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Q&A with Ben de Grouchy, Recruiter & Co-Founder of the de Grouchy Partnership, London

For many years, I didn’t know a thing about how to work with recruiters, mostly because I hadn’t really crossed paths with them until I was several years into my professional career. The first time I was ever contacted by a recruiter was during my first Associate Marketing Manager role at Clorox, and I had no clue what to do.

Five years later, I not only landed my brand management role at Haagen-Dazs through a recruiter, but also hired most people I hired through recruiters. What I didn’t know then that I fully appreciate now is that recruiters are some of the most important professional contacts you’ll every have, especially when you’re relaunching your career.

As a job candidate, working with recruiters (also known as “headhunters”) can be one of the most effective ways to find your next role. However, too often, candidates don’t know how to work well with recruiters, resulting in frustration and a royal waste of time for the job applicant, recruiter, and hiring company.

I’ve gotten a ton of questions lately from clients and friends on how to work with recruiters, so I decided to turn to a recruiter I know and trust to get his insights on these questions . . .

Ben de GrouchyBen de Grouchy is one of the highest quality recruiters I’ve worked with as both a client and candidate during my days as a brand marketer. He has over 10 years’ recruitment experience, and is a founding partner of Jarlett de Grouchy Marketing Recruitment, one of the UK’s foremost headhunting consultancies in the FMCG Marketing sector. Their clients include Nestle, L’Oreal, and Bacardi amongst others.

I sat down with him at the Jarlett de Grouchy offices in London to get the inside scoop on how candidates can best navigate the world of recruiters:

Where do you go to find the best candidates for roles?

The vast majority of our candidates come through referrals, proactive direct networking, and some professional databases such as LinkedIn. Often, the strongest candidates aren’t actively looking to move because they’re doing well in their roles and they have promising career plans. Only about 30% of our successful candidates are active candidates—those actively applying for roles or responding to job adverts.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Finding a job is easier when you already have a job.” So does it disadvantage a candidate if they’re not currently employed?

No, not necessarily. On the contrary, being unemployed can actually increase your attractiveness. A candidate who can start immediately instead of serving out a long notice period can be very appealing to our clients (the hiring companies), normally eager to get someone in ASAP.

Problems only arise when the reasons why you’re unemployed raise red flags. For example, if you’ve been made redundant or being between jobs for an extended period of time, employers can be rather suspicious of this.

Ben de Grouchy & Joseph Liu

What’s the most effective way for candidates to establish contact with you? There seems to be a debate out there about email vs. phone calls.

Picking up the phone and calling a recruiter is a great way to stand out. I can pull up candidates’ LinkedIn profiles immediately and give them instant feedback on their fit with my clients’ roles. On the other hand, we literally get hundreds of approaches every day via email, job responses, and social media. The majority of that volume comes through email with a CV attached. I don’t initial outreach via email, but phone calls are less common, and thus, more likely to get you noticed.

When can I expect to hear back from a recruiter after I make an initial contact?

If you’re a strong candidate, you can expect to hear from a recruiter within 24 hours, or even 10 minutes if you’re extremely well qualified. Not even joking. We get back to candidates very quickly.

I’m guessing this speed is driven in part by the competitive nature of recruitment?

Absolutely. The average PSL (Preferred Supplier Lists) I work on for clients is typically made up of at least 3-4 recruitment agencies. It’s not uncommon for well-qualified candidates to be contacted by all of us right away. So the moment we get a brief, we’re off to the races so we can hopefully establish first contact with leading candidates.

Aside from qualifications, what makes you more likely to present a candidate to clients?

First, someone who’s positive, professional, and competent. I want to present candidates who can interview well, so I tend to tip the scales toward excellent communicators over candidates who are technically “perfect” on paper for the role.

Second, I’m looking for a cultural fit. With one of my clients for example, 99% of the time, they turn down candidates because of a cultural mismatch. So it’s important for me to match a candidate’s personality with the business’s personality so they can integrate well and excel in the role.

How important is it for a candidate to actually come in to see you?

