Conventional Wisdom FAQ (Third Party Recruiters)
Q. I've just received my B.A. in X. Can you recommend a good headhunter?
In general, third party recruiters (headhunters) do not handle entry-level
candidates (e.g., recent graduates) because their clients (employees) are
not willing to pay fees for such candidates. Unless you already have several
years of working experience, you should contact potential employers directly
or use your college's placement office (see question Q-1.1). Very rarely
temporary shortages of candidates cause recruiters to handle recent
graduates in very specific fields (for example, physical therapists a few
Likewise, many recruiters are unwilling to work with candidates who are
currently unemployed. Unemployed candidates look less desirable to the
clients. They are also likely to send their resumes to other recruiters and
directly to potential employees. They prefer to place currently employed
candidates who leave one job to take on another.
Q. How do I handle an unsolicited call from a headhunter?
Your name could have been passed on to the recruiter by an associate, a
co-worker, a client, or (rarely) by your employers (as a subtle hint that
you should be looking for another job). Most likely, it's a blind call.
Be polite. You may love your job today and have no interest in making
a change, but your situation may change radically tomorrow. The recruiter
you hang up on today may have the job of your dreams tomorrow but may prefer
to work with a more congenial candidate.
Trust your gut. If you don't like or don't trust the recruiter, don't work
with the firm. Ask yourself if you want to be represented to others by a
person like this.
If you might be interested in the position, ask:
"Why is this position open?" (i.e., is it a new line, or did someone leave?)
"Why is the company not hiring from within?"
If you are not interested in the position, but know someone who might be,
offer to have that person contact the recruiter. Don't give other people's
phone numbers to recruiters without their permission (even if others do this
Don't take it personally if the recruiter refuses to reveal the company's
name during the initial phone call. They probably will if you meet for an
interview. You can ask questions around the company's identity:
"How long has it been in business?" "How large is it?"
If the position might be of interest, take the recruiter phone number and
call back later. You need time to reflect on the job description and to
frame good questions.
If you are invited for a lunch or dinner meeting, the recruiter pays. Don't
offer to take the check.
Remember that a recruiter's time is money. Don't call to chat unless you
are in the midst of an active search, you have a major change or achievement
to report about your career, you are changing jobs, or you can refer
Some markets and some cities are resistant to recruiter fees, and you will
find your candidacy seriously prejudiced if your resume is accompanied by a
multi-thousand dollar fee.
Q. Can a third party recruiter find me a job of my dreams?
Remember who pays them. Professional level search is employer fee paid.
Third party recruiters are hired by an employer to help fill a position.
They get requirements from employers, then find candidates to match these
reqs. They are much less effective at the reverse (finding a position to
march a candidate). If a recruiter doesn't have a req that matches your
qualifications, there's not much s/he can do for you at this time. They do
not work for the job seeker. It is not recruiter's job to find you a job.
The employer is paying the fee, and the recruiter represents the employer.
A recruiter cannot affect a career change. The job that the recruiter finds
for you is likely to be similar to your last job. Their clients are looking
for someone to do a particular job, and the ideal candidate should begin
productive work after the minimal training. For example, in the legal
marketplace, while it is perfectly possible to make a change from litigator
to transactional attorney, no client will pay a recruiter for you to do
A professional recruiter is very responsible to the job candidate s/he is
presenting to a client. If the candidate is not properly prepared and
coached, everyone loses. A good recruiter can smooth the the interview and
hiring process, assist in negotiations, and prevent problems from becoming
Dealing with an unprofessional recruiter can be very unpleasant and even
harmful for the candidate.
Q. What is the difference between "contingency" and "retainer" recruiters?
Some recruiters are hired by companies on retainer, and they usually paid
for their efforts regardless of whether a candidate is hired through the
efforts of the search firm. Usually retained firms are used for high level
searches or when confidentiality is essential. Retained firms use a "rifle"
approach, doing lots of prescreening of candidates in a effort to select a
few that are most likely to make a direct hit with the specific needs of the
Many recruiters work on contingency; they are paid only if their candidate
is hired. These firms tend to use more of a "shotgun approach", sending out
lots of resumes in the hopes of getting a hit.
Q. How are recruiters paid by their clients?
Recruiters typically earn between 20%-33% of starting salary. Thus, it's in
the recruiter's interest to negotiate the highest possible salary. This
sounds like a lot, but many companies are willing to pay it to save the cost
of reviewing thousands of "wrong" resumes and spending hundreds of
management hours meeting with the "wrong" candidates.
