Key Points:

Get the CV right

Recruitment consultant Kim Smith knows within five seconds if a CV that comes across her desk is worth reading.

"[Consultants] have very short attention spans," says Smith, division director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting in Auckland.

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"If a resume doesn't grab us we go on to the next one. It takes five seconds. Literally."

Most of the 50 or more CVs Smith receives a week are discarded. The reality is that many jobs are filled by recruitment agencies and if a job hunter doesn't manage to grab a recruiter's attention, they may be overlooked.

"Even in this candidate-short market I get bombarded with resumes every day," says Smith.

"If the candidate is good but the resume does not portray their strength they will not get a second chance."

A good CV, says Smith, should be no longer than two to three pages, "devoid of verbiage", have lots of bullet points, and put the core skills including education and experience at the forefront.

Understand how agencies work

"Candidates need to understand how recruitment works," says organisational development consultant Scott Constantine of the Grafton Consulting Group.

"They need to do serious research about the industry and the jobs they are looking for so they can understand what the other side is looking for."

Constantine says many job-seekers make the mistake of thinking that the recruitment consultant works for them and can get "mortally wounded" when they realise that the relationship isn't working for them.

"It is a fact of life that the [recruitment consultant's] client is the company and the fees are generated pretty much from commission."

Telephone etiquette is vital

Recruiters are busy people and it's important to cut to the chase when you phone them. Quote the job reference. Swat up on what you want to tell them before picking up the phone.

"We absolutely love our candidates and at the same time they need to realise how busy we are and sometimes we are not able to give them the love and attention they feel they deserve," says Smith.

"But if you are willing to work with us and be value-added in conversations with us you will get all the time you need.

"The worst thing ever you can do is ring and say: I just want to check if you got my resume.

"And if I don't know you from Adam, I don't want you to ask me how my day is going and that's not just because I'm a brash American.

"I am constantly on the phone and we run around with our hair on fire."

Constantine adds that it's best to keep regular contact without hounding a recruiter. Contacting them every single day just gets their backs up.

"Recruiters are not extraordinarily geared up for in bound calls," he says.

Handling agencies is a balancing act. Melita Sharp, director of Career Coach Consulting says: "Recruiters will not automatically remember you, you may be the 25th candidate they've seen this week. The onus is on you to keep in touch."

What makes me stand out?

Smith says one of the most memorable candidates she worked with had a terrible CV, but overcame that hurdle by calling and saying: "I wanted to pick up the phone and say why I was a good fit for that role."

She was invited in for an interview immediately. Smith schooled her with interview tips, and recommended how the candidate could improve her CV, which she did that very evening.

Two years later when the candidate was next looking to move on she called asking Smith to represent her exclusively. With a great candidate recruiters will jump at such an offer. "We will move heaven and earth for a good candidate. Believe me, you have our attention."

Smith was even more impressed when the candidate took control, without being pushy, and asked to come in to detail what she had been doing.

Handling interviews

Sharp says the purpose of meeting recruiters is for them to identify as quickly as possible whether you are a good candidate and have the right skills for the job.

"Your first interview with a recruitment agency is crucial and can make or break your chances of getting placed by them, so you have to make the right impression," says Sharp.

At interviews, Smith wants to hear not "I would do", but "I did do".

"I like candidates to answer my questions confidently and articulately with examples from their past."

Another candidate that stood out early on was a Russian-born accountant who had risen to senior roles in her native country.

Says Smith: "She came in dressed to the nines, gave me a confident hand shake and looked me in the eye."

She then walked Smith through her background, told her what her plan was to get her New Zealand experience up to par, said she had spoken to AUT to determine what she needed to study to become a chartered accountant, detailed where she would fit into the New Zealand market, outlined her long-term goals, described the sort of company she would like to work for and asked if her expectations were realistic.

Immediately the candidate left her office, Smith rang an employer and said: "I have got a candidate looking for an assistant accounting role, but if she stays with your company for long enough, she will be the managing director."

The woman is still employed by the same company four years later.

Recruitment consultants help people change jobs, not careers.

"Recruitment consultants are paid to put square pegs in square holes. They have strict criteria. A candidate will only get help from a recruiter if that recruiter can earn money from them," Smith says.

A mistake that job-hunters often make is to pop into a recruitment agency looking for ideas of how to change careers.

"We haven't got the time for tyre- kickers," says Smith.

"At least take a research-based approach to find out what the particular career path you want to do looks like in reality."

The ideal candidate

* A good CV is your calling card and may make or break your relationship with an agency.

* If you give a bad impression, this will sit on your file with that consultancy forever. It sticks.

* Remember agencies put square pegs in square holes. Don't go in looking for a career change.

* Shake hands confidently, look the recruiter in the eye and explain why you fit the job.

* Don't forget recruiters are busy and don't have the time to give everyone the attention they may feel they deserve.

* Don't try to negotiate a contract at the outset, there are plenty of other people who want that job.

* Have a positive attitude towards the recruiter. If they like you your chances of getting the interview rise.

* Ask for honest feedback.