How to Turn Down a Job Recruiter

Some experts say you should never turn away a recruiter, because the connection can pay off later.
Cara Smith
By Cara Smith 
Updated
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff

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How you turn down a recruiter depends largely on where you are in your career.

If you’re happy with your current role and see a long-term future there, it can make sense to politely say “no, thanks'' when a recruiter reaches out. Especially for those with highly sought-after skills, finding a recruiter request in your LinkedIn messages may be a regular occurrence.

Even though you may not be interested in a particular job — or perhaps you’re quite happy with the role you’re in — it can still make sense to keep the door open to talking to recruiters. The conversation may turn you on to a different, more appealing role, or the connection you make may prove to be valuable when you're job-shopping down the road.

What do recruiters do?

First, it's helpful to understand what a recruiter does. Recruiters find qualified candidates for open positions. There are two kinds of recruiters: corporate and agency.

Agency recruiters work for recruiting agencies that are hired by companies — think: Apple, Bank of America, your local engineering firm — with the goal of finding people to fill their open positions, according to Aldebaran Recruiting, a headhunting firm.

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Corporate recruiters work at the company that’s looking for candidates, per Aldebaran. So, a corporate recruiter for Apple works at Apple and is exclusively looking to fill jobs at Apple.

Regardless of which type of recruiter contacts you, it’s first worth considering: Should you reject a recruiter who’s reaching out? Johnny Roccia, director of career services at Ama La Vida, a career and life coaching firm, doesn’t think you should ever turn away a recruiter.

“No matter how comfortable you are in your role — you could have your dream job, it could be wonderful, you could love it — you should take one recruiter call a month, if calls are coming in,” Roccia says.

Why? Well, Roccia says, the job seekers he works with who have the most difficult times finding new work are those who stayed in their “perfect job” for years and never connected with recruiters or networked. If those workers get laid off, or if their circumstances change and they need a different job, “they're in the wilderness” without any connections outside their company, he says.

“A job is not a marriage,” Roccia says. “You’re allowed to keep your Tinder profile.”

Shonna Waters, vice president of executive advisory at BetterUp, a behavioral career coaching company, has a similar message. She says you should take the time to figure out your “North Star” — basically, your ideal job, down to your dream responsibilities and benefits — and think of recruiters as a means to get closer to that role.

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Even if you say no, keep the door open

There are ways to turn down a recruiter without closing the door on future opportunities. If a recruiter reaches out to you with a job you’re not interested in, but you’re open to learning about other roles, thank them for thinking of you and explain why the role isn’t a good fit, Roccia says. Then, tell them about the kinds of roles you’d love to hear about — and don’t be afraid to get specific. That will help the recruiter reach out with relevant opportunities, saving you both time in the process.

If a recruiter reaches out with a role you don’t want, and you’re not interested in hearing about other jobs, you can still keep the door open for future opportunities. Thank the recruiter, tell them you’re happy in your current role and aren’t interested in other opportunities at this time, but offer to connect them with colleagues or professional connections who may be a good fit, Roccia says.

Specifically, he recommends saying something like this to a recruiter:

“I'm currently very comfortable and embedded in several projects that I've committed to for the long term. However, I am very happy that you reached out and would love to stay connected. I also have a number of other people in my network with similar skills. If you could send me both a connection request on LinkedIn and an email about this role, I would be happy to review it and see if there's somebody I can connect you with.”

In all these situations, it’s key to be clear, polite and professional. Even if you’re happy in your current role, it never hurts to hear about what other companies are offering their workers.

“It's a continuum, not a switch,” Waters says of being open to hearing about jobs. “You get to say [to a recruiter], ‘I really like what I'm doing right now. What I would love more of is X or Y. So, in the future, if you see something that might offer that, I would be really excited to connect again.’”