Working with Recruiters: Why Shouldn’t I Just Go It Alone?

The job search process can feel a lot like dating sometimes. You look online, reach out to friends, go to places where you think you’ll meet just the right new partner, arrange a date, dress up, and try to make an amazing impression on your first meeting. Sometimes you feel that spark right away, and sometimes you wish you had looked more closely at their profile. Other times, you can have a great connection and then never hear from them again.

Wouldn’t you want a professional to help navigate the process?

Think of recruiters as job search professionals. They know all the tips, tricks, and have just the right amount of intuition to make a great connection. They also know that the job search process can be a hard, vulnerable place and they can add some humanity and empathy back into your search. They’re here to help, if they can.

So what do recruiters actually do?

Third-party agency recruiters (versus internal corporate recruiters) are hired by companies to understand their long-term objectives, to save them time and money by narrowing the choices to a few top contenders, and to help them avoid mis-hires. They source, screen, and connect companies to great talent.

A good recruiter will also understand a candidate’s career goals, background, motivations, and intangible needs. They can look past resumes and job descriptions and bring common sense, expertise, and a human touch to the job search process.

Like any profession, there are some recruiters that perpetuate a lot of negative stereotypes such as never following up or sending over roles that are clearly not a match. Anyone can call themselves a recruiter without necessarily having the knowledge of the jobs they’re recruiting for or the business sense to set expectations and follow up. That’s why it’s important for candidates to do their homework on recruiters — check their website and social media, ask questions, and see if they actually understand their practice area.

What do I get out of working with a recruiter?

The best part of working with a third-party recruiter is that you both have the same goal — placing you with an employer that matches your culture and background.

Recruiters can help you:

  • Keep your search confidential instead of sending your resume out into the void
  • Act as a direct conduit to the employer for your application, complete with recommendation and references
  • Tell you about unposted opportunities (up to 80% of roles are never put on job boards!)
  • Provide insight into where you stand compared to other candidates interviewing for a position
  • Differentiate opportunities and give you the unposted details on a role
  • Offer nuanced, current market insights on things like salary ranges for different roles
  • Provide you with honest feedback on your expectations
  • Review resumes, prep for interviews, and offer salary and benefits negotiation advice
  • Tap into a huge network of employers
  • Give ongoing job advice and support — many recruiters have worked with the same candidates for years and have them in mind when the perfect opportunity opens up

And, if you meet with a recruiter and they tell you they aren’t the best resource for what you’re looking for right now, they’ll also give you feedback on your presentation and resume, assist you in strategizing your job search process, and give you an unbiased view of the market — just for taking the time to chat with them.

What are recruiters not telling me?

Good recruiters will be honest and communicative with you, but it helps to know their mindset when you reach out or meet with them:

  • They must meet client expectations first and foremost. They can advocate for you, but are not only representing you.
  • Recruiters are not career coaches. Working with a recruiter should always be free for the candidate, but keep in mind that the employer is paying the bill. If you want a career coach, there are some amazing coaches who have the tools and training to be a huge benefit to your search. As expected, these coaching services are fee-based to you.
  • Although they might like you and advocate for you, they don’t make decisions about who to move forward in the interview process. They are, however, usually the ones to pass on the good or bad news.
  • It’s not personal when they tell you they can’t be a good resource. They don’t want to waste your time or set false expectations. Since the recruiter is tasked with delivering 110% of the client’s expectations on any particular job placement, candidates should expect to be moved forward or selected only when they are truly the most competitive candidate for the position.
  • Recruiters are typically working on a limited number of positions at any given time. That means, if you are a Marketing Coordinator and they aren’t working on a Marketing Coordinator role, it could be a while before you hear from them. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good candidate — simply that they are working strategically on other positions at the time.
  • Recruiters also focus their energy on the roles they are most likely to fill well and quickly, and typically won’t check back with candidates who aren’t a match for their current roles, just to say they don’t have anything for you. They are, however, happy to have you check in with them!

