Working with Third Party Recruiters (Headhunters)
Written by Josh Roseman

Recruiters sound great in concept -- rather than reading the classifieds and applying for jobs directly, you get to sit back and wait for calls to come in. But that's not the whole truth. In the years MedZilla has been helping people like you find your next great job, we've spoken to and worked with plenty of recruiters, and we've put together this article to answer some of your most-frequently asked questions.

1. I already have a job. Why is a recruiter contacting me?

Headhunters -- who are generally more active than simple recruiters -- primarily look for candidates to fill top-level, desirable positions. If you already have a job like that, they feel they can find you a better one; besides, when they find you a job, they get paid too.

If you are contacted out of the blue, it's probable that the recruiters found your resume on a job board -- one of our writers posted his resume on June 1, and by June 4 he'd gotten ten unsolicited calls. Since you probably posted your resume on several boards the last time you looked for a job, your information is out there.

2. When should I contact a recruiter?

Contact recruiters before you need them. It could take a year or two before the right opportunity arises, so it's wise to develop relationships early. Find out which firms specialize in your industry and job level.

If you're about to change jobs, contact recruiters with whom you've worked, because you already have the relationship built with them and their companies.

3. How do I meet recruiters?

As we've advocated in many of our articles, the best way to open new doors is via networking. If you know someone who is searching for a new job, ask for an introduction to a recruiter. Recruiters are always looking for qualified candidates to add to their internal databases.

If you aren't able to connect with a recruiter via networking, you can always approach them with a low-key, professional resume and letter. Never come across as being overly motivated to change jobs; you want the recruiter to work hard to find you the best opportunity, even if you're willing to take the first job that's offered.

4. How can I be sure my recruiter is trustworthy?

Given the economic situation that arose at the end of the last decade, recruiters have come to realize that they hold a lot of power when it comes to placing candidates. Many companies are choosing to hire employees first as contractors, so that if they don't work out or if the company needs to reorganize or reallocate resources elsewhere, it's easy to let them go. That said, recruiters are also extremely motivated to find you a job where you're happy and successful -- it increases the likelihood you'll use them again.

Generally, recruiters are more trustworthy now than they've been in the past 10-20 years. The advent of the internet and the sheer number of firms means that, once you're a client, you're a valuable asset they don't want to lose.

If you want to check into your recruiter, the best way to do so is to simply run a web search. You'll have to comb through at least a dozen pages of results -- often more -- because the recruitment firm's name will be on a lot of job postings. Seek out anything that sounds troubling to you, because in the end it's you who'll be trusting your information and your reputation to your recruiter. If you feel uncomfortable, choose someone else.

The Better Business Bureau ( also maintains reports on many companies, including recruitment firms. You may have to check the BBB's listing for the firm's home city (for example, you live in Atlanta but the recruiter is based in Chicago).

MedZilla also maintains a list of North American Executive Search Firms. If you need to find a headhunter, these are the most comprehensive, up to date listings available.

5. If I go with a recruiter, do I still have to search on my own?

Yes, for two main reasons. First, while your recruiter is going to seek out jobs for you, she may be limited in how much time she can spend doing general searches, and she may also try to push you in a certain direction because she'll make more money or because her firm has a better relationship with certain companies. Second, you are more motivated than your recruiter to find a new job. He probably has several candidates he's working with, and he also has to keep up with clients he's placed in the past. While he's doing that, you're probably scouring job boards and using all your networking contacts to try and find a new job. It's entirely possible that you find your next great job without the recruiter's help at all.

That said, once you find a job you like, it's worth it to run it by your recruiter; it might be a job she's overlooked or hasn't heard of. However, recruiters are sometimes able to secure higher salaries or additional benefits, and their firm may have professional contacts within your target company that you simply aren't able to exploit.

6. I just graduated college. Will recruiters help me even though I don't have a lot of experience?

In general, recruiters are going to target candidates they are most likely to place, primarily because they get paid when you get paid, and the more you make the more they make. If you're a recent college graduate, you may still receive calls from recruiters.

7. I've been unemployed for a while. Would a recruiter be helpful?

Yes, but do know that recruiters may have difficulty placing you because companies look at long periods of unemployment as your fault, not the fault of the job market. If you lose your job, you may be out of work for six to twelve months, but if you're unemployed for more than a year, companies may look at you and say "what's wrong with this candidate?" Since recruiters put their best candidates out there first, you may not be on that list.

8. A recruiter called me, but I'm not seeking a new job. How should I handle it?

Most likely, you're either being cold-called or your information came up on a job board or social networking site. No matter the reason, be polite and professional, and remember that it never hurts to network with people whose main function is finding you a new job. Even if you're not in the market for a new job, the recruiter might come up with something worth looking into.

If you're not seeking a new job, definitely speak to the recruiter about their firm. Oftentimes they will volunteer this information, but ask whatever questions you have -- including how the recruiter got your name, if he doesn't tell you.

9. What are the odds that a recruiter will find me my next great job?

While we can't quote odds, we can remind you that recruiters aren't just out there to find you a job. When you receive a call from a recruiter asking if you'd like to be submitted for a job, it's likely she's received the requisition from a company with which her firm does business, and as such she'll be motivated to place you there because her relationship with the potential employer is more lucrative for her. This doesn't mean she won't also work hard to get you a good salary.

Recruiters usually aren't able to affect career change. They're most likely to present you jobs that fit your current skill set. That said, they're very responsible to you as the candidate they're presenting to their client. Expect to be prepared and coached for your interviews. Remember, if you get hired, it's a win for both you and the recruiter.

