4 things to say if recruiters call you during the coronavirus pandemic

April 1, 2020, 9:00 PM UTC

You might think that, with the economy at a virtual standstill and record numbers of layoffs, companies would be hitting the “pause” button on their efforts to fill job openings. That’s not as common as it may seem. Says Kathleen Duffy, CEO of the Duffy Group, a global recruiting firm, “We’re especially busy right now, trying to find the right hires for critical roles.”

With so many people now working from home, she adds, phone screening interviews are easier than usual, since potential candidates are free to discuss a new job opportunity without worrying that nearby colleagues will overhear the conversation.

Wherever you are the next time a headhunter reaches you, here are four essential questions to ask.

1. Can we set a time for me to call you back?

Besides being (probably) too swamped with work to focus on a job change right this minute, delaying the virtual meeting “gives you a chance to do your due diligence on the recruiter,” Duffy says. “This business, like any other, has its share of shady characters. You want to make sure you’re not dealing with one of them, particularly if you’ve never heard of them or their firm.”

A delay of a day or two gives you time to look the recruiter up, take a close look at his or her firm’s website, and find out as much as you can on social media, especially LinkedIn. Before you share any information (about your salary history, for instance) with this person, be as certain as possible that he or she is legit.

2. Do you have a signed, exclusive contract with this employer?

The answer to this one speaks volumes, if you understand a bit about how the recruiting business works. Often, companies trying to find as many candidates as possible for a given role will put out a request called a job order to lots of different headhunters.

What results is “a dogfight over you among several different recruiters,” explains Duffy. “You lose out in the end, because the employer finds it easier to avoid all that unpleasantness and just hire someone else.” By contrast, a recruiter with a contract “is most likely to be genuinely trying to find the best person for the job—they’re not just fishing.”

3. Where are you in the hiring process for this job?

A few related queries: “Has the job been open a long time? If so, why?” and “How many other candidates is the company considering for this opening, and where do I stand in relation to them?”

Let’s say, for example, that your skills and experience are a great fit for the job, but the recruiter mentions that the company’s ideal candidate is someone who also has an advanced degree you don’t possess. By knowing that upfront, “you’re less likely to be ‘ghosted,’” Duffy says. “And less likely to be shocked if the employer chooses a different candidate.”

4. Why should I take this job?

Let’s face it, changing jobs is risky. Even a terrific new role will require you to adapt to a different work culture, for instance, and start from scratch to build your in-house reputation. “These are legitimate concerns, so make the recruiter ‘sell’ you on the job,” says Duffy.

This sales pitch is what headhunters refer to as “the sizzle,” and it should include a strong element of how your precise accomplishments—and even your career progression so far, as evidenced by your LinkedIn profile—make you a great fit for the role. A recruiter who doesn’t bring up those things “hasn’t done their homework on you,” Duffy notes. If the sizzle doesn’t knock your socks off, proceed with extreme caution.

What if you hang up the phone and think of something you wish you’d said, or a question you wished you’d asked? It’s perfectly okay to call the recruiter back to talk about what’s on your mind. An example of a typical question that candidates often forget to pose at first: As far as you know, is there a chance that taking this job will require me to relocate, now or later?

“I hear horror stories from human resources managers about executives they’ve hired who have backed out of the new job at the very last minute,” says Duffy, “because their spouse or kids changed their mind about moving.” Enough said.

More must-read careers coverage from Fortune:

—4 ways to keep networking while social distancing
—17 companies that are hiring during the coronavirus crisis
—Why it’s important to know your communication style at work
What is a 401(k)? And why do you need one?
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEOs
—WATCH: Can you be a leader and an introvert?

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