Working with a Headhunter

Think that headhunter calls aren't serious business? Think again. Whether you are looking for a job or not, it is always wise to be prepared to take a call from an executive recruiter. Some graduate schools even offer workshops on the topic. While you don't necessarily need to enroll in university courses before you answer the phone, there are some things you should know to make the most of an inquiry from a recruiter.

1. Answer the call. Don't treat a recruiter like a telemarketer. With so many layoffs, restructurings and downsizings, it's critical to stay tuned in to possible job opportunities by taking a headhunter's call and listening to what he or she has to say. If it is not convenient for you to talk with the recruiter when he or she calls, offer a more convenient time when you would be available to talk.

2. You're on the most-wanted list. Most search firms develop extensive databases of potential candidates using well-developed networks, referrals, professional association membership lists, the media, etc. If you receive a call from a recruiting firm, you've been targeted or are at least visible enough to make someone's initial referral list. Handle it properly and you could receive additional calls as opportunities arise.

3. Listen and learn. It never hurts to listen, even if you are happy in your current job. You may be surprised to learn that despite the rising number of layoffs, good companies are always looking for good people. Find out as much about the position as possible. The recruiter should be able to answer some basic questions about the position, such as the key responsibilities of the job, its title, an approximate salary range, why the job became available, the type of company, the corporate culture, the financial and strategic situation of the company, etc. By listening and asking questions, you will find out what you need to know to decide if the position is worth considering.

4. See it in writing. Ask the recruiter for a written or electronic copy of the job summary or description. If this is a legitimate opportunity, the recruiter should be happy to send you the requested information. While the company name may not immediately be revealed, the description should include information about job, scope and span of responsibility, the required experience level and skills needed to perform the job, as well as information about the company including its location, size, industry and products or services.

5. Don't give them your resume, yet. Before you email or fax over your resume, you need to learn more about the position, the recruiter, and the arrangement with the prospective employer. If this is a retained search, the employer will pay the recruiter's fee. If this is a contingency search, someone is going to have to pay the recruiter's fee and it may be you! Ask the recruiter a simple question such as ?Is this a retained or contingency search that you are working on?? to know what arrangements have been made.

6. Customize your resume to match the position. Once you have reviewed the job specifications, you can emphasize the experience and skills the potential employer is looking for; if you don't have an up-to-date resume, use this call as reason to have a current resume ready. You can normally tell the recruiter that you want to review the position first to buy yourself a day or two to pull together a proper resume.

7. You've got to give a little. If you are not interested in the position, be timely in your response back to the recruiter. But don't end the conversation there. You'll go a long way in establishing rapport and creating opportunities for future calls if you take a few minutes to direct the recruiter to someone within your company or network who might be qualified and interested in the position.

8. Never lead on a headhunter. Don't pretend to be interested in a position just to get face time with a recruiter. It's much better to be honest and state that you are not interested in the particular position, but would like to share your background and experience with the recruiter. They'll appreciate your honesty and will likely be interested in hearing more about you as a possible candidate for other searches they are conducting.

9. This is not a dress rehearsal. Treat the headhunter as you would any other corporate recruiter or potential employer. Always remain professional and never let your guard down. Recruiters will assume that how you interact with them is how you will interact with their client. Their reputation is at stake each time they send a client a candidate. If you don't impress the recruiter, you're not likely to ever meet their clients.

10. Stay in touch. Don't be a nuisance, but don't be a stranger either. If you have a change in job status, be it a promotion, transfer, new job, or job loss, let the recruiter know about your situation. This information may put you back on their active radar screen.