Often, there is a guarantee period, typically 30 days. If the new employee
doesn't work out for whatever reason, the employer gets all or part of their
fee back, depending on the contract. A good recruiter will work hard to
replace a "faulty hire" -- in that case the fee is kept.
Many companies refuse to pay 3rd party recruiters and only hire directly. If
you only distribute your resume through recruiters, you will not be hired by
Q. What about firms that charge the job seeker a fee?
Former clients of such services often flame them on Usenet. A typical
complaint goes, "For a $2000, I received some banal resume tips [similar to
this FAQ] and a list of companies to send my resume to [available for free
from a public library]." Usually, the client receives some counselling for
the money, but the information could be had much cheaper from the Internet
or a public library. For referrals, you may contact the National Board for
Certified Counselors at +1-800-398-5389.
One can also find free or low-cost counseling at a local YMCA/YWCA, college
career center, public library, or a state employment development department.
Q. What about firms that charge the job seeker a fee only if s/he is placed?
Many of these "employment services" do place candidates, since otherwise
they don't get paid. Services that charge a percentage of the starting
salary also have an interest in finding you a better paying job. Employment
services typically broadcast your resume to their extensive list of contacts
(who usually junk them) and cold-call hiring managers on the phone (such
telemarketing is often resented). Agencies are more interested in making
placements than in seeing to it that applicants land jobs that are really
fulfilling. An agency is likely to put pressure on its applicants to accept
a job that they don't really want just so it can collect its fee. Beware of
services that charge a separate flat fee (e.g., an inflated fee for resume
preparation) and a small fee contingent on placement, which may never come.
Q. What about firm that say they're employer-paid, but try to get money
from the candidate anyway?
Typically, a firm promises to set the candidate up for an interview, but
asks for a "collateral" in the event she doesn't show up. This is a scam.
Other scams include selling excerpts from the directories mentioned above
at exorbitant prices, charging candidates for e-mailing them job reqs
available for free on the Internet, charging candidates $40 and more to have
their resumes posted to misc.jobs.resumes, etc. Desperate jobseekers make
perfect victims for scam artists. Beware.
Q. Should I work exclusively with one recruiter?
You can, but you will miss out on reqs handled exclusively by other
recruiters. No two recruiters are working with the same set of reqs.
Especially avoid any recruiter who discourages job seekers from making
vigorous efforts on their own behalf.
Q. Do I make my resume available to just any recruiter?
Don't send your resume to a firm unless you've had a minimum of a personal
recommendation to it, and, preferably, a conversation with one of the people
who would handle your resume. The key question: "Do I want to be represented
by a person like this?" If possible, check out references from clients of
the firm (employers). The goal is to find the firms which are highly
respected in the industries or functions in which they specialize.
Q. Must the recruiter get my permission before submitting my resume?
Demand that they contact you for permission before forwarding your resume to
any specific company. Get details about the particular position before you
give your permission. You want to know what they're doing for you at all
times. Don't use one that hesitates about this.
Q. Why do some recruiters request a list of references as soon as they
receive my resume and before they identify any possible reqs for me?
They probably want to contact your references (many of whom are probably
hiring managers) and ask whether they're looking to hire anyone. Your
references are likely to be annoyed by such telemarketing. You owe it to
them to demand they they not be contacted until you are seriously considered
for a position.
Q. Why do some recruiters ask where else I have interviewed?
There is no legitimate reason for a recruiter to ask this question from a
candidate. If a recruiter doesn't want to submit the candidate's resume to
someone who already has it from you or other recruiters, s/he'll ask: "Where
was your resume already submitted?" Since this list may be long, s/he's even
likely to ask just: "I'd like to submit your resume to X; has anyone
submitted there yet?"
An honest recruiter is unlikely to post this question. If the candidate
answers this question, "I've interviewed at X", a dishonest recruiter is
likely to submit to X the resumes of other candidates with similar
qualifications. The usual follow-up question is, "Did you interview with
?" The gullible candidate responds, "No, I interviewed with
," giving the dishonest recruiter not only the name of
the company, but also the person to address the other resumes to.
Q. Why do some recruiters seem to try to accumulate a lot of resumes
from candidates they have no interest in placing?
Some recruiters, especially new in the business, want to accumulate large
portfolios of resumes to show potential clients. Even if none of the
candidates are of the caliber usually hired through recruiters, they hope to
impress the h.r. people by the sheer number of resumes, so in the future
they will receive the new reqs, or may even be hired on retainer.
Q. How do I find some third party recruiters?
Ask your colleagues who have been placed by recruiters, or check out MedZilla's List of Recruiters.
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