How To Turn An Unexpected Call From A Recruiter Into A Big Career Break

By:Jack Kelly

The phone rings and you look at it strangely—the same way your dog looks at you while you are talking and has no idea what you mean about the whole “sit” thing. If you are under 35 years old, the idea of a phone call is weird and you really can’t quite process it. For others, it is an antiquated and nostalgic reminder of the past.

You cautiously pick up the receiver and hear a much-too-pleasant voice saying, “Hi! It’s Jack Kelly. I’d like to share a new job with you!” There is an instant terror in which you try to piece together the words to make sense of it all.

“Jack Kelly? Job?”

Then, you remember that you had previously submitted a résumé last week and Jack is now calling you back about the opportunity. You nervously extend a “hello” and ask if the recruiter could hold on so you can shut the door. You walk away from the desk with trepidation to the open door, peak your head out, look around the hallway to see if anyone notices you and slowly close the door and resume the call.

If you are a mid- to senior-level corporate executive you may have received many of these calls. If not, you soon will. A recruiter may call you in response to a résumé you sent them, after seeing your LinkedIn profile and feeling you would be a good fit for a job that they have, or maybe someone recommended you to them. It could potentially be an awkward and uncomfortable situation. Though, there is an element of feeling flattered that someone is interested you. It could be frightening as you don’t want anyone to know that you are speaking with a headhunter, especially your vindictive boss and nosy co-workers who would love nothing more than to blow up your spot and rat you out to management.

Here is an easy guide to delicately navigating a call from a recruiter.

The first thing to do is channel the advice that your parents gave you when you were young: be polite, kind and courteous. If you are free to talk, let them know and proceed with the conversation. If you have to attend a meeting or are just not in the right state of mind, be forthright and let the person know that this is not a good time. Ask them to reschedule the call so that you can freely talk and concentrate on the opportunity at hand.

If you are not interested, there is absolutely no reason to be abrupt and rude. The recruiter is not asking for any money or fees. They are just simply trying to help you. Of course, they have their selfish motive in that if you are placed with their corporate client, a hefty fee will be paid to them.

Most industries are small worlds and word will soon get around that you are a mean jerk and not worth calling. There is no reason to create enemies or ill will when a simple “Thank you, but I’m not interested” will suffice.

Try to be clear and concise about your responsibilities, achievements, abilities and the type of role you desire next.

It’s not necessary to put on airs, pretenses, act pompous and try to overly impress the recruiter. The premise for the discussion is to ascertain if you have the right skills, background, education and other mandated qualities for the job at hand. Also, they want to ensure that you have the personality, character traits and social skills that will enable you to work and play well with others at the new job.

Stay focused and provide an easy-to-follow narrative. There is no need to start in the first grade and wind around for two hours getting to your current position.
Have some self-awareness about your skills and ability. If you are an assistant vice president, there is no reason why anyone would believe that you’re ready to enter the c-suite as the chief executive officer.

Similarly, when it comes to compensation, an experience recruiter will have a general idea of your salary. If you ask for ridiculous multiples higher than the norm, it will be shooting yourself in the foot.

Don’t play hard to get or act too cool for the room. If you are interested in the opportunity that is being shared with you, let them know. If not, be direct and honest. Respectfully decline it and ask for you to be kept on their radar for future opportunities.

Conversely, even if you are worried about the safety of your current job, don’t come across too nervous, needy, anxious and afraid.

If you turn down the opportunity, it is good form to ingratiate yourself for future calls by offering the name of someone who might be a fit and interested in the type of role that was described to you.

This may sound obvious, but make sure you have a good connection if you are on a cellphone. Nothing is more irritating than an uncomfortable yelling conversation, interrupted by, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”, followed by a dropped call. Then, the pattern of yelling, not hearing and falloff starts all over again. Oh, and make sure your mailbox is clear so that the recruiter could actually leave a message if you are not able to answer.

This is a two-way street and a mutually benefiting relationship between both parties. There are certain basic requirements and standards that you should expect from a recruiter that is contacting you.

You want to make sure that the recruiter really understands what you do in your current job.
The recruiter should have a solid knowledge of the job they are pitching you. They should also have an in-depth grasp of the company, its culture, the reporting structure, who you will report to and the compensation offered.

They should be honest, direct and empathetic.

The recruiter should ask smart questions designed to understand your needs and goals. They should stop talking and take time to listen to you.

They shouldn’t try to push you into a position you don’t want.

The recruiter should work hard on your behalf.

They should provide feedback, prepare you for all interviews and keep you posted on the process.

You should feel comfortable with the recruiter.

You must feel that they believe in you and will always treat you with courtesy, respect and dignity.

With a little luck and some smooth skills, you can turn an unexpected call from a recruiter into a big career break.

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