Be nice to the recruiter

In 1972, I began my career as a recruiter.  For the past five years, I’ve been a career and leadership coach.                         

My coach, the man I referred to as “swami” because he knew so many things it seemed almost mystical to me, taught me the three jokes of the agency business.

  1. How can you tell an applicant is lying to you?
  2. Their lips are moving.
  3. How can you tell a client is lying to you?
  4. Their lips are moving.
  5. How can you tell a recruiter is lying to you?
  6. Their lips are moving.

I’ll be polite.

Everyone involved in the job search process is posturing for the greatest benefit. You are. The companies you are interviewing with. The recruiter, search professional, or agent you are speaking with.

You can try to find a job without using the services of a recruiter and many of you will join firms who will hire you without using one.

But there is no reason to close the door to using their services.

But, they don’t have any jobs for me!

Maybe you contacted a firm that doesn’t fill jobs for what you do? Maybe their clients don’t have any positions for people like you right now. That’s not their fault.

But they never get back to me?


If a recruiter got back to everyone who wants them to report to them about what is going or not going on, they would never have time to do what you really want them to do . . . find a job for you to interview with!

They don’t know what they are talking about!

Maybe you spoke to the beginner in the office who doesn’t know what they are doing.  Maybe you are wrong in your assessment.

No matter, recruiters have access to companies that are hiring, have relationships that can provide you with entrée, and can manage all the logistics of your job search calendar.

A capable recruiter can negotiate your compensation for you so they take the brunt of a tough negotiation so that when you join a new firm, you arrive with “a halo” of pleasant expectations.

Wouldn’t you like to have a good relationship with connected people like these who can help you now and for years to come? Here are some simple to follow rules that can help you throughout your career.

  1. Recruiters are human beings not slaves to be ordered around or yelled at when you feel like throwing a tantrum.

People sometimes forget that they emailed a resume to me and send hate mail about spam when I respond to them.

Others call to complain to me about something another recruiter did or did not do.

Whatever offense the recruiter committed, hold your temper.

Have you ever been yelled at by your boss? Would you have preferred that they speak with you in civil tones about what went wrong?

Head Hunters, recruiters, employment agents, executive recruiters . . . whatever you want to refer to them . . . are human beings

And they are human beings with databases which give them long memories.

More importantly, when you make a mistake do you expect compassion or forgiveness?

Why are you so unwilling to give it to another human being who is just trying to help you find a job?

  1. Remember who is paying in the transaction.

Companies are paying for recruiters to find people to fill jobs. You are not paying for recruiters to find a position for you.

They are paid to locate, assess, refer and cause actions that will lead to a position being filled.

To do that well, they need to blend the client’s needs, wants and desires with a job hunter’s.


Recruiters do not work for you

They work with you and for their corporate clients.

  1. The only decision a recruiter makes is whether to refer you to their client.

Recruiters don’t get you hired.

You do.

Their job is to figure out whether you are qualified to fill a job that a client has defined for them and whether your personality would fit into the client’s culture.

The client defines the requirement and if they make too many mistakes, the client will stop calling them costing them an opportunity to make money.

The first thing you can do to get a recruiter to call you is to send a resume that actually fits the job they are trying to fill.

Have you heard the saying, “The broken watch is right twice a day?”

I skim thousands of resumes a week. I don’t read most of them because the candidate has done nothing to demonstrate in their resume that they fit the basic qualifications of the position. Instead, they flip the same resume to every job and every recruiter for every different position they read.

Don’t just write a cover letter that tells the recruiter that you fit the requirements of the job and then send a resume that doesn’t show that you did, tailor your resume to make it clear that you fit the requirements of the job.




  1. Use the message area of your email (or a cover letter if you are faxing or mailing a resume) to state how long and how recently you have performed the function the company needs to have performed.

If the ad you read asks for 6 years of experience performing a particular function, tell them the amount of experience you have performing that skill. Don’t leave it to chance.

The recruiter reading your resume probably has several hundred resumes to read and assess.

If in doubt, most of us don’t have time to call to ask find out whether you have the two or three missing skills that you know you have but you haven’t put in your resume.

And the recruiters who do have the time to call won’t be in the business for long because they will waste so much time contacting people who don’t fit the job, they will fail.



You are going to be submitting many different resumes custom designed for each opportunity. Unless your memory is exquisite, you need a way to instantly know which resume you submitted to the firm so you can tailor your answers to the job.

It doesn’t matter if you use paper, your cell phone or any other electronic device. You just need to be sure that when you are asked questions about your experience, you are able to answer them n the context of the job they are recruiting for.

Unless you can do that, either don’t answer the call or, if you do answer it, let them know you will call them back at . . . and offer a time when you will call them.

  1. When you speak with a recruiter about the job they are trying to fill, ask them what it was in your resume or background that caused them to want to speak with you.

Asking this question will give you an insight into the recruiter’s thought process and what they are looking for in the way of concrete skills.

In addition, be aware that they are listening for and assessing your soft skills:






These attributes all add up to trust

  1. Try to develop a relationship with the recruiter.

Skip “the elevator pitch.” They don’t want to hear it.

Although relationships take time to build, one with a recruiter can benefit you for your entire career.

If you treat a recruiter like another gatekeeper, you will be treated like the rude, disrespectful person you are being.

If you treat them as a person,  if you help them if they ask you for a referral for another search, if you call them between job searches to check-in or tell them about hiring that is going on at your firm, they will be encouraged to help you.


  1. If you ask the recruiter when they will be getting back to you, listen carefully to their answer.

An honest recruiter will tell you that they will be back in touch (by email or by phone) with you when they have something useful to report.

When I know when I will be speaking with my client, I may offer someone a vague idea of when I will be back in contact.

Beyond that, everything else is bull.


  1. Send a thank-you note.

I don’t know how it happened but good manners have disappeared in our (American) culture.

As a result, a thank you note is always noticed favorably because no one does them anymore.

A quick email thanking the recruiter for their time, reiterating the points you made about your fit for the role, and that you look forward to meeting with their client goes a long way to standing out positively.

© 2004, 2011, 2020 all rights reserved.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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