Attracting Recruiters: Lessons from Sun Tzu

Published: Jul 02, 2012

 Job Search       Networking       
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." – Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Okay, so Sun Tzu might be a little dramatic as inspiration for the average job search, but bear with me a little here. The longer a job search goes on, the more it becomes like an entrenched battle. You're on one side, firing off résumés that don't seem to connect with their intended target. Over on the other side is your "enemy"—the recruiters and HR departments who won't take your calls or respond to your emails, who don't bring you in for interviews or explain why you didn't make the cut. But it's not their fault: they're in an impossible position too, fielding hundreds of applications even for jobs they would have struggled to fill just a few short years ago. To torture that war metaphor a little more, you could even say that recruiters are under siege—bombarded by applicants, being constantly shelled with CVs and cover letters from applicants just like you. Little wonder that the two camps—recruiter and applicant—are starting to seem like enemies.

Maybe it is time to take a page out of Sun Tzu's book, after all.

Knowing your enemy

So what is a recruiter after? And how do they go about getting it?

Broadly speaking, there are two types of recruiters that most prospective candidates will likely be dealing with: internal HR staff (mostly at larger, more established companies), and external recruiters. Regardless of how their paycheck gets structured, they're all after the same thing: matching the perfect candidate to a job description.

As any good recruiter will tell you, if filling a position were as simple as advertising a post and waiting for the perfect candidate to show up, there would be no need for recruiters. Instead, good recruiters are constantly building their networks, seeking out candidates with specific skill sets—people they can tap at a moment's notice should the right opportunity cross their inbox.

The next question should be obvious: how are those networks built? How do you put yourself in a position where you're the one who's top of mind when the perfect opening just happens to crop up?

Again, a recruiter would likely tell you that they have a huge bag of tricks up their sleeve, an array of strategies for nurturing the perfect network. On the other hand, here's Elaine Wherry, co-founder of social networking platform Meebo, discussing the challenges she faced when trying to recruit a recruiter who would be able to deliver truly exceptional candidates with JavaScript skills—something of a Silicon Valley holy grail: "Lesson 1: recruiters rely exclusively upon LinkedIn."

That lesson was bad news for Wherry—for her company's needs "LinkedIn is incredibly competitive," meaning that tech startups are likely "scraping the bottom of the LinkedIn barrel" for talent."

But the recruiter's problem is the candidate's opportunity.

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized"

Yep, that's another Sun Tzu quote. And it's particularly apposite in this situation. The opportunity in Wherry's example is clearly on LinkedIn. And yet, while most professionals in this day and age have LinkedIn accounts, very few of us take the time to maintain them, and to ensure that they provide an accurate and—crucially—search-engine friendly picture of our skills and abilities.

To many, there's not much difference between a résumé and a LinkedIn profile—and in many instances they're one and the same. But there should be a difference: a résumé should create a compelling picture of your abilities, highlight your past successes, and leave anyone reading it with no doubt about the value you'd bring to their organization. A LinkedIn profile should do all of that as well, but it also needs to be optimized so that recruiters can find it through search.

Of course, it's never easy to figure out what someone else is going to be searching for, but there are some shortcuts that always apply. Start with job adverts for positions you'd love to land: check out the language they use there for skills and attributes and repeat it in your profile. Fine tune your personal statement to include your target job title. And, most of all, don't sit around and wait for them to find you: use the tool to connect with recruiters and tell them what you can do and what it is you want. After all, if you're to get them to believe in you, "you have to believe in yourself."*

Phil Stott,

 *Yes, that's Sun Tzu, too.