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Using a Recruiter to Boost Your Job Search

Like most job seekers, you’re looking at the various options available to find job openings with desirable companies and, more importantly, to connect with the hiring managers for those positions and secure an interview. You’ve probably considered using a recruiter, which can complement your job search by introducing you to additional, possibly unadvertised opportunities and arranging interviews. There’s no substitute for what you can accomplish by conducting your own job search and building your own relationships with hiring managers, but if you decide to use a recruiter, make sure to do your research. There are recruiters out there who have created a bad reputation for themselves, but there are also reputable ones who can provide valuable assistance with your job search efforts.

Below are the advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding to use a recruiter. Armed with this information, you should be able to distinguish a good recruiter from a bad one.

First, what is a recruiter exactly?

An employment recruiter (often known as a “headhunter”) locates individuals to fill specific positions in a company. They may work in a recruitment agency, where they are working to fill positions for multiple companies at a time, or they may work in-house at a company where they recruit candidates for positions inside that company. Unless you are focused on getting a job with a specific company that uses an inside recruiter, you most likely want to engage with a recruitment agency or “outside” recruiter.

There are different types of agencies that provide employment recruiting services:

  • Recruiters (or headhunters or search consultants) – They are the type of employment recruiter you would most likely work with on your job search. You may be approached by a recruiter for an opening with a company they represent, or you may send your resume to them for consideration for a position(s) they are trying to fill.
  • Search firms/Executive search firms – They can be industry-specific (e.g. healthcare or sales) or skills-specific (e.g. accounting or IT). There are two types of search firms: contingency search firms, which are used for filling entry and mid-level positions and are paid when their candidate is hired by the employer, and retained search firms, which have an exclusive relationship with the employer and are typically used for filling senior-level positions.
  • Employment agencies – They help job seekers find work, but oftentimes they charge the job seeker for their services, not the employer. You probably don’t want to be paying for someone to find you a job, so ask about that upfront.

Once a recruiter has located or been contacted by a job candidate, they will screen and interview them before presenting them to an employer. If the candidate is a good match for a particular opening, they will refer the candidate to the company hiring manager. Often, they will create a short list of the most qualified candidates they represent for the hiring manager to review. In other words, you are probably not the only candidate the recruiter is recommending for an interview.

Advantages to using a (good) recruiter

Recruiters have a wide network of contacts, primarily in human resources and corporate sectors, so they are well-connected and would have a direct line of contact to hiring managers – the people you might struggle to get an audience with otherwise. Since hiring managers often look to and trust the recruiters they know to provide them with qualified candidates, your resume can get fast-tracked and moved to the top of the pile.

Recruiters know what hiring managers are looking for. Because of their close relationships with hiring managers, recruiters have "inside knowledge" of what positions are available, particularly jobs that are unadvertised or have not yet been posted. They may also be aware of where a company is in the hiring process for a position (just starting, ready to make a decision, etc.) and know what types of candidates hiring managers are looking for based on the company’s employee requirements and corporate culture.

Recruiters are driven to fill job openings. That’s what they get paid for. As a result, they’ll work hard to seal a deal. Typically, the employer pays the recruiter for providing the right candidate to fill a position. Because (as the job seeker) you don't pay to work with a recruiting firm, you can work with as many different recruiters as you want. If you decide to do this, you may want to let each one know that you are working with other recruiters. Otherwise, you may have more than one recruiter presenting your resume to the same employer, which can be an issue if both recruiters try to get paid for the placement.

Using recruiters can save you time on research and contacting potential employers. Since it’s a recruiter’s job to fill positions with people like you, it is in their best interest to devote time to your job search and get you hired. Multiple recruiters can talk to more companies in a week’s time than you could contact on your own.

Interviews may be more focused and relevant. Recruiters often know things about a position that the employer has shared with them but are not included in the job posting. This makes it easier for them to determine if you are a good fit for the company and whether it makes sense to set up an interview.

Recruiters can negotiate your compensation more effectively. They may be better at getting you the higher end of your pay range, because of what’s in it for THEM financially. A word of caution of however: It is in the recruiter's best interest financially to undersell your skills when talking to you and to oversell you to their client so they can receive the best possible percentage of your salary for their fee. That’s one reason why it’s important to do some research beforehand to get a sense of your market value.

Recruiters can help you broaden your job search, particularly if you are in a high-level position, as those jobs are not always advertised. Or, if you are in an industry that typically uses recruiters exclusively to fill vacancies.

Employers may be impressed by candidates represented by recruiters, particularly recruiters with a strong reputation and track record of success in finding qualified candidates. In addition, you have a professional representing you and promoting your qualifications to the company.

Disadvantages to using recruiters

A recruiter may not be looking out for your best interest or promote your true value. They may try to get you into a new role for what you are currently earning or slightly over instead of getting you the pay the position really demands. By doing this, they deliver a candidate that is competitively priced and below the hiring budget. For that reason, it’s a good idea not to share your salary history with a recruiter and to instead give them an amount you are targeting and see what they say. You may want to talk to multiple recruiters to get a sense of what your market value is.

A recruiter may become desperate to make a placement and send you on an interview for a position that you are not really qualified for. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best not to try to talk your way into the position. You should instead explain to the interviewer that, based on your experience and skillset, you may not be suited for the position. They may appreciate your honesty and refer you to another department with an open position that fits your skills.

A recruiter works for the employer, not for you. Recruiters need to have candidates to present to employers in order to earn their fees. For that reason, you can be considered simply “inventory” to the recruiter – a resume on file to be retrieved if the right opening ever presents itself. We've all been enticed by recruiters about the "perfect opportunity" that ends up not existing (but your name has now been added to that recruiter's database). These are the recruiters you want to steer clear of.

Paying a recruiter could be a deal-breaker for the employer if the employer has other candidates for the position who came to them directly. The employer has to pay the recruiter a considerable “finder’s fee” (typically 20-33% of your annual salary). If they are on a tight budget, they may decide that it is not worth the additional cost to hire someone through a recruiter.

The recruiter may not have a close relationship with the hiring manager. If that’s the case, they won’t have much influence and the recommendations of recruiters the hiring manager does have close relationships with will be considered first.

If you decide to go with using a recruiter, you want to make sure to look at several of them. If you find a really good recruiter, they can be a great job search resource and help you get additional exposure to companies that are hiring. They may best connect you with the right employer, much like a job matchmaker.

However, as said, there’s no discounting what you can accomplish on your own. Generally, your best bet is to use a variety of resources, be proactive and build your own relationships with the hiring managers at your target companies. Doing so ensures that you are top-of-mind when they go to fill the next job opening.

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