February 14, 2012
Recruiters: Why, oh why, aren't they more into me?
The Bermuda Triangle and Sasquatch. Now those are real mysteries. As for how the modern recruiting and staffing world operates, that topic isn't quite so enigmatic -- although many job hunters continue to seem utterly baffled by it.
Over the years, I've had literally hundreds of clients throw up their hands in exasperation, wondering why their friends and co-workers keep getting called by recruiters and "placed" in various jobs, while they, themselves, go unnoticed. Essentially, it's because there are basically three kinds of people in the world when it comes to how marketable (or not) any individual professional is going to be to the recruiter community.
Here's the breakdown:
A) A small percentage of professionals are highly recruitable and will get stalked relentlessly by headhunters throughout their entire career.
B) A larger chunk of professionals are marginally recruitable, but only during certain "peak" segments of their career or during a tight labor market.
C) The majority of professionals are totally non-recruitable (if that's a word) and shouldn't count much on this channel, at all, as an effective source of generating opportunities.
So how do you determine which camp you're in so that you can manage your expectations accordingly and not burn a lot of time or energy on this avenue if it's not likely to produce results?
In general, the folks who can expect a high level of success with recruiters (i.e., the "A" category above) tend to have highly specialized skills and work in high-demand, low-supply fields in which there's a shortage of experienced talent. For example, professionals who work in the accounting, engineering and technology fields tend to get much more action from recruiters then people with broader, more generalized skills.
This is even more the case if such people possess skill sets at the cutting edge of their fields, involving technologies or methodologies that have only recently come into vogue. If you've got a proven track record of success performing SOX compliance, planning social media strategy or programming Android phones, for example, you're likely going to have a lot of recruiters hot on your tail these days.
As for the "B" category, while many people may not be all that recruitable in a tight economy like the one we're facing today, this can change in a hurry when the economy heats up. Hard to remember those days, I know. But when things finally do rebound (let's think positively), you'll suddenly see the wheels of supply and demand kick in and witness a lot of people who normally wouldn't be of interest to recruiters start to gain traction.
I've been maintaining a list of recruiting firms in Washington state since the mid-'90s. Right before the turn of the millennium, I had about 800 such firms in my database. Now, that number is down to 596.
Back then, roughly 200 fly-by-night firms were able to make a quick buck plucking recent computer science graduates right out of college, with no experience, and finding them jobs in the dot-com field. Once the bubble had burst, however, these same candidates wouldn't be touched by recruiters with a proverbial 10-foot pole. Headhunters just couldn't command a fee for placing them, since their skills were no longer in huge demand.
Finally, you've got the "C" category of recruitability. This is the category I'm in, along with the vast majority of working professionals. For those of us who work in esoteric fields or who are not lucky or smart enough to acquire the specific qualifications that happen to be in strong demand at the moment, we're not likely to get more than a cursory glance from the average recruiter.
Recruiters simply aren't asked to find people like us. The same can be said for people who are changing careers, have big gaps in their work history, lack a formal degree or have been unemployed for a protracted period of time.
So if you're wondering just how much success you're likely to have by shopping your résumé around the recruiting circuit, keep these facts in mind. Follow the money and recognize that recruiters work to locate hard-to-find talent for the employers paying their fees. They're not sports agents or talent scouts, by and large, seeking out jobs for individual professionals.
Understand these realities and you'll be in a much better position to gauge whether you should make the recruiter "channel" a key part of your job search strategy -- or ignore it altogether.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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