Think a recruiter is of value only when you’re actively looking for work? Think again. As Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer put so well, “Remember that no one succeeds alone.” Your successful career choices will depend on both what you know as well as who you know.
Once you look at it that way, you’ll realize that a recruiter could be one of your most valuable resources. Why? Well, for starters…
1. Because good recruiters are marketplace experts
Seriously, who knows more about the ever-evolving state of the modern workplace than those tasked with filling the positions that were in greatest demand last week, are in greatest demand today, and will be in greatest demand next week? If you want to know the hottest skill sets and trends in the job market, ask a recruiter.
We mean that literally. If you have no recruiters in your professional network at the moment, and you’re not looking for a job, you might feel awkward reaching out to a recruiter for advice.
You shouldn’t. As Aquent recruiting leader Ro Pilla said, “We’re always looking to network, and we’re especially interested in networking with great talent. We don’t build relationships just thinking about that one job that’s in front of us today. A savvy recruiter will always welcome a good connection, period. So if you’re part of that talent pool and just want to establish a relationship with a recruiter, it’s perfectly acceptable to reach out to them directly via LinkedIn.”
In fact, it’s not just acceptable—it’s welcome. “Any good recruiter would meet that request enthusiastically,” Pilla told us. “That’s why we became recruiters—we love to make connections, we love to share, and we love to help people. Trust me on this one: If a senior UX designer reached out to any recruiter on LinkedIn and said, ‘I’m not looking for a job right now but I’d love to talk with you about the industry in general,’ that would make their day.”
2. Because even if you don’t change your job, your job will change you
If you’ve been in your current position for more than a year, pause for a moment and try to remember what your first day was like. It’s shocking how much has changed since then, isn’t it? New people, new processes—it may seem as if you have a completely different job today. You do.
All the more reason to stay connected to those who spend their days on the edge of constant change. They’ll be happy to help you keep pace with the latest in professional development, even if you plan on staying put. “Just be completely transparent about it,” Pilla said. “Tell them, ‘I’d like to get your thoughts and opinions on skill sets I can add that you think are especially marketable right now.’ ”
If you like the company you work for well enough to stick around a while, don’t you owe it to them (and yourself) to stay at the top of your game? The same skills and capabilities that make you more marketable also make your current employer more competitive.
3. Because you might be worth more than you thought
Okay, now we’ve really got your attention. Even if you love your job and your company, you’ve probably wondered at some point whether or not you’re being paid fairly for all that you do.
That makes you no different than any other human being who has ever been compensated for a service, starting with the earliest Mesopotamian builders. A recruiter can tell you what companies are paying for performance through bonuses or even equity. They can also tell you if your particular job is hot and if there are any other inducements like signing bonuses.
You also need to brace yourself for the possibility that you might be paid more than you’re worth. All the more reason to get up to speed with your professional development. In lean times, you don’t want to make yourself expendable. Which brings us to the best reason of all that you should continue to network with recruiters throughout your career…
4. Because your job might disappear out from under you
It happens. A lot. In a world of mergers and acquisitions and hostile takeovers, you should never get too comfortable. And even if your company stays put, your coworkers and managers might not. And you might not gel with the new staff. Sometimes all it takes is one toxic hire to poison your personal cubetopia.
Not trying to bring you down here. Just give you a reality check. Lifetime employment is largely a thing of the past; median employee tenure currently runs around four years. From a purely statistical standpoint, you will probably find yourself among the “involuntarily unemployed” at some point.
If that happens, you will consider it a blessing that you already have a relationship with a recruiter who can jump-start the search for a new position immediately.
So a better question than “Why should you stay in touch with recruiters when you’re not currently looking for work?” would be: “Why shouldn’t you?”
Really, there’s no good excuse, despite some of the ones you might come up with:
“I don’t want them bugging me every day like high-pressure salesmen…”
“My bosses would get really upset if they found out I was talking to a recruiter…”
Don’t worry about that stuff. Successful recruiters use discretion. They have good judgment. They recognize the importance of confidentiality. They’re pros—and you should treat them accordingly. Show the same courtesy and professional respect you would in any other networking situation.
Limit the initial meeting to a 15- to 30-minute call. That should be more than enough time for the recruiter to review your resume and/or portfolio and point out any gaps in your skills or professional development. Like any other successful relationship, it ought to be a two-way street. Be open to sharing referrals and a rundown on what’s happening at your company. We’re not suggesting that you give away trade secrets or proprietary information—just that you share the view from your unique corner of the marketplace.
Also, a simple follow-through along the lines of “Thanks, it was great to talk to you” can go a long way. As another Vitamin T recruiter, Melanie Scheer, told us, “Whenever I get one of those ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but…’ messages, I’ll go back and look at the email chain. And if this is their first contact since I responded to them three years earlier, that kinda leaves a bad taste, versus somebody who has maintained a relationship during that time.”
Remember, recruiters talk to each other as well as to candidates and clients. And as Scheer pointed out, “Sometimes candidates become clients—and vice versa.” So you never know which side of the desk you might be on five years from now.
Scheer summed up her approach this way: “If we can influence how somebody builds their skill set today so that two, three, four years from now and we can place that person with a client, that is obviously time well spent. We’re looking at the long game.”
You should do the same.
Here’s a quick 5-step game plan to help you on your way:
1) Find a recruiter in your field. Start by reaching out to a trusted associate who used a recruiter in the past. Or search on LinkedIn.
2) Create a list of questions, like: What can I do to expand my skill set in the right direction? Where are the hottest job markets? What soft skills should I be working on?
3) Update your portfolio or resume at least once a month. Showing current work not only displays your developing talent—it also shows that you can keep pace with an ever-evolving marketplace.
4) Stay alert for networking events featuring the type of people you would like to connect with. That’s a great way to connect organically with recruiters.
5) Remember: Recruiters are a human resource. Treat them the way you like to be treated. A good relationship with a recruiter, like any other good relationship, is rooted in mutual respect.