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Been There, Done That

A veteran's take on military headhunters

John Sahlin is a Naval Academy graduate who has been working in the civilian workforce for about four years. When asked about his experiences with headhunters this is what he had to say.

I have been out for about four years now and I have had both good and bad experiences with recruiters/executive search firms of all types. I am currently at USinternetworking, an Application Service Provider based in Annapolis MD. My most recent assignment was a one-year stint in Silicon Valley as the Director of the Western Region for our E-Commerce Business Unit.

I am telling you this to show that I have worked with recruiters both to try to GET jobs when I first got out, but also to try to HIRE quality people across the country. Here are my comments. You can take them for what they're worth, but they are my opinions, not a definitive source.

  1. There are definitely lots of good jobs out there. Your BEST chance of getting a good position is to get a direct line into the hiring manager, not going through the HR department. This is especially true of JMO's getting out for the first time.

    JMO's usually don't have directly transferable skills for many positions, or they aren't civilian life-savvy enough to tailor their resumes to use the right keywords. As an example, my company processes roughly 250 resumes per week from our Web site. The hiring managers give HR a list of skills to search for.

    If your resume doesn't say E-Commerce, BroadVision, Site Server, JavaScript, or some similar keyword, your resume will never make it to my desk -- even though I would hire many of you in a second!

    Often, a good recruiter is the only way to get that direct access to the hiring managers. Other good ways are to skulk around the alumni sites, SABRD, job fairs, and alumni chapter meetings. Getting direct access to the hiring manager is the key to getting a great position!

  2. Recruiters are paid by the company that hires you. In general, they charge 10-30% of the first year salary to the company. They work for you, but in truth, they really work for their clients.

    This is very similar to the detailer process in that they have positions to fill and will try to get you in the position that best suits both their open requirements and your skills.

  3. Recruiting is a business. It is also one that is based on relationship management, not cramming volume into a funnel. The recruiter has two extremely important relationships to maintain: that with his/her client (the company) and that with you. Hiring a team is extremely stressful, and a good recruiter is a Godsend to a manager. A top-notch recruiter can make a good living with one major account based on maintaining a good relationship and providing high quality people to fill the billets. In addition, if he/she does right by you, two things can happen: a) you can be a repeat candidate, or preferably b) you rise to management ranks and use him/her to place more JMO's to your group.
The bottom line is -- there are good recruiters and bad recruiters. Unfortunately, there are very few groups that I could point to and say that as a whole, are good or bad. It is basically dependent on the individual you're working with. How do you know if you are working with a good recruiter? Interview him/her: Find one who is interested in fostering a relationship with you. It is a good sign if the recruiter is asking you several questions about your skills and, more importantly, your goals before he/she starts dropping company names. If you hear several client names in the first two minutes of the conversation, be careful! This recruiter probably has a few open requirements that need to be filled ("Yeah, and the Minesweeper out of Texas is going to be great for your career -- no really").
Recruiters are one source; make sure you use all sources available to you, including job sites, alumni pages, chapter meetings, etc. But remember, your best chances are always if you can talk directly to a hiring manager.

Getting your first job out of the military is scary, and can really drive where your career goes and how quickly, so getting the right position for you is key to your success in the civilian world.

For the record, when I was looking for a job, I used a nationwide agency and a smaller agency that specialized in the mid-Atlantic region. I had lots of interviews and a few offers, but didn't accept any of them. Instead, I found a terrific position at a small consulting firm in Annapolis, then hopped over to USi two years ago. I've had a great ride, but I didn't use recruiters to actually get a job. I have used recruiters extensively to hire teams rapidly -- some were great, some I'll never call back on a bet.

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