Is a recruiter right for me?

Using a recruiter can be a great resource in your search, but to make sure you’re not wasting your time, do some homework on the agency and recruiter you’re considering. Recruiters specialize across geographical locations, job titles, and industries — look for those organizations who work with companies that appeal to you and post the types of positions that match your skills or interests. Look at their track record of success.

Speak with friends and acquaintances you trust about their experiences with an agency. Online reviews can be revealing as well. Reviewers typically span both ends of the spectrum — they either love the agency or a specific recruiter because of the relationship they developed and the success of their search, or they are detractors who have had a poor experience or misunderstood the recruiter’s role.

In general, because of the fees that go into using their service, recruiters are expected to identify candidates who check every mark the client is looking for. They are usually unable to “take a chance” on someone with a nontraditional background for the role they are recruiting for because of client expectations to provide exactly the experience needed. Recruiters are less helpful for people:

  • Looking to switch careers
  • Who don’t have much experience
  • Who have a spotty work history
  • Without every “must have” the role they apply to requires
  • Who are looking for roles in industries or fields the recruiter doesn’t work in

Be critical in evaluating your background and experiences. You might have better luck applying on your own for roles where you don’t meet every requirement, because there isn’t a fee involved with your hire. A good recruiter will tell you when they think you should strike out on your own as well as where they can help you meet your goals.

What is the best way to work with a recruiter?

Think of working with an employment agency like using a dating app. If you put in minimal effort and swipe right a few times, you probably won’t get many great matches. Put in the time and effort so they really get to know you and what you’re looking for. You’re much more likely to be matched with your new long-term partner that way.

Other ways to maximize your chances of successfully working with a recruiter:

  • Only send in one resume. Recruiters consider you for multiple roles, so applying for multiple positions doesn’t increase your chances. In fact, it might make it appear as if you are taking the “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach, which is never well regarded.
  • Prepare for the interview by asking yourself the types of questions a recruiter will ask you: What types of roles are you looking for? What industries, roles, companies, titles, etc. are the best match for you? What makes you tick at work? What location, salary, and benefits do you need? Take as much time as you need researching a new company and spend that time figuring out your responses. If you don’t know yourself well enough to know if it will be a good match, there’s no way a recruiter will!
  • Be open and honest. Sometimes candidates are cagey with certain information, and it always ends up hurting their candidacy. You need to be open with your recruiter about your expectations, whether it’s about salary, location, responsibility, etc. They can listen to your pain points — the failures and frustrations in past jobs you want to avoid in your new relationships — and give you advice in your search. On the flip side, if you ever feel like you’re being persuaded to take a role that’s not right for you, say so. Don’t let anyone — recruiters included — pressure you into taking a job you don’t actually want.
  • Timing really does matter. The best time to reach out to a recruiter is when you’re currently working and okay with your current role, but looking for new opportunities and growth. Recruiters are fairly reactive on the roles they work on, so it might be weeks or months before we get your dream role in house. Keep in touch and let them know how your search is going. It’s always tougher to start the search when you are miserable, vulnerable, or desperate. This can be a recipe for disaster and akin to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
  • Be responsive! Recruiters will do their best to work around your schedule. Check your email, text, voicemail and get back to them ASAP — you never know if you’ll miss out on an opportunity because you didn’t respond quickly enough. They’re working on your behalf, as quick as you’ll let them. On the flip side, expect recruiters to be responsive too. Yes, they’re usually busy. However, if you check in with them, they will follow up with you.

Working with a recruiter can be a great way to advance your job search. But, remember it’s just one avenue, another option in your job search strategy. So, take the experience at face value: they can help you find your next position, and usually that’s a great outcome for everyone. But in the meantime, keep reaching out, networking, and making your search as proactive and human as possible, so you have as many options as you need and deserve.

Recruiters are there to be a resource, but don’t expect to be them to be your only resource. So much of their work, like the best romances, depends on timing, mood, and the occasional bit of matchmaking magic.


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