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Should I take calls from recruiters?

Or how to give away the keys to your car to a stranger

It’s a Thursday afternoon. You’ve just had your lunch, grabbed a coffee and are settling down to plough your way through the pile of work and emails that you’ve gradually accumulated during the week. Your phone rings and you see it’s from switchboard.

*Ring ring*

You contemplate whether to pick it up or not. You glance at your to-do list (or quadrant, if you’re into time management), thinking that there’s a lot to get through before you get to head home for the day. It’s from switchboard. You should know better. But a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?


“Good afternoon. My name is Sam Michael calling from Morgan Page. I came across your details on the system and I am very keen to discuss a unique opportunity that I am working on. Do you have a moment to speak?”

If you work in the City and have been working for more than a year or two, this is probably sounding quite familiar.

It’s a recruiter trying to draw you away from your job, to a different job, in a different company, working with different people, for hopefully a bit more money. Thoughts race through your mind.

F*ck, my boss is just there. Why the hell is this guy calling me on my work landline? #awks! I’ve got so much work to get through, this guy’s wasting my time…or is he? It wouldn’t hurt to hear what he has to offer, right? A change sounds nice…I think. More money would be good. Maybe I’ll like the job better at that bigger company. I can finally get away from that guy next to me who chews with his mouth open.

“Ok, sounds good but I can’t talk right now. I’ll call you back later.”

I’ve taken these calls. I’ve even got jobs as a result of answering these calls. Some have even worked out alright. But I’m going to give you a few reasons why you might not want to.

1. Who is in control of your career (and life?)

By taking the call and exploring this job opportunity, you’re giving up control over your career to a person you’ve never met. Forget about the potentially questionable competence of the recruiter or the “system” that’s pulled up your details as a potential match for this job. You’re literally (I say “literally” figuratively) handing over the car keys to your life to this stranger and saying “take me”.

I’m not saying that all recruiters can’t be useful — some can be invaluable when you use them in specific circumstances and with a specific brief. Recruiters can ride along in the back seat of your car but they aren’t allowed to have their hands on the steering wheel or choose the music (thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for this car picture which I’m now using for everything). Letting recruiters take charge (or even pretending it’s leaving it up to “fate” or “destiny”) is a “some day my prince will come” approach to life and it’s just lazy and boring as hell.

So what’s a better alternative you ask? If you really want to make a change, go out and build your network. Find a job that you really love or the company that you want to work in. Make genuine connections and demonstrate your value. Take charge.

If you don’t want to do these things, you clearly don’t want to move jobs and are quite happy where you are. So stop wasting your time and attention, double down and focus on your job so you can go home to your family and friends and enjoy your evening.

2. Who has your best interests at heart?

You need to be clear on who recruiters are working for (and when). They receive a job spec from a company to fill a particular role. You are a set of skills and experiences. They don’t largely care about your dreams and aspirations, or what makes you truly happy. They don’t care the effect their unsolicited call has on your concentration, mood or satisfaction at work. Some bad ones will even try to unsettle you to encourage you to move from a job you’re actually perfectly happy in.

The brutal truth is this. Only you have your best interests at heart. Friends and family probably do. Your current and prospective employers might do. Recruiters do not care. Their job is sales and you are the commodity they are selling. They do have their uses but make sure it is you that is using them and not they you.

3. Is the grass greener on the other side?

The recruiter will try to sway you with promises of pastures green. More money, more recognition, more responsibility or better “work life balance” (whatever that means). These are all very good-sounding things. There is a good chance that these things might be true. There’s also a good chance these things might not be true and more often than not the recruiter will not know one way or another.

You also have to ask yourself — are these the factors that are really important to me? If I’m being brutally honest with myself, is that job title what really excites me? If I make Senior Manager at this place, will that make me want to get out of bed in the morning? (And yes, it is possible to feel that way about work.) It’s not to say that more money and a better job title aren’t good or aren’t important. It’s just that there are probably things that are way more important to you, and the money and perceived prestige gets in the way of you making clearheaded decisions based on your values, interests and strengths.