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What Creatives Need to Know About Working with a Recruiter

Talent agents aren't just for pro athletes and movie stars these days. Here's the inside scoop on how finding the right talent partner can supercharge your next career move.

On average, you will probably have 20 jobs and at least three career changes in your professional life.

Allison Hemming, the founder and president of The Hired Guns talent agency encourages us to get better at managing our careers rather than seeking job hunting hacks and tips. And when we look at our careers that way, we might realize how much time and energy we spend exploring open positions, sending in resumes alongside hundreds of other resumes, and making cold intros that aren’t met with replies. Looking for a new job can be a soul-crushing process. That’s where Hemming comes in—she is a recruiter whose team specializes in content, marketing, design, and user experience jobs from the C-Suite to entry level. Her skill is matching talent (you!) with the right job.

Recruiters help companies staff their teams. They often act as a talent partner—you have the skills, the companies have the needs, and recruiters have the relationships. And they can also serve as an ally because, as you rise in your career, you’re competing with better people for fewer jobs. Why wouldn’t you want someone on your side during that process?

Hemming began her career at Morgan Stanley and has led The Hired Guns since 2000. She has helped place thousands of creators in jobs, and she gives us the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with a recruiter.

Recruiters can provide keen insight into the current job market.

Today, the unemployment rate is very low, but there is still a high level of frustration in hiring, explains Hemming. “Companies, like talent, are moving jobs constantly right now. And yet, companies have tons of open roles that are going unfilled,” says Hemming. What gives? “Companies don’t want to pay to uplevel. They want a fully-baked hire. But I think if they learn how to interview for risk and aptitude, they could fill the gap with smart people who know how to learn.”

The hiring company pays the recruiter fee.

Chalk that up to the longstanding model, as well as the fact that filling a role is an expensive proposition for a company. And Hemming isn’t just filling a role—she offers a service. “We get into organizations and talk to them about their ambitions for the business and how to build a talent roadmap to get there.”

You can cold call a recruiter, even if you don’t see an immediate job listing.

Here’s how Hemming recommends you begin the conversation.

“Hi, I’m Jim. I’ve been working on the product side of digital media. I’d like to move into this other role and here is why I’d be a good fit for that. I don’t see that on your site, but I have seen other jobs that you have had.”

The Hired Guns leaves its filled jobs up on its website for that very reason—so future talent can cite them as examples of what they’re looking for.

Connect with the experts in your field.

Every field has recruiters who focus on certain skill niches. “Their job is to corner the marketplace on a particular kind of talent and own it, and you’re never going to talk to certain companies unless you go through them,” says Hemming. “It would behoove you to know the recruiting specialists in your field.”

Don’t limit yourself to a single recruiter.

“In general, you should have two to three recruiting partners that you like and trust. It’s a relationship—the long game, not the short game. They may not have the right thing for you today. If they don’t, be helpful. And if you know the perfect person for the job, and it’s not you, recommend that person.” The recruiter will likely remember the kindness and repay it down the road.

It’s a confidential process.

The Hired Guns even conducts certain first-round interviews in its office, so a candidate who might be interviewing with a competitor won’t be spotted in that office.

A recruiter can uncover key job details that aren’t advertised in the job posting.

One of the disciplines that was the hardest to get right was visual design and user experience design. Why? Portfolios. Everybody wants to see work. Problem is what company A thinks is beautiful, company B thinks is hideous.”

The Hired Guns has developed a technique with their clients where they walk them through a portfolio review to get at the dynamics of what is beautiful to them. “Then the matchmaking can begin,” says Hemming, who notes they always do this with the future boss. “If the boss of that person does not want to have the patience to teach us what beautiful looks like to them, we know we’re never going to make that placement because they will never be 100 percent satisfied.”

Don’t look for the job, look for the company.

If someone reaches out to Hemming without a clear job in mind, here is what she’ll tell them: “List 10 companies that you believe you can make a major impact at that need you more than you need them.” And the response is typically: Why would I want to go work at those companies? “Because you’re going to learn how to invent your own job description,” says Hemming. “They need you more than you need them, and you’re going to learn how to pitch through that lens.”

A recruiter can help iron out discrepancies between the skills, job level, and compensation.

Ever seen those misaligned job descriptions where a company wants a senior director with three years of experience? That is not going to end well. But a recruiter can advocate on the behalf of a future employee to make sure that the job role and experience matches the compensation, so you, the future employee, don’t have to have that awkward conversation.

Recruiters can speed up the interview process.

The Hired Guns has noticed an alarming trend—phenomenal candidates of theirs were not getting placed at clients because the company hiring processes were too slow. “It was interviewing by a thousand cuts for the candidate, meaning you go in 10 times and you have the same interview 10 times, but with 10 different people,” says Hemming. “That is terrible for the company.” Now The Hired Guns runs speed dates for its clients and talent and encourages its corporate clients to have entire teams sit in together earlier in the interview rounds.

There will be homework.

If you’re looking for a new job, Hemming has you put together a competitive set list of anyone you can find who has the same role that you want. This will help you see what skills they have, and if there are gaps between those and your own skill set. When Hemming did this recently with a content creator in the food space who aspired to be an Editor-in-Chief, she noticed something telling. “This person wasn’t an Editor-in-Chief or the Executive Editor through an editorial lens. But they are a damn good brand and content marketer,” says Hemming. “And I’m like, “You’re looking at the right companies but at the wrong job.” Once they course corrected, this person found the more appropriate, and better-fitting, job.

Lastly, a recruiter is not a miracle worker.

Sometimes people come to me and they want me to be the elixir,” says Hemming. “Like I’m going to be the genie in the bottle that’s going to help you land that perfect job – and that doesn’t exist. I want to give people the tools and the power to empower themselves to have a future of assembling the right jobs.”

More Posts by Matt McCue

Matt McCue is the former editor of 99U. He lives in New York City, but he is willing to travel long distances for a good meal. Find him on Twitter at @mattmccuewriter.

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