How to Work With a Recruiter
January 16, 2009
As a Career Coach who also does some recruiting, I have had many opportunities to explain to job seekers the role of a recruiter in the hiring process. Frequently applicants become frustrated in working with headhunters, recruiters or staffing agencies because they don’t understand how the system works. I often hear about how individuals in these roles don’t return phone calls, don’t place me in positions, etc. Below are some guidelines I would like to share to clarify the role of a recruiter in the hiring process.

There are internal recruiters who work for the employer directly. Internal recruiters fill positions for one employer and frequently are assigned to support different departments or levels of positions.

(External) recruiters or headhunters fill positions for multiple employers. They fall into two categories: contingency and retained. Contingency recruiters are paid on a commission basis when an employer hires a candidate who is presented by the contingency recruiting firm—fee is contingent upon placement. Retained search firms, usually engaged in filling more senior positions, are paid a retainer for the search and receive their fee even if the employer does not hire one of their candidates.

Staffing Agencies historically have filled administrative, industrial and clerical positions for multiple client companies. However, several trends have emerged in recent years. One is that some employers have designated that all hires into certain positions, such as Customer Service, will be facilitated by a specific staffing agency. Employees remain on the staffing agency payroll for the first 90 days and then the employer may offer the temporary associate a fulltime position without having to pay the agency an additional fee. Another trend is for staffing agencies to place mid-management level employees into fulltime and contract positions.

Many job seekers are under the impression that the recruiter is out looking for a position for them—they think they are a placement service! This is NOT the case. Recruiters and staffing agencies are seeking to fill job orders from a hiring manager. If you are a good fit for a position they are seeking to fill, then they really want to talk to you. If they do not have a request for someone with your skills and experience, then they will not typically be interested in spending time talking with you until they do.

1. Professionalism. Demonstrate your professionalism in each step of the process. Your candidacy will be judged partly on the basis of your interactions with the recruiter.

2. Help the recruiter fill other positions. Ask what other searches they are working on and see if you know anyone who might be a fit for the position. In this way, you may help a friend/colleague find work and you help the recruiter quickly fill a position! They will remember you for this. In my experience, only about 1 in every 200 candidates offers to do this.

3. Be a low maintenance candidate! Proactively offer to send the recruiter your resume, references, etc., in a timely manner.

4. If you are not interested in a position the recruiter is seeking to fill, bow out. Recently, I was hired to source and screen candidates and I recommended an applicant for an interview. We had spoken at least three times and met for an hour prior to the recommendation. The applicant was told three weeks ahead of time when the interview was scheduled. Three days before the interview, he backed out saying that he had been on vacation the week before the interview and could not keep the appointment as he was busy at work. This left a slot open in the interview schedule, wasted the employer’s time and bruised my reputation with the employer.

5. Let your enthusiasm and interest in a position be known. Don’t stalk the recruiter but follow up appropriately. I look for buying signals in candidates. If they don’t show some enthusiasm for the job, then I am reluctant to recommend them for an interview.

6. Conduct your job search like you do your job. I evaluate how candidates implement their job search as a measure of what their work standards are. Do they follow up? Do they send you requested information in a timely manner? Do they leave their phone number when they call you (pet peeve of mine!) or do I have to look it up? How do they dress? Are they on time?

In conclusion, it may be important in your job search to include (external) recruiters as one potential source of employment but it is important to understand their role in the search process! Best wishes to you in your job search!