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Let’s not have lunch

Let’s not have lunch—how to get the most out of your recruiter

Recruiters often get unsolicited calls from people requesting a meeting or a conversation about their careers. These calls often come from people who are out of work and actively engaged in a job search or they come from people who are curious about their prospects in the market in general. Below are two variations on that theme:


Call 1– The “I need help call”
“Hi, my name is John Smith. I am looking for a job and have had no luck on my own. I want to find a recruiter to partner with to get me a job. I would like to meet you to see if you are a good match for me.”


Call 2– The “I want to talk about myself call”
“Hi, my name is Steve Jones. I am at a senior level in my firm and would like to change jobs or industries. Can we meet for a cup of coffee or lunch to go over my career and goals?”


I get a few calls like that every day. Usually, the person becomes either hurt or angry when I suggest that they send a resume for our files and that an exploratory meeting is not necessary.  I know other recruiters have the same problem.  That misunderstanding between the public’s perception of a recruiter’s role and the actual job of a recruiter is problematic. It can often cause frustration, hurt feelings and sometimes anger.




Maybe an explanation would help prevent friction in the future and, in doing so, help you understand what a recruiter can and can’t do for you to help your career move forward.


The easy thing to do would be to remind people that the recruiter actually works for the employer and not for the candidate. It is not a recruiter’s mission to find an individual a job. But I think everyone already knows that. What everyone doesn’t know is what that really means in a daily context. Most people don’t know what a recruiter actually does for an employer. In this White Paper, we will first discuss the misunderstanding about the recruitment function and then give some advice on how to maximize a relationship with a recruiter.


A Day In the Life of a Recruiter


Most people think of a recruiter as a talent scout. They think that the recruiter works to scour the globe for talent and then funnels that talent to the employer. Given that perception, the belief that the recruiter’s day is spent meeting a broad swatch of people is understandable.  In that worldview, it would make perfect sense for a recruiter to cast a wide net. Many novice or marginally professional recruiters actually foster this concept. They position themselves as gatekeepers with some mystical access to the market for any talented person.  But, the belief that a recruiter will appreciate your special talent and call a client to alert them of your presence and the client will then create an opening for you, is a very false belief. Unfortunately, that is not the way the world works. In 30 years, I have done that maybe a half dozen times. Of that, the person got hired twice. Those are not good odds.




In fact, the recruiter is not a general talent scout. Talent scouts work in areas like the media. A movie studio hires a talent scout to find young talent to sign and nurture. Their goal is to identify people to be groomed. But they don’t fill specific roles in a movie that way. For example, no one tells a talent scout to find someone to play a specific part in Godfather 4.  Those people are identified by casting directors. Those roles are filled by culling from a known group of people, some of whom were originally brought into the industry by a talent scout and some who entered the field years before on their own. They have a portfolio and an existing body of work, sometime small and sometimes large, but they themselves are already known in the industry or have made an effort to be known to the casting director by sending a head shot and portfolio. A talent scout might bring them to the industry’s attention but only when a relevant role appears does the casting director consider them for an audition.


A casting director has an assignment from a producer to fill 5, 6 or 10 roles in a film. Those roles have specifications- someone to play a cop, someone to play a mother, etc. Each role comes with physical characteristics, different talent requirements and a budget for that actor’s part. A horror film may need a blond female who can scream and will work for $1,000 for two days, for example. The casting director is under a lot of pressure from the producer to fill those roles with a qualified person within budget NOW.


Please imagine the reaction of the producer when the casting director says, “Sorry, I don’t have anyone to play the female screamer but I had lunch with a very nice 23 year old fellow who is great at comedy and was in his high school senior play.  Maybe he should be in your picture instead”.  Heads would roll.
Maybe this helps put the recruiter’s role in better perspective. A recruiter is focused on his client’s needs at that moment.  He or she has specific assignments to fill, just like the casting director. There are specifications as to skills, location and budget. The recruiter is under pressure to perform. To devote time and focus away from that effort is not productive and can, in fact, be harmful to an existing client relationships.


