It’s December! Companies have bold plans for 2019. These plans require staff. Hiring budgets are approved. People think December is a tough time to find a job because of vacations and holidays. Although it’s true that assembling people for interviews can be tricky, that challenge is offset by the pressure companies face to have their team in place when the games begin again on January 2. In 20 years of recruiting, December has typically been my busiest month.

There are many ways to find a new position. Today I’ll talk about working with recruiters. And by that I don’t mean HR recruiters who are employees of a hiring company. I’m referring to agency recruiters, sometimes called Executive recruiters or headhunters. People whose clients are the employers, and who like a real estate agent finds a buyer (employer) and a seller (candidate), arranges a house tour (interview) and coordinates the sale (the hire).

Some people get all their jobs through agency recruiters. Some avoid them for a number of reasons which I will address in a later article. For now I’m assuming that working with 1 or more headhunters (BTW, agency recruiters do not mind the term “headhunter”) is part of your search plan. 

HOW TO CHOOSE AN AGENCY RECRUITER TO WORK WITH: Research recruiters on LinkedIn and weigh key 4 variables: (1) Area of focus (2) years in business (3) awards and rankings (4) recommendations that remark on the recruiter’s effectiveness and communication/follow up skills

KNOW…Awards and rankings for Agency Recruiters are always based on total revenues they bring into their firm.

WHY THAT’S GOOD: Recruiters with high rankings and lots of recognition (President’s Club, #1 ranking, Pinnacle Society) are better than 80+% of other recruiters at getting people hired, they probably have multiple clients, they know about jobs no one else knows about, and they are likely a trusted adviser who can influence their clients.

WHY THAT’S BAD: Recruiters who make a lot of placements tend to build teams that create a pipeline of qualified candidates – quickly. So the more effective the recruiter, the more likely you are to compete against a minimum of 2 to 4 other applicants.

HOWEVER…Although the top 20% of recruiters do want to source the best match for their client, they are aggressively focused on efficiency and will favor candidates who are easiest to work with and to place. And again, they are likely a trusted adviser who can influence their clients.


1.      What can I provide you to help sell me to your client?

2.      How can I make it easy for you to place me?

3.      What do you want me to change on my resume?

4.      What other searches do you need referrals for?

5.      Who can I introduce you to?

6.      What would put me in a better light than the other candidates you’re presenting to the client?

7.      How should I prepare for an interview with your client?


1.      Be ready to be placed– have a current, professionally written resume and a cover letter that can be quickly tailored to a position’s specifics. Again, defer to the recruiter on changes that will help you glide easily into the interview round.

2.      Have a follow up thank-you template ready – align with the appearance of your resume (font, size, special effects, and address line) for a consistent brand. Send the thank-you note as soon as you can get to a computer, proofread it three times, connect the employer’s hot buttons to your skills/achievements and personal motivations, proofread it again. Send to the recruiter to review before it is sent to the employer.

3.      Don’t trust Microsoft Word’s spelling or grammar checker for resumes or cover letters.

4.      If open to relocation, have your relocation checklist completed

5.      References – Have these ready. Let anyone you’d include on a reference list know they might be contacted. Delays in producing references at the end of the hiring process are a bright red flag.

6.      Salary info – Research up front. Go online to more than 1 source: Visit Glassdoor, Check out a few online relocation calculators if possible, read articles on how much of an increase to expect…figure out what’s important to you – would you take a lateral salary offer for better healthcare benefits? What’s it worth to you if you could telecommute and avoid 10 hours of unpaid traffic time per week?

7.      Know your benefits: premiums, special coverage requirements – understand what you actually have.

8.      Figure out whether you have non-compete/solicitations, contracts, etc., that could limit your opportunities. Nothing will cause an employer and recruiter to hate you more than to discover at the point of offer that your job effectiveness would be compromised, and they may simply reject you due to carelessness. (There should be a law against wasting others’ time this way, maybe 30 days’ mandatory jail time spent discussing HR compliance law.)

9.      Get your story straight. Why are you here (interviewing)? Good recruiters are wary of “I’m always open to opportunities” – they have better results with people who are motivated and not shy about it.

10.  One of the easiest ways to nail the pre-/post-interview that Recruiters LOVE: Make a chart mapping your experience and achievement to the job descriptions specific requirements and responsibilities that the recruiter can share with the client.

11.  Understand Communication Expectations: People who avoid recruiters usually fault lack of communication/feedback as the reason. The reason recruiters, HR and hiring managers (and humans in general) don’t communicate is because they don’t like giving people bad news. The top 20% of recruiters have more activity than the other 80% combined, and learn that to stay efficient they need to give bad news quickly. It’s always best to set guidelines with recruiters up front – I suggest you cover:

  • What’s the chance of you finding something for me?
  • Am I someone you can place proactively or will you simply call me if an opportunity
  • How often do you see opportunities for someone like me? (Some recruiters – and most of the Top 20% – focus on extremely specific niches, e.g., Sales hunters for Cloud software companies. It is great to find people who specialize only in candidates like you, but the downside is they’ve likely developed a busy pipeline of alternative candidates. See earlier remarks about ways to get recruiters to favor and push for
  • How often should I contact you and what’s your preferred communication
  • What can I provide to make it easier for you to place me?


1.      I’ve accepted a counteroffer in the past

2.      I have lots of irons in the fire and am expecting an offer from several companies

3.      I’ve rejected a lot of offers

4.      I’d need X comp plan (X = unrealistic increase above current numbers)

5.      I’ll let my spouse/partner know about the opportunity when we get a little further down the line


1.      Anytime I’ve interviewed for a position, I’ve received an offer

2.      Every position I’ve held I found through a recruiter

3.      I had an attorney review my non-compete agreement and nothing is off limits

4.      Here’s a List of companies I’d be interested in working for

5.      I have a great relationship with [Director+ level executive at the recruiter’s client]

If there’s one truism I’d leave you with, it’s that the best person doesn’t always get the job –it’s the candidate who makes the best overall impression. A strong recruiter can help you stand out – collaborate with them, make it easy for them to succeed in placing you, and continue to build a relationship with them for when you’ll need them again in your corner.