Job-Hunting Strategies for Working with Recruiters

Article excerpt

You've made your mind up: you are going to leave your employer. Or maybe your mind has been made up for you: you've been fired or laid off. Your first impulse is to pick up the phone to call the recruiter who helped you a few years ago. Executive recruiters are an important part of any job search, but there are some strategies to make yourself as attractove as possible to potential employers and protect yourself from unscrupulous "headhunters."

Many professionals, at virtually every level, place their entire trust and future with one executive recruiter. There are serious flaws to this kind of thinking. Executive recruiters are paid by the company or organization for which they recruit. They work for their clients, not you. Even under the most conservative ethical code, they owe you nothing more than honesty.

But let's assume your recruiter does have an interest in your well-being. Why limit your contracts to one recruiter? You are not indebted to the recruiter at the early stages of a search.

There are some excellent ethical recruiters who specialize in placing public relations practitioners. But once you contract the recruiters, or they contact you, it gets very murky. You hear the recruiter is working on a search for which you are perfect, but he won't return your call. Another tells you that their firm has the perfect job for you, and is certain his client will want to see you. But the recruiter never calls back. A third sends you on an interview for which you seem entirely unqualified. It's natural to ask, "What's going on here?"

Search methods affect candidates

If you understand the executive search business, the picture starts becoming a bit clearer. There are two ways search firms make money. In a contingency search, the recruiter only gets paid if the candidate presented by the search firm is hired. If the employer hires from within, finds a candidate that was not mentioned by the search firm, or decides not to hire, the recruiter does not get paid. Think of the contingency searcher as a real estate sales person: no deal, no cash.

A recruiter doing a retained search will be paid whether the agency or the client finds the candidate, or even if the company hires no one. The retained recruiter will serve in more of an advisory role in a search, because the compensation is not directly affected by the final decision.

Both methods generally net the recruiting firm a fee of about 30% of the candidate's annual salary. Ethical recruiters say they can't claim a fee unless they initiate their action on a genuine order from a client, have negotiated a fee before the placement and coordinated a meeting between the employer and candidate.

At first glance, a recruiter's method of remuneration seems of little interest, but when you think through the ramifications for the job hunter, it makes a difference.

Let's say a contingency firm presents you for an opening, and it comes to a dead heat between you and someone with equally impressive credentials. The other candidate introduced herself to the potential employer, but you have been "presented" by a contingency recruiter. The 30% cost differential might make a difference.

On the other hand, a retained recruiter will help a client compare you and the other candidate more objectively. The retained recruiter may have some desire to have "found" the winning candidate for the client and demonstrate his knowledge of the field, but more likely he just wants his client to get the best person for the job.

Don't avoid contingency recruiters entirely. The most valuable thing every recruiter has is access to potential employers. They work hard at this, and they deserve their fees when they present good candidates to their clients. In addition, they are aware of hiring trends in terms of job levels and specialties.

Good recruiters, contingency or retained, can offer you valuable insights into what their clients are like, and what they are looking for. …