Using Recruiters in a Job Search

Years ago I was doing a job search looking for work in the telecommunications industry. The company I had worked for had gone out of business and I was jobless.  A colleague referred me to a recruiter who specialized in the telecom industry.  I had no knowledge of recruiters, how they worked, or even if they were successful in doing a job search for people.

This recruiter reviewed my resume, made a few excellent suggestions and then said he thought he could help me with my job search but he needed my agreement that I would only work with him on finding a job.  He went so far as to ask me to suspend my job search!  I had no experience with recruiters at the time and wasn’t about to give up my job search to a stranger so I did not work with him.

It is important when you are doing a job search and want to work with a recruiter,  that you find one that you think would represent you well, who specializes in your industry, and is looking for people with your skill set because he/she has jobs to fill.  Before you decide to use one however it is important to learn how recruiters work

First and most important recruiters are paid by the employer and work for them not for you.  They do want you to get hired because often times they only get paid when the employer hires you, the candidate.  Their goal however is to find a candidate that the employer will hire.

Recruiters therefore work for employers who can afford to pay their fee.  This usually means larger companies.  For attorneys this means biglaw firms where candidates must come from the top law schools and be in the top of their class.  Companies in general today can find lots of qualified candidates to fill positions.  They expect recruiters to find them people they could not find by themselves.

If you are currently employed but know that in the future you will be looking for a change of employer, now is the time to form a relationship with a good recruiter.  Do some research to find the ones considered tops in your field and then select one or two to get to know.

Once you have decided on who you want to call decide on a way that you could be helpful to that recruiter right now.  Good recruiters are busy people so you need to have something to offer before he/she will agree to meet or talk.

When you are job hunting and meeting with a recruiter, be sure to give him/her reason to be interested in you.  Know your strengths and help the recruiter to see them.  Always treat the recruiter as you would a potential employer.  You want to impress them with your ability.

Because recruiters are looking for candidates that employers can not find themselves they often are interested in passive candidates (employed people not currently looking for work).  The point of making yourself known to a recruiter even if you are currently employed is that this could mean having an opportunity for a job now or at some time in the future.

When you understand that the recruiter only gets paid when he presents a candidate that the employer hires, it is understandable that the recruiter I approached would ask me to allow only his firm to represent me in my job search.  If I used another recruiter along with him, they might have to fight over a fee if they both came up with the same job or different jobs in the same company.  If I approached a company myself and the recruiter represented that company, he might insist he get paid by the company and the company might refuse to pay.  I’m caught between the two and might lose out on the opportunity because of their stalemate.

Working with a recruiter can be worthwhile as long as you understand how they work and are ready to accommodate them.  Never give up the whole job search to a recruiter.  You’ll need to work out a way with the recruiter to be sure that those you approach are not ones he is working with.  If you build a good relationship with the recruiter while you are working, he/she will want to help you when the time comes.


2 Responses to “Using Recruiters in a Job Search

  • shurtleff
    13 years ago

    this in response to the job-posting notice: ‘unemployed need not apply.’

    i would worry about applying to a company that does not consider applications from those without jobs. the search should focus on what the company wants and needs, rather than arbitrary rejection for a nearly irrelevant factor. [no jews, no blacks, no….] be direct in what you want rather than oblique in what you don’t want. after all, there are a million good reasons for not having a job. i know people who have been fired for honesty, who’ve resigned because of frightening sexual harassment, or who’ve had major philosophical differences when the character of a company changes. the only possible justification for a refusal to consider the not-currently-employed policy lies in currency of skills or customer base. and even then, workplace differences between a previous employer and the new one are usually far more important — will the new-hire fit? and if it were up to me, i’d out that company as quickly as possible. social networks can spread this information very quickly.

    now you have to ask, why do companies do this? this practice probably arose from noting that the ratio of applications to acceptances for the employed was probably better than those for the non-employed. and so the employment consultants who look for correlations like this — and get paid handsomely for these peripheral observations that can be easily measured — claim victory and go home. the practice becomes part of HR lore, and it’s on to the next great data correlation. and it’s all so very very stupid. exclude for good reasons, not weak statistical correlations that are poorly understood.


  • shurtleff
    13 years ago

    in working with a recruiter who demands exclusivity among recruiters — and they all will — specify a time limit, e.g., 3 months, or whatever is appropriate in the current market. otherwise, the recruiter has less incentive to try to find something for you quickly. if he’s got a job that’s appropriate for two of his candidates [all other things being equal], one of whom may fly the coop soon, he’s more likely to push the candidate that he would otherwise lose for the first interview. you can also demand a minimum level of corporate interest, at least as defined by number of interviews for real jobs: ie, if 6 weeks [or whatever is appropriate in the current job market] go by with no interviews, that should be grounds for ending exclusivity.

    ideally, you want somebody who has a specific set of clients with specific needs. the job-seeker should also understand that some recruiters, the clint eastwood type, work by simply having a fistful of resumes, go from one company to another, and say to the internal HR recruiter, pick one. they work by having that album of lots of people to fulfill any need. the bigger the album, the more likely the recruiter is to have a warm body that will fulfill minimum job requirements. this is usually not the best kind of headhunter for the jobseeker. however, if a company is hiring a lot of people in a hurry, they may strike gold with this type of recruiter. [otoh, the advent of and other specialized headhunting websites have tended to decimate the shotgun-resume recruiter because the hiring cost by internet is a tiny fraction of the recruiter’s fee.].