Can You Trust the Recruiter?

Trust Me (book)

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The voice at the other end of the voicemail sounded sincere and the message they left earlier about the possible job sounds great. But is too good to be true just that: too good to be true?

And can you trust the recruiter who left the message?

The short answer is “maybe”. And here’s more.

I spend my work life coaching people and teams to up their performance game, and one of ways to enhance performance is to improve the ability anticipate what’s coming down the pike. I’ve also been responsible for recruiting operations withChiron Corporation (biotech) and Barclays Global Investors (financial services), so I may know more than the average bear about that side of the how things work.


Ten Secrets Headhunters (Usually) Don’t Tell Youcovered some of the basics of employment search. In brief there are at least four types of people who could have left that message and with whom you might be figuring out if you can “trust” them:

  • Sourcers are people who get paid to identify and surface candidates who might be qualified, and if so, the candidates are referred to somebody else (retained or contingent headhunters, or in-house corporate recruiters) to follow-up with the candidate.
  • A contingent headhunter could have left the message. Sometimes these folks are really working for a firm, and sometimes they’re not working directly for the employer but trolling for candidates and resumes to put in front of an employer.
  • A search firm that’s been retained on an exclusive basis to find candidates.
  • An in-house corporate recruiter : an employee of the firm or a contract recruiter paid an hourly fee to recruit and place candidates.

Trust, to crib a concept, is comprised of three elements: competence, reliability, and motive. If you have that in mind, it informs how you think about answering that voicemail message.

What you know about the caller – unless it’s someone with whom you’ve dealt before – is next to nothing. You don’t know their competence, you don’t know their reliability, and you don’t know their motive.

And the issue of trust here has two sides. Is the job (and all the comprises it like salary, authority, etc.) accurately described? And second, if you’re currently employed can you be sure that news of your interest in the job won’t get leaked?

In short, then, there’s not much evidence from just a phone call to imply trust, and that suggests that you adopt a more cautious approach.

So what do you do?

As a preface, I think it’s generally a good idea to return a search call, particularly if it’s from a named blue chip search firm. Even if you’ve got an employment contract, keeping decent relations with the search community is a good idea: it’s one way to track who you want to use if you retain them for a search. Most times though it’s just a call back to say “Thanks, no thanks” but it’s worth the 45 seconds

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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