Tips for Working with a Healthcare Recruiter

R.N. Valerie Haddle and Capt. Christopher Renaud, the anesthesiologist, check the patient's vital signs as Nurse Technician Sgt. Robert Larkin finishes wrapping the foot on which they have just operated. (U.S. Army/Rachael Tolliver)
(U.S. Army photo by Rachael Tolliver)

Working with a professional recruiter, also known as a headhunter, may be just what you need to kick your healthcare job search into high gear. Recruiters know about job openings that aren't widely advertised and can offer sage insight into current hiring trends and salaries for particular positions.

But using a recruiter doesn't guarantee you'll easily land a job. Here's how to determine whether a recruiter could help you and how to forge a fruitful relationship with one.

Know When to Use a Recruiter

If you're looking for a traditional staff-level position in a hospital or other clinical setting, you probably won't benefit from a recruiter's services. However, a recruiter could help if you're seeking a position in healthcare management or administration, healthcare information technology, pharmaceutical sales or medical-device sales, says Donna Cardillo, RN, a Sea Girt, New Jersey, speaker and healthcare career coach.

Recruiters will even work with inexperienced candidates who have the right credentials, such as recent MBA graduates seeking pharma sales positions or technology professionals or scientists with master's degrees.

Choose Wisely

Look for a recruiter who specializes in your healthcare area. Get referrals from friends or professional acquaintances, or research possibilities in a sourcebook, such as Kennedy Information's The Directory of Executive Recruiters. Barbara Folb, MHA, RN, a healthcare recruiter for Bedford, New Hampshire-based Stat Search, recommends sending your resume to a few recruiters who specialize in your area, then following up by phone to gauge your rapport with them. Work with the one whose style most closely matches your own.

Understand the Recruiter's Priorities

Employers hire and pay recruiters to find them new employees. Therefore, a recruiter's primary allegiance is to the employers who pay their bills. "I work on a candidate's behalf, but the candidate is not my boss," Folb says.

Still, recruiters do recognize that experienced, credentialed candidates are their bread and butter, since recruiters often get paid only if they fill an employer's opening. "Recruiters have nothing unless they have awesome candidates," she adds.

Have a Goal, but Be Flexible

A polished pitch to recruiters is just as important as a polished pitch to employers. Be as specific as possible when describing the type of job you want, but leave some wiggle room, Cardillo says. She suggests a good opening line to a recruiter may be: "I'm exploring options in nursing management and want to connect with some opportunities that may be available." Making demands or ultimatums will turn a recruiter off, no matter how stellar your credentials. "Don't say, 'This is what I'm looking for, and call me when you get something,'" she says. "Keep your options open."

Take Advantage of Your Recruiter's Expertise

Recruiters can share inside information on the working environment at an organization you may be considering and the type of candidate it may be seeking. They can also offer valuable tips on how to improve your resume, position yourself for advancement or even dress for an interview. Folb helps candidates prepare answers to difficult interview questions. All this advice and knowledge shouldn't cost you a dime, Cardillo says.

Be Honest and Accessible

Be straightforward from the beginning about your salary expectations, and don't revise them upward as the recruiting process progresses. It's also important to be up front about any black marks on your work history. "Recruiters don't like surprises," Folb says. Another way to permanently burn bridges with your recruiter is to pursue a job with a new employer solely to increase your leverage for a raise at your current job. And if you plan to work with more than one recruiter, disclose that fact to all parties.

Don't Get Lazy

Using a recruiter should be just one element of a job search that includes networking, informational interviewing and responding to advertised job openings. "Don't sign up with a recruiter and then sit back and wait for things to happen," Cardillo says. "You can't expect a recruiter to do the work for you."

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