Another approach to approaching recruiters

If you read my last post, then you know that I attended the Chicago Tech Job Fair last week and experienced some mixed results. And now you also know that regardless of whether you read it. As I mentioned in that post, I want to briefly reflect on how I approached the recruiters.

Now, I am no means an expert (quite the opposite, in fact), but hopefully having my thoughts here will help somebody else.My mantra for approaching any new person, be it a recruiter or somebody’s friend is, “Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact.” Being as shy as I am, I often find it very difficult to maintain, or even make, eye contact with somebody. This is problematic because some people think that refusal or inability to make eye contact implies insincerity or that the person can’t be trusted. So I make a very special effort not to come off as untrustworthy.

Strong eye contact can also imply confidence, something I am admittedly short of, especially in large groups. Therefore, it has the double benefit of giving the impressions of trustworthiness and confidence–traits recruiters are very likely looking for. (Tip: The person  you’re talking to won’t know if you unfocus your eyes or look at the bridge of their nose instead.)

My introduction to recruiters starts out by following a very strict script. Knowing what I’m going to say–at least to start out–gives me a firm anchor to stand on. So make eye contact, offer a reasonably firm handshake, and tell them my name. Simple. Rehearsed. Hard to mess up.

The next step is to tell the recruiter why I’m talking to them–that is, what jobs I’m looking for. This is where things got interesting.

I started out by saying some variation of, “I’m a technical writer/editor who has been managing internal engineering documentation for nearly two years. I also have some business and marketing writing experience.”

For the most part, that garnered the familiar, “Sorry but…” response. The recruiters were sent there primarily to hire engineers, programmers, or what have you. They generally seemed unsure how to handle my very existence–even the ones who actually knew what technical writers do.

So I tried a different approach. I recalled that every job search guide ever in the history of ever says that the best way to get a job is to show you can fill a need. What do I do? I write and edit technical materials. What prerequisite must be in place to generate that need? The existence of any sort of manuals, procedures, documentation, and the like.

So my approach shifted. Instead of telling them what I do, I asked them about their company. I would introduce myself, then ask if their company generated any sort of documentation, be it user facing, internal, marketing, or whatever. Of course, almost any tech company does.

And an amazing thing happened. I stopped hearing how they were only hiring some other type of worker. Here are some of the responses recruiters gave me when I asked about their company’s documentation:

  • “Oh yeah, we have that. Give me your resume, and I’ll pass it along to the person in charge.”
  • “Documentation? We have a team for that, but we’re not looking for anyone else right now.”
  • “Sorry, our marketing department usually does that, and I don’t have any authority to speak for them. Try our Web site, instead.”

The response wasn’t always something that could generate a lead, but I wasn’t just brushed off anymore. I stopped feeling degraded for somehow choosing a useless field. I felt like the recruiters could actually understand what I want to do for a living. Furthermore, I did generate a definite lead with this approach.

Job hunting experts often tout the importance of the “elevator job description.” That is, the job description that is short enough to tell somebody between elevator floors, while still being able to catch their attention. I’ve had years of depressing job fairs to learn to distill what I do down into an eight-second blurb. And that blurb just seems to make recruiters’ eyes glaze over because it’s something other than “programmer.”

Asking a question about their company and its possible needs seems much more effective–at least in my hunt. It also potentially leads the conversation straight into how you can fill those needs. Finally, opening with a question to catch the audience’s attention is a time-honored marketing practice that is shown to work.

I’m interested if other technical communicators have found different approaches to introducing themselves to recruiters–especially if they got anything other than the typical dismissal. Please share your stories in the comments. Also, regardless of your field, please share if you try the question approach I used–I’m curious if it’s always effective.

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