How to Reach Out to a Recruiter

Magnifying glass of an office chair

Recruiters are your best friends when they see you as a potential fit for a job. They also can be as elusive as a yeti when you’re trying to get their attention because you believe you’re the perfect fit for a job.

We usually think of recruiters as people who reach out to potential candidates, not the other way around. But considering the U.S. Labor Department reported that 531,000 new jobs were added in October, with faster growth predicted in these final months of the year, recruiters can’t hire fast enough. If they’re that busy, how can you get their attention — and when should you try? Here are three steps to approaching a recruiter in a way that’s mutually beneficial.

Step 1: Know How Recruiters Work

A recruiter’s job is to understand each role deeply enough to a) find the right skills and capabilities for a job they’ve likely never done themselves, and b) sell you on the position so you’ll accept an offer if you’re the best final candidate. Recruiters are part salesperson, part cheerleader, part coach, part therapist, and part strategist to both candidates and hiring managers.

Now picture a recruiter doing all that for multiple job openings at once. Let’s say they have five viable candidates per job opening and are managing 10 openings. Yes: Most recruiters are managing more than 50 candidates at a time, some of whom may be passive candidates who need convincing to consider new opportunities. If recruiters responded to every random inquiry, they wouldn’t have time to fill jobs. That’s why it’s so critical to reach out to them with a targeted approach.

Step 2: Know What Type of Recruiter You’re Targeting

You need to understand exactly which type of recruiter — internal, external, or executive —  you’re reaching out to and what types of roles they recruit for so you can position yourself properly.

Internal recruiters.

Internal recruiters are assigned to a specific area of their company — for example, engineering, marketing, finance, etc. So, if you reach out to a finance recruiter for a marketing job, you’ll most likely be ignored. Also, a referral from a current employee or someone who knows the recruiter will garner more attention than a generic email. Internal recruiters don’t tend to have databases of past candidates, so you should keep their name and email in case you find another applicable job at their company.

External recruiters.

External recruiters don’t work for the company with the job opening and specialize in specific business areas. For example, some external recruiters only recruit lawyers, while some specialize in industries like entertainment. Many external recruiters don’t get paid if they don’t find the candidate who ultimately accepts the job. In some instances, they may be competing with an internal recruiter who’s also working to fill a role, and if the internal recruiter finds a top candidate, you may lose out if you’re the external recruiter’s candidate. But don’t ignore external recruiters — many are hired because an internal recruiter has exhausted their search and needs an expert in the field. External recruiters generally do keep databases of candidates because they may be recruiting for similar roles at numerous companies.

Executive recruiters.

Executive recruiters can be internal or external and mostly hire VP-level and higher roles. They do a lot of sourcing for the right candidate and may even seek candidates for confidential roles that aren’t posted publicly.

Step 3: Know How to Approach a Recruiter

This is the most critical step. Never approach recruiters asking them to help you. They don’t know you and you aren’t paying them! Their job isn’t to help you; your job is to help them do their job and fill roles. Approach a recruiter only after you’ve done your research, your LinkedIn profile and resume are updated, you’re ready to interview, and you understand whether the recruiter is internal or external and what types of roles they recruit for.

There are two reasons to approach a recruiter:

You can help them fill a current opening.

If you can’t see the name of the recruiter who posted a particular job, search LinkedIn using the name of the company plus the word “recruiter” or “sourcer,” then read through recruiter profiles to determine their areas of focus. If you can find the one who recruits for the field you’re interested in, you’ll have a better chance of receiving a response to an inquiry.

Include the job opening you’re interested in, provide the link to the online posting, describe your applicable skills and capabilities, and describe what value you can bring to the role and company using keywords from the job description. For example:

Hi [Recruiter Name],

I’m reaching out to you directly to express my enthusiasm about the [job opening/link] at [company name]. My extensive experience in [industry or skill] combined with my [hard/soft skills] and unique ability to [unique applicable skill] would make me a tremendous asset to [company name] in this role.

I hope you will seriously consider me for this position and give me an opportunity to explain further how I can bring outside-the-box value to the company.

Thank you,

[Your Name]

If you could be right for the role, you may receive a response. If you don’t receive a response, it could be a matter of bad timing (i.e., the job may be close to being filled), or you’re not as right for the role as you think you are.

You’re certain the recruiter recruits for a specific industry and function.

In this instance, you don’t know if the recruiter is recruiting for any specific role, but you do know the types of roles and industries they specialize in. If the recruiter has a role you could fill now, then you may receive a response. Otherwise, they may enter your information into their database for when there’s an applicable opening. So, make it easy for them to figure out which roles may be applicable:

Hi [Recruiter Name],

I’m reaching out because I am in the market for a new opportunity, and I understand you recruit for [types of roles]. Here is the type of role where I can bring the most value:

Position — Full-time employee. Open to contract work with conversion potential.

Title — Director, Sr. Director, or VP of brand or consumer marketing, B2C.

Location — Greater DC Area, no farther west than Fairfax County or east than Prince George’s County. Open to relocation to West Coast.

Industries — Technology, SaaS, AI, cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, med-tech. Not interested in ridesharing/self-driving auto companies.

Company — Prefer startups to under 5,000 employees but open for the right opportunity.

Compensation — Negotiable, minimum $100K total comp including equity. Must provide equity.

My resume is attached for your review and my LinkedIn profile can be found here [link]. I look forward to hearing from you when you have a position where you think I could bring the most value.

Best,

[Your Name]

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that all recruiters want to fill job openings quickly and with the right people, but they don’t work for you — they work for companies. They are the gateway, not the roadblock to you securing your next role. If you help them do their job, then you’re not only helping make them successful, but you may also land your dream role.

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