What a Recruiter REALLY Wants

How do you stand apart when you meet with a recruiter?


Being punctual is a must but being there at the exact time is impressive  – and not more than five minutes early. Everything earlier is too much and can be awkward. The person you are meeting might still be in a meeting with someone or otherwise occupied. And if you’re running late, a quick text or phone call will often smooth things over.


People will never say, “What a jerk, he sent me a thank you message.”

Whether you are meeting with someone for an interview or casual get-to-know-you coffee, a thank you is just basic courtesy. Hardcopy thank you cards may have a special touch but they arrive late and can get lost. A thoughtful email will do the trick and is immediate. What is truly impressive is a timely, thoughtful thank you that refers back to what people said during the meeting.


There are many ways to demonstrate respect but one example I want to highlight is respecting the process in a search.  In postings it often says no phone calls and yet some people do make that call. Or when it says ‘we will get back to you’ let them do just that.  Don’t reach out in ways they don’t want you to.


Talented people often have a dash of humility. They are confident in their abilities and with who they are. Checking one’s ego at the door comes across to me as a strength. Name dropping and egos don’t impress me.

In this context I also always appreciate it when candidates are professional about their current and previous employers. Being gracious, even if you have or had the most awful job, makes you look good.

Humility also means not thinking you know everything better and coming to a meeting or interview with a plethora of suggestions on how the organization could do a better job.

How to work with a recruiter- when you have never worked with a recruiter before

When I became a fundraiser back in 1997 the professional landscape looked quite different. Recruiters worked mainly with senior individuals. Even after five years of fundraising experience I was still too junior to be taken seriously by recruiters.

Today, mid-level and even junior fundraisers are approached by recruiters all the time and many are not yet used to this situation. They wonder what the recruiter’s role is and are worried to follow the correct procedure.

While recruiters all have their own approach and procedure here are some tips on working effectively with a recruiter:

Who is the Client?

This can be confusing. Some candidates believe that the recruiter is their personal career counselor. This can be true in some cases depending on the type of agency you are working with.

The easy answer is that the client is the one who gets billed. In my case that is the organization retaining my services and it is my job as a recruiter to provide my client with the best possible candidates for a particular search.

The Dynamics

So what is the candidate’s role in the process? The relationship between recruiter and candidate is extremely important. While it may not be the recruiter’s responsibility to find a particular candidate a job, without a network of great candidates a recruiter cannot be successful. Therefore, it is important for a recruiter to keep nurturing a network.

Candidates should not expect the recruiter to work exclusively on their behalf.

However, if a recruiter believes that you are a great fit for a position the recruiter’s recommendations positions you well. At the risk of sounding corny, I see myself as a matchmaker. My clients tell me what skillset, background, experience, and characteristics they expect in their new hire and I strive to make the best possible match.

Be Nice to Each Other

A recruiter must always keep positive, respectful relationships with candidates. Even if a candidate is not the right fit for a particular search now, he or she just might be in the future. And discounting junior candidates is  a mistake since junior candidates will advance in their career and will remember how they were treated early on. Similarly, candidates, even if they are not actively looking, should be respectful to recruiters (which admittedly can be difficult with all the communication our kind sends out).

The reality is that candidates may sooner or later see themselves in a position where they need a recruiter as their ally. So it goes both ways, recruiters like candidates remember how they have been treated.

Don’t Expect Miracles

I have had situations where a candidate and I connected for the first time and in that very same week I started a new search for a position that was an excellent fit with the skillset of that candidate (who was eventually offered the job). It doesn’t always work like that of course. The right opportunity might take a while to present itself. It is always better to connect with a recruiter when you do not need a job just to explore what your career aspirations are and what the right opportunities could look like. Then when an opportunity comes up it is easier for the recruiter to make the match.

Be Patient – Both of You!

I have always compared my recruiting approach to donor cultivation and stewardship. My goal is to build long-term relationships with candidates and accompany them over the course of their career. Like with the donor relationship, the time for a new career opportunity might not be right, or the job opportunities I am representing may not be of interest to a particular candidate. But in the future the perfect fit might present itself.

Patience is important for both the candidate and the recruiter. Some candidates are really eager to land that perfect job right away but it just takes time. And sometimes I have a candidate in mind who I would love to recruit for a certain client but the individual is simply not ready to move on, or just not interested in the job or the organization I am representing. But with time, persistence, and a positive attitude the right opportunity just might materialize.

The candidate-recruiter relationship should be a symbiotic one. The candidate interested in landing the next perfect job benefits from the recruiter’s recommendations to the client. On the other hand the recruiter benefits from having a network of top fundraisers. As long as the dynamics are clearly understood and the expectations are realistic on both sides, the recruiter-candidate relationship, like the fundraiser-donor relationship, can be powerful and long lasting.

Join Phil at the Fundraising Career Conference, where he will use his many years of experience to teach you all about how to work better with a fundraising recruiter!

About Phil Gérard, President, Gérard Consulting – Fundraising Talent Management

Phil Gérard has been a fundraiser for over 15 years, working in the community service, education and university advancement sectors with a focus on major gifts. A Master of Business Administration degree with a Human Resource Management specialization set him on a new path within the fundraising profession: Fundraising Talent Management.

Phil started Gerard Consulting – Fundraising Talent Management in 2012. His firm specializes in recruitment services for the nonprofit sector with a focus on major gift fundraising roles.

Phil is also the author of Phil’s Careers Blog – Fundraising ONLY!, which features the latest fundraising career and professional development opportunities as well as articles about topics fundraisers care about.

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