If you understand the “rules of engagement” in working with recruiters, you can be more successful in obtaining your dream job.

It should be noted that recruiters are worked to the bone. They have impossible requirements for a position, and they have 50 positions they are trying to fill. Busy is an understatement. Your message needs to be extremely strategic.

It might feel a little peculiar to reach out to a stranger in cyberspace at first, but don’t be shy. You’re actually doing them a HUGE favor if you’re qualified for the opening your inquiring about.


One of the worst ways to reach out to a recruiter is with a vague request to look over your resume or make an ask of something that only benefits you. Apply to a position that their company is seeking candidates for and then contact the recruiter with details of your experience and the specific job opening that is of interest to you. If there isn’t a specific position that suits your fancy, it is perfectly fine to brag about yourself a little bit, talk about your credentials and let the recruiter know you are the heavyweight champions of candidates in the job market and actively job seeking – and that you are watching their company’s work. You need to think about things from the recruiter’s perspective. Think of manipulation in a positive light. Instead of focusing on doing what’s best for you in the job search, put yourself in their shoes to figure out what would be most valuable for them. Note a recent contract win, and how you might be able to help. I get heart eyes emojis for candidates who know my company’s capabilities!


You can’t know the company’s capabilities without doing a bit of research. Get to know the company you are reaching out to. You may be reaching out to a few different organizations, but knowing that you’re a) applying to a small or large business b) applying to an intelligence firm or a jack-of all trades company c) applying to a company in D.C. instead of San Antonio is super important. Take a look at their recent news. Is there a new partnership your jazzed about? Or a charitable event they recently supported? Mention it in your intro. It’s memorable. Look at their clients and partners page. Is there an agency you supported in the past? It could support that professional relationship and should be noted as well.


Your goal with the first communication is to get a yes to the introduction for a first phone call, not a job offer. The easiest way to get that phone call is letting the recruiter know that you meet the job requirements. If the opening calls for a TS/SCI with 5 years of experience in cybersecurity let them know and that you are actively looking and very interested in the position. If you have a secret clearance with 2 years in helpdesk, don’t reach out about the cybersecurity opening. Unqualified candidates applying to positions they are not qualified for is just another message, and another application to sift through in a recruiters very busy schedule.

DETAIL YOUR expectations

As a former recruiter, it is a little bit frustrating to have the perfect applicant on paper apply for a job you’ve been desperately trying to fill, but the candidate is not available to start the job until a year from applying. Assume that the opening (unless noted as contingent upon contract being awarded) is available right at that moment. If you have a career in cyber intelligence analysis, but are trying to get your foot in the door with your data science courses you’ve recently taken, make it known. Make a list of your non-negotiables, and have those handy.


I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve screened candidates and have been laughed at when it comes to salary. I’ve been in the recruiting game for the better part of a decade, so I’m not an idiot when it comes to knowing a candidate’s worth. But if you reach out to a recruiter, DO NOT LAUGH WHEN THEY TELL YOU THE BOTTOM LINE if it gets to that point in the conversation. They understand it’s a tough position to fill, so they’re being honest with the numbers in hopes of not wasting your time. You also reached out to them, so your chuckles imply that money is more important than the mission. Remember, there are many roads to get to your destination. A simple “I’m not sure I can make the move for that amount” or “That won’t work for my personal situation right now” would suffice. If you list your bottom line, the recruiter will remember the polite candidate when your range pops up in their pipeline.


Like I said, recruiting = busy bee. The follow up is crucial in this networking game. If you reach out without a response, a simple “Just following up on my last message – looking forward to hearing from you!” is perfect. If you are following up on a phone call, reiterate your enthusiasm about the company, position, or something meaningful that came from your conversation. Here are a few samples:

“Hello ____________,

I just applied to the  ________  position posted on your website and wanted to follow up with a note. I am very interested in working for _____________, as I have 10 years of software development experience. I am just starting a search for a new company as I am moving back to the DC metro area next month and _____________ mission really resonates with me. I don’t want to take up any more of your time, as I can see from the job listings that you are very busy, but I’m really excited about this opportunity and look forward to speaking with you. If there is anything you need from me, don’t hesitate to reach out: secretsquirrel@email.com.”

“Hello _____________,

I wanted to follow up on our chat last week about the Intelligence Analyst position. I really enjoyed learning about your company, the mission for this contract, and the type of analyst the customer is looking for. After reviewing the position specs, I believe it would be an excellent fit for me and my family! I’m looking forward to next steps, whether it be an additional conversation with the Program Manager, or an in-person interview. Let me know if there is any other information I can provide at this point in the process. Cheers!”

The worst that can happen is that the recruiter doesn’t respond — and in the best case, they’ll appreciate your considerate note and eagerness for the opportunity.

Networking, recruiter engagement, and making a real connection takes time, thoughtfulness and finesse. Think of it as dating before you marry that company’s mission. Feel comfortable reaching out. That next recruiter connection can land you your best gig yet.

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