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What to Do When a Recruiter Calls You

By Kevin Flynn, Vice President of Recruitment and Candidate Services

In a job market that is flooded with candidates, it seems counterintuitive that the war for talent is as hot as ever. This is especially true in the nonprofit sector. While the recession decreased the resources nonprofits have at their disposal, it also increased the need for their services in serving individuals, families and communities in poverty. Organizations have had to figure out quickly how to do more with less.  To do this, nonprofits aren’t just seeking bench strength or looking to fill seats when making hires.  In this climate, they need A+ talent at all levels to help move their organizations forward and advance their missions. Bench strength is easy to find.  To succeed in acquiring top-tier talent in this market, you have to go after it and you have to compete.   

To respond to this trend, many nonprofits are making investments to augment their recruiting firepower. Gone are the days of “post and pray” for great candidates to come from job board listings. Today’s nonprofits are getting serious about recruitment. Some are increasing their in-house capacity, hiring internal recruiters or talent managers. Others are partnering with external recruiting firms that focus on targeting passive candidates in the job market.

In the corporate world, recruiters are ubiquitous. However, on the nonprofit side, unless you’re in general management for a larger nonprofit or a senior level fundraiser, chances are you haven’t been actively recruited or had much exposure to recruiting firms.  Don’t worry, we’re not scary!  At Commongood, we’re nonprofit professionals with backgrounds a lot like yours.  Our approach is this: we are ambassadors of our nonprofit organizations we work with. Our value is connecting amazing candidates with amazing organizations, and this starts with getting to know talented nonprofit professionals and building relationships so that we can make matches that create impact. 

So what do you do if a nonprofit recruiter contacts you? Here are a few guidelines that will help you get the most value of these relationships:

If a recruiter asks you to connect on LinkedIn: It’s always good to connect with someone who might have an interesting job to discuss. Unlike Facebook, most people use LinkedIn strictly for professional purposes, so there’s less risk in linking with someone you don’t know. Most likely, the recruiter did a search for keywords or titles, found your information, and has something in mind for you. All good news. One thing to keep in mind:  If you are not actively on the job market, or if you are in a confidential job search, you might want to be discrete about these connections. When you accept a connection on LinkedIn, it becomes public to others in your network. If this is a concern, we suggest responding by providing your email address. If you do connect with a few recruiters, try to spread out the connections over a few weeks, so that it’s not overly obvious to your network. The last thing you want is your boss to sign into LinkedIn one day and see you’ve connected with every recruiter in the nonprofit sector.

If a recruiter emails you
: Approach email from a recruiter with an open and curious mind. Try to think about how they can help you, and how you might be able to help them. First, consider what they are offering: is it a job that interests you? Is changing jobs even in the realm of possibility for you? If yes, offer to pursue the opportunity. If it’s not the right fit for you, graciously decline and share some information about your career interests, such as types of role, mission areas, organization, salary, location, etc. This information will allow the recruiter to know exactly what you are looking for. The less information you give them, the more likely they will contact you with the wrong opportunities. When you are clear and specific about your interests, they will know exactly the type of opportunity that would interest you.  Unsolicited email from a recruiter when you’re not looking for a job can be slightly annoying, but remember, someday when you’re looking for your next role that recruiter could be your best friend and biggest asset.  Cultivate the relationship accordingly. 

If it’s not the right opportunity for you, but you know others who might be interested, offer this information to the recruiter. Doing so is easy and can be a triple-win: it helps the people in your network, it helps the hiring organization, and it helps you build a relationship with the recruiter.

If a recruiter calls you (without an appointment) – It’s not often that a recruiter will call you without requesting a time to speak in advance. If this happens, it’s perfectly fine to say that you can’t talk now, and ask them to email you with more information about the opportunity. You can then follow-up once you’ve gotten a chance to consider the opportunity. 

If a recruiter calls you (at a scheduled time) – Prior to the call, think about what you want to learn, and what you want to offer, in advance. Research the opportunity and prepare a few good questions. If you know that the opportunity isn’t for you, think through the people in your network and jot down who might be interested in this type of position. Always be open and candid about your perspective on the organization and the role; this information will help the recruiter understand what is compelling and what may be less attractive about the opportunity. Most importantly, position yourself as a hub of information and resources. Being helpful now can payoff down the road when you are ready to make a career move.

Finally here are a few things NOT to do when a recruiter contacts you:

  • Don’t be offended. This person is reaching out to you because they think you have a great background and a lot to offer. Be flattered!
  • Don’t blow it off. If you delete the email or hang up the phone, you are not preventing those calls from coming again. The best way to make sure a recruiter only contacts you with appropriate opportunities is simple: take the time to tell them what you are interested in. It’s that easy.
  • Don’t be rude. It’s a small nonprofit sector, and even smaller when divided by geography or mission area. It only comes back to haunt you when you’re rude. Don’t jeopardize your own reputation with others who have large and valuable nonprofit networks.

Remember, recruiters are here to help you, the people you know and the nonprofit organizations you care about. You can view the emails, calls or LinkedIn requests as annoying and not worth your time.  But if you manage these relationships well, you develop a relationship with an incredibly important ally that can help you throughout your career.  Having great relationships with recruiters will allow you to serve as a resource to friends and colleagues when they’re looking to transition, and will position you as a highly-leveraged connector and hub of information in the nonprofit community. 

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