Working with Recruiters (Headhunters)



Throughout most people’s career there are going to be times when you will need to the services of a recruiting agency (also called a ‘staffing agency’ or ‘headhunters’). Recruiters spend their time building up a pool of ‘candidates’ to fill the vacant positions and build relationships with employers (agencies, firms, publishers etc.) who pay them a commission for doing so.

Some people regard them as a necessary evil, to be nice to only when you want to leave a job or have been suddenly laid off. The reality is that you are more likely to get the job you want by establishing a long lasting relationship with recruiters. When I worked in London it was always the same recruiter that came through for me year after year with great jobs.


The initial meeting with the recruiter is crucial, rather like a first date. You’ll have to sell yourself to the recruiter as they form an opinion of and hence a (potentially) life long relationship with, you. Linda Holmberg ( of Artisan Creative has these key points to make about this initial interview:

• Limit the number of recruiters you choose to work with based on a meeting with them, which you may have to ask for in this market. Do you get a sense that it is just a routine, “hi, this is our paperwork, we will keep you in mind meeting?” or did you leave with a commitment from this recruiter to put a proactive approach into you specifically and finding jobs to suit your wishes.

• Ask the recruiter to please be honest with you about the reality of how likely you are to hear from them, based on your skills and your marketability for what you have expressed as being your desire for work, whether it is for freelance work, or for a full time position, or both.

• Everyone is pleasant in this business world, but you need to know realistically how you might make yourself more easily placeable? If your recruiter doesn’t seem to give you any guidance or ask for samples to promote you for a specific skill set, then you probably are going to get entered into a huge database, and may not hear from them ever. You need to probe.

• Ask your recruiter how they would like you to follow up with them, and where you can see their open jobs posted? Does the company post all openings on their website? Does he/she prefer you call them? or email them? how often? If they say, we’ll contact you, I would not feel to hopeful. I think if your recruiter asks you to email them every week to check in and stay in their inbox, that is a very good sign they want to keep you fresh in their mind.

• It’s very important to have something arranged with the recruiter with regard to a procedure for the recruiter to follow if they see a job come in and think you might be interested in and right for that position. Do they just go ahead and send your resume? Do you want them to call you first and get your permission? Of course you do! What if the company gets back to the recruiter and says “Oh, we already have that person in our database as having sent us their resume directly” so we don’t need your agency. But thanks for bringing her to our attention, we appreciate all your hard work, now go away.” This would be an example of poor communication and doesn’t really make your recruiter or you look to good.

The screening interview


Since recruiters are acting as a funnel for the Creative Director/Hiring Manager/HR Manager it is important to get their backing. When you get an interview through a recruiter then they are putting their reputation on the line for you with their long standing clients – the key here is act professionally. Kate Gilman ( of 24/Seven has a lot tips on how a candidate should prepare for an interview which is best summarized as follows:

• Always confirm date, time and place a day ahead of time.
• Confirm who you are meeting and their title.
• Do some research on LinkedIn or through your network of contacts about the people you are meeting.
• Bring a few printed résumés (even if you have already emailed them a PDF)*.
• Bring a laptop to show your work (just in case).
• Dress professionally, even if for a creative position.
• Show up on time – get there early but not too early.
• Eat and hydrate beforehand.
• Turn your cell phone off.
• Do not smoke before or chew gum during the interview.
• Don’t bring extraneous things e.g. coffees, dogs, boyfriends/girlsfriends.
• Shake their hands firmly and make direct eye contact.
• Take off any jackets, sunglasses, purses etc.
• Show interest by asking them questions about the company, their role, what their expectations are for the position. Do not interrupt them.
• Be positive and upbeat – who wants to work with someone who is negative.
• Always send a follow-up thank you, referencing some of things mentioned in the interview.
• If you do get the job thank the recruiter who got you the interview.

(*Check with your recruiter to see if they want a version without your direct contact details.)

designer's specs

Once you are actually on a freelance gig placement it all boils down to a few simple things:
• Know the software programs – they are not paying you to learn on the job.
• Be nice to everyone – you never know who will affect the decision to keep you on. It’s also good kharma.
• Take notes in meetings and listen closely when given creative direction.
• Ask questions – lots of them, rather than waste paid hours doing the wrong thing.
• Learn the file naming/file storing conventions and use them.
• Hit all deadlines – give lots of warning if you think you can’t.
• Don’t try to take credit for other peoples work (be aware that once you are gone other people may take credit for your work.)
• Although it is good to build rapport with your coworkers don’t spend a long time visibly doing so unless it’s lunchtime or a deliberate social setting in work.
• Remember you are being paid by the hour and people judge you accordingly.
• You are likely to be thrown in the deep end so be prepared to rise to the challenge.
• Recruiters generally prefer that you do not discuss the financial side of things with their clients.

If the company/agency/publisher tries to come to some kind of hiring arrangement with you behind the recruiter’s back be aware that not only is it illegal but very bad form. Recruiters might not take legal action for fear of losing a paying client company but more importantly you are burning bridges with the recruiting community which may hurt you more in the long run than any legal action.

call me


The bottom line is that you know you are doing it right when you get asked back again (and again, and again…) without having to continually look for more work. If you got the placement through a recruiter then it’s like having the taxi meter running all the time – something that greatly pleases recruiters, wins great favor with them and gets you even more of the right kind of work in the long run.


This is where I live and work so naturally I’ve accumulated a list over time. If anyone has a list or even a few names for other cities I can add them here:

4 thoughts on “Working with Recruiters (Headhunters)

  1. These are great reminders, and the interview tips are relevant for everyone. I’ll reinforce how important it is to do background research before arriving. Designers that meet with us for portfolio reviews yet have no idea what type of work we do are telling us they are also unlikely to do their research for a client project.

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