WRONG QUESTION: “Do you know a recruiter who specializes in….”

This week’s blog was written by Jason Alba, president of http://www.jibberjobber.com/, and I thought his message was so fabulous that I got permission from Jason to re-post it here.  So what is JibberJobber? Is it a job search tool? Is it a networking tool? It is more like a personal relationship manager that allows you to do everything you need to do to manage a job search and optimize your network relationships – for the duration of your career!  Also, Jason has become one of the top subject matter experts on LinkedIn.com and has fabulous resources including LinkedIn DVDs (chock full of tips and tricks to help job seekers out) available for purchase. Thanks, Jason, for the great blog post!
Here’s one of my biggest job search pet peeves: asking for a recruiter who specializes in a particular industry or location.

Perhaps you’ve gotten emails like this:

» Do you know a recruiter who specializes in IT (or project management, or supply chain, etc.)?
» Do you know a recruiter in Seattle (or Houston, or D.C., or Podunk, USA)?

When I get this question I cringe. Not because the job seeker is doing the wrong thing (they are just trying to get a job), but because they are barking up the wrong tree. Here’s why I say that, based on my experience and observations. I’d love to know what your experience has been…

Recruiters don’t work for you and they don’t care about you.

Really. Maybe some of them do (okay, I know some of them who do care about you, as a human being), but their job is to match a company’s needs with a candidate who fits those needs. They work for the company, not you, and when it comes down to it, they get their multi-thousand dollar commission because they placed the right person, not because they spent the time to coach all of the wrong people.

Recruiters aren’t really good at networking.

In “Never Eat Alone,” Keith Ferrazzi includes “headhunters” as that elite group called “power connectors.” The idea is they talk to people all the time, know everyone, know what opportunities are coming up, and can likely introduce you to the person you really need to talk to.


My experience with most recruiters is that:
(a) They are so busy they don’t know which way is up and which way is down, and can’t take a second to spend any real time with you.

(b) They are very protective of their network because this is how they make a living (protective of your peers because they might eventually place them one day; protective of company contacts because that’s how they get those big-commission opportunities in the first place – not by charitably help you, rather by signing a contract with the company so they get a piece of the pie when you are hired).

Now, I say they aren’t good at networking, but in fact they are excellent at networking as it pertains to their job. Don’t expect them to put their networking mojo on to help you figure out who you should talk to – perhaps I should say “recruiters aren’t really good at networking for you.”

When you find that right recruiter, you make THE mistake. I bet 99% of the people do this. If you ask me for a tech recruiter in Podunk, USA, and I give you a name or send an email introduction, you do the wrong thing.

What is the wrong thing?

You become a needy job seeker, just like the other 5,000 needy job seekers in their database.

You send them a well-thought-out email that looks a lot like a cover letter, talking about all of your great strengths and accomplishments, and a resume. You have prepared hours to send this stuff, which makes you sound and look very professional, so you think.

But you look just like 80% of the rest of their candidates.

And then you don’t follow up right. You ask them a week or two later if they got your email, what did they think, and do they know of any positions open.

Here’s the problem: you are using them like a tool, and they are considering you like a candidate.

UNLESS they have a position open right then that exactly matches what you showed them, or if they can recognize some very special qualities and qualifications and know something might come up where you’ll be the perfect match, you are mentally (and virtually) filed into some “add one more to my 5,000-person database” bucket.

You have marginalized yourself because you played right into the system, instead of actually “networking” with the recruiter.

How do you get around this stuff? Realize that, as human beings, not all recruiters are the same. I’d say most that I’ve met fit into this stereotype, but there are some out there who care more about you as a human being I’ve given them credit for. I’d listen to anything that Steve Levy, Heather Gardner, Nick Corcodilos (aka, Ask the Headhunter – get on his awesome newsletter) recommends.

Here’s my advice, if you get the name of “a recruiter who specializes in….”:


Don’t send them a resume and cover letter or intro email.

From one professional (that’s you) to another (that’s them), send them an email or make a phone call and network. Work on a long-term relationship. Nurture it. I’d start off asking them questions about their openings and how I can help them. I OFFER to make introductions to my industry peers. I bring something to them to help them do their job and get that commission. I try and become a power connector FOR them. I try to become helpful, and memorable.

Sure, they’ll know I’m looking, but I’ll stand out from the other 5,000 candidates they have in their database.

My followups won’t be “do you have anything for me yet,” or “have you heard anything at my target companies?” That is focused on me… rather my followups would be “what can I do for you, how can I help you with your current openings, what kind of professional do you want to get to know.”