The Truth About How Recruiters Really Work

How recruiters really work

You have a kick ass resume and ready to start your job search. Some people tell you to contact recruiters; they’ll help you find a job. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered though, it’s that most people HATE recruiters. Look at all the angry comments at the end of this post.

When people think of Recruiters, they think of agents. When they think of agents, they think of someone like Ari Gold – the crazy, fast-talking agent on Entourage.

This misconception is what causes so many job seekers not to trust recruiters. In order to appreciate them, you have to understand exactly how they fit into a your job search strategy. Here’s the truth about how recruiters really work and the best ways you can partner with them.

Let’s clarify one thing first though, there is a difference between in-house recruiters and agency recruiters. In-house corporate recruiters are employed by a company and they’re part of their Human Resources department.

We’ll focus on agency recruiters here though.

Recruiters and Headhunters are not your agents

They don’t actually work for you.

They work for their clients, and as much as you would like to think you are their client, unfortunately you are not. Their clients are companies who need their help filling a job opening. One of the reasons recruiters get such a bad rap is because of the misconception that a recruiter’s job is to find job seekers jobs.

A recruiter’s job is to find the best candidate for their client – the company who will pay them.

While we’re on the topic of money, here’s how recruitment agencies work

Agencies get hired by companies. Although some agencies are retained, most work on a contingency basis, which means that they only get paid  (about 15 – 30% of the successful candidate’s base salary) if they find the perfect candidate for the job.

If they don’t find a candidate for the job, they get zilch. It’s not uncommon for a Recruiter to work on a position for weeks even months and end up with nothing.

So speed is the name of the game. Because they’re competing with other agencies, the first one to present the top candidate’s awesome resume is the only one who gets paid.

Now do you see why recruiters don’t work for the job seeker?

It’s not because they don’t like you, but they simply don’t have the time to target their search to jobs specifically for job seekers.

The responsibility to find a job is all yours, you’re the only one who can make your job search a priority. Recruiters simply facilitate the process by introducing you and preparing you to meet their clients.

While recruiters can add value to your job search, you have to have realistic expectations about how to work with them. Basically, recruiters can not be your only strategy to finding a job.

Now that we got that out of the way,  let’s talk about  the positives –  how you can work with recruiters.

Make it easy for recruiters to work with you

1) Take their calls

If a recruiter calls you at work in the middle of a hectic day and you’re thinking long-term, you’ll ask for their number and call them back at a more suitable time. Many will be happy to talk to you outside of work hours.

If you get annoyed and slam the phone down, you may have just missed out on your dream job opportunity or the chance to create a relationship with the recruiter.

You never know when an interesting opportunity may come along and for this reason, it’s important to have a well-written AND current resume at all times.

Download free resume writing guide

2) Be honest 

As a recruiter, there’s nothing that annoys me more than working with a candidate who’s not telling the truth. I’ve worked with candidates who weren’t honest about what they do at their current job, the fact that they’re now unemployed or that they recently got a new job, but don’t like it enough to disclose this.

The truth always comes out through reference checks or employment background checks, which most employers require these days.

Being dishonest means you’ve ruined that relationship. Guess who they’re not calling next time they have an awesome job? Recruiters from different agencies also talk to one another, especially in specific industries so starting fresh with another agency isn’t always an option.

3) Stay in touch but don’t turn into a stalker

Whether or not a position they presented to you works out, it’s always a great idea to stay in touch with recruiters. Building a solid network is important for career growth.

But there’s a fine line between staying in touch and turning into a stalker. Calling every two days to inquire whether or not there is an opportunity for you doesn’t make you look enthusiastic, it’s overkill. Don’t sound desperate.

4) Create a relationship BEFORE you need them

I can’t stress this one enough.

Waiting until you’re unemployed to connect with a recruiter is a mistake. Recruiters prefer to work with candidates who are employed or very recently unemployed. You can’t build relationships with every recruiter that calls you, but pick a few and make sure you stay on their radar.

Treat recruiters well before you need them and they will treat you like gold when you need them.

5) Make sure you’re really ready to make a move

Don’t be one of those people who goes through interviewing and getting an offer from another company just to take it back to your current company in order to get a raise. It will not work in your favor. Accepting a counter offer is possibly the worst thing you can do for your career.

Like every profession, there are great recruiters and not so great ones. The key is to create a relationship with one that is best for your needs. Working with recruiters is a great way to get access to the hidden job market, but it’s important to diversify your job hunting strategies and take charge of your own job search.

How was your last experience working with a recruiter?
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  • Head-hunters, that is an interesting term. The problem I have with these people, is many jobs they fill are not from candidates who are actually looking. They go into companies and “poach” people from other companies.

