Personal contacts or referrals will always help cut through the pile of cold calls and résumés that recruiters receive each week.
If you don't have a personal referral to the recruiter, you should do homework on some of the recent searches that the recruiter has worked on, or even better, some of the current searches that are in progress. You can then tailor your approach so that it is relevant to the recruiter.
It's not unlike pitching a story to a journalist. You must keep in mind that a good recruiter gets hundreds of cold résumés a week. You should know what kind of searches a recruiter conducts and whether or not you're a good fit. When approaching a recruiter, it's best to e-mail a résumé first and then follow up with a call.
Another key thing to remember is that recruiters work for clients, not candidates, so be patient when you approach a recruiter. I'm always surprised at how many candidates tell me they're looking for a recruiter to help them with a job search, as well as for someone to "represent" them. This is not a good approach. It tells the recruiter that the candidate doesn't understand the search process.
Nels Olson is MD at Korn/Ferry International.
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