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Why & How to Leverage Recruiters in Your Job Search


April 2nd, 2018

- Updated on

September 20, 2018 - 10:53am

The Best Online Resources for Job Seekers Series - Part Three

In the third post in our six-part series on the best online resources for job seekers, we explore external recruiters (also known as third-party or agency recruiters), offering advice on why you shouldn't ignore recruiters, how to find them, and what to expect when working with them. For all posts in this series, we recommend you start with The Best Online Resources for Job Seekers - Introduction. 
Job seekers often discount external recruiters. Perhaps they had a negative experience with a recruiter, or the recruiter never returned their call or followed up. For these and many reasons, recruiters generally have a bad reputation. This doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore them, and in fact, part of a proactive job search approach means contacting and evaluating as many recruiters and search firms as possible.
Cartoon - working with third-party recruiters
Beyond your current search, your ability to maintain ongoing relationships with the right recruiters throughout your career can make all the difference in the future. If you haven’t worked with recruiters before, now is as good a time as any to begin.
Don’t get me wrong.
The reason why recruiters generally have a bad reputation is because a lot of recruiters are genuinely bad!

Why Work with Recruiters?

The answer to this goes back to our original premise, highlighted throughout this series of posts. Any search strategy that relies solely on filling out applications often results in a long, frustrating and demoralizing job transition.
The bottom line challenge for every job seeker is to identify as many opportunities as possible, and recruiters are a great source of opportunities that are not necessarily listed online. 
  1. At senior management levels, in particular, employers often outsource recruiting to external placement firms (also known as contingent search firms). 
  2. Recruiters are often ‘vertically’ focused, meaning they bring expertise and contacts in particular industries and career specializations, from which you stand to benefit. 
  3. Good recruiters have relationships with hiring managers and can provide candidates with greater insight into the roles, the hiring managers and their teams, and the organization culture, all of which help candidates better prepare for interviews.
  4. Recruiters can often provide interview feedback for candidates who are not selected, as well as status updates during the selection process. This information can otherwise be difficult to obtain.
  5. According to JobVite's 2018 Recruiting Benchmark Report, "job placement agencies" were more effective sources of hire than job boards and career sites.  
Note that external recruiters are not limited by geography. A recruiter who is located across the country could place you in a position in your local area, so focus on industry and career specialty as opposed to a target location when looking for recruiters with whom to connect. 

How to Evaluate Recruiters

When evaluating external recruiters, there are many red flags that can tip you off that this is a recruiter you want to focus on (or not):
  • Can you reach them on the phone?
  • Do they respond to your emails?
  • Do they put you up for jobs you’re not interested in or not even qualified for?
  • Are they offering you positions that pay below the minimum compensation you have specified?
  • Are they respectful and professional?

External recruiters go by many names, including Search Firms, Executive Search, Consulting, Outsourcing, Headhunters, or Temp Agencies.

Depending on your profession and career level, all of these organizations are worth looking into. Perhaps you will be or have been contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn or some other site, but even so, it’s also important to proactively reach out to recruiters and recruiting firms. Perhaps there are some companies local to your area, or perhaps the best recruiters for your particular market niche are in another city. Either way, it’s up to you as the job seeker to identify, evaluate and contact them. 
There are in effect two ways to be placed by a recruiter, either in a ‘permanent’ job or via a contract. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both are worth investigating if you’re looking for work.

Permanent Placement or Temp Contract

As we explore the different types of recruiters, there is one basic rule: that as a job seeker, you should never pay recruiters. Recruiters get paid by employers in exchange for finding and vetting candidates. With permanent placement, they typically get paid a percentage of the first year’s annual salary. In the case of contracting, the recruiting company marks up the hourly rate being paid to the contractor. Any recruiter who asks job seekers for money should be avoided at all costs.

Contingent v Retained

When these terms are used, they refer to permanent placement. Most recruiters work on a ‘contingent’ basis, which means that they only get paid when one of their candidates gets hired. When a recruiter is retained by an employer, it means they are the only recruiter being contacted, they are solely responsible for finding candidates, and they get paid throughout the process. As a job seeker, it is helpful to understand how your recruiter works, and how close a relationship they have with the employer in question. Don’t be afraid to ask this very basic question.