    They are also always on the hunt for new candidates and clients. I have had requests from head-hunters through LinkedIn. Not to help me find work, but to have access to my contact list. Then they contact people through my profile looking for clients. I find this a sleazy way to do business.

    As you stated, they work for the client, trying to get a warm body in front of the client as quickly as possible. With little regard for the candidate or their actual fit for the role. It is a numbers game with them. If they present enough people (qualified or not), eventually some will get hired. I have been sent on job interviews where the agency sold me a very different story about the role and the company. Once I got there, it was nothing like they told me. Wasting my time and the companies and adding no value to anyone.

    An interesting stat would be to look at the length a person stays with a company if they find the job on their own, or get the job through an agency. Prove me wrong that they work with the cadidates best career interests in mind.

    Bryan Schaefer 22.05.2013
    • Thanks for your comment Bryan. You’ve expressed the frustrations of so many active and passive job seekers working with Headhunters who are not thorough. Although they work for the companies, a good Headhunter will take the time to understand the needs of their candidate (the job seeker). A great Headhunter will make both their clients and candidates happy. Those are the ones you want to work with.

      CareerGoods 24.05.2013
    • Interesting point, but i would venture a guess, that its not stacking warm bodies(resumes) in front of recruiter and seeing what sticks. It is getting a feeling for the company/department culture and trying to get an employee that aligns with that. A good recruiter hopefully can make their client’s job easier by selecting a few great candidates. Easier said than done of course.

      howard koor 20.02.2017
  • […] to do with you or your performance. Don’t walk away and mope. Don’t get angry and call a headhunter because you’re mad you didn’t get a raise. Instead, look at this as an […]

  • I am perplexed as to exactly what Headhunters do that technology on web doesn’t. I speak to a headhunter about my background, and they have no clue what I can do with them. I explain the various areas I have done work in, my Masters degree, and industry experience and they have no clue. I have seen a number tell me to check their company’s job postings. If the process is going to look like just using, what are they needed for?

    Rich 14.09.2013
    • Rich, I understand your frustration. The key is to work with recruiters who specialize in your industry. They will not only understand what you do, but also have the right contacts to help you. If you have to explain and re-explain your background, these are not the right recruiters for you.

      Good Headhunters who have access to the hidden job market and will present you with jobs that aren’t even advertised. Job sites like indeed can’t compete with these types of Headhunters. This works best when the Headhunter contacts you, which is the reason you should create a relationship with a them before you need them.

      When they contact you, they have done their research on you and are usually presenting you with a job that is related to what you’re doing or ideal for your skill set.

      CareerGoods 26.09.2013
      • You brought a very good point here. I’ve been working in computer programming for several years and I endorse the fact that any professional – who’s proficient in a specific field like Rich – should aim for recruiters [or headhunters] who specialize in same industry. This is pretty logic and I can hardly see how any non compatible combination could be profitable for both parties in the end.
        I will say that – in a somehow non regulated overcrowded recruiting business landscape – those rare pearls are getting a bit harder to find as we often see many fakes and pretenders coming in the scene. Those create more of a foggy abstraction layer and give a bad image about what recruiters should be in first place. It’s a sad but too often true reality.
        The essential key here is all about communication. This is a crucial asset which therefore should leave no room for improvisation. If I spend precious time writing a concise and accurate resume focusing my main goals, my project accomplishment and fields of expertise, then I hope a recruiter should be able to translate those main key elements in a professional efficient manner. He or she should then be able to take advantage of those informations when aiming at the potential interested target client. It’s all about strategy and as I said, this task should leave no room for improvisation.

        PeteZaria 16.04.2015
        • Well said!

          howard koor 20.02.2017
  • As a recruiter I have to say– Thank You!

    You said everything I was thinking.

    Recruiters are a tool. They are not the end all of how to get a job– and we don’t always know everything about what you do. Keep in mind how many different types of jobs we are doing searches for.

    Amber 07.04.2014
  • Here is a good one; I waited months with one recruiter for a position, only to get the same position in less than a week from another recruiting agency.

    Snoglydox 28.08.2014
  • I view recruiters as a “bottle neck” of employment.
    They are paid by employers to “please them”. And that
    means they only send them candidates “they feel” are
    qualified. Problem is…..recruiters as a whole are not
    always a good judge of what is and isn’t qualified.
    They will for instance hire a 20 year old kid from McDonald’s
    to work in a mill….doing hot and heavy work, before they
    will consider a man of 50 who has already had mill experience.
    The kids friends throw a party and he quits to enjoy himself.
    While the 50 year old man with a family has his unemployment
    benefits run out. There is more to a job and job candidate
    than being young. But I think this is the younger generations
    blindside. They still believe “what looks good is good”.
    Problem is….today’s younger generation has no self discipline.
    No staying power.

