"You Should Get To Know A Recruiter Before You Need One" - 12/15/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

I have been very fortunate and have always had an easy time finding a job. Almost since I was out of college.  I got my first real job, right out of college, through a friend of my parent’s, and it turned out to be in a field that I like (yes, office furniture!).  That lead to success in sales, making good money at a dealer, but then just as I was about to turn 30 I was approached by a sales rep at a major manufacturer we worked with about applying for a sales job and I did it and I got it!  Call it hard work or good luck but each new step in my career has been pretty automatic and here I am in my early 40’s with a very good job.
Suddenly I do not feel as secure as I once was about my job or even my career in general.  Working from home during the pandemic drained my enthusiasm so I’m glad we are now back to the office and out seeing customers, but for how long?  My company has had some lay-offs that I have survived, but now I realize all of this has affected my confidence. At one time, people and companies would be calling me, I just always had an easy time finding a job, now I am concerned I have been a bit too sure of myself, maybe I came across as arrogant, or maybe I was just lazy in developing relationships and networking with people that could help my career, especially with recruiters. Listen to this, I never even prepared a good resume or have one up-to-date on my laptop, like most of my friends. Is it important to know a recruiter?  After all, they do not work for the job seekers, they work for the hiring company, that is who is paying them, right? I have friends at Herman Miller, Knoll and Staples that never thought they would need to know a recruiter and now they regret it.  Oh, they are all getting lots of calls, especially from dealers that are circling these people like vultures.  So they may be able to find a job, but it’s not the option they want…working for a vulture! How can I avoid this happening to me if I lose my job, or even if I want to change jobs someday.

Lucky Till Now

Dear Lucky,

That is a pretty harsh appraisal.  Yet it is true, those people recently unemployed are getting calls from plenty of dealers. And, BTW, at BoF we call them Contract Furniture Dealers, not vultures!

The answer for you is simple, and true of so many things in life – if you wait to do it until you need it, it might be too late.  Update your resume now, do not wait until you need one to prepare it.  The same goes for building a relationship with a recruiter. Make the effort to make the relationship happen.  Why? Because it is almost impossible to build a relationship in a hurry, in an emergency situation, with a recruiter or anyone else. 

I have heard the same line hundreds of times from candidates of all ages and experience levels: “I have never needed a resume before”, or “I have never worked with a recruiter before because jobs just come to me”.  What type of company hires someone without a resume because they know you or because the manager has a good “gut feeling” about  you?  A dealer…that’s who.  Not every dealer, because there are many excellent dealers in our industry, but for some dealers if you just show up and you have a pulse you have a place you can always work. And if your pulse slows down too much, no worries, the owner has a son or daughter who will take over your accounts!  Is that where you want to work?

Even if you are not planning to change jobs you need to be prepared in case you lose your current one.  Like you pointed out, just ask anyone who works at Staples, Knoll or Herman Miller.  So having that up-to-date resume and LinkedIn profile and yes, building a relationship with a recruiter is all part of being prepared.  Knowing a recruiter is a investment in your future and a buffer against any unforeseen events.  A good recruiter can help you recover quickly from a layoff, or just leave a bad work environment.  If you wait until you are in a reactive mode, it may be too late.  And I do not just mean knowing a headhunter like me.  I mean internal recruiters within the HR department of your competitors, external recruiters like placement agencies and then executive search practices.

Confused where to look for recruiters?  Try search terms on Twitter like #recruitertwitter and #HRCommunity. Then when you find the recruiter read their LinkedIn profile - see where they went to college, what jobs they’ve had and understand the industry they are in and their recruiting specialty.  Here is a tip, recruiters are people, too and we want to do the right thing by matching a person to a position so we wind up with a happy client and a happy candidate.  Don’t waste our time.  Come to a recruiter prepared; with your current resume that is formatted correctly, has no typos, and has complete contact info in the header;  with a carefully done LinkedIn profile that has a picture looking straight into the camera, in business attire, with a neutral background; and an email about why you are contacting me, the job you are looking for, and your recent 3-year base and bonus compensation.  Specifically I want to know about base salary and compensation so I am not wasting your time talking to you about a job that does not pay you enough.  Other issues: Do you have a non-solicitation or non-compete agreement; Did you not quite finish college because you were one semester short; Does your partner/spouse work in the industry?  I want to know all this because I can work better with someone I know.  You are not my client, the manufacturer or the dealer is. My job is to find them the best possible fit in terms of experience, skills, culture values, compensation and location. I do not have to like you and you do not have to like me but we can succeed in placing you in the right spot.  Be honest with me and I will with you.

Looking longer term, I can not get to know you in a week, not even month, so you want to know a recruiter for a long time and the way to start that is by building a relationship slowly, starting now.  And this isn’t an exclusive relationship - I do not want to go steady – so get to know other recruiters that you have identified as having the most potential for you . 

We are bombarded with news every day that there is a shortage if people in the workforce today.  From my point of view I’d narrow that down and say there is a shortage of quality candidates because many salespeople want to hybrid work and the contract furniture industry does not want any part of that.  My clients sell office furniture so they want their employees in the office! So, searches take longer than before.  Eventually we find that great person and it is usually a person I do not know well, may not have anything in common with, and is not a friend.  However, they have taken the time to develop a relationship with me, and I trust them, so I recommend them to my client.  When I interviewed them, they shared more then what was on their resume, they shared who they are inside.  Once I know what is inside a candidate’s heart, I can generally help them faster. 

Or you could stay quiet, private, out of the picture, by the book, AND UNEMPLOYED.