Job searches (hopefully) don't come around that often. Then suddenly, you are dealing with an irregular situation and with actors you don't deal with a whole lot: Recruiters.
You know what? Recruiters are great. You just need to know how to use them to get what you want out of your next career move. That's what you are going to learn here.
First, context: This is blog post is mostly geared towards mid-career folks who are not engineers. I'd say for new grads and technical folks, things are slightly different.
So, there are two types of recruiters you are going to run into: Agency Recruiters and Internal Recruiters. They are very different and you should lean on them in different ways.
An Agency Recruiter works for a third party firm. They "represent" the first party firm (the one with the job) but they work out of a different office and typically collect a meaty commission per job placement. Agency Recruiters get more useful for you as you move up the ladder, from useless at the entry level to career-making at the executive level.
Agency Recruiters are your lead gen. That's it. That's the value they give you. You want to find a couple good firms and build relationships with a couple of recruiters. You want to update them on what would be your ideal career move every 12-24 months and then you wait. Sometimes you get a call, most of the time you don't. If the right thing comes up, it can really propel you to the next level.
After they have made an intro to the company, you are now in Internal Recruiter land, which Ill get into next. Be nice to your Agency Rep: Keep them up to date on what is happening. Be a straight shooter. These people are disappointed all the time be people not taking jobs; don't worry about it. Just give them the real deal and move on.
Agencies wont help you when you really need them, like after being laid off. The model is just not great at supply shocks (new candidate on the market urgently looking for a job) but they are great at keeping the window open and making sure you don't miss any big opportunities.
Once you are interviewing with a company, focus your energy on the Internal Recruiter. Imagine you have a friend working at the company you are most excited about. Most of us don't have that kind of network. What if I told you there actually was someone in every company whose job it was to be that inside friend? That is your Internal Recruiter.
People mess this up all the time. They ignore the recruiter, focus on the hiring manager. You need to focus on both and, if you do this right, the Internal Recruiter will give you the information to ace the interview.
There are limits here. Like if you don't have the right basic qualifications. Nothing is going to save you. But if you are jazzed about the company and have the skills, you will get the job if you take advantage of Internal Recruiter correctly.
What does this look like? If there is ever ambiguity on anything: Call the recruiter. It is that simple. Not sure who you are talking to in the next interview? Call the recruiter. Get a name and Linkedin. Not sure what is desired from an upcoming white boarding session or take home exercise? Call the recruiter. Concerned about comp, location, health care, etc: Call the recruiter.
Recruiters are busy, but if you are in the funnel and viable candidate they will make time for you. For more context on working the Internal Recruiter, see my post on the interview tactic I call the Filibuster.
Overall: Don't try to protect anyone's feelings. Always be honest and transparent. Your recruiter wants this to happen almost as much as you do. They are aligned with what you want. Lean into that. Make them work so you both get a W.