Turning the tables on headhunters: Page 2

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Ask all the right questions
So you take a recruiter's call. All clear on the cubicle front; your neighbors are in a meeting. And you're itchy. So you decide to talk. Here are some questions experts suggest you ask to determine how solid the recruiter (and his or her organization) are:

Are you salaried, or do you work on commission? Experts say there are plenty of outstanding recruiters who work on commission. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that if a headhunter doesn't get paid until you get placed, he or she faces additional pressure--and may be more inclined to guide you toward a job that doesn't suit you.

Will you tell me about every position you send my resume for? "Watch out for resume blasters," Hines advises. Some recruiting firms actually refuse to divulge where your resume is going. It's fair to wonder whose best interests they have in mind.

What client organizations have you worked with recently? This is simple: You can judge a recruitment firm by the company it keeps.

Do you specialize in IT placement? There are plenty of top recruiters that don't. However, some experts think specialization is a must. "They can't be a one-stop shop today unless they're huge," says John Putzier, president of HR consultancy FirStep.

May I speak to some recent IT pros you've placed? "If you're reputable, you shouldn't have any trouble finding someone to vouch for you," Hines says.
--Steve Ulfelder
Here's another thing to remember about that first talk with a recruiter. Even if it's a cold call, it is after all a discussion with a fellow professional. Many IT pros assume that when they're contacted, they hold all the cards--and can thus afford to be high-handed, abrasive, or unprofessional. Fran Quitell is an IT career expert, recruiter and founder of San Francisco-based Pre-ipojobs.com. When asked about the number one mistake IT pros make when they're called by a recruiter, she says: "They hang up."

That's a mistake whether you're looking for a job or not, experts say. If you're not looking now, you will be someday--and the person you just blew off on the phone may be in a position to kill your chances. "The market can turn very quickly," Quitell says. "It's only been five years since the downsizing of the mid-'90s."

And if you are looking, it's even more important to treat the discussion as a chance to present yourself as a professional.

Another common error: pie-in-the-sky demands. "If someone making $60,000 wants $100,000 [in their next position], I'm not going to take that person seriously," says Hines, adding that these days a 10% to 20% raise is more like it. Other requests are equally outrageous, Hines says. He's heard people demand to work from home four days a week or commute no more than 10 minutes.

Whether you're job-hunting or not, experts say one overlooked benefit of a recruiter call is the reality check. A few quick questions can help you figure out where you stand in the marketplace. Are your peers at other companies getting bonuses, sabbaticals, stock? Ask the headhunter. Of course, you can't believe everything they tell you, experts (including recruiters) agree--but you can file the information away.

And while you're using the phone call to your advantage, you might as well soak up some free career advice. Quittel says, "Ask, 'What is it about my background that made you call me?' Also, 'If you were me, what skills would you get under your belt in the next two years?' You want the recruiter to map out your career plan."

Honesty--still the best policy

"Face it, resume puffery is rampant," Putzier says. He advises IT pros to be honest when selling themselves. Quittel agrees. "If you trivialize the recruiter, if you're not honest, you won't have a good relationship," she says.

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