STEM Job Search, Part 2 – How to Engage with Recruiters

Like them or not, recruiters, aka headhunters, play a key role in the job search process. This post will cover common misconceptions, when and how to best utilize them, and sample messaging scripts for how to engage with recruiters in your job search. Let’s begin!

First, what is a recruiter?

Recruiters work on behalf of an organization (their client) to identify, shortlist, and place candidates to fill various roles in different industries. Understanding the different types of recruiters and headhunters out there is critical to understanding the differences in how they operate (and how it affects you and your job search).

There are 2 different types of recruiters:

  • Retainer

Recruiters that work on retainer charge an upfront fee to conduct a candidate search. They operate on exclusivity, meaning the job is filled solely through that recruiter agency on an agreed methodology. These projects are lengthier because they involve sourcing candidates with niche knowledge and skillsets.

  • Contingency

Contingency recruiters work on a no-win-no-fee basis, meaning they do not get paid until they find a qualified candidate that the client hires. They are incentivized to quickly deliver more candidates to increase placement odds since they compete with their client’s HR department and other recruitment agencies.

Why does the recruitment industry have a bad reputation?

Some of my clients are reluctant to connect with recruiters. The general public’s perception of recruiters is largely negative, and it only seems to have worsened in today’s environment when the COVID-19 pandemic brought existing social and economic imbalances into the spotlight.

The negative perception is understandable, and, in some cases, well earned. My line of work puts me in contact with many recruiters, some of whom fit the stereotypical negative perception that many people have. In a future post, I’ll share a story one of my clients’ had about a terrible recruiter experience.

On the other hand, I’ve met many smart, people-driven recruiters who truly care about building relationships with both candidates and clients. They are well-versed in new job opportunities, not publicly advertised, and will even advocate for you throughout the negotiation and offer stages to help you get the salary and compensation you deserve. These are the recruiters you want in your corner.

From speaking with job seekers on a regular basis, I’ve observed that many of these bad perceptions and reputations about the recruiter profession come down to misconceptions about the recruiter’s role in the job search process.

There are 2 main facts to consider when using recruiters in your job search:

  • Recruiters work for their clients (companies), not for you.

Many job seekers think recruiters work for them and will “find a job” for them. In reality, recruiters prioritize their time around their clients. This misunderstanding can be a rude awakening for many job seekers, leading to mistrust and further fueling the narrative that recruiters are motivated by commissions and clauses. There’s truth to this, but focusing your energy and efforts in engaging in that won’t serve you in your job search goals.

  • Recruiters work to fill tightly specified openings.

Many job seekers feel frustrated when trying to convince a recruiter that they can do a certain job without having the precise background. For example, a company won’t consider a candidate for an engineering job if they don’t possess a degree in some engineering discipline or equivalent work experience. This phenomenon becomes more prevalent, and the requirements are more stringent when filling senior executive and c-suite roles.

Other factors that contribute to the negative perception

  • Communication black holes.

Chances are you or someone you know has experienced "ghosting." Ghosting is when recruiters and hiring managers suddenly stop the conversation with candidates without sharing any reason or feedback. It can occur in multiple stages of the job search process.

For instance:

1) You submit a resume, receive an email for the next steps, get a call with a recruiter, and the recruiter says something like, "We will inform you about the interview," only never to hear back from them.

2) You apply for a job, get (and nailed) the interview, and the hiring manager says, "We will get back to you." Now, you sit by, waiting for a reply, but everything is silent. You never hear back.

  • Filling multiple open positions

Recruiters are often trying to fill multiple positions at once. Since they are working with many stakeholders simultaneously, when one position gets filled and closes, they will immediately move on to fill a different position and completely forget about following up with the other candidates vying for the role.

Additionally, recruiter incentives are structured to measure outcomes like the time/cost to hire, quality of hire, and the number of people in their talent pipeline versus the quality of candidate relationships.

I don't agree with this practice. I believe people have a right to transparency in the job search process and should not be left hanging not knowing where they stand in the hiring process. Even a rejection email, which still sucks, provides the candidate with closure.

