How to Make Recruiters Work for You

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Several hundred job seekers turned out to meet with recruiters at the San Francisco Hirevent job fair where nearly 250 jobs were available in June of 2011.

A call from a recruiter is more likely to be for their gain than yours. Still, that call could be the springboard for your next jump up the career ladder.

With the economy still sputtering and the unemployed outnumbering job vacancies by six to one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, recruiters and headhunters are becoming an increasingly vital contact. Last year they helped nearly 13 million U.S. workers find temporary, contract or permanent jobs, and surveys have shown that 90% to 95% of large U.S. employers now use staffing firms to fill vacancies, according to the American Staffing Association.

While you might not expect it, you could soon get a call from one these smooth-talkers, so here are TIME Moneyland’s top tips for how to make recruiters work for you.

1. Set The Tone

It’s important to establish a dynamic from the outset and ensure your relationship starts on a comfortable footing. For Alison Doyle, job search expert for, the first call is all about laying down cards on the table at the earliest point. “It’s important to set the tone at the very beginning of your relationship,” she says. “Find out what information the recruiter needs from you and if they have specific openings they are interested in talking to you about.” She also recommends determining how you will stay in contact with the recruiter, and how often.

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Meanwhile, Michael T. Robinson, president and founder, says he thinks you should already have a sales pitch in your head, pinpointing what it is you do and how you’d like to progress. “You need to give them your 7-second elevator pitch,” he says. “Make it quick, memorable and practice it until it rolls off your tongue.”

2. Establish Their Credentials

Having hopefully established an understanding, it’s important to make sure this is actually someone worth talking to. Oodles of charm is one thing, but if the recruiter doesn’t have a good rapport with the hiring manager, they’re unlikely to get you an interview. “When I used headhunters to find talent for me, we would talk several times per week – thus they knew a lot about me and what I was looking for,” says Robinson. “If the person calling you does not know much about the hiring manager, they are probably not that good.”

It can also be worth checking up on a recruiter’s history. As well as asking the recruiter about their specialties and previous dealings with their client, Doyle recommends looking at their LinkedIn profile to read the feedback from people they’ve placed.

3. Build a Good Relationship

At the end of the day, this is abusiness transaction. But as we all know, it never hurts to build a rapport with the person you’re dealing with. As Charlotte Weeks, the career guru behind points out, being on friendly terms with the recruiter could give you the edge over equally qualified candidates. “Treat them like a networking contact and stay on their radar the way you would with anyone else,” she says. And at the same time, it’s a two way-street. “Call or email once in a while to see if anything is coming down the pipeline,” she adds. “They’ll especially appreciate you if you’re ever contacted about a position that doesn’t seem to be a fit and you refer them to someone who might be.”

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4. Avoid Being Played

Often, recruiters targeting the business of large companies will call their current employees with offers of fake jobs simply to glean nuggets of information. While not entirely avoidable – some recruiters can be incredibly cunning – Robinson recommends keeping the focus on you and away from your company as the best way to steer clear of this sting, “First, never give names of people from your current employer,” he says. “Your management will not like that.” But as Robinson points out, you can work these bogus calls to your advantage. “It’s certainly ok to give names of people that work for your competitors. Your management would probably like that because it weakens the competition.”

5. Make Your Mark

It’s important to remember that recruiters speak to dozens of candidates each day and will have often forgotten your name before they even put down the receiver. With this in mind, it’s essential to stay at the forefront of their thoughts, and what better way to do this than to demonstrate what an excellent fit you are for this role. Confidence, clarity and intelligence are vital, as is the ability to pinpoint exactly what it is they’re looking for as soon as possible. “If you can do the job, ask questions that show you are knowledgeable and confident of the skill set, and that you are a team player,” recommends Mark Teller, author of The Hard Truth and And, having caught their attention, make it clear to the recruiter that they’ll have to move fast if they want to secure your services. “It’s the same as with buying a house,” adds Teller. “Always have another house you would be just as happy to move into, and let them know it.”

6. Get The Best Deal

When all’s said and done, none of these tips will be valuable unless you can finish the job and land that dream position. While I could write a separate article on how to haggle like a Marrakech spice-seller (indeed, many have written books on the matter), there are some basics to bear in mind. Never mention a salary number until they do. And it always helps to have leverage such as another job offer. If you’ve reached the absolute limit when it comes to salary and you’re still not satisfied, Robinson suggests exploring other avenues, such as a sign-on bonus, extra vacation days or a company car. And his final top tip: “If a recruiter gets you a better job than you have now, send them a gift basket,” he says. “They will remember you forever.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the percentage of employers that use staffing services to the American Staffing Association. About 90% to 95% of large employers use those services, according to surveys. The story also incorrectly attributed the projected increase in the recruitment industry to the U.S. Department of Labor.