While most job seekers prefer a ‘permanent’ job, the fact is a lot of hiring today is done through contract employment. Contract and temp work is a very effective way to vet workers prior to hiring them. This is part of the reason why applying from the outside is so difficult: all those internal contractors are ahead of you in line for those permanent positions, and they have the advantage because they are already known and trusted by the employer. So outside recruiters can also be a great source of contracting opportunities within your target companies.
Measuring the Gig Economy Chart
Measuring the Gig Economy: Inside the New Paradigm of Contingent Work by Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA)
When evaluating a contract or temp recruiter (a lot of recruiting agencies do both), the big question concerns benefits. All the best temp agencies provide health insurance, 401ks, and even vacation time to their temporary workers. When these recruiters say they offer contract opportunities, do they mean on a 1099 or W-2?
  • 1099 usually means you are an independent contractor with no benefits
  • W-2 means you are an employee of the agency, so while you go to your job every day at the customer’s location, your actual employer provides you with a W-2, withholding, social security. And yes, that can mean health insurance, vacation time, and other benefits.

How to Spot a Good Recruiter?

There are lots of external recruiters and recruiting companies to choose from, but it is true that many recruiters are not great to work with. Recruiters can be rude, pushy, unprofessional, and incompetent. As job seekers, it is up to us to evaluate recruiters to determine who to stay in contact with over the long term. You want a recruiter who:
  • Is smart, tech-savvy (active on LinkedIn and other social networks), professional, respectful, courteous, and takes the time to understand what you are looking for.
  • Can be reached by phone and is willing to meet with you in person.
  • Will help you prepare for an interview and get constructive feedback afterward.
  • Is a strategic partner you can count on to return your call.
  • You can stay in touch with, and who can continue to offer you opportunities and positions for the rest of your working life.

Four Ways to Find Recruiters

Getting referred to good recruiters from your friends and colleagues can be a great introduction to the subject. Talking to any recruiter can be a helpful way to find out about how their business works, or even possibly get introduced to more recruiters.
Woman working at a PC. Unsplash photo
In addition, the following are some great online tools for finding more:
  1. Indeed: One of the great things about ‘job aggregator’ sites is that many job postings are advertised through external recruiting companies. If you see an interesting job listed through an agency, that's a good sign that agency places candidates for similar job opportunities. If you submit for a position through an agency and they contact you, it’s a great potential way to form a relationship with that agency. If you submit and don’t get contacted, you can still call and try to have an initial conversation with a recruiter.
  2. LinkedIn Recruiter Search ScreenshotLinkedIn: Recruiting is a big part of the reason why LinkedIn has been so successful. It is a perfect platform for locating talent and the numbers increase daily. Recruiters are able to locate talent through a simple search, then evaluate candidates based on their endorsements, recommendations, connections, and how they use LinkedIn. Job seekers can use LinkedIn to evaluate external recruiters in the same way. Any recruiter who is not on LinkedIn (or who is not a LinkedIn expert) is suspect in my book. I want my recruiters to be smart, professional and technically adept. LinkedIn ticks all those boxes and more. Make it easy for recruiters to find you too by "Letting Recruiters Know You're Open" on your LinkedIn profile. 
  3. Recruitsy: A new player in the job seeker space is Recruitsy, a site that could be seen as Yelp (or Glassdoor) for recruiters. Recruitsy allows job seekers to review recruiters. Being a startup, Recruitsy still needs more content, but we hope it takes off and becomes popular, as there is a tremendous need for job seekers to locate good recruiters. Hopefully, a site like Recruitsy could also encourage more recruiters to be professional and responsive to job seekers.
Recruitsy screenshot
...... and the fourth way? Google it: Yes, that’s right! Try some Google searches to build your overall recruiter list. 

Pulling It All Together

  1. Focus on your personal introductions to leverage any possible recruiter relationships with your personal contacts.
  2. Begin a systematic campaign to get in front of as many recruiters as possible.
  3. In addition to networking, building your online presence, and (yes) filling out the occasional application, you’ll be identifying a complete list of opportunities for your transition.
  4. If you feel that your current search isn’t working, it may be because you have neglected this important source of job (and contracting) opportunities. 
In Part Four: How To Succeed at Interviews and Salary Negotiation, we tackle the subject of interviewing and negotiating to highlight the importance of preparation, research, and red flags in the hiring process. As always, we'll include our top online job resource picks to get you started.

Recommended Reading and References

AJO Career Coach - Mike BallardMike Ballard is an AJO Career Coach & Trainer with 10 years experience providing career transition consulting services to 1,900+ professionals in transition, including C-Level executives, program and project managers, sales managers & account reps, IT, software developers, technicians, engineers, insurance & administrators. Mike specializes in helping job seekers understand hiring technologies and developing effective career marketing strategies to find the right job and employer.