  • Lack of understanding.

Unless the recruiter has held your position or worked in your field (unlikely), they won't be well-versed in the positions they are filling. Instead, they have to walk a fine line between understanding the positions in enough detail to honestly represent the role and shortlist candidates for their client (the company).

  • Lack of feedback.

One of the biggest criticisms of the recruitment profession is the lack of candidate feedback, which typically happens for 1 of 2 reasons:

1) The hiring manager hasn't provided the recruiter with any feedback to share with the candidate

2) Recruiters have to be careful about how candidates react to feedback.

I know a few recruiters who experienced face-to-face harassment and intimidation from candidates after updating them about job opportunities they weren't selected for. Naturally, these experiences impacted how they proceeded with feedback. Many now avoid it. They shouldn't, but I can't blame them when they do.

The ROI of recruiters as a job search strategy

As a job search strategy, the ROI for recruiters is typically lower than higher ROI strategies, such as networking and creating a list of target companies. Now and then, I've had clients connect with the right recruiter at the right time and land a great opportunity they wouldn't have found otherwise, but this is relatively uncommon.

So, why bother with recruiters at all?

That's a fair question. Recruiters are more useful as a career management strategy or when you're not actively looking for a job but want to be prepared should a great career opportunity surface out of the blue.

I still recommend you build connections and network with recruiters, but do not overly rely on them as your primary job search strategy. Recruiters are just one of several diverse strategies to employ in your job search.

The Hard Truth
You will be most attractive to recruiters if you are a passive job seeker, presently employed, and looking for a similar position in the same industry. Remember what I stated earlier? Recruiters are trying to fill multiple openings, many of which have rigid and highly specific requirements. If the spec says they are looking for a Formulation Chemist with 7 years of experience in the manufacturing industry, preferably in medical devices. In that case, your 7 years in specialty chemicals may not be seen as a good fit. Perversely, available, unemployed (and highly qualified) candidates are typically not desirable to recruiters, which is incredibly demoralizing for those laid off through no fault of their own, such as a post-M&A restructuring.

Whether you're an active or a passive candidate, they are different ways you can approach recruiters to best leverage their value in the context of your goals.

For active STEM job seekers

An active job seeker eagerly pursues a new job, such as updating and posting their resume, applying to jobs, and attending networking events and job fairs.

Most people reach out to recruiters late in the process, such as when applying for job after job and hearing nothing back. Anytime you know you're starting a search, I advise partnering with a recruiter earlier in the process.

Recruiters can be useful in the front-end job search by identifying opportunities that match your skillset, experience, and professional growth aspirations. This approach supports you in focusing your attention on interview preparation, networking, and staying on top of job search-related follow-up communications.

When identifying recruiters as an active STEM job seeker:

  • Start by looking for those that recruit for your industry. Technical recruiters will be your best bet because they specialize in finding candidates to fill life sciences, engineering, and IT jobs.

  • If you followed the guidelines in part 1 and created a list of 40-50 target companies, use that list to search for these companies on LinkedIn and filter employees by search terms like “technical recruiter.”

For passive STEM job seekers

Building those recruiter relationships upfront is valuable for those of you who are not looking for a new job because, by the time you start your search, you can leverage those relationships for that next great opportunity.

LinkedIn is the best way to find and connect with recruiters. If you receive recruiter outreach in connection invites or new opportunities, don't ignore them. Accept their connection invite and simply reply to them by thanking them for the invite and that you are not interested in job notifications at this time.

A passive approach allows you the freedom to be selective about emerging opportunities within your competitive industry landscape. Many recruiters who have their fingers on the pulse of new opportunities can serve as partners in your confidential search.

If you speak to a recruiter about an interesting job that's been posted, they may be able to refer you for another opportunity that has not been publicly advertised. This strategy is called accessing the hidden job market.

How do you initiate contact with a recruiter?

There are a few different ways to contact a recruiter—phone, email, and LinkedIn.

Unless you call an organization or a recruiter about an open position to ask specific questions, I recommend starting with email or LinkedIn outreach first. Most job seekers get stuck here. If you don't use LinkedIn that often or haven't played much in the LinkedIn networking space, this approach will feel awkward and unnatural.