Very important. It can make a huge difference because we get to know you better, and you’re more likely to remain top-of-mind. If you find a recruiter you want to work with, you absolutely should take the time & effort to go in and meet that recruiter. Not everyone does.

What’s a something you wish more candidates understood about how to work well with recruiters (or common mistake made)?

One of the most common mistakes is when a candidate applies multiple times for a role through multiple recruiters. So many times, I’ll send a CV to a client, only to find out they already have it. I think this happens because a candidate may simply be naïve, they lose track of where they’ve applied, or they think multiple approaches increase their chances of getting noticed. On the contrary, it makes you look unprofessional, and it makes me look bad too.

Another mistake is when a candidate does not tap into a recruiter’s deep knowledge of a hiring company’s culture, processes, and people. Candidates don’t always take advantage of opportunities I offer to help them prep for interviews or offer insights into the company.

Finally, candidates tend to overestimate their own qualifications or experiences. The long-term negative impact here is not only frustration on the part of the candidate after multiple rejections, but also a lower likelihood I’ll contact them for future roles they actually could land because I know they won’t consider them.

What impact has social media had on your work? I remember first connecting with you by responding to one of your tweets back in 2009.

The shift in the past 10 years has been massive. Recruitment of the future will require that recruiters be much more like integrated, digital marketing agencies than sales consultants. In an increasingly competitive market, we’re constantly looking for new ways to connect with non-active candidates, and we do our best to push our adverts across all the various social media networks including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

What’s the most effective way for candidates to answer the “what’s your salary expectation” question?

First things first, you should give a figure, or at the very least, a range. This is tricky because you don’t want to undershoot, but you also don’t to price yourself out of the market or come across as someone motivated solely by money. But I need a figure so I can address the inevitable question I’ll get asked by my client about salary expectations. You don’t want to be evasive or vague because it prevents us from having a benchmark.

For the majority of marketing candidates in the UK, a 10-15% increase vs. your current salary would be reasonable. Don’t forget the hiring company is taking on a risk in hiring you. And be sure to focus on the total package, not just the base salary. Finally, remember this figure is not always the be-all-end-all. If the company really wants you, there is often room for negotiation down the road.

What surprises you about they types of candidates your clients ultimately end up choosing?

9 times out of 10, the candidate who looks perfect on paper doesn’t get the role. An underdog candidate can often get the role if they show passion and interest. This happens so often. Remember, the candidate has to have room for development. And the client needs a candidate who has the enthusiasm for the role. This means offers don’t always go to the candidate who would seemingly be 100% comfortable with the role.

So the CV really is just the starting point. Once the interview comes, the competition restarts?

Yes. The candidate who looks worse on paper can absolutely surpass the more “qualified” candidate if they interview really well and demonstrate they have the hunger and desire for the role. There’s one reason for the CV. It’s to get you the interview. That’s it. When two similar candidates interview well, the offer rarely goes to the candidate who just has the “better” qualifications. It goes to the candidate who has more passion for the role.

Any other advice you would offer to candidates who want to build strong recruiter relationships?

Be courteous & patient with your recruiters. Don’t forget that you’re not paying recruiters. Recruiters are paid to fill roles, not place candidates. We of course want to help candidates, but our clients are hiring companies, not candidates. So having a positive relationship is key. If a candidate has a solid working relationship with me, I’ll more likely present that candidate not only because of the good rapport, but also because her behaviour signals she’s good at building relationships, which is critical to succeeding in the workplace.

Finally, take the time to build a strong relationship with a recruiter. The people I’ve worked best with have done their research on me, which creates a much more efficient process from the start. Meet face-to-face and maintain regular communication, perhaps 2-3 times a year for passive candidates. It helps us get to know you, it keeps you top-of-mind, and it helps me present you quickly when an opportunity comes up. If you find that right recruiter, you’ll stay with them for years, which is a win-win for you, the recruiter, and hiring companies.

Learn more about the de Grouchy Partnership or follow Ben on LinkedIn. You can also hear a full interview I did with Ben on the Career Relaunch podcast, episode 27.

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About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.

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