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How to work with a recruiter on LinkedIn

Dear Evil HR Lady,

What is the best way to work with a company's recruiters? I currently work for a small non-profit, and I have only ever applied for jobs where if the organization had an HR department at all, it was only one or two people, none of whom were "recruiters."

I am really keen on working for one particular large organization that has a whole "recruitment team" of three or four people! They even have a LinkedIn page for the team. (However, I don't want to connect via LinkedIn because then my current colleagues could tell that I am job hunting.) How do I make contact with the recruiters? Since all job postings are put online, I'm not sure where these people fit into a job-hunting strategy, but I would love to know. I really have no clue about the rules of engagement in this situation. Any advice?

First, a question. How much attention do you pay to whom people are linked on LinkedIn? I ask because I just sent a LinkedIn request to my cousin Jenny, who runs a business called Acting Out Loud. Presuming she accepts my request (which she should because I'm, you know, awesome and all that), this new connection may well show up in my editor's LinkedIn update this week. I doubt his first thought will be, "Oh no! Suzanne is now connected with Jenny Peterson and by clicking on her link I can see that she teaches acting! I bet Suzanne wants to leave MoneyWatch and become an actress! I will fire her now! Or perhaps recommend her for the next great CBS sitcom!"

No, if he thinks about it at all, it will be, "Hmm, Jenny Peterson. I went to school with a Jenny Peterson. I wonder if it's the same one?" Because, honestly, even your boss doesn't care that much about you. So my point is, if you want to connect via LinkedIn, do it. For all everyone else in your network knows, this recruiter is your college roommate, former business associate, next door neighbor or cousin.

However, do be sure to check that the people you link with aren't linked with your boss, because then he will notice and will ask you how you know this person. Also, proceed with caution if this company is a known direct competitor of your company's.

Here's what does really get people notice that you're job hunting: when suddenly you're updating your experience, asking for recommendations from everyone you've ever met, and adding a zillion new contacts. That's when it's obvious.

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But if you want to keep the recruiters off your LinkedIn page (or if the contact wouldn't be with Jane Doe, Recruiter, but ACME's Recruiting Department), you can send a personal message through LinkedIn and mention that your job search is not public. Recruiters understand that you don't want your current boss to know you are looking for a new job. That's part of their job.

And just what is the rest of the recruiter's job? For positions that lots of people could fill, the recruiter's job is to go through the 350 resumes (generally using a computer program to help) and reject as many as possible, ultimately presenting the top candidates to the hiring manager. The recruiter then screens, interviews and shepherds the entire hiring process, communicating with candidates and hiring managers

For hard-to-fill jobs, the recruiter's job is to find qualified candidates and then follow the rest of the process outlined above. This is why they have LinkedIn pages in the first place. If you have a unique skill set that they are trying to find, they would love you to contact them. Always be nice to recruiters (both in-house ones and headhunters) because you never know when you will need their help.

Here's something else you could do: Skip the recruiter altogether. Oh, the horrors! My recruiting friends will never forgive me for saying it. (And they shouldn't, since the recruiters I know personally are fabulous and don't do stupid things with candidates.) However, I've been around enough to know that there are recruiters who set up arbitrary rules and then exclude people who can't read the recruiters' minds, no matter how qualified and fabulous a candidate she may be.

But if you can speak directly with a hiring manager, you have a better chance. If you can get that information and network your way into contact, that is much more effective. Why? Because although hiring managers aren't very good at thoroughly explaining to the recruiter what they need, they can often recognize it even if you don't have the full checklist. Your resume may make a hiring manager think, "Oh, wow, it would be awesome to have someone on staff who knows how to do conjoint analysis, again. I hadn't thought about that!" But because the manager didn't tell the recruiter he needed someone to do conjoint analysis, this skill won't trigger the recruiter to act on you.

If you don't have a legitimate connection to the hiring manager (or can't figure out who it is, which can be very difficult), then you can do the actual application online. The recruiter will tell you to do that, anyway. It puts your resume and cover letter directly into her software. So do that.

When you're tweaking your resume to fit the job description, match the keywords from the job posting to ones in your resume. If the job posting says, "conjoint analysis," and you can do that, but your resume says, "complex advanced statistical models," you might not get noticed. Rather, write something like, "advanced statistical models including conjoint analysis, logistic regression, blah, blah, blah." If you have the skill on the job posting, make sure the computer can figure that out. Those computers are very literal.

Don't be afraid to work with recruiters and don't be afraid to contact them on LinkedIn. That's why they're there.

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