A recruiter called me! Now what?

Follow these tips to make the most of this job-search resource.
By Dawn Wotapka

When CPAs are in demand, you may be contacted by a recruiter. It isn't unusual for recruiters to reach out to potential candidates they don't know, so don't be shocked if someone asks to talk to you about an open position — even if you aren't actively searching. "If a recruiter is reaching out, it is because they see value in having a conversation," said Zahria Little, executive recruiter for Detroit-based JMJ Phillip Executive Search. "Always keep an open mind, because you just never know what opportunity is waiting to present itself."

If you've never been approached by a recruiter before, you might not know what they're looking for or how to respond. In general, though, your first conversation with a recruiter is a chance for them to learn more about you and your career goals, and for you to learn about the position they have in mind. Here are some tips for making the most of such an opportunity:

Understand how recruiters work. There are various types of recruiters, and knowing the differences between them can help you understand their motivation for reaching out to you, said Damian Birkel, founder and executive director of Professionals in Transition, a nonprofit organization for job seekers based in Winston-Salem, N.C., since 1992.

"In-house" recruiters are employees of organizations who fill roles for their employers. Usually they are permanent employees and part of their employer's human resources department, though they may be contractors. You are most likely to encounter them if you applied for a job with a specific organization.

"Contingency" recruiters, who are external to the organizations they are hiring for, usually compete to find candidates on the open market. When an employer announces an open position, they may simultaneously let contingency recruiters know about it, Birkel said. These types of recruiters will likely move quickly to find candidates due to competition from other recruiting firms, he said.

"Retained" recruiters have an exclusive contract with an employer to fill an opening. These types of recruiters will typically present a few well-vetted candidates to the organization doing the hiring, said Birkel. A retained recruiter will know who your competitors are during the interview process.

Both contingency and retained recruiters are typically paid when someone they recommend gets hired and stays on the job for a specified amount of time.

Know what to expect during the first call. During the initial call, a recruiter will probably ask questions to determine whether you have the level of expertise needed for the role and then move into more administrative-type questions such as your location, timeline, and availability for interviewing, said Elena Stefanopol, founder and career coach at San Francisco-based coaching firm Inner Stories.

Make the most of this call. "It's a great opportunity for the candidate to ask questions about the company, the culture, and anything else that will be helpful in [the hiring] decision-making process," she said.

If you determine quickly that the role isn't a fit, feel free to speak up to avoid wasting your time, as well as the recruiter's effort, said Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, an independent recruiter based in Bethesda, Md. Feel free to say something like: "Keep me on file and reach out to me if you have jobs that may be a fit," while explaining what "fit" means to you, she suggested.

If the position could be a fit, take a look at the job description and think about what applicable skills you can highlight. If you're talking with a recruiter about a position you applied for, do your research beforehand about the organization and craft an answer for why you want to work there.

Talk about what piqued your interest when you saw the job description, ask about the organization's current challenges, and then talk about the impact you can have in such a role, Stefanopol suggested.

Every interaction with a recruiter is a chance for you to shine, so don't waste valuable minutes telling him or her the obvious. "Don't just repeat what you've shared on your résumé" or on LinkedIn, Rod Adams, the Chicago-based talent acquisition and onboarding leader at PwC, said.

Should you get an unexpected call from a recruiter at a time when you're not prepared for the discussion, ask to schedule a different time sooner rather than later, Berk said. Then review the job description and other information available and get your list of questions ready.

Demonstrate your career path. Early in the recruiting process, share your short-term and long-term career goals, said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, a staffing firm based in Menlo Park, Calif., that has divisions specializing in accounting.

If you don't yet have your career trajectory mapped out, demonstrate what you've achieved so far and think about what your goals are for your next role, Berk said. For example, are you seeking specific skills, a different location, better work/life balance, or a flexible schedule?

Be authentic. Remember that the recruiter wants to get to know you as an individual, so be yourself. "They'll want to get a sense of your demeanor and personality so they can think about how well you match up with the culture of the hiring company," McDonald said.

Ask questions. If you are interested in pursuing the opportunity, ask about next steps, Adams said. Be sure to understand the timing and ask where you can gather more information about the team or the role that isn't available online. "Make it clear that you have done your research, but that you'd like to be as prepared as possible," he said.

Also, get to know the recruiter. Ask about his or her credentials and experience and which organizations he or she has worked with. "Recruiters should be an open book and be willing to answer any questions asked," said Jamie McCann, a longtime executive recruiter who runs 3AM Marketing Services, a boutique firm based near Reno, Nev.

Tread carefully with salary. Salary can be a delicate topic. The recruiter should ask you about your desired compensation, Stefanopol said. "The easiest way to navigate this question, without putting yourself at a negotiating disadvantage, is to ask the recruiter about the compensation range for the role," she said.

She advised not sharing your current compensation, and letting the recruiter know that you aren't comfortable with disclosing that information if they ask.

Once you know the compensation range, you hold the power, Birkel pointed out. "A key strategy for you is to determine the salary range and negotiate up from there," he said. Recruiters likely have a set salary range and understand "that it may take a substantial increase for you to consider leaving your current position," he said.

Remember that salary isn't everything, Berk said. Think about your situation: If you're willing to take less money to gain something like specific experience or tuition reimbursement, factor that into your decision. "If there are must-haves that you are seeking, that should come out in the first phone call," she said.

Follow up. After the conversation, be sure to thank the recruiter for his or her time via email within 24 hours. If the job they recommended wasn't a fit, take a few minutes to explain to the recruiter "what was lacking or why it was not a role that you would be interested in," McCann said.

Finally, keep in touch even if the position wasn't a match. Recruiters "may have another role that is a better fit for you in the near future," said Little.

Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.

Dawn Wotapka is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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