<p>How do I reject a recruiter’s offer to talk without alienating them or any future offers they may have? I’m happily employed atm but one day I might want to be elsewhere.</p>
There are two general approaches I’ve taken and neither has really had any negative repercussions from either of them. The first approach is politely declining. The second is outright ignoring them. That second one might seem a bit counterintuitive at first glance, but looking at it from a recruiter’s perspective has it make a lot of sense. Either way works just fine as long as you don’t actively attack the headhunters.
From a recruiter’s perspective, the primary goal that pays the bills and puts food on the table is to find good candidates and pass them on to the hiring managers like me. Bad or unqualified candidates should be thrown back, in hopes that they continue to grow, mature, and eventually become good candidates. Good candidates should be identified and passed on to the hiring manager. All candidates start in the undetermined bucket and get sorted into either good or bad. As a recruiter in such a situation, most of your primary concern is finding good candidates. Bad candidates, even ones that might eventually grow into good ones, are not what you’re concerned with – they’ve already been cut from contention.
Most recruiters (especially those who cold call you) send out dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of such messages to similar candidates in hopes of finding more potential candidates that may translate into a hire. They expect that many of those candidates will not reply and generally do not spend a lot of brain power on those who don’t respond – they focus on the positive responses they do get. This means that, if you’re out of contention for the position for whatever reason, you’re going into the reject pile and the recruiter generally has no further brain time for you. They generally won’t be vindictive or put you on their shit list unless you do something actively nasty to them. A nicely worded rejection or even radio silence generally isn’t nasty enough to warrant being shit listed. They won’t have hurt feelings from no response, they’ll just move on to the next set of candidates.
It’s also worth noting that hiring studios and recruiters are not permanently joined, even if the recruiter is in house. I’ve talked with some recruiters before where we met while they were representing one studio then talked again later when they were representing a different studio. Similarly, I’ve been approached by the same studios more than once over the years by different recruiters representing them. The shit list generally stays with the recruiter and not the studio unless you do something really heinous.
In my experience, being nice to a recruiter may make that recruiter more likely to reach out to you for jobs but not necessarily offer jobs at the studio they were representing when you were nice to them – it’s whoever they’re currently representing. Radio silence is a perfectly viable option and will not burn bridges unless you have an existing and friendly relationship with the recruiter already. Don’t attack recruiters, they are just people trying to do their jobs. When I started in the industry, I was more of the polite declination response type, but now I only reply to recruiters if I am actually interested in the opportunity. That has not stopped or dampened the number of recruiters I get reaching out to me on a weekly basis, so I am guessing this is probably the general case.
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