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Can a recruiter help you snag a dream job?

About the author

Elizabeth is a freelance writer in California and a former Career Q&A columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Finding the right recruiter to help you land a dream job (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

Finding the right recruiter to help you land a dream job (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

Checking your phone anxiously, you imagine getting “the call” from a recruiter. It’s the call about the position you’ve always wanted, the one that uses all of your skills, pays well and comes with loads of benefits.

For most people this is only a pipe dream. Odds are quite low that a recruiter, also known as a headhunter, will call – and even lower that the job will be the perfect fit for you. But if you are ready to make a change, it could be the right time for you to make the first contact with a headhunter.

Recruiters are used throughout the world, although they are far more prevalent in the United States and Europe. Often companies use recruiters to fill higher-level jobs or positions that require particular skill sets not easily found by placing a regular job advertisement.

But knowing when and how to reach out – and who to contact – is important before diving in. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting your time and the recruiter’s time.

Recruiting as a profession took a hit during the recent recession, as employers cut back on hiring, but demand for headhunter services has been on the rise as jobs have become more global in nature and the economy has picked up. The first quarter of 2013 saw a 7% rise in the number of new executive level searches by recruiting firms, according to New York and Belgium-based Association of Executive Search Consultants, which surveys members in 46 countries.

The fact is, headhunters need you. Finding good candidates is the top recruiting challenge for North American organisations, according to British Columbia-based Talent Technology’s 2012 State of Recruiting Report (the company is now called Talemetry). The more specific and higher skilled the job requirements, the harder it is to find qualified candidates, according to the report.

Do your homework

That is why it is crucial to find the headhunter who is right for you. With a few exceptions, most fields employ headhunters. Your first job is to find out who recruits in your space and how to contact them. Start by using a search engine such as Google.com and type in your field along with the words “recruitment firms” to find good matches.

The best way: get introduced by someone who already knows the right headhunter for your search. Ask your contacts on LinkedIn for recommendations. If you have colleagues or friends in your field, find out if they have used headhunters in the past and, if so, whether they have suggestions for you.

For Paris-based Jorg Stegemann, who has been working in professional recruiting since 2001, there are no drawbacks to using a headhunter as long as you find someone who is reputable.

“We know what the biggest challenges will be, what it takes to succeed in this given company and why the job is vacant,” he said. “We have met your potential boss long before you do.”

Stegemann says it is important to vet headhunters the same way they vet you.

“There is no certification for this job and barriers of entry are low,” he said. “You can basically run this business with a business card, a computer and a phone.”

No reputable recruiter will ask for a payment for services either before, or after, you get a job, according to Kenneth Heinzel, author of Private Notes of a Headhunter and a former executive recruiter. The employer always pays the recruiter, on average anywhere between 25 and 35 percent of the position’s first-year salary.

Phone over email

A jobseeker’s outreach to recruiters can start before they have spotted a position they want. Denise Clements, chief executive officer and founder of Los Angeles-based Community Recruiting, is always willing to talk to candidates who work in the industry for which she recruits, in her case, high-end biotechnology positions in the US and Europe. Any good headhunter should be willing to take calls, said Clements, as long as candidates have done their homework and are serious about finding a new position.

Once you find someone who seems like a good fit, Clements recommends the old-fashioned method of picking up the phone, rather than sending an email. Recruiters are inundated with resumes, and they spend only five to seven seconds, on average, looking at each one, according to Birmingham, UK recruiting firm BeHiring. Your unsolicited email and resume could easily end up overlooked if it ends up in a junk email box.

“I’m going to listen to my phone messages before I go through my spam box,” said Clements.

A phone call is more personal and immediately establishes a relationship with the person. If you get a voicemail, an upbeat, energetic message can go a long way, she said. If you found the recruiter through a mutual contact, make sure to mention the person’s name, and suggest some good times to call you back. You can then follow it up with an email.

Next steps

Don’t give out confidential information over the phone without having met the recruiter or having been told the name of the company for which they are hiring, according to Stegemann.

If you don’t “click” with the person, then it probably isn’t a good fit.  “Find another recruiter who stands behind you, who partners with you and will fight for your candidacy,” he said.

Many people mistakenly think a recruiter will put them in any job just to get the contract signed. That is not the case, according to Clements. The headhunter’s reputation is at stake just as much as yours. The better the fit, the happier the client will be.

Once you’ve connected with a headhunter, don’t expect much handholding. Reputable recruiters will help you prepare for interviews and offer tweaks and suggestions for resumes or CVs based on specific jobs you are presented for. They will also connect you with positions you might not otherwise know about. But you might only get a call when a specific position comes up. Check in occasionally and send an updated resume if there are changes.

And remember, a headhunter cannot guarantee you a dream job, but it rarely hurts to have one more person on your side in the hunt.

The fact is, headhunters need you.