Things you shouldn't tell recruiters

Two things you might not want to share with recruiters.


Last Updated on 4 months by Christopher G Mendla

The temptation while in a job search mode is to do everything you can to land a new position. However, you might be letting your guard down and giving too much information to recruiters. 

For many people, especially those in technology, recruiters are an invaluable  resource. However, as with any interpersonal situation, you need to be aware of their agenda.

Things you shouldn't tell recruiters
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On the surface, it seems simple. You need to find a position, companies need to fill positions and recruiters help make those matches. The problem with the recruiting industry is that it is a cut throat, breakneck paced environment. When an open position becomes available, dozens of recruiters scramble to send their candidates to the hiring company.

A recruiter will contact you to get a feel if you are hireable or not.  In many cases, they aren’t very strict about screening applicants. It is a numbers game.

The interactions are intense, short and short lived. If they don’t submit you for a job, they are moving on.

One thing to consider is “what is valuable to recruiters?”  The answer is simply Information. They need information about openings, companies, hiring managers, other recruiters and anything else that will help them close additional sales.  I should note that this is not meant to disparage recruiters in any way, it is simply an observation of the industry.

Recruiters spend every day contacting hiring managers and job seekers. That gives them an advantage in gaining information from job seekers. Unfortunately job seekers, myself included, don’t realize that “You have the right to remain silent, any information you give might hurt your job search”

There are two areas where this applies: Questions about the current status of your job search and a request for references.

Try to determine the agenda and motivation of the recruiters with whom you are interacting.

Questions about your current search.

I noticed that a few recruiters were always asking about my progress. Who was I interviewing with, do I have interviews lined up etc.  On first glance, this seems innocent and not detrimental to my efforts. There is a human need to impress so you share details about the phone screen you had with xyz company earlier in the day.. THAT COULD HURT YOU.

Here is a possible scenario.

  • You manage to get a phone screen with a promising company. You prep for the screen and spend an hour on the phone with them. Things seem to go well.
  • About an hour later, you get a call from a recruiter you have been in contact with. They are either ‘checking in’ or referencing a vague position . The recruiter asks how your search is going and you cheerfully tell them about the interview with XYZ company. The recruiter asks “Oh was that with Bob Smith?”  It wasn’t with Bob Smith so you tell the recruiter who it was with, Maryellen Jones.  The call ends with the recruiter and you are no closer to a position.
  • Actually, you might have just shot yourself in the foot. The recruiter now has a couple of key pieces of information:
    • XYZ is hiring a front end developer with an emphasis on React.
    • The hiring manager is Maryellen Jones.
    • They are in the beginning stages since they just did a phone screen.
  • The recruiter then does a quick search through their database and locates a potential candidate. They call or email Maryellen Jones at XYZ and submit their candidate.
  • You have just increased the competition for the position by 1. That might be enough to cost you that position.

You have the right to remain silent. Any information you give may be used by the recruiter to get their candidate submitted for the position you interviewed for

How do you handle recruiters asking about your job search?

  1. Understand the game. Don’t let your ego push you into spilling all of the details of your minor successes.
  2. Practice a vague answer. “It’s going OK.” If they press about details, which they will, just say “I dont’ have anything lined up right now, what do you have for me?”
  3. Plan an evasion “Oh man, I have to go, the baby is playing with the chainsaw again.. sorry”

Asking for references before you are submitted for a position

I’ve noticed a trend where some of the more production oriented companies are asking for references before you are even submitted for something.  On the surface that seems ok, but let’s try to look at how that information can be used.  Keep in mind that references are a valuable asset for a job seeker. You don’t want to do anything that could cause you to lose a reference or get them annoyed with you.

When you supply references, you are giving the recruiters some fresh leads.

  • If you left your previous company on good terms, the recruiter might assume that there is an opening for your old position. They have the hiring manager’s name and contact information. They have a good idea of the type of position based you your resume. Your reference might get contacted with recruiters trying to get their foot in the door to help fill your old position.
  • I heard of cases where a job seeker swore that their references ended up on solicitation mailing lists. What is to stop an unscrupulous recruiter from selling the reference information to list brokers. Keep in mind that many companies no longer publish email and phone lists.

Not providing references could cost you an interview opportunity. When a company asks for a reference try to determine a couple of things.

  1. Is the recruiter contacting you for a real open position? In most cases, a real open position will be advertised elsewhere and you should be able to find evidence that it is real.
  2. Is the recruiter a small specialty recruiter or is it one of the large production oriented shops? If it is a specialty recruiter with a real position, it might be worthwhile to provide the references.
  3. Why would they ask for references? Are they really going to contact the references in relation to your job search or are they just adding information to their contact database?

How do you handle recruiters asking for references?

  1. Make a decision as to if and when you would be willing to provide references before you are actually faced with the decision.
  2. If you don’t like the idea of providing references, then just send your resume and don’t send the references.
  3. Have multiple references available. For example, you might have a retired colleague that would be willing to be a reference for what you perceive to be a lower value job. You can provide two or three such references instead of a more valuable reference that you don’t want to ‘wear out’.


You don’t want put a tinfoil hat on while conducting your job search. However, everything is not always as it seems. Information is power. Don’t give it away indiscriminately.


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