The Best Strategies For Approaching Recruiters [Without Alienating Them]

Learn the unspoken code of ethics.


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Last updated: March 20th, 2024

How to deal with recruiters

Last updated: March 20th, 2024

Reading Time: 7 minutes

To land the role of your dreams, you need to know how to approach recruiters. This means getting familiar with the job search strategies that expose your freshly written resume to recruiters and reward you with meaningful interactions (phone calls and interviews).

Simply applying for positions online is not a strong strategy, however, and it can lead to job search frustration and disappointment.

Let me show you how to approach recruiters in a way that will yield results. But first…

A Couple Of Essential Acronyms:

1. Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

An Applicant Tracking System is candidate-management software that uses keywords to screen resumes and keep track of applicants.

Seventy-five per cent of recruiters and talent managers use some form of ATS. These systems rely on resume keywords and context to make screening decisions.

2. Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

Your Unique Selling Proposition is your personal brand’s core value promise. It positions you as a unique answer to a business decision-maker’s problems.

How The Recruitment Industry Works.

Here’s how modern job search works:

  • You find a job that interests you.
  • You apply either directly on the company’s website or via LinkedIn, a job board, or a recruiter’s email address.
  • The application is fed into the recruiter’s ATS.
  • The ATS screens your resume.
  • If your resume passes the ATS screen, your application lands in a recruiter’s inbox (or into a recruiter’s ATS dashboard like the one below):

deal with recruiters

Note that the number of applicants who pass the ATS screen can be quite high (63 in this case).

In the interest of comic relief, it’s also worth noting that Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, the old Uber CEO and a few of Donald Trump’s key advisors are among the applicants for this particular COO role.

Job search is a serious topic, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun along the way, right?)

Finally, it’s important to note that the exact recruitment process can vary, depending on:

  • Size of organisation you’re applying to.
  • Type of role you’re applying for.
  • Type of candidate-tracking software.
  • Sophistication of the organisation’s recruitment efforts.
  • Skill of individual recruiters.

Despite these variations, the core concept remains – you’re swept up into a (much larger than you probably realise) funnel and are filtered through a number of elimination rounds.

Some of these rounds rely on algorithmic testing while others involve a human evaluation.

(Related: Bespoke Outplacement Services For C-Suite Executives).

Getting Past The ATS Screen.

Some candidates mistakenly believe that getting their resume past an ATS will lead to a recruiter phone call (or perhaps an invitation to attend an interview).

This belief is often perpetuated by run-of-the-mill resume writers who use fear of the ATS as a sales tactic to convince clients to purchase their “ATS tested and scored” resumes.

While having a keyword-optimised resume that passes the ATS is certainly desirable, it’s also inconsequential. Our Managing Consultant, Philippa Sealey, explains why:

“A resume which makes it through the ATS screen is likely to be facing stiff competition for the recruiter’s attention from a few dozen other resumes which have also ‘made it’.”

This is a vital point. It illustrates that getting past the ATS screen does not guarantee that your job application will lead to a meaningful interaction with a recruiter.

In fact, your so-called “victory” could very well be the end of the road for your application.

This is why, instead of simply submitting your resume online, we recommend you deal with recruiters in more sophisticated ways.

Consider this: In the example above, 63 applicants “made it” past the initial robot screen. But, a time-strapped recruiter who has 16 similar roles to fill may not choose to comb through all 63 in detail.

At this stage, two scenarios are possible:

  • Your application is one of the few the recruiter chooses to examine.
  • The recruiter ignores your application due to volume/time constraints.

If you’re in the latter category, you’re pretty much done. But if you’re in the former one, you stand a great chance, right?

Well, not exactly.

On both counts.

(Related: How To Respond To Recruiters On LinkedIn).

Most Recruiters Are Simple Creatures.

A lot of recruiters are trained to fit square holes into square pegs.

They don’t always understand the commercial value of the roles for which they’re recruiting. This means they rely on proxy indicators to indicate candidate/employer fit.

For example, let’s say you were applying for the Chief Operating Officer role above and the employer was a large Australian insurer. If your previous roles were “COO at Medibank” and “Director of Operations at IAG,” you have an advantage.

The problem is that most candidates’ careers do not follow predictable easy-to-understand, blue-chip trajectories.

(Related Article: How To Explain A Career Transition On Your Resume).

This is why it’s critical to understand how to communicate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

It’s also where things get intricate. When you optimise a resume for an ATS screen, you typically stuff it with the keywords found in the job description. However, keyword stuffing diminishes your resume’s capacity to communicate your value to a real human being.

You’re faced with a dilemma: should you optimise your resume for a robot or a human? These are diametrically opposing processes where an improvement in one metric usually leads to a drop in the other.

Only the best resume writing professionals, who possess a significant amount of commercial acumen, marketing savvy and writing skill are able to create resumes that satisfy both robots and humans.

And even at that level, the process will require a dose of compromise.

This is a significant problem that forces us to think more broad and strategic. It also steers us away from the severely handicapped “get past an ATS = land a job interview” mentality.