    Bottom line……you need to fill the need of the EMPLOYEE as well
    as the employer. Stop being greedy schmucks!
    We ALL have to work…..young and old.

    m 07.03.2015
    • I agree with a lot of what you say, however how about not tarring all younger people with the same brush? Generalizing an entire generation is not professional. I am sure someone from your generation treated me poorly at some point, but do I hold it against millions of others? NO.

      I am late 20-early 30 with a child and have been looking for a job for a while. Its not always about age. Its a crap market, lots of people are looking for work.

      You are not doing yourself any favours by being hostile towards younger people.

      Good luck on your job search.

      Lovely Rita 23.03.2016
  • […] when I told you headhunters prefer working with people who have jobs? There are a few reasons it’s in your benefit to look for a job when you’re […]

  • The majority of recruiters don’t know how to do their job and they contact people indiscriminately to meet quotas. Recruiters should almost never be trusted. They usually don’t understand the job that they’re “recruiting” for and they are mostly incompetent and greedy. I no longer accept solicitations from these dubious people. I do my research and contact hiring managers directly. This yields better relationships and better results. All recruiters should honestly be fired.

    Tim 05.07.2015
    • An awful generalisation on your end – sorry you have encountered such poor recruiters, perhaps you reside in the UK? Sadly this image seems to be a norm.

      For the future, just select which headhunter/recruiter you wish you talk to… ask him questions (see if he or she is knowledgable on the subject matter) – good way to test if they know the market, your profile, expertise. If you notice anything unusual, just hang up, done.. not wasting anybodies time. Seems like you have put all your hope in the hands of poor recruiters, perhaps gullible is the right word to use here – so instead of putting all your blame on recruiters, perhaps you may have also rushed to the chase too quickly?

      Knowing your market, access to clients, exclusive assignments, and above all consideration towards the candidates interest (that means informing them if their application has been passed.. 90% just don’t do this) – is how you should recruit. Simple..

      I and a few other recruiters I know, are only focused on a small niche markets.. In niche markets, where there is a lack of talent, high-profile positions, recruitment is necessary, and a tough job nonetheless.. sad to see people bash those who really strive hard to make the industry a positive one.

      I work as a blockchain recruiter, run my own department and only deal with blockchain clients (who care about the tech). There is an incredible lack of talent, and it is a tough job to say the least, but rewarding to see professionals follow their ambitions, promoting long-term prospects and positions over the typical dog-race war of contract work – where contractors simply bounce from one project to the other when things don’t seem to be working so well, and recruiters looking to send CVs as quick as possible. Yes, perhaps this is the greedy side of recruitment.

      A good recruiter, represents the company, the vision, if he or she choses to work for a particular client, it should be based on the quality and potential behind that clients vision. Simply trying to meet quotas will get you nowhere. Good companies only chose to work with those who care about their interests as well as the interest of the candidate (why hire a shitty recruiter to represent your company poorly) – c’mon its not rocket science.

      Just like any job, you get paid for your time and effort, and regrettably some people just exploit this, as in many other sectors, jobs.

      Your comment should be fired for its lack of logical reasoning, and your overly emotional bashing.

      Lucas 11.04.2017
  • […] They need to work fast in order to get paid. So you need to make it easy for the recruiter to connect you with the right company. explained the details of working with a recruiter in their article, “The Truth About How Recruiters Really Work.” […]

  • Recruitment industry changes everyday, there are some bad and good recruitment agencies in the market. some have good experience with them some have bad and in order to make the industry more transparent we need to find the solution that work for both job seeker and job hunters so that everyone can get benefit from it.

    Recfluence is the review platform that allows the job-seeker to find the good recruitment agencies which can help him to find desire job that he is actually looking for. Also the recruitment agencies create a powerful reputation based upon applicant review on this platform.

    Carla Houston 02.02.2016
  • In 8 years as a software developer, I’ve never had a positive experience with a 3rd party recruiter. It’s always a waste of time on the phone, talking about my dream job, going over my previous positions, why did I leave each one, and one even wanted to know what I did before I started programming. And then they want to meet face-to-face. So you waste gas and time driving across town or, if you’re lucky, down to the nearest Starbucks where he or she will make some small talk or go over the same crap you went over on the phone. They’ll tell you how they’ve placed people there before and how you look like a great fit for the job. It’s all lies to pump you up and get you excited.

    The response to criticism like this is to say that I’ve only worked with the bad recruiters and not the good ones. But just like when socialism and agile methodologies don’t work out, they say you just didn’t implement them correctly. It’s all just more BS to keep other people making money off of you.