Earlier, I suggested using your list of target companies outlined in part 1 of the STEM job search series to identify recruiters at those organizations. This next section will cover sample messaging scripts you can adapt based on your professional situation. Hopefully, this approach takes some awkwardness out of the process, especially if you're new to networking.

Let's try an example of using this approach to find a technical recruiter for a target company, Thermo Fisher.

In LinkedIn's search bar, enter 'technical recruiter thermo fisher.' Doing this generates a list of 228 results people with recruiter and other variations (i.e. talent acquisition) in their job title at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

You may want to mix up your search terms (see the list below) since companies structure job titles differently. You can also try extra filters, such as location, to get better results.

  • Recruiter
  • Human Resources
  • HR Manager
  • Hiring Manager
  • Recruitment Manager
  • Talent Acquisition Recruiter/Specialist
  • Director of People & Talent

From there, it's a matter of checking out these peoples' profiles and seeing who would make a strong connection.

There are a few things to look out for:

  • Are any of these recruiters first-degree connections?

First-degree connections are people you’re directly connected to because you’ve accepted their invitation to connect (or they’ve accepted yours). You can reach out directly with a personalized message. Most recruiters are open to direct outreach, and you can easily set yourself apart through this approach.

  • What about second-degree connections?

Second-degree connections are people connected to your first-degree connections. Is it a close friend or acquaintance who would be willing to make an introduction on your behalf? A direct recruiter connection or someone in your network who could make an introduction can make it easier to start a conversation.

  • Is the recruiter currently active with that company?

How to message recruiters on LinkedIn?

If you have the free version of LinkedIn, you can only message 1st-degree connections or maybe 2nd-degree connections. If you would like to start a conversation with someone outside of your network, you must invite them to connect with you.

When done right, a cold message can be just as effective.

I'll share customizable messaging scripts you can adapt for various scenarios in the next section. All of these scenarios can be executed with a free LinkedIn account. No premium accounts or InMails are required. I don't believe a Premium account is worth the cost.

Scenario 1: You find a recruiter who is a 1st-degree connection whom you've never spoken with.

Since you're already connected, you are not limited to the 300 characters when writing a personal message. While this means you can provide more details about your career goals, don't get lengthy. Be direct and to the point.

Sample Message:

Hi [Recruiter],

My name is [Name], and although we have never met, I'm contacting you to discuss the possibility of working together. I am a [Name of Profession] with [# of Years] in [Name of Industry]. I am currently seeking new [Target Position] opportunities in [Name of Industry]. After reviewing your profile, I see you recruit for [Name of Company] and actively hire people with my qualifications and skills.

If you have 10 minutes, I'd like the opportunity to discuss how my skills and experiences align with the [Name of Position(s)] you're actively recruiting for. May we schedule a time to talk?

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. You can reach me directly at [Contact Phone] or [Contact Email]. Looking forward to hearing from you!


Scenario 2: You ask a 1st-degree connection to introduce you to a recruiter who is a 2nd-degree connection.

Anytime you're asking someone for an introduction, make sure they know the person you want to be introduced to. Plenty of people share mutual connections but don't know each other well.

Second-degree connections are more valuable when the person you have in common is someone you know well because they are more likely to vouch for you.

The key to a successful ask is crafting your message properly by writing a polite, specific note that:

  • Reminds your first-degree connection of how you know one another.
  • Makes it clear how you and the person who’ll introduce you know each other.
  • Is as specific as possible about why you’re asking for the introduction.
  • Is polite and clear, and soft with any deadlines in your wording.

The sample message below embodies all of the characteristics mentioned above:

Hi [Name of Contact],

Last fall, we met briefly at the [Name of Conference, Event, etc.]. [Insert any additional details on how you know this person]. Since we last spoke, I have decided to [change careers, explore new opportunities, etc.] as a [Name of Position] in [Specific Industry, Target Company, etc.]. [Name of Company] is one of the companies I am targeting, and I noticed you have a first-degree connection to [Name of Recruiter], a [Recruiter's Official Title].

