The unique business model of the recruiting industry is that the client firm is the customer, and you, the candidate, are the product. The recruiter has a choice of “inventory” models regarding how to manage you as the product. A recruiter can “stock” you, that is, put you in inventory and wait for an order or a client position to open up. Recruiters work on growing their database, which is generally the first place that they look when a new search comes in.
An organized recruiter will run a search of their database to make sure they check all candidates on hand to see if any active or inactive candidates could be either a potential fit, or source for referrals. In the other business model, the recruiter can first receive the order, then go about acquiring you, the product, to fulfill that order. Referrals and their own network are the top priorities. In this model, the database is used only as a backup rather than first pass in a given search.
Whether or not to contact a recruiting firm depends significantly on which model it uses. Some firms may operate with a blend of both business models; that is, they use stock resumes along with an active search to get the best slate of candidates. As databases become more sophisticated and more up-to-date (driven in part by the availability of candidate information from the Internet), and as clients demand faster placements, stock resumes become more important in the search process.
Deciding to Contact a Recruiter – Factors to Consider
How do you know whether to contact a particular recruiter with your unsolicited resume? Some firms may offer a direct answer. Check the firm’s website; many recruiters post specifics on the materials they seek and how they prefer you to submit resumes. You can also call a receptionist or administrative person and ask if resumes are accepted and how they should be submitted. This gatekeeper might ask some questions about your credentials and the position you seek. Generally, avoid calling individual recruiting professionals directly; they don’t have the time, they don’t know who you are and, remember, their first interest is filling open positions for clients, not finding a job for you.
Beyond these two approaches, many questions about which recruiters to contact and how to approach them may remain unanswered, but you can increase the odds of getting answers by making an educated guess. Which recruiters will keep you “in stock” even if no current positions are available? In many situations, the recruiter benefits from holding you as inventory, even if that practice transcends the firm’s normal process. The following factors make recruiters more likely to keep you “on the shelf”:
- Credentials. Your credentials are pristine and highly sought after. No recruiter would discard Jeff Bezos’s resume.
- Position level and salary. You have “CEO,” “COO,” “VP” or something similar in your title, earn more than $200K a year, and work for a successful “marquee” name like Apple, McKesson, Berkshire Hathaway or General Motors. Your resume is less likely to be discarded (however, most high-level recruiters know who you are without seeing an unsolicited resume). Most retained and contingency firms would want to keep your resume on file. If your background and resume speak to excellence, most recruiters will want to see it, and many will keep it.
- Job market. If the economy and employment market are booming, orders are abundant, and inventory is scarce. Thus, recruiters are more likely to “stock up” when the opportunity presents itself. Similarly, in a downturn, just when more candidates are available and sending resumes, recruiters are less likely to need them and keep them. More farsighted, long-term-oriented recruiters may keep them on file awaiting the upturn–particularly if the other factors are in your favor.
- Job status. You’re unemployed. “Unemployed” is a red flag for a recruiter, possibly signifying “damaged goods.” Recruiters don’t want damaged goods in stock. If you’re unemployed–first of all, don’t be–do something useful even if for free. Secondly, make it clear that the reason for unemployment is systemic, that is, because of the economic situation of your company, and not because of you. If it is because of you, your situation is difficult, but don’t try to disguise it because most recruiters will figure it out. Explain your situation, and expect that many recruiters will decline to keep you on file. Many retained search firms will dismiss you right away because clients would dismiss you right off a final search panel.
- Field. If you’re in a high-demand field with scarce human capital, you just might want to send that resume. Firms–particularly those that specialize in a field–like to carry inventory on scarce product available in that field.
A First Step
Identify, at least in your cover letter, where and for whom you work in your current organization. If your first few contacts with a recruiter seem to be only to gather referrals, don’t despair. You’re building a relationship–and you’re in the system.
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