The good news is that the strategy for overcoming these difficulties is the same, regardless of your unique scenario.

(Related: How To Get Maximum Redundancy Entitlements).

Building Relationships With Recruiters.

Though finding employment is one of the most human of endeavours, the typical recruitment process strips the human element from the equation.

Technology makes it easy for both candidates and recruiters to remain faceless and hide behind automated systems to avoid the discomfort associated with making initial contact or getting rejected.

Ironically, this approach results in more rejection and discomfort. I encourage you to resist the temptation to play the game.

It’s rigged.

Sidestep technology and connect with recruiters by infusing your job search process with the human element. As I pointed out, even the most “ATS-proof” resume will not reward you with preferred status in a recruiter’s pipeline.

With confidence and skill, your goal should be to make personal connections with your recruiters even if you’re still in the exploratory stages of your job search.

Sounds daunting, right? It shouldn’t be.

We’re entering a new era of recruitment where smarter recruitment professionals are also realising the need to bring the human element back into the process.

Most of them know that even the best ATS are flawed. They are also all too familiar with embarrassing horror stories when they mistakenly missed out on screening top candidates.

As you work through this process and connect on a human level, you’ll find that most recruiters will be open to your overtures.

Here Are 5 Tips To Guide You:

1. Don’t Hide Behind Email.

A few hours after you submit your application, pick up the phone and call the recruiter. Even the best resume in the world will not help your cause if it gets lost in a recruiter’s ATS.

Before you call, practice your pitch and get clear about your USP. Invest in a few hours of job interview coaching. Figure out what makes you uniquely suitable for the role.

Here’s a pitch example:

“I applied for this role because I am a Systems Accountant with 10 years of experience in SAP implementations.”

How does this pitch sound to you? To me, it sounds like the other 50 applicants who made it through the ATS. A USP-infused pitch would make a much stronger impression on the recruiter.

Here is an example:

“I’m good for this role because I know how to deliver a successful SAP implementation. I’ve done it before, in my last role and in the one before. I understand the challenges. In my last role, I came in late and had to bring it back from a 3-month delay and a $1M outlay with no results to deliver within the initial timeframe and budget. That’s why this role caught my eye as a great opportunity for me to add value.”

2. Focus On Relevance.

To create a USP-centric pitch, summarise why you are a unique match for the job.

Using a professional resume writing service, like the ones we provide through our Sydney- and Melbourne-based practices, will result in the best outcome.

Our resumes have USPs built in.

When devising your pitch, create a list of facts and bullets, so recruiters can quickly tick off those boxes in their minds.

Remember that most recruiters seek exact matches because they don’t have a sophisticated understanding of how roles impact business outcomes. This is why one of the most common rejections you’ll hear is:

“You don’t have the right industry experience for the job.”

The truth is, you probably do have the right experience. But you have to help recruiters connect the dots, so they realise it, too.

3. Don’t Stalk.

You will annoy recruiters if you reach out through multiple platforms at a rapid pace. There’s a fine line between being on the stalker list and the list of front-of-mind candidates.

Balance persistence with patience.

Waiting for a response is nerve-wracking, but don’t give in to the temptation to stalk. Although you can and should follow up with a recruiter, constant communication can work against you.

The process takes time.

If a recruiter doesn’t offer a specific timeframe of when you can expect a response or update, ask for one. Knowing the response time window will give you peace of mind and spare the recruiter from unnecessary communication.

4. Build Your Recruiter Network.

Don’t select recruiters solely on the availability of immediate job openings in their pipeline. This applies especially to executive recruiters.

Build relationships with recruiters who hire for roles in your industry and your level of seniority, and/or those who have a relationship with the company you want to work for.

These strategic relationships will place you in the running for future job opportunities.

To find these recruiters:

  • Visit LinkedIn, a job board or the Careers website of the company you want to work for.
  • Enter the title of your desired role and salary (you may have to try a few different titles and salary levels).

Identify recruiters who have the most experience with your line of work and reach out to them via email. Attach your resume and your USP-infused pitch. Request a quick phone conversation and follow the advice in my previous points.

5. Courtesy Is King.

Remain cordial and professional with recruiters. How you behave when things don’t go your way is just as important as how you behave when they do.

If you apply for a role and don’t progress as far as you’d like, thank the recruiter for their time and graciously say you are interested in similar roles.

No one likes a sore loser. Keep your composure and leave the door open for future contact.

Don’t Forget The Human Touch.

Recruiters are people-people. Most of them enjoy making connections and helping talented candidates advance their careers.

But like any relationship, it’s a two-way street. Recruiters live in a high-pressure, deadline-driven sales world and they juggle multiple priorities and leverage technology to make their lives easier.

Think about their needs. By advancing their needs, you can almost always advance yours. Play your cards right and a recruiter will:

  • Expose you to job opportunities you didn’t know about.
  • Provide key insight into the job market.
  • Help negotiate higher compensation packages.
  • Provide critical job search advice.

And most importantly, treat recruiters exactly how you want to be treated.

– Irene

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