Look for Honesty and Clout When Assessing Recruiters
SEPTEMBER 15, 2001
By Darrell Gurney
When you first start fishing the waters for recruiters, focus on finding a good trout stream. As an angler, you’re looking for fish with trust and clout. Let’s first consider trust.
Do you sense that you can trust a particular recruiter? Is he trusted by his client companies? The more you can answer these questions
regarding a potential career partner, the better. On a personal level, your gut will speak volumes that your mind can’t always absorb, so you may just need to go with this reaction. Whether employers trust him or her, however, may be more difficult to determine since many headhunters will not divulge their clients’ identities until it’s absolutely necessary.
Don’t blame recruiters for not spilling all their proprietary information (namely, their clients) when first meeting you. After it’s clear that the two of you might be a good working match, this shouldn’t be an issue. Some headhunters, as in any service industry, might have on file letters from former satisfied clients or candidates. Having such endorsements isn’t a must, but it might be an avenue to explore in determining a recruiter’s muster.
Another simple way to assess a recruiter’s trustworthiness is to turn a frequently asked interview question back on him or her: “What would your candidates say about you as a recruiter? What would your clients say?” Initially, being interviewed by a candidate might surprise the headhunter. Whatever the outcome, you win. Either:
* Recruiters are caught off guard and reveal a power-trip mentality, which says “I’m in charge, not you;”
* They reveal an interesting perspective of themselves that you can process through your own BS detector; or
* Your chutzpah and professional savvy makes an incredible impression, upping their desire to work with you.
Trust is a two-way street. Don’t expect a headhunter to let her hair down and begin revealing more than the usual cryptic information unless and until you’re willing to do the same.
It’s also important to know a recruiter’s basic fear when disclosing client information — that the candidate will go around the recruiter, doing an end-run straight to the company, thereby bypassing the company’s obligation to pay the recruiter’s fee. As low-down as this seems, it happens, and the fear has been ingrained in headhunters, whether or not they’ve actually experienced it. Recruiters are in the information-brokerage business: They broker the information they gather on clients and candidates to make a living. If a client or candidate utilizes information gained from a recruiter to either hire an employee or get a job, that recruiter is entitled to compensation.
Now you know why a recruiter might have hemmed and hawed if you asked on an initial contact, “What’s the name of the hiring company?” Certainly you have never entertained the thought of using such information unethically, but, on the first call, the recruiter doesn’t know you from Adam. As in any new relationship, when you and the recruiter learn more about each another over time, more will be revealed. So don’t be offended if you can’t find out everything up front. Understand the headhunter’s situation. But if an open and relaxed relationship between you and your recruiter doesn’t coalesce, you may have reason to reassess your choice of recruiters.
The Price Upon Their Heads
Clout is another vital ingredient in your evaluation of a recruiter. One way to determine it is by asking: “What is the range of fees you charge client companies?” Again, turning the interview tables may well elicit surprise, but the reaction will be revealing. A headhunter who’s highly respected by clients is well-paid. She may not want to reveal this information, claiming that it’s proprietary in nature. Don’t let this be an immediate turn-off: Your relationship may not yet be at that level of openness. Then again, it may mean that this firm is a “bargain shop,” a cut-rate recruiting house.
It’s questionable whether recruiters charging fees of less than 20% of a position’s annual salary in a candidate-driven market are at the top of their profession, or so regarded by their clients. Most respected recruiters charge prevailing industry fees of 25% to 35% of a position’s annual salary. This yardstick doesn’t apply as strongly to certain “volume” placement work, when a recruiter makes multiple placements with the same client or in an employer-driven market, when there are fewer jobs to fill and the average fees charged by recruiters drop.
You may well say, “What do I care what fees the headhunter charges, so long as I get the interview and land the job?” Fees shouldn’t be the only consideration in your recruiter assessment, but consider: Would you rather work for a company that’s able to hire a top recruiter or for one so frugal as to look for a bargain? What’s the “price vs. value” mentality you would like your future employer to have? There’s nothing wrong with saving money, but will this reticence to pay for top professional service reveal itself later in the company’s relationship with you as a valued employee?
Another determinant of clout focuses on whether the headhunter has the influence and connections to place you in positions commensurate with your qualifications and experience. Again, you can assess this by turning the interview tables on the recruiter and asking, “Can you please tell me the professional and salary levels of your last four placements?” Be prepared for the headhunter’s “Excuse me? Who do you think you are?” response, in voice or facial expression. If you have earned your stripes by being one of the best in your field, you can easily get away with this. A recruiter working with individuals at your level should be willing and able to give you relevant examples. If he squirms and has nothing to offer, you might be dealing with someone in a league of his own — not yours.
A final divining rod leading you to clout is a recruiter’s professional designations, affiliations and associations. In any profession, distinction is often made by a smattering of letters after individuals’ names. Ph.D., M.B.A., J.D., C.P.A., C.F.P. and M.D. degrees and certifications signify particular expertise and training. A certified personnel consultant (C.P.C.) has passed a series of rigorous exams covering ethics, professional recruitment knowledge and employment law. This exam is administered by the National Association of Personnel Services (N.A.P.S.), the oldest trade association of the staffing industry. Much like a C.P.A., a C.P.C. must be maintained through continuing-education credits, earned by attending professional training seminars, completing educational coursework, etc. However, keep in mind: letters don’t buy you everything, and lack thereof isn’t necessarily a black mark. It’s just one of many available criteria to use in evaluating a professional in any field.
After noticing whether the recruiter is “lettered,” you might also inquire about affiliations and association memberships. In addition to trade associations such as N.A.P.S., there are many professional and cooperative networks to which a headhunter might belong. These include National Personnel Associates, First Interview, and Recruiter’s Online Network. They provide continuing education and encourage a team approach to the business, resulting in split placements (one recruiter providing the candidate, the other the client). Some are very exclusive, requiring certain standards of professionalism, successful track record, history of teamwork and ethics to gain admission. Notwithstanding the statement of professionalism such membership implies for a headhunter, it also can connect you with more resources from which to draw in finding your “perfect” job. A recruiter who works and plays well with professional colleagues will net you better results — and greater long-term career management.
DARRELL W. GURNEY, executive/career coach and 15-year recruiting veteran, supports folks to make profitable transitions or create thriving businesses. Author of “Headhunters Revealed!” and a personal and business brand strategist, his Backdoor Method™ for networking has helped individuals expand careers and new client circles. Listen to his interview of best-selling “What Color is Your Parachute?” author Richard Nelson Bolles at www.CareerGuy.com/program.