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What's the difference between HR and a recruiter when you're job searching?

What's the difference between HR and a recruiter when you're job searching?

  • What is the main difference between HR and a recruiter?
  • Is a recruiter the same as a headhunter?
  • Is a recruiter better than an HR generalist?
  • Key takeaways

When you’re looking for a new job, it’s important to know the lingo. While Human Resources and recruiters work hand-in-hand, they serve different purposes. Understanding the difference between HR and recruiters will help your job search go more smoothly and efficiently.

If you're looking for a new job, you may be familiar with titles like "human resources," "recruiter," or even "headhunter." If you're new to the working world, you might think that they're essentially the same thing. But they all serve distinctly different functions, both to you and the companies they work for. Understanding the difference can help you in your job hunt and ensure that you and the person with whom you're working are on the same page.

In this article, we’ll discuss the main differences between HR and recruiters, including:

  • What is the main difference between HR and a recruiter?

  • Which is better: headhunter or recruiter?

  • Is a recruiter different from an HR generalist?

What is the main difference between HR and a recruiter?

In a nutshell, a recruiter is the person who finds the job applicants, and HR takes over when they’re hired. Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but it’s important to understand that while they may share common goals, they have different responsibilities.

What the HR department does

Human Resources is responsible for the employee experience, from onboarding to exit interviews. While recruitment does fall under the HR umbrella, HR is also in charge of training, benefits management, employment law, inter-employee relations, and conflict resolution.

Since HR is responsible for so many areas, their scope is much wider than a recruiter. In addition to employment issues, they may also have a hand in creating and maintaining the "workplace culture" of a company or organization and work to maintain a safe and positive work environment, including interdepartmental communications, surveys, initiatives, and even activities and events to support employee growth.

What a recruiter does

Recruiters are the people in charge of finding candidates for available roles within their organization and screening for candidates who have the required experience and skills. Recruiters may work for HR, but they’re not the same, as they may also be employed by dedicated search firms and staffing agencies.

Since they’re responsible for finding viable candidates, they’re in charge of the hiring process from start to finish, looking through resumes, calling applicants, and performing the first round of screening interviews, and often making an offer.

Statistical Insight

The way recruiters do their jobs is changing with new technology since 84 percent of companies now use social media to recruit new candidates. So start thinking “outside the box” when it comes to applying for jobs! 

Other stats to keep in mind:


  • 89 percent of applicants reported that they’ll accept a job offer faster when working with a recruiter.

  • 41 percent of recruiters have said that entry-level positions are the hardest to fill.

  • Despite that, 78 percent of HR departments using an ATS say recruitment tech makes hiring easier than ever.

Is a recruiter the same as a headhunter?

Sort of. While they perform many of the same functions, there are important differences. Recruiters work with people looking for all position levels, from entry-level to management. Headhunters, however, are more specialized and proactive, focusing on executive-level positions, and may often contact people who are still employed. Additionally, headhunters usually work for outside agencies, and companies will contact them when they need to fill a high-level position and will work together to create a job description and list of requirements. Recruiters, on the other hand, usually write job descriptions, post them on job sites and employment boards, and often attend job/career fairs to locate potential candidates. So a headhunter is not necessarily better than a recruiter; it just depends on where you are in your career.

Is a recruiter better than an HR generalist?

In this case, comparing a recruiter to an HR generalist is kind of like comparing apples to oranges. They're both fruits, but they have different uses. A generalist is just that. They have a wide range of HR duties within a company, and while they may do some recruiting (usually with smaller companies), they’re more focused on things like training and development, workforce planning, and compensation/benefits. A recruiter is much more focused, working almost exclusively on the locating, screening, and sourcing of job candidates. So if you're looking for a job, an HR Generalist may not be the person you want to speak to. But if you're already employed, they're most likely your go-to contact.

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Key takeaways

  1. Broadly speaking, a recruiter is the person who finds the job applicants, and HR takes over when they’re hired.

  2. HR has a wider scope than a recruiter, as they’re in charge of things like benefits management, employee relations, training, and conflict resolution.

  3. While recruiters and headhunters perform many of the same functions, headhunters tend to focus on executive-level positions and are often employed by outside firms.

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