Do’s and Don’ts for Choosing the Right Recruiter to Get You Your Next Role

A job seeker recently asked me for advice on choosing the right recruiter. Great question. How do you to choose the best person to represent you? How do you find the right firm to help you climb the career ladder?

The important fact is to find the recruiter that has the right jobs for you. And I mean for you. Know what you are looking for in your next job. Sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many people really don’t know. It is totally acceptable for a recent college grad to be exploring lots of careers – I help out people like that all the time. It’s a very different situation for someone with 10 to 20 years of experience. That person, even if she is switching careers, should have a good idea what her next career move looks like. If you can tell someone in a minute or less what you are looking for, you are off to a good start.

Recruiters fall into two general buckets: generalist firms (which tend to be bigger and work with larger corporations but may have a more national reach) and niche firms (generally focused on a particular industry or market vertical). Niche firms, often called “boutique,” are best for people already within that industry. (Note: if you see the word “staffing” that generally means the company specializes in contracting or temp work, which is outside the scope of this column.)

Some do’s and don’ts for selecting your recruiting partner:

  • Look for a recruiting firm that focuses on your industry. That means they really understand your job, your work, and the typical career path in your industry. Specialists also usually have a good handle on the compensation packages in your industry. That gets you more relevant information and can accelerate your job search.
  • Look at their job postings and reach. How many openings do they have in your field? Are they in your geographic area? Do they have only entry-level or very senior positions? A quick litmus test: do they have more than one job that looks right for you? If so, that’s a great recruiter for you.
  • Every industry has its jargon and abbreviations. Evaluate the recruiter’s website and the job postings carefully. How well do they seem to know your field? Are they using the terminology correctly? If not, stay away – that means that they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • Check your industry’s professional organization and trade publications. See if any recruiters are quoted there. Some professional organizations will have a list of recruiting agencies on their site. That’s a great place to start.
  • The most important piece is an agency with great client relationships. This will mean that they will have the inside track on the newest openings, and even before they have been advertised publicly. That’s when you want to get your foot in the door.
  • When speaking to a recruiter for the first time, feel free to ask them some questions. Find out which companies they usually deal with and how many openings they have in your line of work. How long has the company been in business and working in your field?
  • My favorite trick to evaluate a recruiting firm: do they want to meet you in person? That usually means they are a high-touch agency, one that values their relationship. That they are taking the time to carefully vet their candidates shows they are thorough and serious.
  • I usually advise applicants to avoid one- or two-person firms as they usually have less job openings. It’s a little more hit or miss.
  • When possible, connect with a particular recruiter at the firm, instead of just emailing your resume blindly to an email drop. Use LinkedIn to find that particular recruiter. A large network is a good sign but not the only one. Are they connected with people that you know (and that you could ask them about)? How long have they been recruiting – and in your field? Check out their LinkedIn groups and their postings.
  • I encourage candidates to be very aware of the business side of the house. Most recruiters are paid by the employer, not the job seeker. A recruiting firm is not an outplacement agency (paid by the ex-employer), a government jobs agency (your tax dollars at work), or a talent agency (that represents a stable of actors and gets a percentage – think Ari on “Entourage”). Like other firms, recruiters have “clients” – the employers who hire them to find them the talent.
  • No recruiter I know asks professional candidates for direct fees upfront. If they do, I’d stay away. The sole exception would be optional (and optional is the keyword here) services like a professional resume writer. Those things can be great but should not be required. If someone is pushing them hard, find someone else.
  • Be honest with yourself and your recruiter about your background, compensation, and career history. Those things are carefully vetted by good recruiters. You will probably be asked for verification of those things down the line and misrepresentation can cost you a good job offer.

Taking a new job is a big move – you will probably spend more time at the office during the week than with your family or friends. Leaving a long-term job can be like leaving a spouse. One of my colleagues likened it to a divorce – maybe a good move in the long term but the transition can be tricky. Having the right recruiter, and sharing the right information, can lead to the right role with the right company. (And the right job can be much better and cheaper than a therapist!)

Recruiter image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.