Four questions for an agency recruiter

Jimmy Recruiter just called you and told you about a job, and after you swallowed your annoyance and gotten through the obligatory BS, you’ve realized you might actually want the gig. If Jimmy’s with an agency (i.e. not an in-house recruiter), here are the four questions you should ask right away.

1. Do you have a contract with the company?

If the answer is anything but “yes, we do,” get off the phone. Some agencies will find a company job posting online, source candidates for that job, and then tell somebody at the company, “I’ve got a great candidate for you if you’ll pay me.” This. Does. Not. Work.  No company creates an agreement under the gun of a potential candidate, and you don’t want to get caught up in that mess.

2. Can you pay my rate?

After you’ve established your excitement for the role, make sure money comes up in the conversation, and confirm that your rate is within range before allowing Jimmy to submit you. This applies to both contract (where the “you” is the agency) and permanent roles.

Partly this is about not wasting your time, but from a contracting side, it’s also about protecting your ability to get the job.

Relevant, tangential, real story: I called Adam for a contract dev job. Adam’s awesome and he wanted $90/hr. I knew the client would only pay $100/hr: that’s a pretty bad deal for me, but it was a new client, I wanted Adam on my team, and it’s my company – if I want to make very little margin, that’s my decision, and so I’m fine with it.

Aaah – but it turns out Adam talked to another agency a week back, and that agency knew Adam wanted $90, and knew the client would only pay $100, but they have partners to pay and margin quotas to meet, so they submitted Adam at $140 and thought they’d convince the client that Adam was so good that they should pay it. The client said no before seeing Adam – then when I brought him to their attention, they couldn’t look. Adam missed a good job and the company missed a kick-ass dev.

The agency’s to blame, but Adam could have tried to avoid this by asking the direct question before being submitted – can you afford me?

3. Who decides whether to submit me for the job? [if it’s not Jimmy] What does that person need to know about me?

In many agencies, the person you’re talking with (Jimmy Recruiter) doesn’t actually submit resumes to the hiring manager, and may not even know who the hiring manager is. It may be Sammy Account Manager who will take your resume, Jimmy’s notes, and about 15 seconds to decide whether to send you along.

If Jimmy likes you, though, he wants to send you along (and maybe make some money), so make it easy for him – find out what he needs to know to make that easy. It might be if you meet particular job requirements, or that you’re available in a certain time, etc.

You want Jimmy to look away from his screen, look at Sammy, and think about what Sammy wants, then bring that back to you.

4. What’s the timeframe to close this position?

Agencies are the first step in a process that could take days or could take months. Ask Jimmy what the timeframe is: if he doesn’t know, ask him to find out and get back to you. Sitting around waiting for someone to call you about a job that you’re interested in causes your heart rate to go up and a sunken feeling in your chest, especially if you’re really looking – set your expectations accordingly.