On Monday, I posted on what to do to manage your career during an economic upturn. And I encouraged you to take advantage of calls from recruiters (in-house and third party). I've also seen lots of posts from people complaining about recruiters...mostly third party recruiters. It's better than not getting calls from recruiters at all. Be flattered that you are in demand!
Anyway, I thought I would give you a little tool here. Let's say that you do get a call from a third party recruiter and they start talking to you about a position that you are not interested in. How do you turn that call into a networking opportunity? And before I go into this, let me just remind you that your goal here is to get the information that benefits you and establish a professional relationship...you don't have to go on vacation with the person or invite them to dinner. So even if they are a little salesy/weird/whatever, as some recruiters can be, it's up to you to make this call work for you and it's always an opportunity. Here are the questions that I recommend working into the conversation. You are going to have to reciprocate with some info about yourself, but I'd set a goal of getting this info before you get off the phone (maybe you can print this off and leave it by the phone for such a call):
“Tell me about the opportunity“ (Trust me, just listen to them and take some notes and then if it's not for you, let them know that that position does not sound like a fit for what you want to do. But at least give them the sense that you listened to them)
“What is your area of specialty...what kinds of positions do you recruit on?”
“What levels of responsibility do you usually cover (individual contributor, people manager, Director+)?”
“What kind of client companies do you serve? Can you give me an idea who some of your clients are?”
“What kind of career paths would exist for someone with my background at a company like this client company? At other client companies that you work with?”
“Can you give me a ballpark idea of what a position like this pays (both at this client company and others)?”
“What kind of benefits does this company offer? How do they compare to other benefits in the market? Are there any companies offering anything new and interesting?”
“Tell me about opportunities for relocation (programs and assistance) and telecommuting”
“Are you interested in keeping in touch to network? I know a lot of people with <x> type of background and I would be happy to share some details of this job (and others) with my network. Do you want to e-mail the job description to me so I can forward it to them?”
“<X> is my dream job. How often do you come across those types of opportunities? How do I get my resume to you so that I can be considered if such an opportunity crosses your desk? How and how often should I be in touch?”
Many recruiters will try and drive this conversation to get as much info from you as possible, but they realize the benefits of networking with people in the industry. Don't let them totally control the conversation, but don't just read your questions off either. You should be able to have a nice, mutually beneficial conversation and gather some info you can use to evaluate your current opportunity. And don't forget to thank them for the call (it's let's them know that if they were to call you again, you would be friendly).
PS: resist the urge to ask the recruiter whether they are paid by the hire. As curious as you are, and as much as it would seem to be OK, considering that they are probably asking about your compensation, it's really not appropriate.