Question

When independent recruiters are discussing a job with me, they ask if there are any job opportunities that I’m actively exploring on my own. What should I tell them? If I say no, then it seems no one is interested in me. If I say yes, the recruiter might think I am a waste of his time because I’m about to accept an offer. I’m also a little worried about divulging the names of companies I’m pursuing on my own. Is this kind of recruiter pressure reasonable?

Nick’s Reply

Never subject yourself to pressure from a recruiter, simply because a good recruiter will never pressure you.

Some recruiters will ask who else you’re interviewing with no hidden agenda. They’ve already checked you out and they’ve concluded you’re worth competing for. What you’re doing on your own isn’t going to affect their perceptions. They just want to know whether there is a time constraint. In other words, are you close to accepting another offer? That could affect how and when they present you to their client. And that’s fair. If you trust the recruiter, don’t hesitate to discuss your situation candidly.

How to Say It
“If I’m working on another opportunity, will that affect your interest in me?”

A good recruiter will be candid right back, politely. A recruiter that applies pressure is not recruiting. In this business, recruiting means pursuing, appealing, seducing, enticing — not pressuring. If you don’t feel wooed, you’re not being recruited properly.

Recruiter pressure

Other recruiters may be playing games, as you suggest. If they are, well, why worry about them? Let them think what they will. Too much disclosure too soon is risky. Disclose only what you wish and don’t worry about pressure. Remember that the likelihood that any recruiter is going to place you is pretty small. Don’t engage if a recruiter is overly intrusive.

If you’re interviewing with companies on your own, and you don’t know enough about the recruiter to trust them yet, play your cards close. When asked if you’re interviewing anywhere, tell the truth, but don’t reveal enough details that the recruiter can figure out who the company is. Who else you’re interviewing with is none of the recruiter’s business. It should not affect their relationship with you.

Common sense

What a recruiter does need to know about, if you’re going to work together, are potential conflicts. If you’re already interviewing with the company they’re recruiting for, they need to know that. (So do you.) That’s just common sense.

Nonetheless, you should not divulge what companies you’re talking with. (We’ll discuss the risk in a minute.) Ask the recruiter who their client is, and explain that you will confirm whether or not you have already established contact with that company. That’s more common sense.

Recruiter tactics

Some recruiters will explain that if they disclose the company’s name, you may go directly to the company, costing them a fee for making the introduction. That’s a recruiter who has no relationship with the employer, and a job for which every recruiter in the land is submitting candidates. They’re all just fishing, which is not good for you. It’s one example of why recruiters suck so bad.

Some recruiters will say it’s confidential; they can’t divulge their client’s name. Well, that’s that. The recruiter isn’t willing to trust you. Why should you trust the recruiter? Unless it’s a top-level executive position, or it requires very specialized knowledge and skills, it’s not confidential. The recruiter has to decide whether it’s worth telling you more.

This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road, and the recruiter and the candidate begin to forge a relationship. Remember that the recruiter called you. The recruiter should “give something” first.

It’s a matter of trust

Unfortunately, there are too many people trying to make a fast buck in the recruiting business. It’s common to encounter unsavory types “dialing for dollars.” You will recognize them from their high pressure tactics: “I’m the recruiter. If you’re not cooperative, it could cost you this job. Tell me what I need to know!” Lots of people instantly cower before that kind of presentation. Don’t.

Unless you know and trust a recruiter, you have no idea what they may do with information about other jobs you’re pursuing. I’ve seen recruiters go out of their way to torpedo another opportunity a person was developing, just so the recruiter could advance their own placement. It’s unlikely you’d encounter that nasty a recruiter, but you must be careful all the time.

Keep your standards and expectations high. Deal only with recruiters who behave like your interests matter as much as their own, because that’s what defines any good, successful business relationship. So answer in whatever way feels comfortable to you, and let the chips fall where they may. In the process, you will learn something very important about the recruiter, well before you need to trust them to negotiate on your behalf.

What kinds of questions do recruiters ask you that make you uncomfortable? How do you deal with this?

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9 Comments
  1. My professional journals have classified ads. You know, the usual.
    “Four season climate” = nine months of winter, one month each of spring, summer, autumn.
    “Family-oriented community” = everyone is related to each other.

    I had a recruiter call me about job offers in my trainig days. It became instantly obvious that the idiot headhunter was reading off the classifieds of the latest issue of my professional journal.

    • Or, as they say in western Norway: If you are dissatisfied with the season, wait a few minutes.

  2. I agree with most of what you say here. However, I have to take exception with your conversation about confidentiality. There are confidential searches at every level – for a variety of reasons. While it is not the norm or typical, it does occur, and not just at the very most senior executive levels.

    • Not really. Only in very high positions is that really a concern, and when you get to that point, you’re paying a recruiter a retainer to search for you. At that point you literally have an incentive to keep them from jerking your chain.

      A recruiter who wants to withhold the name of the employer has one of two situations that they’re trying to cover for:
      1) That there is no position and one of the following is true:
      -they’re using you to pad their virtual rolodex of resumes. (To make their portfolio look better?)
      -they’re trying to use you to learn insider information about your field. (Had this happen, every time I would ask about who the position was with I’d get the conversation steered back towards technical questions.)
      -they’re trying to learn about where you work to score a contract with your employer. (Had this happen several times, leave your current employer’s name off your resume!)
      2) That they’re openly submitting you on a public ATS that any person or at the very least any recruiter can use. This is the use-case Nick stated.