    Kirk 07.04.2016
  • Nice perspective! This should be spoken rule when one utilizes an agency for a position. Nothing is personal, it’s all about the right fit for the company which in turn will benefit the candidate.

    Amanda 14.04.2016
  • Ugh… Had a horrible experience with a recruiter today. He was 10 minutes late to the interview, he did not look at my resume that I had sent to his assistant (nor did he have a copy), and within 10 minutes into the interview he started ragging on the marketplace that I spent 20 years working in. It just went downhill from there. He put his phone on the table and kept looking at his text messages throughout the interview. He seemed completely disinterested as I told him my career history and just seemed like he could not wait to get to his next appointment. He asked me if I could tell him 3 other professionals in my field that influenced me. While he asked this questioned, he proceeded to tell me that he knew a lot of the names that people threw out when he asked this question and this question was usually the one that would give him insight if the person he was interviewing was legit or not… I don’t know. I just came away completely deflated and upset like I did something wrong. Just a real bummer…

    ** 15.04.2016
  • After seeing the same jobs posted by multiple, often geographically dispersed recruiters, I’m wondering whether employers actually “hire” specific recruiting companies, or if opportunities are posted somewhere, like an RFP, and any recruiter anywhere or anyone trying to get into the recruiting business can take their best shot.

    Ellen 22.07.2016
    • I have wondered the same thing.

      howard koor 20.02.2017
  • I really don’t see any point to use “recruiters” in this information era. When I first time worked with them, which was in the mid 90’s, I get it why they could be useful. But now we all have access to internet – frankly the candidates can simply apply directly through business website. Additionally the premium it imposes on clients often does not help either party. It still wonders me to see that this industry has not disappeared all together; rather, the industry seems to be over-saturated and is thriving. If business understands that it needs to pay hefty placement fee to a recruiter, naturally business increases its expectations of the prospective candidate since her or she is more costly (though the fee is likely part of the candidate’s compensation).
    Having said that I think recruiters can be useful for contract assignments or the roles that requires very specific skills/talent pool is scarce.
    Finally have you noticed most junior recruiters who contact a prospective candidate is usually naive young rather fresh-out of school kid, who has little industry knowledge – after all, this is just another sale job.

    Reader 16.08.2016
  • This is the truth “Recruiters and Headhunters are not your agents”. People think that we recruiters are their personal agents. We help our clients get the right person for the company.

    James 06.01.2017
  • I especially like the advice to stay in touch with the recruiters that you were working with. Great ways to do this would be to connect on social media sites. That way, you can have a ready channel for when you want to reach out to them.

    Trayson Evans 18.01.2017
  • Recruitment agencies live and breath BS. They have to in order to survive. While masquerading as industry experts that enthusiastically find people jobs, they in fact capitalise on the misfortunes and desperation of people seeking work while simultaneously acting as sycophantic servants for their clientele: the companies who can’t be bothered recruiting for their own business and hire these clowns of style but no substance to do this for them.
    The UK job market is seemingly dominated by these inexperienced, glorified blag artists who do nothing for their candidates but consistently deliver false hope and disappointment. To them, the job hunter is just another name to their ever-expanding data base. He is of no value to the recruitment consultant, especially if he is a graduate. Recruitment people treat their registered job hunters like mushrooms: they feed them shit and keep them in the dark.

    Dave 21.03.2017
  • […] They need to work fast in order to get paid. So you need to make it easy for the recruiter to connect you with the right company. explained the details of working with a recruiter in their article, “The Truth About How Recruiters Really Work.” […]

  • Most recruiters I’ve encountered have little experience to draw from, to understand how to fill job positions. They also want references right away, so they can call up those references to get job leads. Don’t ever give a recruiter your references until he has sent you on an actual job interview! Guard your references like crazy. Don’t just give them to anyone.

    Also, anyone can become a job recruiter. All you need is a computer and a working phone. This is sadly the reason why there are so many unqualified recruiters out there, who know nothing about jobs they are attempting to place people in. There are no training or skills required to become a recruiter, so is it any surprise they themselves don’t understand the job skills required for most positions?

    JanetMorell 08.11.2017
  • […] hope I haven’t given you yet another reason to hate recruiters, as the comments on this post show… […]

  • […] your resume is to sell your experience. This does not mean that you need a 6-page resume that bore recruiters and hiring managers to tears. Make decisions on what to include, exclude, highlight and downplay […]

  • […] Resumes mistakes are fun to read… when it’s not your own. Make sure you review your resume a few times before you apply to your next job. Recruiters shouldn’t disqualify someone for a simple resume mistake, but I’ve seen quite a few recruiters who are that critical. […]

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