Job Hunting Secret: The Recruiter is Not On Your Side

Last Updated Dec 16, 2010 12:52 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

What is an appropriate amount of time to wait before following up with the recruiter? I've submitted resumes and waited weeks before hearing anything. For some positions, that's fine. But for the ones I really want, this feels like an eternity. Often, I never hear back at all, and this often leaves me without a sense of closure (did they see my resume? are they interviewing? will I get a call? should I keep looking? did they hire? why didn't they choose me?) What's proper etiquette in this situation?

Here's a secret in job hunting: The recruiter doesn't care about you. They care about their clients--the hiring managers. They don't care about closure. They have jobs so they aren't stressed out about your job search. They don't think about filling a particular job day and night, they way the candidates do. Their sense of time is very different from the candidates' sense of time. (I'm speaking about in house recruiters here, of course. Headhunters aren't paid until a candidate is placed, so they are generally more attuned to the candidates.)

This isn't because they are bad people. Think of it this way: If you've ever been pregnant (or become a father), you know that that particular pregnancy is the longest thing in the universe. Never before has 9 months passed so slowly. But, when your next door neighbor says casually, "Guess what? We're having a baby!" it seems like two weeks later the little bundle of joy has appeared. You're always shocked and think, "Gee, I thought she was just barely pregnant!" You forget that 9 months passed for her too.

So, while the recruiter may take a long weekend and not think about you at all, you're constantly focused on your application. This isn't bad or good, it just is.

Now, this isn't to say that the recruiters aren't focused on their jobs. They are. It's just not all consuming like it can be for the job seeker.

Recruiters aren't thinking, "Gee, I never responded to 300 people that applied for this position. I hope they know I got their resumes!" The recruiter is thinking, "Gah, 300 resumes to slog through. 50 of the people are qualified, but I only have 5 interview slots. This is going to take me for-freaking-ever to get through."

Contacting a recruiter is unlikely to yield you good responses. It's not likely to damage your prospects either. However, if you are obnoxious it will damage your changes of getting in for an interview. Obnoxious behavior includes multiple phone calls. Keep in mind that recruiters can sometimes get hundreds of resumes for a position. If every person who submitted their resume wants to talk to the recruiter, all she'll have time for is talking on the phone to candidates.

You aren't going to be able to sell yourself with a follow up phone call. You need to sell yourself with your original cover letter and your original resume. To answer your questions directly:
  • Did they see my resume? Maybe. For larger companies your resume will go straight into a computer system and unless you meet the computer's qualifications, no human will ever see your resume.
  • Are they interviewing? Again, maybe. The hiring process is not smooth. Just because a job was posted, it doesn't mean it will be filled any time soon. Things change during the process.
  • Will I get a call? If you are one of the ones they are interested in, you will. If you are not, you won't. You don't need to call and let the recruiter know you want an interview. The recruiter knows you want an interview.
  • Should I keep looking? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. You should keep looking for job until you have a signed offer in your hand. Even if they verbally say, "We want to hire you" do not stop looking. Jobs fall through all the time. They get pulled. Funding disappears. A new VP is brought in and wants to reorganize so all jobs are put on hold. Seriously. Do not stop looking until you have a signed job offer.
  • Did they hire? Unless you know people in the company, you probably won't hear anything about this unless you were brought into interview. If you have interviewed the recruiter should get back to you. If you did not interview, but only submitted an application, don't expect to hear anything. Sometimes they don't get back to you, but those recruiters should be fired. And I mean that.
  • Why didn't they choose me? Very few companies are willing to tell you why you weren't hired. With the current high unemployment rates, there are tons of qualified people for most positions. They aren't going to say, "You weren't qualified" because you were. And they certainly won't say, "We just liked another candidate better." It's okay to ask for this information if you have interviewed but don't expect an answer. And if you've just submitted a resume, forget it.
  • What's proper etiquette in this situation? Proper etiquette in job hunting is to try to network yourself into a position and skip the recruiters at all, if you can. If you can't, your job is to apply according to their specifications. Include a cover letter. Don't include a picture, your age, or your social security number. If you are brought into interview, write a nice thank you note. If you have interviewed and not been called back, you may call the recruiter or the hiring manager for a status update. You may call one time and if they answer is "we haven't made a decision," you may ask what their expected time line is. Then you may call back again after the expected time period has passed.
Remember, the recruiter is interested in finding a person for the job, not finding a job for a particular person. So, your focus needs to be on becoming the person they want to hire.
Photo by carianoff, Flickr cc 2.0

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