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 years ago).

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 to you).

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 business.

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 that.

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 deal breakers.

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 client.

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 them.

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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