Make a Recruiter Fight for You

At Johnson & Johnson, our team reviews 1,000,000 resumes a year and at this point, I’ve lost count of how many times a recruiter has stopped by my office to tell me about the “perfect candidate.” It’s often just after a phone call: There was a spark, positive energy, and they walked away feeling inspired. More importantly, they couldn’t wait to tell their hiring manager (in this case, me) about the person.

Sounds like a good position to be in, doesn’t it? Having someone on the inside who’ll fight for you?

Now, some applicants go wrong by thinking this means that a recruiter will take over their job search and do all of the heavy lifting for them. That’s not the case!

What I’m saying is that hiring processes are competitive, time intensive, and emotional for everyone involved—including the recruiter. They could easily be working with 100 different candidates across various positions, while simultaneously managing demanding leaders who want the jobs filled—fast. And so, when they meet an applicant who impresses the heck out of them, and who makes their job easier, they’ll advocate for that person.

I asked our recruiters here at Johnson & Johnson for some advice on how to build that all-important relationship. Here are their top four tips:

1. Be Prepared

You and the recruiter need to be on the same page in terms of your skills and past experiences (relevant and less relevant), any gaps in your employment history, and your short and long-term career ambitions. They need a clear picture of you as a candidate in order to refer you for the right role.

So, proactively send them an updated resume if there have been any changes since the last time you spoke (here’s how to pull one together in just 30 minutes). Then, have your work portfolio and references prepared and ready to go as soon as they ask for them. Respecting their time—and lack thereof—will help you stand out.

2. Be Honest

Misrepresenting yourself in any way is a big no-no. Honesty builds trust, whereas dishonesty—even exaggerating or just failing to mention something—can make them afraid to refer you.

Just think how badly it will reflect on you (and the recruiter!) if you hold something back or tell a ‘white lie’ that late comes to light. And be under no illusion, these things always do.

So, if you feel you’re slightly underqualified, impress them with your transferable skills and the honest way in which you present them.

3. Be Passionate

Recruiters are looking for qualified candidates who are serious about switching to the company they represent. I recently shared my thoughts on how important it is to have professional purpose (if you missed it, here’s more on why it’s so critical), but to put it briefly: It’s a bigger reason why a certain role would be meaningful to you.

If you’re discussing an opportunity with a company whose values align with your own, this is the time to highlight how much you care.

Even if you haven’t found your professional purpose yet, there should (hopefully!) be a reason you’ve set your sights on this company or role. Maybe you’ve always admired their approach to diversity in the workplace, the impact they have on local communities (or the world), or their willingness to embrace new technology. Whatever your reason, demonstrate that affinity, so the recruiter knows why you’re committed to securing a role at their company.

4. Be Gracious

As the process progresses, it may be that the role isn’t quite right for you.

If you feel iffy, don’t be afraid to ask about other opportunities. The recruiter will respect you for being prepared to admit that you’re not the best person for the job. If you can, recommend contacts of your own that might be better suited. Recruiters remember candidates who are helpful.

Now, it could be that it’s a no on the company’s end. If you’re rejected, remember, a “no” now doesn’t mean a “no” for all future opportunities. Too often, I see candidates so upset about a rejection that they burn bridges. Why sabotage your future chances? Be gracious about the short-term rejection and play the long game.

For example, I heard about the job I’m currently in because I built a relationship with an executive recruiter over a two-year period. We met for lunch every quarter and I emailed him occasionally to keep him updated about my career. It worked both ways, too. Sometimes he’d call me and ask for a referral for a search he was working on at the time. Even if I didn’t know anyone, I always got back to him. And in the end, it paid off (for us both!).