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Why your new job might not come from a recruiter

When someone looks for a new job, it’s very natural to seek out recruiters to help you find one. Whether they can help you find a new job or not is more nuanced than you might think.

Looking for a new job can be stressful and confusing; the need to find something new is ever present and finding the right approach to getting a new job isn’t always easy. Recruiters offer a potentially excellent solution to this, a person who in theory can massively speed up your job search and give you access to the perfect new job. Whilst this is often the case, there are several factors which influence how effective a recruiter is likely to be in finding you a new role.

A recruiter will only generally help you if you are really of use to them

Every recruiter has a specialism; this could be by industry or by function. At Neon River, our specialism is by industry – working with internet, software, games and broader technology companies. If you’ve spent your career working for law firms, we can’t help you and asking us for help in finding you a job will only waste your time and ours.

Be targeted when looking for a new job; only target recruiters who specialise in your industry or function. Optimistically reaching out to another kind of recruiter in the hope that “it might work” is just a waste of time.

Recruiters play the percentages

Remember that recruiters are paid by clients to fill positions for them; as a candidate it’s not their job to find you a new job unless your candidature is helping them to close their current assignments. In today’s world of LinkedIn, it’s never been easier to find candidates within any sort of company, function or industry. You might want to be a CMO – but if you’ve never been a CMO before, why would a recruiter take a chance on you when there’s hundreds of alternative candidates on Linkedin who are more proven and qualified than you?

Understand that recruiters play the percentages. If you put the candidate forward from Spotify to your client, and they don’t like them, it’s understandable. If you take a long shot with someone looking for a new job but unproven, and it goes wrong, your client might be angry with you for wasting their time. Most recruiters are far too polite and politically aware to tell you this directly, but as a candidate looking for a new job you are essentially a commodity. Either useful and marketable to their audience or not.

Strong employer brands attract hirers

The idea that “good candidates work for Google” (or insert your attractive company of choice) is very powerful with recruiters of all kinds. Yes, it’s shallow. Yes, there are many exceptions to the rule. But consider it this way; it’s impossible for a recruiter to personally know the thousands or millions of candidates in their field. We must look for patterns to make sense of the complexity and to make our projects manageable. We must apply structure to the market to make sense of it.

If we’re working for an early stage, entrepreneurial business, we like to see evidence of someone having worked in a similar environment before. Without that, there is a degree of risk. It’s also generally a pretty safe bet that someone who worked for Facebook or Amazon or Spotify is a smart, high calibre person.

Asking a recruiter to take the time to get to know you personally because of how wonderful you are (isn’t everyone?), is only likely to work if they think you are a marketable, low risk candidate that they might actually be likely to place. Otherwise, quite frankly, you are likely a waste of time to them.

Very entrepreneurial candidate backgrounds and recruiters don’t mix well

Don’t get me wrong, entrepreneurial experience is great and provides huge learning opportunities and hands-on experience that prepares you well for future start-ups. But if you’ve only worked for very early stage businesses recently – perhaps ones you have founded – and those companies haven’t scaled, it’s often very difficult for recruiters to place you. You lack the “employer brand recognition” that re-assures them, and despite how great I’m sure you are at marketing / technology / strategy / finance / product or whatever, these entrepreneurial roles are often quite broad by their nature.

When a recruiter is asked to find a Chief Product Officer or a Chief Marketing Officer or whatever, they will build a list of 100+ candidates who have been in those roles, narrow and deep, for 15+ years and worked for recognisable brands that have cache in the market. Objectively, you probably aren’t a better or more proven fit for the role than them (as they have narrowly specialized more than you), and just as importantly, you are a high risk candidate from a perception perspective as other candidates have deeper functional experience and specialism within more recognisable brands than you.

So don’t be offended if a recruiter doesn’t want to talk to you if you are looking for a new job

They should reply to you and say “thanks but no thanks” but interpret their lack of desire to talk to you as a time saving device; you are not of use to them and therefore they are not of use to you as they won’t place you.

Finding your new job without the help of a recruiter

So what do you do if you’re an entrepreneurial candidate or one with an unusual background that a recruiter is unlikely to place?

Whilst this article has been pretty skeptical about a recruiter’s ability to place you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a great candidate or are doomed to having to accept a poor quality role.

Whilst recruiters “play the percentages” and are conservative with who they present to their clients, the whole market does not operate this way. If you can build relationships directly with hirers – CEOs, HR folks, investors – your personal qualities and skills will shine through and people will care much less about “which boxes you tick”. Your CV might not read “15 years of product management roles” but a CEO might well buy into your ability to be their next CPO despite that once they get to know you.

Attend free online events on platforms like Eventbrite and ask questions where you can. If you see a job advert online, and it isn’t right for you but the company looks interesting, drop the CEO a note on Linkedin. Say you’re very interested in their business and you’d love to see if you can work together – maybe you could have an introductory coffee at some time. Use your network to get introductions to CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs.

Consider doing some consulting – either for free (initially) on a day rate or with sweat equity. This could lead to a successful consulting business or a way to open up long term career opportunities with the chance to “try before you buy”.

Also think about how you describe your experience on your CV and online. If you have a very entrepreneurial background and are looking for a new job, consider having different versions of your CV which bring out different focuses; e.g. have both a “marketing” flavoured version of the CV and a “product management” flavoured one if you have experience across both functions. The more depth of industry and functional specialism you can bring to a particular role, the less risky as a candidate you will seem.

It’s perhaps unfair that candidates with safe, blue chip CVs get placed much more frequently by recruiters than entrepreneurial ones, but don’t lose heart. You will have learned a huge amount on your journey and it’ll likely be your personality and skills, and your entrepreneurial hustle that will find you your new job rather than an external recruiter.