After engaging in some dialogue over social networks, working with dozens of job seekers that have distaste for recruiters, and also emphasizing with recruiters who defend their work – I’d say the views regarding the recruiting industry are pretty polarized.

One common reason (I've learned) why job seekers think negatively about recruiters is because they feel recruiters are only in the business of exploiting vulnerable job seekers and their time–and not finding candidates the work they so desperately need. Or, that recruiters are meant to solve all their problems, which they fail at miserably. But the truth is, recruiters, who are also salespeople, care just as much about their business as you do your livelihood. Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness.

Many job seekers ponder over the questions of - should they even bother dealing with recruiters? Are they a waste of time? Or…how they should deal with recruiters?

Let’s shed some light on something you really need to know first…


It doesn’t matter the potential of a candidate, or how likable she may be. Recruiters are entirely focused on the employer’s needs. Understand that they don’t work for the job seeker; they are the hiring company’s client (or potential client). Since this is how they get paid, they have no interest in you unless you fit the existing job requirements.


Here’s everything you need to know about recruiters (and how to deal with them):

What do recruiters do and how do they make money? The job of a recruiter is twofold. Primarily, their responsibility is to source, screen, interview and place the best fit talent with their client companies. Second, it is sales and relationship management – that is, to build trusting relationships with clients and earn themselves commissions from placement fees.

Why do they collect several resumes for a single position? In many cases agencies work, simultaneously, to fill the exact same positions. So it’s really about (1) who’s representing the most favorable candidate at the time, (2) how strong, if any, the relationship is with the client company, (3) if the company is really open to using an agency (and other factors). In lots of cases, companies don’t care to deal with agencies because they want to avoid agency conversion fees--unless the position is particularly hard to fill. In which case, for the perfect fit the company will make the hire. This causes recruiters to stay 'closest to the dollar’ and keep sourcing until they find the perfect candidate (experience- and culture-wise) to present to the client company.

Why do they phone screen me then ignore my calls? Recruiters work to place candidates in positions where they believe the candidate will be most successful. If you have applied for a position and the recruiter is ignoring you, it is likely that they don’t feel you meet the job qualifications (as outlined by the client company).

In this case:

DON’T keep calling, as this will only burn you out emotionally. Again, recruiters want to close talent (or sales) so if they see you as a good fit for a position, they won’t need your calls as a reminder. (There are people who feel annoyed by their constant calls, actually).

DO ask for feedback. This can help you understand how to increase your candidacy.

What are some red flags for a poor match to recruiters? The phone screen usually determines how a recruiter will move forward with you. You’ve probably heard the cope-out statement:

We will submit your resume and if the company is interested, we’ll get back to you.

Rest assured, if you weren’t invited to meet in person, haven’t been shown a formal job description or details, or been assessed thoroughly, you were likely passed on for the position that’s being worked on.

But how can they tell based on a phone conversation?

Salary demands

Recruiters often use the salary question as a screening device to verify whether you fit the hiring company’s needs, and if you would make a ‘good fit’ in the long-term (bad turnover/poor matches negatively impacts the reputation with the client company).


Be prepared to put a positive spin on your status if you’re unemployed. Recruiters may see your unemployment as a red flag. Like many employers, they assume that something is wrong with you if you are out of work.


Recruiters ask questions they should already have the answers to based on your resume submission, but may still ask you these questions just to test the credibility of what’s written on your resume. They filter out candidates who are dishonest about gaps in employment, responsibilities, salary history, skill set, and other qualifications. Recruiters may see your lack of honestly as a roadblock to establish mutual trust.

What are recruiters looking for? Recruiters are looking for candidates who meet the necessary job qualifications for a particular job position, while also being a good fit for the client company’s culture and work style. Taking personal qualities and professional presentation into account, you may feel you're qualified to perform all the job responsibilities as laid out in the job description. However, it’s important to keep in mind that recruiters are typically given very specific guidelines from the employer about they're looking for.

Should I even bother? Yes. Good recruiters make excellent resources.

(Start thinking of recruiters as resources and try not to intensify the contact with demands or desperation. If you allow a genuine connection to evolve, you might be the first to call when something solid actually does come across the desk. Remember, recruiters do not work for you; they are in business to make money.)

When a recruiter calls, ask key questions as you decide whether to work with her or not. Inquire into what the recruiting firm or recruiter herself represents.

Ask about her experience with your industry and get an understanding of her process.

  1. What’s your relationship with your client? (This helps you determine if a business relationship actually currently exists, or if they’re ‘fishing’—in hopes of establishing a new client.)

  2. Were you retained for this position?

  3. Have you worked with this company before?

  4. How long have you been working on this assignment?

  5. Why is this position open?

  6. Have you presented any candidates yet to this client?

  7. Are you a part of the contract or permanent search team?

  8. Do they specialize in your industry? (Consider recruiters who specialize in your field, as most recruiters that specialize in specific industries will likely have the most productive relationships with recruiters specializing in your field.)

Bottomline - how should I deal with recruiters:

  1. Don't expect too much. It's nothing personal.

  2. Take phone screens seriously, as if you're speaking with an actual hiring manager with a company. First impressions are lasting...

  3. Try to get feedback.

  4. Be prepared to speak about your skill sets in a manner that shows you're a subject-matter expert.

  5. Stay well-versed on your explanation as to employment gaps, separations, or unemployment.

  6. Be smart and ask questions to find out what recruiters you should or shouldn't deal with. (After all, there are still some that take the sleazy salesman approach and really don't care about your---just making dough.

  7. Be ready to overcome any salary objections.

Not to downplay any frustrations or take any sides, but to play devil's advocate - not all recruiters are all bad. Try not to take the nature of the business personally. In fact, if you can find yourself an experienced recruiter (who has great working relationships with some clients), you just might’ve found yourself an excellent resource.


You want to talk this through?

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I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below and let me know how your perspective has changed about recruiters! Still thinking about hanging up on that call?