Why it May be Wise to Speak with a Recruiter

Years ago I called someone in NYC to see if he might have a suggestion for a search I was working on. His response, “Why should I help you? You’re in Rhode Island?” Really, it seldom matters where a recruiter is. Instead, what matters is a) who they know, b) how well they know the industry they’re focused on, c) how much they know about navigating the search process and d) what they’re willing to teach you.

Let me explain. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a good recruiter who’s willing to take the time to listen and share some insights, you may find a treasure trove of information. Indeed a strong relationship with a recruiter can resemble that of a personal trainer/athlete. Navigating career decisions with a recruiter who knows both you, and your industry, is a terrific advantage. Because a good recruiter understands and develops relationships and a crucial component of that relationship is good listening.

Perhaps the most common reason that some professionals will speak with a recruiter is to learn about compensation. Indeed, this is frequently discussed, especially around bonus season. Am I paid below market? How do I get my current employer to pay more? If I want more money, is the only choice to leave or get an offer elsewhere? Should I pursue an offer just to receive a counteroffer? How do I converse with a recruiter about compensation? How do I converse with a hiring manager about it?

Some people call me annually after receiving bonuses. Others, just before. One year a Chief Compliance Officer called to say that instead of money, his bonus was a gift card of a modest sum. We discussed his sentiments and what options he had. A General Counsel, who checks in periodically, has spoken with me at length about how to ask for a bonus of a certain amount. He often discusses his expectations in one call and the actual figures in a subsequent conversation.

Because there are multiple factors that determine what someone’s earning, it can be very helpful to discuss this with a recruiter. They should be able to provide some insights. My tendency is to discuss with professionals what their compensation has looked like over the years, as percentage increase is a good gauge on evaluating compensation progression.

But compensation is just one topic that a recruiter should be able to shed light on. Another may well be the pros and cons of leaving a job. Is it OK to leave after less than a year? This question was recently asked by someone I placed a few years ago. She landed herself in an uncomfortable situation and didn’t know how long she needed to stay. Other related questions include: How often should/could someone do that? Is it possible to stay too long with a company? These are questions that a good recruiter should be able to weigh in on.

Once a professional from a large bank called because he wanted to know if I had any suitable openings. As we talked, it became apparent that the problem was his boss was making anti-Semitic remarks. I was able to provide some advice on how to approach the situation. While I don’t think that was what he anticipated, I do believe it was helpful.

Recruiters can also provide guidelines to interviewing. That’s the case even if it’s another recruiter who is sending the candidate in for interviews. They may well know the person conducting the interviews. Or the person formerly in the role. That can be enormously helpful. They may know about the department, or the firm in general. Not to mention what the boss is really like. Recently a compliance officer who wants to leave her firm asked me how to answer, why would you leave your firm after less than two years. It’s a legitimate question and I was able to provide a response she found comfortable.

But let’s say that you’re supposed to interview for a role and there’s information that might be helpful for you to know but it’s outside of your expertise. A recruiter may be able to introduce you to someone who will walk you through the basics. That can be extremely helpful. For example, a compliance person whose background was with hedge funds was interviewing with a PE firm. I arranged for him to talk to a compliance person who had PE experience, so that the candidate had a better sense of things.

Apart from the basics of how to better your resume or navigate challenging interview questions, a recruiter can also assist with how to evaluate an opportunity, not just in terms of compensation. Recruiters may help you determine what kinds of roles you may be eligible for if you pursue one position versus another.

Recruiters may also have information about industry trends, recent moves, layoffs, relocation, upcoming openings, etc.

Of course hiring managers may also benefit from speaking with a recruiter. Often, hiring managers, after evaluating resumes and compensation of a range of candidates will ask a recruiter what the landscape looks like for them, both in terms of compensation and opportunities. Or they will ask recruiters how to approach conducting interviews, evaluating candidates, negotiating compensation, etc. Many hiring managers have asked me to give a sense of the market as it relates to compensation. I’ve been known to give hiring manager sample questions to ask candidates, strategies on how to evaluate candidates and insights on the pros and cons of one candidate vs. another. In short, recruiters have access to lots of information that can be considerably helpful.

So, what happened to that person I called who said, why should I help you, you’re in Rhode Island? About three years after that conversation, he called me. Said that he had been referred to me and wanted some help… something about looking for a job.