Job-Hunting: Are You Scaring Recruiters?

There are six things you should never do when working with recruiters.

September 9, 2008, 6:15 PM

Dec. 18, 2008 — -- A friend who's a recruiter for an employment agency told me that since Wall Street imploded this fall he has seen an uptick in calls from angry, weepy and desperate-sounding candidates.

"Some will yell that they have to get the job because their mortgage depends on it," he said. "A couple have even cried into the phone and begged me to help them."

I get that people are incredibly stressed (not to mention pissed) about having lost their jobs, and I understand how stiff the competition is to find a new one. I also get that many people now find themselves facing dire financial circumstances and are worried about how they'll pay for health care, feed their families, even keep their homes.

Unfortunately, your recruiter is not your best friend, your bartender or your therapist. Shouting or blubbering to them about the precariousness of your fiscal situation won't help your cause one bit. Instead, it will take you right out of the running for any job openings they have.

After all, if a recruiter thinks that you can't keep it together for a quick 10-minute phone call, how can they recommend you to the clients who are paying them to find top-notch, rock-solid candidates?

Yes, the economic climate and job market are miserable. But that doesn't give us license to throw our professionalism out the window.

And, yes, many recruiters come off like that understanding colleague who's there to help you through this tough job hunt. But that doesn't mean you should let your guard down and treat them like your career counselor or closest confidant.

So let's talk about the six things you should never do when working with recruiters.

Oversharing With a Recruiter

I know what you're thinking: You know how to keep your emotions in check in a professional setting. You would never let your desperation show in front of a recruiter.

But there are other ways that oversharing can underwhelm a recruiter.

"I'm screening a candidate and we get to the point where I ask why he left his position and he starts with, 'Well, I would never say this in an interview, but my boss was a raving lunatic,'" said Lindsay Olson, a partner and recruiter with Paradigm Staffing, a public relations and communications staffing firm in New York.

"I leave the conversation with many doubts the candidate wouldn't find a way to slip a comment or two in during the interview."

In other words, if you wouldn't say it in the actual interview with the employer, don't say it to a recruiter or staffing agency.

"A lot of times when I talk to candidates, they say, 'Oh, I can do anything,'" said Alisha Siecinski, a recruiter with iMatch Technical Services in Seattle.

But no recruiter wants to hear this.

For one thing, "Whether they can do it is very different from have they done it," Siecinski said. "In this market, they might not be able to get a job doing what they want to do if they're better at something else."

For another, you're making the recruiter's job harder. The more specific you and your resume are about the kind of position you're qualified for, the easier it is for a recruiter to sell you to their clients.

Then there's the matter of appearing a bit too eager to interview for a full-time staff position that's a huge demotion and a $25,000 to $50,000 pay cut from your last job.

"That tells me that they're not looking for a long-term job right now and that they might leave when the market gets better," said Rebecca Warriner, owner of Woodland Recruiting in Mercer Island, Wash., which specializes in high-tech positions.

Sending a Relative on Your Behalf

You'd think this one would be a no-brainer, yet several recruiters told me they've heard from spouses or family members who wanted to apply for jobs on their next of kin's behalf.

Just last week, Russ Riendeau, a senior partner at The East Wing Search Group, an executive search firm in Barrington, Ill., received a call from a woman hoping to find a job for her brother-in-law.

When asked why the woman was calling on her in-law's behalf, Riendeau was told:

"Well, I have some time and he's working 12 hours a day and really busy."

Needless to say, Riendeau was unimpressed.

Uncooperative candidates aren't doing themselves any favors, especially in this tricky job market.

"I called a candidate one morning to talk with her about a job opening, and she seemed annoyed that I had called," a Chicago recruiter who wanted to remain anonymous told me via e-mail.

"She did not want to talk to me because there was a political press conference on TV that she wanted to watch instead. (It wasn't related to her work.) She told me, 'Face it, history is being made right now.' Too bad the job was being filled right then. I'm happy to call back later if it's a bad time but blowing off a potential job to watch TV? Not the priorities I'm looking for in a candidate."

Likewise, if you're asked to apply for a job via a recruiting firm's Web site or you're asked to do a preliminary phone screen with a recruiter, don't balk or flat-out refuse. In the world of recruiting, both are standard operating procedure. And if you don't play the recruiter's way, they'll just find another candidate who will.

Playing a Stalker

A common complaint I hear people make about recruiters is that they don't get back to candidates in a timely manner, if at all.

"I have been swamped by requests from job seekers for the last 10 weeks," said Woodland's Warriner, who receives dozens of voice mails and hundreds of e-mails from candidates each week. "In this market, candidates should expect the response time to be longer."

That's not to say you have to wait weeks and weeks for the recruiter to contact you. If you've submitted your resume and haven't heard boo, give it a week and then call or e-mail them. If you can't get through, wait another week and try again. And if a recruiter has sent you to interview with one of his or her clients, give it at least two or three days before you inquire about any news.

"Don't be the candidate who calls and hangs up on my voicemail once every five to six minutes for over an hour," said one San Francisco recruiter who wanted to remain anonymous. "My voicemail has caller ID, and I've returned to my desk from a meeting to a mailbox full of these."

Likewise, don't e-mail multiple times a week to ask if any jobs have opened up when the recruiters have already told you that they list all the new openings they get on their Web site.

Some may argue that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But try to see it from the swamped recruiter's point of view: If you're continuously interrupted by the same person every day for weeks on end, will you be excited to work with them or more inclined to move them to your e-mail blacklist?

If a recruiter calls to tell you that you didn't get a job for which you've interviewed, express your disappointment if you wish but keep your cool.

"I've had candidates reply to a polite rejection e-mail with "F*!#^ YOU!" or "You are making a huge mistake!" said the anonymous San Francisco recruiter.

Recruiters receive new job listings constantly, so you want to stay on their good side. Don't get branded as the hot-headed candidate no employment agency wants to put in front of their clients.

Remember that professional experience is just one part of the job-hunting equation. Likability, flexibility and perseverance are just as important.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" (October 2008) -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events