Dealing with Recruiters - a Contractors Survival Guide

I've been contracting for about a year now and this has meant that I've had numerous dealings with recruiters and recruitment agencies. While I've been quite successful in obtaining contracts I'm afraid that my opinion of many recruiters (not necessarily the agencies themselves) is that they do not provide any value to the process, indeed the detract from it. Now before all you recruiters out reading this head down to leave a comment (please do so after you've finished reading though) let me qualify that statement with a few examples in the form of some tips for the unwary (a survival guide if you will):

  • When you answer a call from a recruiter, make your first question - 'Is this a contract position?'
    • My CV states that I'm a contractor and my job site profiles indicate that I'm looking for Contracted positions but I constantly receive calls and emails about permanent positions. Not only is this wasting my time but also that of the recruiter. This is compounded when I receive a call while at a client site and have to stop what I'm doing to have a pointless discussion.
  • I'll send the details over to you now - believe it when you see it
    • I've lost count of the number of times that a recruiter has said - " I'll send all the details over to you shortly ", and then hasn't bothered to do so. If they don't think that I'm suitable for the role then just say so, I'm cool with that. By promising to do something that they have no intention of doing is unprofessional to say the least.
  • Beware the question - 'Have you been put forward for any other positions recently?'
    • This sounds innocuous enough but could be the recruiter just trying to uncover any opportunities that they are unaware of. I have first hand knowledge of this after I told a recruiter about an interview I had lined up. I later found out that he had contacted that company with a list of candidates he thought they should also consider for the role. As it happened his agency was not on the approved supplier list so it was a non-starter for him but it proves the point.
    • The question may be rephased as 'So that we don't duplicate applications, have you been put forward for any positions recently?' but the upshot is that you should remain tight lipped about your leads and ask them to name the client to see if you are already represented. If they genuinely want to represent you then they'll tell you or at least give you enough of a hint to let you know if it is someone you are already speaking to via another agency. If that's the case then there's no harm in telling them.
  • Before I can represent you I need you to provide some references - really?
    • Again, this may sound innocuous but be careful what information you give out. I was recently asked for references (including a name from the company I was currently contracting for) BEFORE a recruiter would pass my details onto his client. Apparently this was to maintain a high level of quality in the candidates that he represented. Fair enough I thought. The client I was working for at the time said that they normally didn't do this for contractors but was prepared to provide some basic information if required. However, the phone call he received had little to do with me, the recruiter was really asking whether he had any upcoming need for any more contractors!
    • Essentially the recruiter was phishing for points of contact that he could call to offer his services - he had no opportunity for me and I never heard from him again (which may be a good thing)
  • Automated Emails
    • One you are on the recruiters databases you will start to get automated emails containing opportunities that may interest you. At first you think that this is a good thing but that opinion soon swings around to thinking of this messages as little more than SPAM.

      • Many of the automated emails I receive are of such low quality that it beggers belief. Many are for Permanent positions (see above) and others are so irrelevant as to be comical - I received one for an 'Underwater Product Engineer' and have no idea why the system thought I may be interested.
      • Some appear to come from individual recruiters but if that's the case then it's an even sorrier state of affairs than I thought.

With all that said, I have encountered a number of recruiters that have not only secured contracts for me but also shown a level of professionalism that many of us would expect. This handful of recruiters will be my first port of call in future when my contacts are coming to their conclusion - I'll not reactivate my CV on the Job Boards in the first instance. They have gone that extra mile, delivered on their promises and above all earned my respect and more than likely that of the many clients they can introduce me to.

So there you have it - my survival guide for dealing with recruiters. Now I've been pretty hard on recruiters here but i speak as I find and frankly that's what I've found. If you are a recruiter reading this and wish to respond then please feel free to do so. If you are a contractor with some tips or experiences of your own then I'd also like to hear them.