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How to tell if a recruiter is full of shit (and what to do about it).

A recruiter called with a job just PERFECT FOR YOU! Great news, right....? I mean, recruiters are AWESOME! Recruiters connect people with jobs! Recruiters are the happy go lucky bridges between workers and managers making dreams come true! Recruiters are....


Here's the real deal y'all - recruiting is a game of rejection, unfortunately. As much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, we have to tell a lot of people NO. Whether it's narrowing down our short list with hiring managers, or following up after interviews, there are all sorts of opportunities for us to anger people. Sure, there's lots of advice on the best way to have that conversation, but this is not that blog post. This is for the passive target just minding her own business AND the active applicant who both desperately want to know - just what the hell is wrong with this recruiter and WHY should I trust them with my career?

First Contact
So you get a call from a recruiter. Or an email, tweet, inmail (shudder) or some version of outreach. This recruiter has NEVER SPOKEN TO YOU BEFORE. Should you respond? If yes, how?

Not every message deserves a response. There I said it. While it is KIND to reply to everyone, you and I both know it's not REALISTIC. If I responded to every single form of outreach I ever received, I'd get hardly any real work done. So no - you don't HAVE to respond, but you might want to. Questions to ask yourself -

  • Does this recruiter work for / represent a company I'm interested in learning about?
  • Does the job (assuming they've given you some context) sound intriguing?
  • Am I at a point in my career where I MIGHT be willing to make a change for something AMAZING?
  • Did the recruiter write a relevant, targeted message that clearly indicates they have a clue and did their homework on ME?
If the answer is YES to any of these, a response is warranted. Even if it's a "no thanks not now" response, that's ok! I know I would appreciate it.

The Call
So you respond. Recruiter wants to talk, promises to share comp info, company detail, more about the role once they get you on the phone. THIS IS A TACTIC. Of course it is, we're trained to plant the seed to get you on the phone. This is not wrong, necessarily... but it can feel a little gross so it's totally fine to be blunt here. It's ABSOLUTELY acceptable to tell the recruiter you can spare 15 minutes, are willing to provide a brief overview of your background and lay out your expectations. A good recruiter would be all over that. A GREAT recruiter will do more listening than talking in this first conversation. What we want to know - 
  • Are you open to making a job change?
  • Are you skills and abilities a fit for my hiring need(s)?
  • Do you have reasonable expectations?
Now you're wondering what's reasonable... great question, and a recruiter should be able to tell you. Whether it's average comp for your industry / expertise, appropriate level / chance of getting to the next step in the hiring process, timing... all of this can and should be readily answered by the recruiter. It's worth mentioning that in the course of this quick chat, one of both of you may decide it's not the right time/opportunity. THAT IS OK. You can agree to follow up in 6 months. The recruiter can offer to connect you to other teams / colleagues. You can agree to never speak again. There are no wrong outcomes, but CLEAR outcomes with specific next steps are the best.

Pro Tip - if you're not comfortable getting on the phone, lay that out in your email response! I have literally done this as a prospect myself. I am interested in chatting IF (insert laundry list here). A smart recruiter knows better than to waste your time and will be thankful. If we can hit those hot buttons, AWESOME! We'll tell you that and set up a call from there. If we can't... well, in my experience recruiters just go away never to be heard from again. It happens. ;)

Red Flags
Full disclosure - this is MY perspective as a candidate / prospect who gets hit up all the time. I try really really hard to NEVER be this recruiter. I fail at this. A lot. But know it's not who I want to be.

  • Can't or won't disclose any details about the company / job / team. We're not holding the nuclear codes here, people. If the recruiter doesn't KNOW, then the recruiter is not truly a strategic adviser to their client and knowledgeable about what they're recruiting for. Proceed with caution.
  • Talks WAY TOO MUCH. Well shit. I'm guilty of this. I get excited, probably over share, so... the previous bullet isn't really a problem :) BUT - recruiters should be making it about YOU the candidate and taking lots of notes. If you have to remind your recruiter repeatedly that no you absolutely CAN NOT RELOCATE then it's a good indicator they're not listening. And that's bad.
  • Pretends to know more than they do. I don't know shit about coding. I often joke about being the least technical tech recruiter on the planet. I won't ask you a bunch of questions about latency or distributed systems or the difference between Java and JavaScript because frankly I'm not keen on embarrassing myself (much). I'll ask you for a high level overview and understand enough to know what you want to do and where you could potentially do it (in my company). Equally important - I will be the absolute EXPERT on RECRUITING, what it takes to get from point A to offer, and how to help YOU navigate the tricky tricky process that is interviewing and negotiating. That's MY super power. What's yours?


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