How to Engage with Recruiters in the Job Search

I regularly encounter job seekers who want to engage recruiters in their job search process. This column breaks down the role of recruiters and how they operate, discusses best practices for engaging with them, and covers the realities and expectations of using recruiters for your job search.

What is a recruiter? Recruiters help companies fill open roles by finding qualified candidates with the skills, experience, and ability to perform specific job duties. There are two types of recruiters: retained and contingency.

Retained recruiters charge an upfront fee to conduct a candidate search. They operate on exclusivity, meaning that the opening is filled solely through that specific recruitment agency through an agreed-upon methodology. These engagements are lengthier and more rigorous because they often involve sourcing candidates with niche backgrounds and skillsets. Contingency recruiters work on a no-win-no-fee basis. They do not get paid until they find a qualified candidate that the client (the company) hires. Their incentives lie in quickly delivering many candidates to increase placement odds, especially since they compete with their client’s human resources (HR) department and other recruitment agencies. Job seekers commonly have two misconceptions regarding recruiters; understanding these realities will help you focus your time, energy, and efforts strategically.

Recruiters work for their clients, not for the job seeker

It is not the recruiter’s job to find you a job. They prioritize their time and efforts around helping companies find the most qualified candidates. They are rarely the decision-makers in determining whether you get an interview or a job offer.

Recruiters work to fill tightly specified openings

Many technical roles require industry-specific training and cross-disciplinary scientific knowledge. If you are considering a new path, know how your skills and experiences translate. Recruiters are often less helpful for candidates who are “open to anything.” If you do not know what you want, invest in a career coach who can help you explore new career options, roles, and industries that align with your skills. With these realities in mind, here are a few best practices for engaging with recruiters.

Be specific about your requirements

Your job targets, desired locations, and availability date are critical in influencing recruiter conversations. You must also clarify your salary requirements so the recruiter can assess whether your expectations align with their client’s budget. Salary.com is great for researching the market salary range for your desired title. In addition, the 2023 AIChE Salary Survey (CEP, June 2023, pp. 21–31) provides salary ranges based on industry, experience level, and geographic area.

Look for technical recruiters

Technical recruiters specialize in finding candidates to fill technical jobs, such as science and engineering roles. In addition to the skills and traits of a regular recruiter, they tend to have in-depth industry knowledge. LinkedIn is the best way to connect with recruiters. In LinkedIn’s search bar, enter “technical recruiter + target company” and filter your search by people. You may need to use different keyword variations (i.e., recruitment manager, talent acquisition recruiter/specialist, hiring manager, etc.).

Build connections on LinkedIn

Once you get your search results, look for first-degree connections, i.e., people you are directly connected to. You can message these contacts directly. Look for mutual connections (i.e., colleagues, acquaintances) you share with the recruiter. It may be possible to ask your connection if they will make an introduction. This approach can be hit or miss as plenty of people share mutual connections with people they do not know well or have never met.

However, a cold message can be just as effective (when done right). Once you have identified a recruiter, send a personalized connection invite that clearly and directly explains why you want to connect. You are limited to 300 characters with spaces, so be strategic. Study their profile for commonalities (i.e., university alums, shared coworkers, interests, etc.). If you cannot identify similarities, you can use and modify the following framework as needed: “Hi [Recruiter Name], I’m a [title] with [#] years of experience in [industry] and presently I am seeking new opportunities as a [title] or in [industry]. I want to discuss possibly working together. May we connect? I’m also glad to connect you to others in my field.”

Manage your expectations

Job searching is an uncertain and anxiety-inducing process. Ask questions about how the recruiter works with job seekers and their communication preferences to keep them informed throughout the process.

Update your résumé

Your résumé must position your relevant experiences, skillsets, and distinguishing features to match your career target. Ask the recruiter if a job posting is available so you can tailor your résumé to the critical selection criteria. Recruiters tend to work best as a long-term career management strategy. You will be most attractive to recruiters if you are employed but open to opportunities. Remember that working with recruiters is just one strategy. Use as many resources as possible since this strategy often depends on whether a recruiter has a clear job opening at the right time that aligns with your skills and background and their client’s goals.

This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column in the December 2023 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at fontelearn.com/cep.