Often, when I get calls like the ones I described above, I try to explain the situation as clearly as possible as to why a speculative meeting is not practical. One fellow got somewhat offended and said that if he were a recruiter, he would “invest time to get to know talented people like him in the event that a relevant assignment should appear.”   I gently suggested that, since he wasn’t a recruiter and wasn’t a client who was actually, like, you know, going to pay me something, he does not get a vote in how I spend my time. Given patience and more time on my part, here is what I would have suggested to him.
At any one time, a recruiter wants to know of you but does not want to know about you until a specific need appears that fits your background. By that, I mean that a recruiter wants to know that you exist and what your skills are. The recruiter wants to know how to contact you. But the recruiter doesn’t want to meet you to gain a deeper knowledge of your life goals until something relevant appears on his or her desk.


Why? Because you are a moving target. You change.


Now that may seem like an odd statement. Here is what I mean:


Your goals change more frequently than you think. If you are out of work today, your goal is to get a job. If I speak to you today while you are out of work, I will hear a different set of goals than if I speak to you 3 months later after you’ve gotten a job. Even if you are employed, I may speak to you today about your goals and you may say you will relocate. When I call you in 2 months about a job in Chicago, you may have just gotten engaged and relocation is now out of the question. You change more frequently than you think.


Your goals and skills are most relevant to a recruiter when they coincide with an existing project. Then, and only then, is a detailed discussion warranted. Everything prior to that is meaningless because your life has moved on since then. Your situation has changed. The type of job, location, salary and career track in which you had interest may have changed dramatically. Assumptions that a recruiter has made about you based upon a conversation in the past may have grown stale and may indeed be false. False information is worse than no information. You can indeed know that you don’t know something. But you may not know that what you know is, unfortunately, wrong.


But don’t forget, the recruiter wants to know of you. The recruiter wants to know that you exist and how to reach you. Most good, established recruiters do have a “talent scout” element to their business. I know we do. We profile people all of the time. We accept resumes through our web site and we skill them and put them into our files. We reach out to professionals constantly to ask about their backgrounds in a general sense.


Our goal, impossible to reach of course, is to know of every professional and executive in our market- who they are and how to reach them. We strive for that.


We want to know that you work at ABC Company as a Controller. We want to know of you whether you are looking for a job or not. Many people use the phrases active and passive candidates. An active candidate is aggressively seeking a new job. A passive candidate will listen about a new opportunity but will still need to be convinced to leave their current role. Good recruiters make no differentiation between the two. Here is why.




An individual’s interest in any one job is purely dependent on how that job meets their specific interests. An unemployed, active candidate may not be interested in a job 50 miles from home while an employed passive candidate may be interested in the same job because it has a great career track. To us, the right person for the job is the one whose interests coincide with the job at that time in their career. To the candidate, it means you need to position yourself so that you actually hear about the job. To do that, the recruiter must know of you in order to reach you.


The biggest mistake people make in their career is to isolate themselves from the job market until they decide to be an active candidate or it is decided for them by a layoff. The most surprising thing about professional employment is how much longer it can take to find a position the higher up the ladder a person climbs. It has always been interesting to me that, the more senior the job we have on our desk, the easier and more approachable the candidates become compared to the more junior people we approach for more junior jobs. At the beginning of your career, you are cheaper and more moldable. Because of this, you tend to see and hear about more opportunities and feel that, throughout your career, you will be able to enter and leave the employment market at will. As your career gains traction, there will actually be fewer things available to you at any given time in any given location. Think about it- there are probably thousands of $50,000 jobs within 20 miles of where you live and maybe only a hundred $200,000 jobs in the same geographical area.


That means that you actually need to pay more attention to your career the more successful you become. It is easy to grow stale in a job and get complacent. We’ve discussed that in other White Papers so there is no need to address it now. Suffice to say, it is usually easier to approach a professional’s boss about a new job than to approach a professional. The boss knows that they need to be visible over the long run for the next move to solidify for them. The rookie has not been taught that yet.


In a typically circular way, this leads us back to the question- how do you maximize your relationship with recruiters to advance your career?


Well, the answer is simple. You need to become known and you need to become known to the right people. That visibility should occur before you need a job because, when you need a job, one may not appear. Or, at least, a good one may not appear.  Executives, at least successful executives, are always listening about jobs and, thus, never need to look for a job. They make calculated judgments about opportunities as they appear and are not afraid to consider options at any time. They are never active and they are never passive. They are opportunistic.


They know that to take advantage of an opportunity they must first hear about it. To do that, they become known. So should you.


As ever, thanks for getting this far and please, don’t forget Right Recruiting for all of your recruitment needs.

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