Although there is no way to completely stop agency recruiters from contacting you (I would even argue that you should not try, given there are some good ones out there), there are a few things you could do in order to protect yourself from bad practices and unprofessional behaviour.
Here are some simple steps you can take:
Research the recruiter and the agency
I cannot stress this one enough. Avoid working with faceless recruiters that have no information about themselves on LinkedIn, Twitter or other professional platforms. In most cases, a genuine recruiter that is openly representing good companies should not be “hiding” their background / photo / details.
On the contrary,
agency recruiters that are very knowledgeable in their fields should have a strong online presence and engage people in discussions within these fields of expertise.
Never send your CV in an editable format
As we have already established, there is no reason why a recruiter should ask you to do so. In case it happens, ask for an explanation regarding why they need a specific format (unless it’s PDF) and try to always send your CV in PDF format.
Do not forward your CV before knowing exactly how it will be used
You should probably not trust recruiters that tell you they have “x” number of positions within your field of expertise, giving you only generic information about these opportunities. Chances are they will try to pitch companies using your CV, which will most likely result in damage to your reputation and your chances for career advancement.
Name and shame
This is becoming more popular and it’s probably a good option. Although it should only be used as a last resort, I do believe that particularly bad behaviour (just receiving a generic email does not qualify) should be signalled to other professionals within your network.
When an agency recruiter or a specific company have consistently taken some of the actions mentioned in the first part of this article, there is no reason why you should not let others know on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ or any similar platforms.
This is not an action of revenge by any means, however it will warn your contacts about collaborating with that recruiter or the recruitment agency they are representing.
Stop working with that recruiter
The general advice should be as follows: if any of these bad practices occur, confront your recruiter and ask for an explanation. If they are not able to factually explain their behaviour, stop working with them immediately. Moreover, since they are probably a good representation of the agency they are working for, do not work with that particular agency again.
Know a good one, recommend them actively
Recommending a quality agency recruiter to your network can help a great deal in promoting their work but also in helping your colleagues and friends develop their career. Do remember, this is not about giving a quick recommendation or endorsement for a recruiter only doing their job a bit better than others.
Real recommendations should be given to recruiters who are very open and supportive during the entire process, including at the beginning and after it was completed.
I am referring to the type of recruiter that really understands your needs and does not push you in any way towards something that might not be in your best interest. By promoting their work, you can allow more people to benefit from their services and eventually, more people to be connected with great opportunities.
It is worth mentioning once again that being contacted by a professional recruiter or headhunter should be considered a positive result of your experience and achievements. Most recruiters will aim to be professional and introduce you to great career development opportunities, hence you should not automatically consider they are the same as the previous one.
Unfortunately some agency recruiters end up doing exactly the opposite and this should not be accepted and by no means considered normal. Remember, do a bit of research on them and if they behave in the way described in the first part of the article, stop working with them.
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