This post originally appears in my career advice column for Money.com and Time.com. Here is my original, unedited version (so you can play Where’s Waldo with the changes):
You’re happily employed, and pick up your phone to find a recruiter on the other end. How do you maximize this call when you’re not actively looking?
First and foremost, respond
You absolutely need to take the call (or return the message). As a former recruiter, I’ve had some prospects shoo me off the phone like a telemarketer – “I’m not interested” then they abruptly hang up. Or they never respond to an email, voicemail or online ping. This is short-sighted since recruiter calls provide good market information, and being responsive encourages that recruiter to think of you for other opportunities.
Become the interviewer
Don’t just fall into the traditional role of you as the candidate and the recruiter as the interviewer. You are in the driver’s seat because they called you. So take control of the call, and learn more about the recruiter, their company, their client (the company that actually has the job), and what they’re looking for. This gives you market information, regardless of whether or not this particular position suits you. If the recruiter shares salary information, even better! Interviewing the recruiter allows you to get to know the recruiter and whether or not you want them in your network.
Find a way to say Yes
I don’t mean say Yes to going on an interview or feigning interest in the job. I mean say Yes to something – if you’re not interested, recommend someone who might be. If the position isn’t the right level or functional area, let the recruiter know what would be the right role. If the opportunity sounds like a possible fit, but you hadn’t thought about looking outside, say Yes to one more conversation. You want to be seen as open-minded and helpful.
Maintain the relationship
Now that you have made this unexpected connection, continue the relationship with good networking follow-up. If you promised the recruiter you’d think about their search, think about the search and call back with your ideas or your interest. If you didn’t agree to a specific follow-up action, keep the recruiter’s information for your general networking efforts – include them on your holiday list; send them an update 3 months from now when you’re working on something new; introduce them to your talented friend who is looking. (Just remember that referrals reflect back on you, so recommend people you know are quality).
Turn the call into a wake-up call
When I recruited candidates who were not interested, I would always ask them what they would be interested in down the road. This way, I could keep them in mind for a relevant opportunity. Would you know what to say if someone asked you about your interests and next steps? If you weren’t prepared for this recruiting call, prepare for the next one. Be ready to describe what you do, what your expertise is, and what your value is. Be ready to explain what companies, work environments, and roles would be of interest.
If you’re not getting calls from recruiters, why not? For both senior and junior roles, I relied on word-of-mouth referrals, as well as researching online databases, such as LinkedIn. If you’re not getting calls, check your online profile and buff up your network so people know to think of you and refer you.