Executive recruiters can be great allies in a job search. However, those who choose to rely
on them often find they wasted a lot of time in their job search. It’s important to understand
who recruiters are and how they work so that you can have a mutually-beneficial
1) Understand That They Aren’t Working For You
A recruiter might be a great human being and care deeply about matching you with a good
job. But you need to know that recruiters get paid by the company, not you. That’s a good
thing for your bank account, but it also means their ultimate responsibility is to the
company who pays the fees, not to you. Sure, good recruiters strive to make everybody
happy. But most of the time, they will not actively market you. If they can match you with a
job order from a company, they’ll do that. But they won’t be looking out for you beyond
that. The exception is when someone has a rare skill set for which there is a big demand.
2) Find Out if You’re a Viable Candidate
Companies pay executive recruiters a hefty fee, somewhere around a fifth to a third of the
candidate’s salary in their first year on the job. Companies only part with that kind of dough
for people with very specific skills and backgrounds. They usually want top performers who
have a stable work history in their industry. They’re looking for a tiny percentage of the
available candidates, which means most of us are not what they’re looking for.
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that you’re not talented or that you’re not a great
employee. There may well be lots of employers who would love to hire you. But recruiters may not be the vehicle that will take you to that great job.
Here’s a quick example to illustrate. A client from Glencoe (we’ll call him James) was an
outstanding executive—a true top performer. But he was laid off when the bottom dropped
out of the market in his industry. He decided to change industries, and was confident that
recruiters would find him a great job as they had in the past. James spent ten weeks
waiting around for calls from recruiters. Those calls never came. Finally, he got one of the
recruiters on the phone to ask why no one was presenting him. The recruiter said, “You
don’t have any experience in this industry. I would lose credibility with my client companies
if I presented you.” James wised up, found a career coach to learn how to approach
employers directly, and soon was hired into another great job.
Do include recruiters in your job search plan, assuming they see you as a qualified
candidate. Research to find the best recruiters.
3) Don’t Treat Your Recruiter Like a Career Coach
If you’re confused about what to do next in your career, don’t talk to a recruiter about it.
Sure, some recruiters will help you because they’re good people, but as I’ve said, it’s not
their job to resolve your career issues. Their job is to find highly-qualified candidates who
are eager to help them fill job orders.
Generally speaking, if you need coaching on your resume, LinkedIn profile, or verbal
presentation, you should use a career coach. Some recruiters do help with these things, but
you’re usually better off having a coach who is responsible to you.
4) Be aware that there are different kinds of recruiters.
All recruiters are not alike.
Employers hire Retained Recruiters
to find top candidates. These recruiters are
guaranteed payment for finding candidates. They generally deal with searches in the
$100,000 to $500,000 and up range.
A Contingency Recruiter generally
works with searches for positions ranging from
$50,000 to $100,000 range. Their compensation is not assured. They may put in a lot of
hard work and walk away with nothing for their efforts because employers only pay them if
and when they hire a candidate that recruiter has presented.
While contingency recruiters can be very helpful, there are pitfalls. First, you don’t want to
get caught in a tug of war between two or (shudder) more than two contingency recruiters,
with each claiming the fee for hiring you. A client from Highland Park lost a job because of a
very ugly and unprofessional spat between two recruiters who both claimed her. The
employer decided to steer clear and hired someone else.
If you’re after a job at a larger company, the fee paid to the contingency recruiter will
generally not impact the hiring budget. But, if you’re talking to a small- or medium-sized
company, being represented by a contingency recruiter may put you at a disadvantage. The
employer may think, “If I hire a candidate who found me without using a recruiter, I can
save that big recruiter fee.”
What does this mean for you? Be sure to ask if the recruiter is working on a retained or
contingency basis. Some recruiters do both retained and contingency. If you find the
recruiter is working on a contingency basis, be clear about which positions you’ve found on
your own and which the recruiter has found on your behalf.
A third type of recruiter works in staffing companies.
Their job is not to find the cream of
the crop, but rather to find people who are good, competent workers. IT is just one area
where these recruiters often work. They’ll hire when a company wants a number of workers
for a few months or so.
Lastly, corporate recruiters
work to find employees to present for internal jobs within the
company where they work.
5) Be sure your self-preparation is top notch.
You can’t rely on the recruiter to do it all for you. You have to first impress the recruiter and
then the employer. If you can’t speak powerfully about yourself or your resume is mediocre,
you’re not going to get the job.
6) Introduce yourself
It’s helpful to make a crisp introduction by phone that will make a clear and memorable
impression. Since they get a lot of phone calls, be patient and persistent to get through.
When you reach the recruiter, ask what kind of interactions they prefer. You don’t want to
be a pest, but the recruiter may appreciate a call every so often to let him/her know you’re
7) LinkedIn Deserves Special Attention
LinkedIn has become the recruiter’s bread and butter. Many spend much of their day
searching for candidates on LinkedIn. If you don’t have a great profile, you’ll get passed
over. Cutting and pasting your resume into LinkedIn is just not good practice. You should
spend twice as much time crafting your LinkedIn profile as you did for your resume. If you
don’t know what you’re doing, hire someone who does.
8) Be Your Own Recruiter
A job search is too important to delegate to recruiters—unless you’re happily employed, but
open to new opportunities. You must be in the driver’s seat in your search. Talk to recruiters
and get their help, but don’t rely on them. You should be your own recruiter, beating the
bushes for opportunities with an effective networking campaign. This is especially the case
in a tight job market when employers find top candidates knocking on their doors without
having to pay recruiters.
Don’t neglect direct approaches to hiring decision makers, direct mail approaches,
networking approaches, ads, postings, and so on. Think about where you would like to work
and connect with people at those companies. This is a better approach than waiting for a
recruiter to contact you, and hoping you’ll like the company who is hiring. You can also tap
into the hidden job market—finding opportunities before they are advertised and those that
never will be.
An anecdote from one of our clients
A client from Evanston recently struck gold in the hidden job market while networking with
a vice president at a large corporation in his area. The VP spotted some experience on our
client’s resume that intrigued him. In a recent job, our client had managed a certain type of
program. The VP said, “We’ve never had a program like that here. I think it would be a
great idea. Do you think you could start one?”
Our client gave an enthusiastic, “yes!” There was zero competition for that job.
Take responsibility for your own job search. What happens to you and your career is much
more important to you than to someone else.
Steve Frederick and Jack Chapman have been helping people find fulfilling work with great
compensation for over 20 years. Call us 847-673-0339 or send an EMAIL