Would you be willing to introduce me to [Name of Recruiter]? If you feel uncomfortable, no worries. Alternatively, I would appreciate any advice on how to best approach [Name of Recruiter]. Any help you can provide before the end of the month would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, and I hope to hear from you soon!


Scenario 3: You find a recruiter you want to connect with on LinkedIn.

Recruiters tend to be receptive to accepting new connections. That said, you should do what you can to set yourself apart from others seeking to add recruiters to their network.

I stated earlier you should connect with recruiters who recruit for your industry or work for your target companies. Once you've identified a recruiter you want to connect with, you'll need to send a connection invite.

Always select the "Add a Personal Note" option so you can briefly state why you want to connect. Personal notes are a good way to break the ice and help you stand out from those who don't send a personal note. Not sending the personal note will send the default message, "I'd like to add you to my LinkedIn network."

So, how do you structure your personal note in your LinkedIn invitation?

Your note is limited by 300 characters with spaces, so use it wisely. Study their profile and look for anything you have in common with this person. This tactic can be a hit or miss depending on how detailed their profile is.

Some things to look out for include:

  • Do you have a mutual connection? If yes, try the strategy outlined in scenario 2.
  • Are you both members of a specific organization or LinkedIn group?
  • Are you alumni from the same college, university, or other academic institution?
  • Do you have a shared hobby or interest?

What if I have nothing in common with the recruiter?

There are a few things you can do.

  • Check out which groups the recruiter is in by scrolling to the bottom of their profile to the Interests section and clicking the Groups tab. Look through this list and join one of the groups that s/he is a member of. You can use this as a form of shared connection.

  • Check their LinkedIn activity on their profile page. Do they post frequently? If so, start by following them to see their posts and content. From there, you can like, comment, and engage on their posts, which is a great way to get noticed.

Sample Message 1:

Hi [Recruiter],

As a fellow member of [LinkedIn Group], I wanted to discuss potentially working together. I’m a [Current/Most recent Position] with [# of years] in [Industry]. Right now, I'm exploring new opportunities as a [Target Job] in [Industry, Company, Location, etc.]. Do you mind if we connect?


Sample Message 2:

Hi [Recruiter],

I've been following your LinkedIn activity and find your posts on [Specific Topic(s)] informative. I noticed you recruit for [Industry, company, etc.], and I wanted to discuss potentially working together. I'm a [Current/Most recent Position] with [# of years] of years in [Industry], targeting opportunities as a [Target Job] in [Industry, Company, Location, etc.]. May we connect?


Both messages are clear and direct about why you are asking to connect. People are more likely to accept a connection from someone who takes the time to send a personal note vs. someone who sends the default message, "I'd like to add you to my LinkedIn network."

As career coach Linda Cattelan says, "Networking is about connecting with people, not collecting them."

Scenario 4: A recruiter or hiring manager visits your profile.

Seeing who viewed your profile can be a valuable tool to see who is looking for your background and skillset. If one of those people is a recruiter or hiring manager, they could be a valuable connection to new opportunities in your field.

Reaching out to someone who viewed your profile can feel easier than sending an invite to a random person.

If the recruiter works for one of your target companies or shares other mutual interests or connections, I suggest capitalizing on this moment and inviting them to connect. The worst that can happen is they ignore you.

Hi [Recruiter],

Thank you for viewing my profile. I was curious if you have questions about my experience? I see you recruit for companies that may need someone with qualifications in [Industry, Field, etc.]. Is it possible to chat for 15 minutes about your needs and how I might be a resource?


Scenario 5: You find a recruiter in your search.

Hi [Recruiter],

After reviewing your profile and seeing that you work with people with a background in [Industry], I'm contacting you to explore potential opportunities. Currently, I'm a [Job Title] at [Company], and I am interested in [Target Job] opportunities. May we connect?


Scenario 6: You share group membership with a recruiter.

Hi [Recruiter],

I see we're both members of [LinkedIn Group/Professional Association] and wanted to discuss potentially working together. I'm a [Job Title] with [# of Years] of experience and presently seeking new opportunities as a [Job Target] in [Target Industry]. May we connect?


