How To Handle A Phone Interview With A Recruiter Or Agent

Guest writer Don Zinn walks us through dealing with a phone call with a recruiter.

Often, people don’t know how to react or what to take seriously when a recruiter or search consultant calls. This article explores how to manage the interaction and decide if the person on the other side of the line is worth trusting with your career.

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When a recruiter calls, you should listen. Granted, I’m that guy on the other side of the line, so admittedly I carry some bias here. But listening does not commit you to anything, and it allows you to learn more about a potential opportunity.

Once you listen to the initial pitch, go into question mode

Is the search retained or contingency? Whether a recruiter is retained or contingency is a major factor in determining whether you’re wasting your time. If the recruiter is a contingency recruiter, there is no commitment from the recruiter’s client to go forward on a candidate, and it may not be worth your time—even if the potential job sounds great. Plus, contingency recruiters often do not know enough about the role to help guide you through the hiring process.

Retained firms, on the other hand, have exclusive contracts with clients, which means they are certain to fill the position. Commitment is a huge differentiator in search: if the search firm has an exclusive agreement, it is working as the talent acquisition partner for the client, and you have someone who will work with you to help determine if the opportunity represents a win-win situation for you. That is a good place to start.

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Determine if the position is something that could interest you

Does it fit your expertise and experiences? Will you be able to utilize your strengths and succeed while still being challenged? Will it move you in the right direction for your overall career plan? How about the company? Does it have the attributes that make it attractive to you?

If these factors all draw a thumbs up, you can decide to meet the recruiter and the company without committing to pursue the job. The best time to explore, after all, is always when you can easily say no. Why wait until you need to find a job? You are unlikely to find the perfect job if you need to say yes. Much better to keep active, remembering the criteria above, looking at opportunities while you are succeeding and happy in a job. That way, if the opportunity at hand fails to light your fire, say “no thank you,” and walk away.

Throwing your hat in the ring does not require you to promise the recruiter that, if offered the job, you will take it

Any recruiter who demands your commitment to that up front is not being realistic, and probably is not someone you want to work with. The search consultant needs you to be honest—explain that you are not looking and that until you find that perfect next step, you are happy where you are. 

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The right search consultant should prep you before your interview

He or she should also have a detailed position spec for you to review. Read that; if it is well written and paints a good picture, then you know you are working with a recruiter who actually understands the opportunity. Then, have the search consultant provide you with the names, titles, and backgrounds of the people interviewing you. Be prepared and know who you are going to meet. 

It always pays to listen when a recruiter calls. But be selective, and if you do not feel you can trust the person on the other side of the phone, politely say “no.” Your career is important, so find people who you can trust and who play the recruiting game from a long-term perspective. If you do that, you may well be exposed to great opportunities. 

Read more from Don Zinn with his advice on interview etiquette for both candidates and interviewers.

I always tell my candidates, if this opportunity is “the one,” then that is great, but even if it isn’t, our having gotten together is a productive use of our time. If this one isn’t right for you, now we have a better understanding of what is right, and the next time I see it, if you have participated with honesty, candor, and integrity, you can be sure I will call you again. 

Find recruiters that are worthy of building a long-term relationship with. Don’t settle—be selective. 

Donald J. Zinn is an executive vice president and senior member of the Jobplex, Inc., search team. Don helps clients in New York City, Westchester, Southern Connecticut, New Jersey, and the East Coast of the USA to scale their organizations by identifying and landing the right talent in their quest to find the very best business leaders for their organizations. He focuses on helping fast-growing companies build optimal and functional management and sales teams. Don holds a BS in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from New York University.

Contact Don at, or call (914) 930-6846.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Westchester Magazine editorial staff.

Don Zinn, executive vice president, Jobplex, Inc., search team..

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