Receiving direct contact from a recruiter is an exciting part of the job search and a welcome break from rejection notices and non-responses. Out of hundreds of applicants or thousands of LinkedIn profiles, the recruiter decided you were one of the few worth reaching out to– congrats! The next step is to validate their instincts. Whether you’re responding to a recruiter email or participating in an initial phone interview, it’s critical to show that you are professional, skilled, and a strong communicator.

We reached out to four recruiters to gain insight into what they’re looking for in these initial interactions.

How to Respond to a Recruiter Email

A recruiter could be sending an email or LinkedIn InMail to you for a couple reasons. Typically, they’re either doing cold outreach for a role (sourcing) or responding to your job application.

What to do when a recruiter contacts you unexpectedly

When a recruiter finds your LinkedIn profile and messages you out of the blue, their primary objective is to open a dialogue.

“I’m hoping to be able to hear something that isn’t a complete shut down,” said Karpiak. “I just want a sliver of daylight where I can try to figure out what kind of value I can add for them.”

“I hope to establish a mode of communication to keep us on their radar and convert them to apply,” said Hernandez.

Recruiters are generally happy to receive any response at all during cold outreach. Jump way up their list by going beyond a simple “tell me more” and showing genuine interest in the role.

“I feel confident about them when they take the time to look up the company before they even draft their response to me,” said Hernandez. “If they respond with … anything that shows that they’ve researched the company, our founders, our mission, or my background, that’s always good news.”

“Ultimately, the best responses to those messages include something like, ‘Yes, I am interested. When can we set up a time to connect?'” said Harmon. “It shows interest on their part, and it demonstrates the ‘let’s meet halfway’ mentality.”

Harmon added that only following up with questions about the client or pay — things an agency recruiter might not even be able to disclose at that point — “can suggest that they aren’t actually interested, or that they may not see what we do as valuable. Those people … are likely not going to become candidates.”

Some job seekers might not have a high opinion of recruiters after slogging through a job search, but there are great recruiters out there who will become your advocate if you let them. When a recruiter comes calling, it’s not a time to vent your frustrations. Be professional and courteous.

“Unless they are downright rude, nothing would really deter me from wanting to have an initial conversation,” said Cavanagh.

“I can tell sometimes if a candidate will not get along with me or treat me like a cog,” said Karpiak. “I’m not a cog. I’m a partner in the process. If they just want me to blast them out there … or are disrespectful to me ‘because I’m a recruiter,’ I’ll pull the plug.”

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How to respond to a recruiter phone interview request

If you’ve applied for a job and a recruiter responds, it’s likely to schedule a phone screening. Replying to these messages can be nerve-racking for job seekers who suddenly see their dream job within reach. The key to these interactions is responsiveness.

“When I email a candidate to schedule a phone screen, what I mostly care about is, ‘Are they being a pain to schedule?'” said Karpiak.

“We look for clear and professional responses, but we really look for responsiveness in general,” said Harmon. “That dictates how smoothly our process of working with them will go and how invested they are in their job search at this point.”

The real tests come during the phone call.

What Recruiters Are Looking for in Your Phone Interview

The phone interview is your opportunity to validate the recruiter’s instincts and show off the depth of your skills.

“We ask basic questions about the candidate’s skillset to make sure that we’re on the same page about experience and requirements,” said Harmon.

Hernandez wants to know “how they’ve applied the skills and qualifications from their resume into their actual work.”

Instead of reciting the skills on your resume, it’s much more important to intelligently discuss what it is you do, exactly.

“It’s easy to list things on a resume,” Hernandez continued, “but when I ask you to tell me about your background, I want to see how confident you are in verbally articulating that skillset and how you market yourself.”

A set of corporate recruiters weighed in on this in a previous article. “You want to know how good they are conveying their past experience to someone that they’ve never met,” said non-profit recruiter Andrew. “In that initial conversation, I’m gauging what their communication skills are like.”

How to nail your phone interview with a recruiter.
Recruiters cover a lot of ground in a short phone interview.

Confirming that your skills align with the job description is a primary concern for recruiters at this stage yet they have more ground to cover during the 15-30 minute phone interview. This is the recruiter’s first good opportunity to start assessing culture fit and long-term expectations.

“Culture fit is big, but at a startup, I also look for things that a candidate can add to the team or potentially even teach our team,” said Hernandez.

“I care about their interests, their passions and their WHY,” said Cavanagh.

Hernandez added that “this candidate might be my coworker one day, so I am screening for someone who will be respectful, friendly, and mindful towards the team.”

This also includes how a candidate fits in not only with the current team, but the company’s long-term goals.

“Tell me … what you want down the line,” said Karpiak. “Then tell me why you can’t achieve that at your current job.”

“‘Where do you see yourself eventually’ may be cliche and perhaps overused,” said Hernandez, “but it actually lets me know whether or not we can offer you the ability to pursue that goal and, from a business perspective, whether our joint goals align.”

Hiring someone is a big investment. While you don’t necessarily need a structured “five year plan,” having a clear idea of what you’re working towards can inspire confidence in the recruiter, especially if you make a point to align it with company values.

How to respond to a recruiter (and nail it)

To recap:

  • Be responsive. Don’t make the recruiter work for it.
  • Show your interest by researching the company and the role.
  • Articulate your skills and experience clearly. Know why you’re good at what you do.
  • Show that you’ll be a good coworker by being friendly, professional, and courteous.
  • Prepare a long-term vision for your career (preferably one that aligns with the company).

Additional reading:

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