      If the recruiter is good they have exclusivity with the client, and a signed contract stating as such. At which point, there’s absolutely zero harm in them telling you who the client is — it’s impossible to go around them.

      • @Darron: Excellent summary of the games many recruiters play. When a potentially great new job is the carrot, people who know nothing about the recruiter will spill everything — at their own considerable risk.

        Your final point is really important. I’ve seen people get rejected by employers they approached directly themselves because some recruiter already submitted their resume via a public ATS. When the recruiter’s submission was rejected, the candidate wound up with a black mark on their resume record that resulted in automatic future rejections. Know who has your resume and where it’s being sent. I know that’s hard when we all have profiles on LinkedIn, but it’s worth thinking twice about indiscriminately helping “recruiters” over-expose you like that.

  3. I had just started a new contract when I received a call from a “recruiter” who wanted to submit me to a job. I told him that I was working now and was not available. He got upset. He told me that I was the best candidate for the position. He really wanted to submit me. He sounded desperate. He even went as far as to tell me “You must quit your job so that [he] could submit me to the client.”
    I got upset.
    I confronted him with “What if the client isn’t interested? Are you going to compensate me for my lost wages?”
    That ended the conversation real quick.

  4. Reminds me of a recruiter who, the night before I was to start a job, demanded submission to a “full background check.” I emailed the hiring manager and told him the deal had been skunked.

  5. Trust as noted is key. Before it’s firmly established there is a gray area when people dance around each other in the process of nailing it down.

    Since it’s usually on the recruiters dime, it’s on them to gain it. And as Nick noted, pressure isn’t a way to gain it.

    The glue of trust is mutual respect, and in business tucked away in respect, is the duty of not wasting each others time.

    along those lines 1 of the 1st things I learned/observed as a recruiter, is there are 2 kinds of recruiters..those who preached & practiced, no disclosure of clients due to fear that person would do an end run, and those who disclosed due a belief that most people ethically wouldn’t do that in the 1st place, and/or were adverse to doing what we called a cold call. I disclosed

    And I asked those questions…e.g. got anything in your pipeline? offers on the way? already dealing with the client? and the like. I really didn’t need the nitty nitty details.

    Here’s some reasons for my questions.
    1. Some corporations had a reputation for allowing the recruiter to engage, submit a good candidate..then tell you they already had the person in their database (ATS). which they obviously ignored until you brought them to their attention, well vetted. What that means is the recruiter would get stiffed. Not always, with some clients, ethics would prevail & they knew you really did find this person. but your friendly recruiter could blow a lot of time away for no payback.

    2. Related to this, there were some so-called recruiters who knew this, and would submit resumes to those clients, for the sole purpose of populating that dbase, sit back & let competing recruiters bring the person to light with their submittal bolted to it. It’s not unusual for clients to receive duplicate or more submittals, so they’d employ a 1st come 1st serve policy. Again the recruiter who actually spent time with you & has your back is cut out, no matter how deeply you’ve formed a team play.
    Recruiters who play this random game of resume submittal likely are also blindsiding the applicant who’s as shocked by the recruiter to find they were submitted. Again some corporations guide by ethics..meaning when an applicant tells them they were unaware their resume was sent in without their OK, they’ll do what’s right. Some don’t want to be bothered, & go with 1st come 1st serve.

    3. Also take note that good recruiters who’ve been in the business actually do have good working relationships with client companies. client companies with good ethics. Those clients frown on candidates who do end runs around recruiters who disclose. Candidates who’d do that have disclosed a lack of ethics they don’t want in their company.

    4. On the trust gaining dialogue. Fast & loose recruiters will infer or actually say they have client contact, when that’s BS. Their source can be as noted websites, job boards. Most likely in practice a search company sales person may pick it up from an HR recruiter and be handed a sterile job description, but there’s a fire wall between HR & the hiring manager & in reality they know as much about the job as you do. Then said job description is handed off to the recruiter. Who is flying very blind.

    But not always. Good recruiters do have contacts with client hiring managers or designates. Who actually talk with them. They have that degree of contact because of trust and respect, for past value add placements. So there’s no firewall for these recruiters. These recruiters are the applicant’s sweet spots, worthy of their time, trust and respect. These recruiters give what they get. They’ve got your resume, ask for theirs (even if it’s on linkedin). Interview them..vet them for yourself. Ask for some referrals. People they’ve placed…especially if they claim a solid client relationship via past placements. Ask to talk to some of those placements…They won’t be offended. though take note there could be some sensitivity inside the client company…if the hiring manager’s not disclosed intent to hire..or especially if it’s a replacement, & especially especially if the replacement isn’t gone yet. There are true confidential searches. And it’s career limiting for both recruiter and applicant if they screw things up for a hiring manager.
    If sensitivities exist in the targeted client, ask to talk with other placements from the past. One reason Good recruiters/headhunters are good is because the are networkers and connectors. They build good working relationships, and as such will have little issue with answering questions, offering referrals.

  6. External recruiters? How quaint.

    Recruiters have started calling again, post virus. Almost all of my calls are coming from in-house recruiters & employees, who are calling around looking for candidates.

    This makes sense. My LinkedIndia feed became a dialing-for-dollars recruiter graveyard last year.

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