Chris Turner—Getty Images
By Caroline Ceniza-Levine
September 16, 2014

You’re happily employed and going about your workday when the phone rings. You pick it up to find a recruiter on the other end. “I’m hiring for XYZ job, and so-and-so gave me your name…”

You’re flattered, but it’s just not your thing. Still, don’t be so quick to dismiss the call.

As a former recruiter, I’ve had prospects shoo me off the phone like a telemarketer. Or they just never respond to an email, voicemail or online ping.

This is short-sighted.

Recruiter calls provide good market information, and being responsive encourages that recruiter to think of you for other opportunities.

Use the call to your advantage by doing the following:

Become the interviewer

Don’t just fall into the traditional role of you as the candidate and the recruiter as the interviewer.

You are in the driver’s seat because the person has called you. So take control of the call, and learn more about the recruiter (what industries or positions does the person specialize in?), their recruiting firm (how many positions a year do they fill? for what kinds of companies?), their client (is the company expanding in a major way? what is their organizational structure?), and the position (what are the responsibilities? what kind of person are they looking for?).

This gives you market information, regardless of whether or not this particular position suits you. If the recruiter shares salary information, even better!

Asking questions also allows you to get to know the recruiter, and decide whether he or she is someone worth including in your network.

Find a way to say “yes”

I don’t mean say “yes” to going on an interview for a job you’re definitely not interested in.

I mean say “yes” to something: If you’re not interested, recommend someone who might be. If the position isn’t the right level or functional area, let the recruiter know what would be the right role. If the opportunity sounds like a possible fit, but you hadn’t thought about looking outside, say “yes” to one more conversation.

You want to be seen as open-minded and helpful.

Maintain the relationship

Now that you have made this unexpected connection, continue the relationship with good follow-up.

If you promised the recruiter you’d think about this search, do so and call back with your ideas or your interest.

If you didn’t agree to a specific follow-up action, keep the recruiter’s information for your general networking efforts: Include the person on your holiday list; send along an update three months from now when you’re working on something new; make an introduction to a talented friend who is looking. (Just remember that referrals reflect back on you, so only recommend people you know are quality).

Turn the call into a wake-up call

When I recruited candidates who were not interested, I would always ask them what kind of position they would be interested in down the road. This way, I could keep them in mind for a relevant opportunity.

Would you know what to say if someone asked you about your interests and next steps? If you weren’t prepared for this recruiting call, prepare for the next one. Be ready to describe what you do, what expertise you offer, and what value you offer. Be ready to explain what companies, work environments, and roles would be of interest.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

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