There are many facets to the recruiting world that job-seekers typically aren’t aware of, and it can be intimidating to know where to start. It’s not uncommon for a job seeker to have one or two bad experiences with recruiters and give up on using them altogether.
It’s important to understand that not all recruiters are created equal. Each recruiter or recruitment firm has different skill sets, specialties, goals, and values.
Working with a recruiter is a lot like choosing a therapist, doctor, or hairstylist: This is someone you’re going to have an ongoing relationship with, and if they don’t mesh with your goals, it can be a disaster.
This blog will take some of the guesswork out of working with recruiters and help you select the one that suits you best.
Two (and a Half) Types of Recruiters
First, understand that there are two primary types of recruiters: Internal and external (or “agency” recruiters).
An internal, or “in-house” recruiter, works for one specific company, not a variety of clients. Since they are only employed by one company, they only fill positions in that company.
An agency recruiter is someone who works for a recruitment company. They may work on many accounts filling roles for several different companies at a time. Many recruitment agencies specialize in certain roles or industries, but they can also run the entire range - from floor staff to executive level.
Within the realm of agency recruiters, there are also two sub-groups: contingent agency recruiters and retained agency recruiters. Retained recruiters are paid up-front for their search services, and usually work on exclusive contracts - meaning they’re the only ones who can fill the role.
Retained recruiters tend to work very closely with their clients and take more time to develop a specific shortlist. In other words, if a retained recruiter submits you for a job, they hand-picked you for it. But remember, they also picked your competition.
On the other hand, contingent recruiters are paid per-position. They work essentially for free until a candidate they represent takes a role in the client company.
As such, they are financially motivated to put out as many recommendations as possible, as fast as possible, while maintaining a certain candidate quality level.
Lotte van Rijswijk
In general, working with a retained recruiter means you’re likely to have more information about the role and help with preparation and interviews. But a contingent recruiter is more motivated to advocate for you personally and use their proactive sales skills for you - and to do it fast.
Agency recruiters will have a greater number and a wider variety of open listings, while an in-house recruiter will have a more intimate and detailed knowledge of the company and position requirements. In either case, it’s important to remember that the recruiter’s “client” is a company - not you, the candidate.
If you know you want to target a specific company that has an internal recruiting team, then LinkedIn is your best bet. Go to the company’s LinkedIn profile, then hit the “people” tab and search for people with job titles like “Talent Acquisition” or simply “Recruiter.”
You could also just search for posts about the company and find people that are posting about open positions there.
Alternatively, there may be contact information for the recruitment team on the company website - usually under “Careers,” “About Us,” “Contact Us,” or “Meet the Team.”
To find agency recruiters that fit your needs, LinkedIn is still good, but a quick Google search of your location and phrases like "search firms," "recruiters," and "employment agencies" will give you results - maybe too many. If that happens, try adding in your industry or career level to narrow down your search.
You might also find results by just asking around. It’s likely that someone you know got their job through a recruitment firm. Check in with your colleagues, contacts, and friends about their experience with recruiters. Odds are good that one of them has a recommendation for you.
But the best way to find recruiters - is to let them find you. Keeping an active and detailed LinkedIn profile that shows you as #OpenToWork is a top way to attract recruiters. Recruiters often search resume databases on websites like Monster and Indeed as well, so make sure you have a solid resume posted in those places.
If you stay visible, through writing, speaking, or simply commenting and sharing online, you will increase your chances of being engaged by a recruiter.
Knowing If a Recruiter Is Right For You
Many early job seekers will make the mistake of submitting their resume to every recruiter they can find. This actually hurts your chances because recruiters often have a shared client pool.
This means that if a hiring company is using six recruitment firms and you’re submitted through all of them, some hiring managers will skip you completely rather than deal with the conflict and decide which firm to pay.
It’s better to find one or two recruiters/agencies that specialize in the work you do and spend the time to build a relationship with them. That way they know what you’re looking for and can find roles specific to you.
The right recruiter for you will also depend on your situation. Remember when we discussed contingent vs. retained recruiters above? If you’re in “I need a job NOW” mode, a contingent recruiter might be a good route - just make sure they get your permission before sending your resume off.
Lotte van Rijswijk
If you want to take more time and make sure a job is a good fit for you, then a retained recruiter would be a better asset. But remember, their interest is in filling the position, not getting you personally hired. (As a bonus, retained recruiters tend to have access to unpublished listings.)
But if a recruiter reaches out to you unsolicited, how do you know if you’re dealing with a retained or contingent recruiter? Ask them questions like:
How did you gain access to this job listing?
Do you have any direct connections with the hiring manager?
Can I expect to be contacted by other recruiters for this same position?
How did you get my name? (Make sure they answer specifically here, not just “a colleague.”)
Remember that working with a recruiter is a personal relationship. Here are some other questions you can ask to help you determine whether it's a relationship worth pursuing.
How long have you been recruiting?
What industries/types of roles do you specialize in?
Can you name some clients that are looking for people with my experience and skill set?
How many people with my background have you placed in the last six months?
Can I ask some of your clients about their experience?
A good recruiter will also spend some time asking you questions about your plans and goals. Relationships work both ways, and recruiters should spend time getting to know you. Remember, these people are auditioning to be your job search partner.
Above all, trust your instinct. If something about the way a recruiter handles themselves bothers you or something about the offer makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to walk away. Nothing says you have to work with a recruiter just because they call you.
Your relationship with your recruiters is an important tool in your job search. But it’s also just that - a tool. And it should be one of many tools you can use while searching.
Remember that there is a limit to how much a recruiter is interested in advocating for you and that a recruiter is only as good as the information they are given. You also have to do the work and continue your applications, networking, and working with your career coach.
Used correctly, recruiters can open up many new opportunities. But it’s also important to know what you’re getting into and make smart decisions about who you work with.