Scenario 7: You are connecting with a recruiter you have not spoken to about a specific job.

Hi [Recruiter],

My name is [Your Name], and I'm a [Job Title] with [# of Years] of experience in [Industry]. I'm currently working for [Company]* but looking for a new challenge. If you have 15 minutes, I'd like to discuss [Target Position] at [Company]. I'd also be glad to connect you with others in my field.


*If you're currently unemployed, remove the part about "working for [Company]" and focus on your goal, "I'm looking to transition to a company in [Industry]."

Scenario 8: You connect with a recruiter after making contact by phone or email.

Hi [Recruiter],

Thank you very much for your time and advice regarding the [Target Position] opportunity at [Company Name]. Following our conversation, I'm even more excited about the position and think I could be a great fit. I look forward to any updates. May we connect?


Scenario 9: You connect with a recruiter after applying for a specific role.

Dear [Recruiter],

My name is [Name], and I recently applied for the [Name of Position] role at [Company]. I believe it's a great match for my skills and experiences. If you have 10 minutes, I'd love to speak with you to learn more about the ideal candidate for this position. May we connect?


What do I do if I get no response after sending my note?

Once you've sent the request, detach yourself from the outcome.

If you're messaging a mutual contact, outlined in scenario 2, keep in mind that your connection may not know the person well enough or might feel uncomfortable making an introduction. On the other hand, things may play out just as you hoped. In either case, be grateful for any help you receive.

Don't hound your contact. If you hear nothing, send a gentle reminder after one week. After that, let it go. In the end, it's about the person's goodwill. If you do hear back, show your appreciation, regardless of whether you get an introduction or not. Thank them for their time and effort in considering your request.

This approach keeps you gracious throughout the process and treats your LinkedIn network as the asset it's meant to be. Even if it doesn't yield much, you're still leveraging your contacts in a meaningful way.

If you're sending a cold message, wait until the person accepts your connection request before following up. Don't send the connection invite more than once. LinkedIn will send them automatic reminders.

If they accept your connection request but don't reply to your message, wait at least one week AFTER they accepted before following up. It's normal not to get a response the first time and have to follow up.

Sample Follow-Up Message:

Hi [Recruiter],

I hope you're having a great week. Thanks for accepting my connection request. I know you're probably busy, so I'll keep this brief. I'm currently targeting new opportunities that leverage my background in [Insert 1-3 relevant skills] in [Target Industry]. I see that you are recruiting for [Target Company]. If you have 10 minutes, I'd like to chat about how my skills and experiences might align with the positions you're recruiting for. I'd also be happy to connect you with professionals in my field.

I appreciate your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Remember, you cannot control people's actions, only the process.

Final guidelines for LinkedIn recruiter engagement

  • Don’t connect with the recruiter unless you are on their profile.

It can be tempting to click the blue ‘Connect’ button when you generate a list of search results. Doing this won’t let you send a personal note and will generate the default, ‘I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network.’

  • Connect with the recruiter immediately after a meeting.

The longer you wait, the less likely they will remember you, so send your request the same day or the day after your meeting.

  • Don’t send a LinkedIn invite more than once.

LinkedIn sends automatic reminders if they have not responded to your invitation. Besides, you don’t want to come off as pushy, desperate, or aggressive and increase the chances of the recruiter ignoring your invite.

  • Update your resume after your conversation with the recruiter.

Hopefully, you took good notes during the meeting. Refer to these notes to update your resume before submitting your application. I’ll cover this topic in more detail in a future post.

It can be hard to trust recruiters if you’ve had a bad experience. I’ve been there and I’ve worked with many clients who have had bad recruiter experiences. Fortunately, there are more hard-working, people-driven recruiters out there who will go to bat for you. That being said, do not overly rely on recruiters as your main job search strategy. Recruiters are just one of several strategies to deploy during your search. In part 3, we will cover 5 strategies to systematically build a high-quality network.

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get some real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let's get you where you want to go, with greater results!

Kate Williamson

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