5 Signs of a Bad Recruiter (and How to Avoid One)

Ah, recruiters. You love them. No, you hate them. But you need them. Then again, who needs them? As a 10-year veteran recruiter, I've heard just about every gripe, stereotype and only-half-funny joke in town about headhunters. Strangely, people often say them right to my face, as if there is no chance that I may be just a teeensy bit offended, right?

But really, I'm not offended, and here's why: A lot of recruiters truly earn their reputations as marginal-at-best scheisters. More than a handful of recruiters are lazy, not very knowledgeable about their clients or industry of focus, and definitely just out for the buck.

But some are exceptional, and can serve as a significant ally as you navigate job search. They're connected with decision makers at the very companies you'd die to work for. They can help you get in the door, interview well, and negotiate like a champ. 

So how do you spot the duds?

Here are 5 signs that you may not have landed on the best recruiter in the game, and what to do if you find yourself in this boat:

  1. She seems unconcerned about your career goals.
    This is pretty significant red flag. If a recruiter has decided that you're the perfect match for an opportunity, she's going to want you on board. A good recruiter will ask you what you're looking for, and work with you to see if this opportunity lines up with your goals. A dud will see only the potential "win" for her, and steamroll you into the mix, whether you think it sounds great or not.

    What to do: If you feel like this is happening, either call the recruiter out and let her know you'd like to talk about your goals, or (if you feel like she's not taking no for an answer) consider asking her manager if you may be able to work with another recruiter on the team.
  2. He rushes through everything with you.
    This could be problematic on several levels. First, you may not get a good overview of the company or opportunity if the recruiter is all zippy-do-dah when explaining things. Second, it could be a sign that he's not terribly knowledgeable about (or connected to) the hiring company. And third, it might mean that he's already decided that you're not a fit, and too chicken to just tell you that.

    What to do: Try asking a few semi-detailed questions about the specifics of this role, and the organization. If the recruiter either won't or can't answer these questions to a level you're satisfied with, consider declining to work with this recruiter. Don't assume he won't submit your resume without your consent. Actually, spell it out that you'd prefer to not go forward.
  3. She's talked with you in months prior, and can't remember.
    In the year 2015, with all of our technology, scanning software and candidate databases, there's just really no excuse for a recruiter not knowing that she called you two, four, nine months ago. Look it up, my friend. Look it up. If this does happen, it's a sign of disorganization and laziness. You for sure do not want to be represented by a disorganized, lazy recruiter. 

    What to do: Again, you're probably going to be in trouble if you let the laziest cat in town represent you. If you're truly dissatisfied with the recruiter ... and still interested in the opportunity ... find out who the recruiter's manager is (or agency manager) and privately ask if it's possible to be reassigned. Use care in having this conversation, however, so you don't tick everyone in the department or agency off in the process.
  4. He calls you about jobs that have nothing to do with your expertise.
    This is a big complaint, especially among those working in technical fields. Recruiters will sometimes see one particular software package or skill listed on your resume and assume you're just a guru at everything related to the job they're working to fill (when, in fact, you do nothing close to that particular job). When this happens, you're either working with a newbie, or someone who has only surface level knowledge of your industry / area of specialization. And if this recruiter is regularly submitting candidates like you to their clients, guess what? Their clients probably already think they're a bit green, lazy or dense. Not a perfect scenario for you.

    What to do:  Find another recruiter. Look for recruiters who specialize in the types of roles you're eyeing and/or who represent specific companies at which you want to work. Don't know how to find them? Ask people in your field if they have worked with recruiters and, if so, which ones. Also, consider doing a LinkedIn keyword search using terms like "recruiter" and "accounting" (or your particular area of specialization). To find local resources, set a zip code radius within 25-50 miles of your home, so you are sure to locate specialists in your area.
  5. She says she's going to call back, and doesn't call back.
    This is the worst and most prevalent one of the bunch. If it happens once, it's semi-understandable. Sometimes a recruiter is waiting for an update from the hiring manager or client and doesn't want to touch base until she has that information. However, if you're spotting a pattern of unreliability? You've got a dud.

    What to do: First, try and call her out on her behavior, politely. Try something like, "Hi, Nicole. Thanks for calling me back. You actually had said you would be following up on Monday, and I never heard from you. This isn't ideal for me. Can you help me understand your process?" If she gets offended or dodgey about it, once again, consider contacting the agency manager (or department manager) and politely ask how to best address this. Typically, if you're a solid match for an opening, the manager will scramble to match you up with a more responsive recruiter.

When you find a great recruiter, hang onto him or her for life (I'm not joking). The brilliant, connected ones can bring great opportunities your way and significantly influence your having a shot at jobs you'd love to land. When you find a loser? Don't silently seethe or just throw your hands up in despair, make proactive moves to right the ship before that character sinks a great opportunity for you.

Have you had a nightmare experience with a recruiter? How about an amazing one? Please share your tale in the comments below!


Photo by: Flickr.com Creative Commons (Mike Bitzenhofer)

Jenny Foss12 Comments