms. Ryan is a well-respected former HR manager who runs an organization called Human Workplace. She writes for Forbes and other outlets. Her posts offer advice to job seekers and those looking to progress their careers – something that you’ll find all over the place – with the “twist” that Ms. Ryan understands her readers are human, and writes like a human. 

We’re all about that at Argentus. We want to cut through the buzzwords and vagueness that you get from a lot of career advice. We don’t want to spin, prevaricate, hedge, dodge, or offer incorrect advice. So we’re big fans of Liz Ryan. But this particular post offers a list of information to withhold from a recruiter, and we wanted make the point that withholding information from a recruiter who’s specialized and knows what they’re doing can hurt, rather than help, your negotiating position in a job search.

Ms. Ryan’s position is that the more information you give your recruiter, the less leverage you have. She’s certainly right that there’s quite a bit of information that’s not relevant to a recruiter (your personal history, for example). But if you withhold certain information from a recruiter, you can scuttle your chances all along the recruitment pipeline.

Here’s a list of some of Ms. Ryan’s points and our responses:

  1. Don’t tell a recruiter if you’re working on other opportunities.

This is a big one that we disagree with. It’s hard for us to see how or why a recruiter will use this info to the detriment of the candidate. If you’re comfortable sharing other interviews you’re going on, recruiters can use this information to give you more leverage as a candidate: if companies know you’re fielding other opportunities, they’re often more likely to make you an offer.  

  1. Never tell a recruiter your financial situation.

This is fair. We appreciate that you’re looking for a job because, among other reasons, you need money (like everyone else). Details of your finances don’t help you or the recruiter land you a job.

  1. Never tell a recruiter that you really, really want the job or that the job meets all of your needs. How could sharing that information possibly help you? It can’t – but it can hurt you when it’s time for the employer to extend a job offer.

It can also hurt you when the recruiter is deciding whether to forward your resume to an employer. While you shouldn’t “tip your hand” completely and say this is the job of your dreams, communicating your interest in the job all along the pipeline helps you get that job – because a surprising number of candidates don’t do this.

  1. Don’t tell the recruiter if you have a soft spot or blemish on your resume, like the fact that you left a past job under unfriendly circumstances. Tell your best friend anything you want, but don’t start to believe that the recruiter is your new best friend. The recruiter has a financial interest in seeing you hired. That is the key thing to remember.

While we agree that a recruiter is a professional contact rather than a best friend, good recruiters benefit from long-term relationships with candidates. The worst thing you can do is hold off information that will ruin your candidacy later – and hope that info doesn’t come up at some point. Because it will.   

  1. Don’t tell a recruiter that you are desperate to leave your current job or desperate to get hired (if you’re not working now).

There’s no reason to tell us this information, but it’s also not very relevant. We can assume if you’re talking to us about a role that you’re interested in getting hired.

  1. If you get an offer from another firm and you want your recruiter’s client to match or improve upon the offer you received, go ahead and tell the recruiter what you need. Don’t say “even if your client can come close, that will be enough!” Don’t undervalue yourself.

Agreed. Don’t pretend that an offer will make you happy if it won’t, because it’ll come back to haunt you (and the recruiter) later.

  1. coffeeshopmeeting-smallNever tell a recruiter your rock-bottom asking price, because if you do you can expect to get a job offer that matches your rock-bottom requirement to the penny.

We agree with this as well. While some recruiters want to see people placed no matter the salary, good recruiters recognize that a successful placement is a happy placement. Tell your recruiter the salary you’re targeting, and then play ball when the offer comes along.

  1. Never tell your recruiter about longer-term plans that might make you a shorter-term employee than the recruiter’s client organization might wish. If your plan is to work for two more years and then quit and go to grad school or move cross-country, button your lip.

Again, it’s true that this information isn’t relevant to your current job search. But if you’re in anyway unsure about a role, or your future in it, you need to tell that to your recruiter up front. You do yourself a disservice by treating a recruiter as a one-off job finder rather than someone who can be useful long-term.

  1. Tell the recruiter if you want to drop out of a recruiting pipeline because the people you meet on your interviews are unqualified, unethical or not smart. If you decide to stay in the recruiting pipeline, keep your thoughts about the capabilities and personalities of the interviewer to yourself.

We agree with this one as well. What recruiters and clients ultimately care about is, are you still interested in the job or not? Respectful feedback about an interview process is one thing. But there’s no point in complaints or criticism unless your experience has been negative enough to take you out of the running.

  1. Never tell your recruiter that you’ll be available 24/7 to answer the employer’s questions, share your advice with them, or otherwise start working for free before you get the job offer. One screening interview, one interview with your hiring manager and one with your hiring manager’s boss is a reasonable interview process. After a certain point, the employer has to step up and make you an offer or begin paying you an hourly consulting rate.

We agree that you shouldn’t have to work for free, and we agree that some hires take way too many interviews. But every company is different, and it’s just plain unrealistic to expect the same number of interviews for a VP job as you would for an analyst role. Make it clear to your recruiter that you don’t have unlimited patience (because trust us, neither do we) – but also, have patience.  

Despite our disagreement with some of the points mentioned above, we agree with quite a few of Ms. Ryan’s points: you need to protect your privacy, and you don’t want to impact your leverage in salary negotiations. But our message is that – with a specialized recruiter who knows what they’re doing – you should understand that it’s in the recruiter’s interest for you to get the job you want, at a high salary, and you should work with them to do that. logo_icon







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