On the other hand, if you feel a recruiter hasn't adequately prepared you, never be afraid to ask for more information.

Keep in mind that some companies do not look at resumes presented by recruiters, so if you only go through recruitment firms, you may miss out on a great job.

10. How do recruiters get paid?

Recruiters are paid when you get hired. They typically earn a percentage of what you're making at the job they found for you -- 10 to 40 percent is a good ballpark figure. The more money you make, the more the recruiter makes, so it's in his best interest to negotiate a higher salary for you. In the negotiating process, recruiters also hold power because companies hire them specifically to weed out bad candidates and make sure only the best ones are presented.

11. A recruiter wants to represent me, but says I have to pay her firm a fee. Should I do it?

No. Recruitment firms that do this will often try to get you to pay for resume tips or interview counseling, but recruiters should do this of their own accord. Because they want to make the best impression on their clients, they should offer to help tailor your resume and coach you on your upcoming interview without charging a fee. If they want you to pay for their services, you should not retain them.

12. How about if a recruiter says I pay a fee when I get hired?

Another no. When you get hired, the recruiter gets paid, and if you're hired for a job that pays well, your recruiter will make a nice paycheck that day. If this isn't disclosed up front and you feel closed-in, use your new contacts at the company where you interviewed -- at the very least you should have a name, and you'll probably have more than one business card -- to ask if they've heard of the recruitment firm engaging in this behavior. It's highly likely they'll say no, and if they really liked your interview, you should be able to continue the process on your own, without the recruiter.

However, if the recruiter is aboveboard, it is extremely bad form to abandon him after you've secured the interview. He got you this far, and if you don't continue working with him, you've wasted his time and his money. Think about how you would feel in his shoes.

13. Should I work exclusively with one recruiter?

You can, but you may miss out on requisitions handled exclusively by other recruiters. No two recruiters have the exact same list of requisitions. A recruiter who tells you you aren't allowed to work with another recruiter at the same time is a recruiter you don't want to be working with.

If you've worked with a recruiter and you're about to change jobs, either voluntarily or not, it is good form to keep that recruiter in the loop, even if you end up taking a job with someone else. Also, some recruiters offer loyalty bonuses -- if you get a second job from the same firm, you might be offered a salary bonus or a small lump sum check (usually no more than $500 and no less than $100). However, this should not deter you from taking a job through a different recruiter if a good one comes along.

When you first post your resume, expect to hear from several recruiters. At the very least, you've just networked with half a dozen people who, at some point, could be very motivated to find you a new job.

14. Do I make my resume available to just any recruiter?

As noted previously, if a recruiter makes you feel uncomfortable when you speak to her, she's not the kind of recruiter you want working on your behalf. However, because of the nature of job seeking -- posting your resume on several sites in hopes of finding a job -- it's likely she got your information not from your online application to a job you want but by seeking resumes that meet a specific skill set.

If you tell a recruiter you don't want to work with her, she'll most likely put you on a "not interested" list and move on. It's not worth her time to try and win you over if you're not interested.

15. Do recruiters need my permission before submitting me for a job?

Technically, no. However, it is extremely bad form for a recruiter to do this and it is extremely rare to find a recruiter who will send your resume to a company without first contacting you. When you are working with a recruiter, expect calls asking if you want to be submitted to a job.

That said, before a recruiter submits you, you should find out as much as you can about the position. It's possible the company has asked they keep their identity private until after they've looked at your resume, but the recruiter should be able to provide a comprehensive job requisition telling you exactly what the company wants, and also explain to you why you would be a good fit.

16. Why do some recruiters ask for references before they've even seen my resume?

This is a bit tricky. If you're asked for references before the recruiter has your resume in hand, the recruiter is probably looking for people to cold-call. And it sometimes works in their favor; when you make a reference list, you naturally put your strongest contacts on it -- managers, directors, and supervisors.

However, recruiters may also want you to provide a reference list because their clients will ask for it and they want to be prepared. Instead of providing one up front, wait for an opportunity to come up and offer references once you've secured your first interview with the company (not the recruitment firm), be it via phone or in person.

Also, whenever you provide a reference list, it's considered courteous to contact your references (an e-mail is enough) to let them know they may be contacted in relation to your job search. Give your references the name of the recruitment firm, and if available, the name of the company to which you're being submitted. If your references tell you they were cold-called, you may want to switch recruiting firms or, at the very least, ask your recruiter why your references were solicited.

17. Why do some recruiters ask where else I have interviewed?

In the past, there have been very few legitimate reasons for this question to be asked -- most of the time, the recruiter was fishing for information. But with the reevaluation of the recruiter's role in the job market, it can be to your benefit to answer the question, if only to make sure you're not submitted more than once to the same requisition. Contrary to what you might think, this doesn't improve your chances. In fact, it's likely to decrease them.

However, recruiters shouldn't ask you where else you have interviewed; they should ask you something like this: "I'd like to submit you to X Company; have you already been submitted there?"

According to Dan Fisher, a health care recruiter with Apple Connections, recruiters also ask this question for their own benefit -- for example, if you're very close to taking an offer with one company, "that tells me whether or not it's a good time to be applying for other positions." Additionally, Fisher said there are companies with which recruiters refuse to do business for legitimate reasons, and if you've been submitted to one of these companies, you may be able to get more information about the recruitment firm's concerns. It's entirely possible that the company that seems so wonderful on the surface has treated employees poorly in the past -- something you'd definitely want to know.

That said, if you feel uncomfortable volunteering more information than "yes, I've already been submitted to X Company", then don't.

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