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How to select an online recruiter - 09/2001

Alexander C. Baxter

In recent years, the number of online recruiter sites has exploded. These sites differ from Internet job boards in that they add a human component, bringing both recruiting and industry-specific experience to the process. These recruiters have an advantage over their strictly brick-and-mortar competitors. The Internet facilitates instantaneous interaction with candidates. There are fewer layers of staff and administration, allowing for greater efficiency. The potential benefit to candidates can be an expedited job search.

Sounds good, but candidates should know certain things before leaping into a relationship with an online recruiter. Technology has changed this relationship and new rules govern it.

Candidates should be aware that, in addition to enjoying the benefits that accompany the World Wide Web when they work with online recruiters, they also risk many of the dangers of the Internet. Because online recruiting sites have a lower barrier to entry than other search firms, some online recruiters have little experience, limited contacts and questionable reputations. Some will solicit resumes, then flood jobsites and employers with them, placing a candidateís personal information in the vast universe of the web for millions (including perhaps your current employer) to see.

Using the Internet as their primary tool, these recruiters thrive on speed. Because time is money, theyíll try to interest candidates in job descriptions or corporate cultures that donít fit them, much like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. This approach yields a far less personal relationship with a candidate than is typical with a traditional brick-and-mortar executive search firm.

How can you tell a reputable online recruiter from one whoís just nailed up a virtual shingle? Consider the following guidelines before registering your credentials with an online search firm.

Critique the recruiterís website. You can learn a lot by evaluating the siteís appearance and functionality. If helpful information is offered in a well-packaged, up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing format, itís more likely that the organization is reputable. On the other hand, if a site offers little information, is out-of-date, contains only static pages and is poorly designed aesthetically or functionally, you wonít want to entrust your career to it.

Make sure the recruiter specializes in your field of expertise. If youíre an accountant, registering with an information-technology recruiter wonít help you. This common mistake is easy to make when sites donít spell out the disciplines in which they specialize.

Read the siteís privacy statement. This information should explain how your personal data are received and handled. You donít want your profile splashed across the Internet for all cyberspace to examine. Privacy statements should include:
how your information is gathered and used;
the individuals or groups permitted to receive your information;
how your information can be modified or removed from the recruiterís system; and contact information in case you have further questions.

A reputable online recruiterís privacy policy should state that only its staff receives candidate profiles and that the firm doesnít share them with third parties. The privacy statement also should verify that systems are in place to prevent your current employer from seeing your information.

Learn where the recruiter has offices and the geographic markets in which it works. Choose a recruiter who can place you in the location of your choice and avoid those who canít.

Find out about the recruiterís track record. Choose a recruiter whoís been in business for at least five years. It takes time to build a strong business that has a well-connected corporate network. Avoid recruiters with little experience and a limited corporate network.

Your Response:
As in any relationship, your dealings with an online recruiter are a two-way street. Many candidates donít recognize that a person actually receives their information, not simply an electronic entity. When working with an online recruiter, your credentials arenít floating aimlessly in cyberspace without a human being ever laying eyes on them. Your correspondence is handled eagerly and with great interest by recruiting specialists who, if theyíre reputable, want nothing more than to place quality candidates in quality jobs with quality companies.

Unfortunately, technology has had a depersonalizing effect on relationships. Often candidates forget that even though theyíve registered with a website, theyíre dealing with real people. In this click-and-brick era, actual human contact isnít as unusual as it may have been a short time ago. Getting a call after youíve registered with an online recruiter is a real possibility.

For several reasons, some candidates donít respond to a recruiterís call after registering with a site or they botch their responses. Either way, they could be harming their careers.

In one common scenario, jobseekers post their resumes on several job boards in addition to registering with an online recruiter site. Often they wonít return calls because theyíve received many from other less reputable recruiters, or from firms they suspect are checking their loyalty for their current employer. Another example is the passive jobseeker who registers with an online recruiter, but then becomes complacent and doesnít follow up.

The following tips can ensure that a relationship develops that potentially could benefit your career:
Be cautious, but not to the extent that you miss an opportunity. Respond to calls from recruiters with whom youíve registered. But be careful when responding to recruiters who cold call or pluck your information from an online job board. Confidentiality being a concern, you donít want to respond to recruiters who promise to plaster your profile and resume throughout the Internet.

Ask the recruiter where he or she received your information. Was it from your registration on his or her website or from a profile you left on an Internet job board? Or did he or she simply call you cold? Youíre better off responding to the recruiter with whom you registered and, to a lesser extent, the recruiter who plucked you off an Internet jobsite than to one who cold calls. Recruiters who know your profile contact you because they feel they can help you find a new position and may have current job openings suited to you. A cold caller may not even know your name or your field, let alone what you desire in a job.

Listen. When you decide itís prudent to respond to a recruiter, take time to hear what he or she has to say. Let him or her explain the situation while you absorb the information. Ask why youíre being contacted if it isnít clear, and let the recruiter do the talking. If youíre at work and donít feel itís appropriate to speak with a recruiter, ask to continue the conversation after work, in a different setting or even at home. Make sure to get the recruiterís contact information, including his or her phone number and email address.

Stay calm. Some professionals become nervous when a recruiter calls. If youíre caught off guard, relax. Remember that youíre the pursued and no longer the pursuer.
Present a positive image. First impressions are important. If you seem unwilling to communicate or cooperate after initial contact from a recruiter, you may lose the chance to learn about existing career opportunities as well as how the market values your skills.

Get the specifics. The recruiter is likely calling because he has a job opening that might be a good fit for you. Ask to be sent a job description in an email or to view it on the recruiterís website.

Ask how the recruiter is paid. Is he or she paid by the candidate or the hiring company? Work only with recruiters who are paid by employers. Make sure this is clear early on in your interaction.
Interview the recruiter. The relationship works both ways. Ask the recruiter about his or her experience in recruiting, in your industry and with candidates in similar situations. Determine if the recruiter fits your needs and ask about your options at the firm, such as other recruiters who specialize in your niche or geographic preferences.

ó Mr. Baxter is the director of e-commerce at the Lucas Group, an executive-search firm headquartered in Atlanta.

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