Working With Recruiters: Part 3

Okay, now that I’ve shared some ideas (in the last posting here) on how to locate a set of appropriate recruiters in your field, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  How do these kinds of firms work, exactly, and how does the average professional in transition work with them effectively?

For starters, let me clarify the difference between what people like ME do, as career coaches, and what recruiters do.  As a career coach and outplacement consultant, I work exclusively with and for individual job hunters to help them identify new career options, package themselves most effectively on paper, devise the best possible game plan for generating job leads, and interview more confidently and competently for any opportunities they turn up.

Recruiters, headhunters, and staffing firms, on the other hand, are generally retained by EMPLOYERS (not by individual candidates) to locate, screen, and place qualified people in various positions that the employer has had a hard time filling otherwise — or where the employer simply wants to outsource the hiring process to an outside third party, for convenience.

Where it gets a little confusing is that career coaches and outplacement agencies (at least the good ones) usually DO distribute a few job leads to their client base, from time to time, such as the ones I share in my monthly newsletter.  They also engage in quite a bit of active networking to help their clients make connections and get considered for unpublished opportunities.  For this reason, some people inadvertently think that certain career coaches are actually functioning as recruiters, even though they don’t have any direct involvement in the actual hiring process and are making these occasional connections simply as a pro bono, value-added favor — not as their primary line of business.  And on the flip side, the best RECRUITERS sometimes function a little bit like career coaches, offering some useful feedback on your resume, or perhaps giving you some advice on how to approach the interviewing process for best results.

At the end of the day, however, despite this occasional cross-over, the distinction basically comes down to how each entity gets paid.  If an organization or individual gets paid by the individual job seeker, they’re in the coaching business.  And if their fees are coming from the employer side, they’re a recruiter or staffing firm.  Make sense?

At any rate, now that I’ve clarified the main distinction that separates recruiters from organizations such as my own, for anybody who was wondering, let me move on and share some additional insights in terms of how the recruiting world works — and what you need to know about it from the “candidate” side of the fence:

The Bad News (Potentially):

— Unfortunately, recruiters place only a tiny fraction of the candidates who reach out to them or whose resume comes across their desk, and they tend to work mostly with highly-specialized professionals (e.g. engineers, accountants, computer programmers) that employers are having a hard time finding in the marketplace; they rarely can do much for candidates who have eclectic backgrounds, unstable work histories, or who offer more “generalized” capabilities

Recruiters don’t work for you and won’t/can’t guarantee you a job; they’re not “sports agents” and as stated above, they specialize in finding people for companies, not the other way around; every once in a blue moon, a recruiter MIGHT try to proactively market a terrific candidate to a few companies, even without a formal search order in hand, but this is extremely rare and is debated even among expert recruiter circles, as you can read about here in a great discussion thread I found the other day

— Recruiters have become less of a viable job-finding channel this past year or two, since this recessed economy has resulted in far fewer search orders coming to many firms; most recruiters I talk to, in fact, are actively looking for new searches and placement contracts, NOT more candidates or resumes; this isn’t to say that some great recruiters haven’t weathered the storm just fine, of course, or that you should ignore this channel completely, but I’d estimate the number of jobs being landed through recruiting firms these days is around half of what it was just three years ago in more robust labor market

The Good News (Potentially):

— There are LOTS of recruiters out there and unless you’re searching confidentially, there’s not really much downside to marketing yourself to lots of different recruiting firms instead of putting all your eggs in a single basket; I know many recruiters might disagree with this statement, but again, advocating strictly from the standpoint of professionals in transition, I don’t see much risk in a candidate “playing the field” and working with multiple recruiters simultaneously — as long as they’re not obnoxious or unethical about it

— Recruiters have a pretty cut-and-dried agenda and shouldn’t take much time to deal with as part of your search, since once you contact them and let them know about the type of opportunities you’re seeking, you’ll either hear back from them quickly or you won’t, depending on whether they have a current search in hand that fits your qualifications; so once you’ve gotten your resume into their system, this channel doesn’t take much care and feeding, after the fact

— Most recruiters (at least the good ones) are hyper-connected and helpful by nature; so even if they don’t have an open assignment that fits you, you might ask them politely whether they can share a few minutes of insight about the market, give you some quick feedback on your resume, validate the current salary trends in your field, or pass along some other helpful tips given their unique vantage point of working with dozens of different hiring managers

— Despite the slowdown in recruiting orders these past two years, which I mentioned above, I’ve recently heard from a number of recruiters I know around town that things are bouncing back in a hurry and that they’re starting to get a number of new orders coming in; this is good news and bodes well for the months to come!

So that’s the scoop on the role recruiters play, in a nutshell, and what you need to know about them as a professional seeking a new assignment.  Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll write up a final installment in this series and provide some specific, tactical advice on how to reach out to these types of firms — and the keys to building effective relationships with them, both for your immediate needs and just as importantly, for the long run!


2 Responses to “Working With Recruiters: Part 3”

  1. Jennifer: Thanks for your comment, and while it sounds like a bit of a cop-out answer, I’m sure, I think you’re much closer to understanding how to negotiate with staffing firms than you might think — since there are really no “secrets” to the process. Staffing firms of the type you describe make their living on the margin between what they charge for a candidate (to their corporate clients) and what they pay the candidates directly. So yes, they’re going to usually tell you there’s no “wiggle room” on their pay rates, since they want to maximize their margin. How do we know if that’s really the case, however? It all comes down to leverage and who needs who more. If they know you’re pretty desperate to work or the company has tons of other candidates in their pipeline, they’re probably not going to budge, because they know they have the upper hand. If you’re willing to put some pressure on them and act like you’re willing to walk away, however, they might relent — and realize that making $10/hour off you is still between than making $0/hour off you, even if they were originally hoping for a $20/hour margin. So there really isn’t a secret strategy or something that candidates like yourself should be employing in these situations. You just need to decide how much risk you’re willing to take, advocate your position to the staffing firm, and see what happens. In some cases, they’ll blow you kisses goodbye, and in others, they’ll definitely “cave” and give you more money. You’ve just got to trust your instincts and seek to assess who has “more to lose” in any given negotiating scenario, which you can only really do on a case-by-case basis. Good luck! 🙂

  2. In part 3 of the “Recruiters” segment, you’ve touched on salary/wages in terms of how recruiters get paid but could you address or provide tips/recommendations/advice on compensation negotiations beween a job seeker and recruiter? As a job seeker who has worked with numerous recruiters and staffing agencies over the years for various types of contract roles, I’ve come up against this issue many times when trying to determine if the hourly rate I’m being offered is appropriate. I understand the process of how the agency makes their profit (collecting the difference between what they bill the company and what they pay the contractor and the company usually has a maximum bill rate set on the contract) so when the agency claims there is no “wiggle room” in the hourly rate, how does one know if this is truly the case or not? That being said, of course the more $ the agency bills the company and the less they pay the contractor means more $ in the agency’s pocket so the agency is naturally going to say there is no room for negotiating the hourly rate.

    I’ve noticed in the past few years that staffing agencies, just like regular companies, have begun offering their temp/contract workers health insurance benefits, which is great but often a bit pricey as it is rarely (if ever) 100% paid by the “employer” (the agency), so of course that should be taken into account when looking at “the big picture”. However, is there a different methodology for negotiating hourly rates on contracts than negotiating compensation for a permanent, salaried position (which usually includes other company perks)?

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