Understanding Recruiter behavior 101 for candidates
Sometimes recruiters get a bad rap. Sometimes it is well deserved but often it is based on a simple misunderstanding of who we are working for. Yes, we try and connect clients and candidates together but we explicitly work for the client who pays us and is largely driven by their needs. Often candidates think we work for them and we should do a better job of making that clear.
In the real estate space in New York State brokers hand over a disclosure form which clearly explains the responsibilities of the broker. One broker typically represents the seller and another represents the buyer and they each have obligations to their respective party. If an agent represents both parties then the buyer and seller have to explicitly agree to that situation. This is clearly explained in a disclosure doc you get from any real estate broker when they deal with you.
We don’t do that in the recruiting space and we probably should be given we are representing both parties but are beholden to one. Here are two commonplace occurrences of that confusion in action (and how you can best deal with it).
1. Why that recruiter isn’t all over you….
Recruiters will typically approach you for the needs of a specific client or a general need of a client or group of clients that they deal with regularly. In my space, I look for sales professionals (senior IC to SVP level) with certain industry backgrounds (e.g. e-commerce or SEO) and vertical orientations. Most of my clients are VC backed and live within the Lumascape ecosystems. They want candidates in those ecosystems that have experience selling to retail, brands, agencies, and publishers. If you fit that background and reach out to me I will always have a call with you for a specific client need or for future potential needs. If you don’t fit that background I will likely pass, refer you to another recruiter or try to pay it forward with some general advice.
Alternatively, when I reach out to you proactively I am likely doing so because I am responding to a very particular client need and trying to find candidates that match that need. For your current search, I am generally only as good, at least in practical terms, as what I or my firm are actively working on now or might be working on in the near future. Here is how you should use that knowledge to your advantage.
- Always ask a recruiter for their general areas of focus – functional, industry, and vertical focus.
- Target recruiters that match your focus.
- Hedge your bets (within reason) by working with a few select recruiters that match that focus.
- Do some proactive efforts on your own to discover companies and jobs that are right for you. If you live in the ecosystems that I represent check out jobelevation.com which is Glenborn’s initiative around visual job discovery. If you don’t do some proactive efforts yourself then you will miss out on great opportunities. Steps a through c above, though useful, will not cover all the options for you. Company and job discovery is far from efficient!
2. Vague comp ranges
It is a very fair question to ask what the comp range of a role is and whether it matches your needs. Yes there are some bad recruiters who will try to put square pegs (i.e. your higher salary) into round holes (i.e. the lower salary range on offer by the client) but sometimes a recruiter won’t get specific on comp ranges for good reason – to protect their client. Here is one example of that in action:
I reached out to a candidate recently that likes to keep recruiters at arms’ length. I had a role that I thought would be great for them. The candidate wanted to make sure that the compensation range would give him a reason to move – an increase in both base and OTE and an absolute confirmation that he could get that before initiating a further discussion with me.
As it turns out, the compensation he needed to move was within my client’s range although at the high end of that range which was reserved for certifiably great candidates. We had a classic chicken and egg issue. I needed to meet with the candidate first to see if he matched that “great” status and he wouldn’t do that unless I promised him he could get such compensation before doing so. I was certainly not going to undermine my client’s future negotiation leverage to make promises to get this candidate in their queue so it ended in a stalemate.
If the candidate better understood my motivation and obligation to the client then it could have ended differently. I was protecting my client’s interests. Instead, the candidate probably thought I was being vague about the comp potential being “in the ballpark”. Here is how you should use that knowledge of that potential dynamic to your advantage:
- Work with recruiters you trust not to make you compromise on cash compensation without good reason (and sometimes a good reason can be a great early-stage opportunity)
- Work with recruiters who know their clients well enough to understand their tolerances.
- Understand that recruiters don’t want to compromise their clients’ negotiation ability because we are fiscally responsible to them. If good recruiters feel there could be a match we will encourage you to pursue a discussion. Listen carefully to the language and the tone of the recruiter and try and read between the lines.
Yes, all three tips are VERY hard to implement and very nuanced but one of the best ways to do this is to let your guard down to a few recruiters when you are not looking, grab a coffee with them, and see which ones are most knowledgeable on their space and most trustworthy so you know which call to pick up for when the time is right.
Feel free to do that with me but reread point #1 first before you do; – )