If you’re in the job market seeking a new position, just curious about your value or simply want to gauge the temperature, the chances are high that you’ll chat with a recruiter. Recruiters serve as an important and valuable function in a person’s quest for a new a job and advancement in their career.
Since this is a murky area, with a glaring absence of quality writing on the topic, most people have no idea what goes on behind the scenes at recruiting firms. I’d like to shed light and clear up some common misconceptions. Having insider knowledge on how recruiters operate, their strengths, limitations and challenges will enable you to forge a mutually productive and long-term relationship.
The vast majority of recruiters are called contingent recruiters. These recruiters will receive job orders from companies and are tasked with finding the right candidates. They don’t have exclusivity on the positions. The company will simultaneously share the same job description with a number of other recruiting firms, post it on their internal website and onto online job boards. The recruiter only gets paid if they find the right candidate, an offer is accepted, the person starts the job and remains there for however long the contingency agreement stipulates. If this doesn’t happen, they don’t earn a commission.
The recruiter spends hours, days, weeks and months searching for suitable people, interviewing candidates, submitting résumés and coaching applicants on how to navigate and ace the interview. They may provide 10 great profiles that the company loves, coordinate all the interviews for them and told that three are finalists, but one will get the offer. If, however, a random résumé comes to the attention of the firm and the company hires that person, the recruiter does not get paid anything. All of their time and effort yields zero compensation. It’s the equivalent of a real estate agent who schleps a family around to dozens of homes every weekend for six months, only to be sent an email stating, “Thanks for all your help. This other agent shared one house with us yesterday. It was gorgeous and we signed a contract that same day. Isn’t it terrific? I know you will be so happy for us! Thanks you for all of your help.”
The challenge, among many, for recruiters is that they can only offer jobs that they have. Sometimes a recruiter may possess a large inventory of jobs—other times, not so many. Job seekers tend to believe that a recruiter is their agent, like in the movie Jerry Maguirewhere Tom Cruise plays a sports agent representing a star football player. They think that the recruiter is their guy or gal who will aggressively champion their cause, get them a top job and answer their “show me the money” demands. Sadly, it’s not like the movies.
If you are working with a recruiter, she may not have the right job that fits your background and compensation requirements at the time you desire her help. This leads to a lot of frustration. Job seekers feel that the recruiter does have all sorts of great jobs that are appropriate. If not, they think that the recruiter could shop the candidate around to all the companies that the job seeker is interested in working for.
The reality is that recruiters can only work with companies that they have a signed contract with. Some recruiting firms have dozens or hundreds of agreements with companies. Many recruiting firms only focus on a few corporations.
Since these facts are not widely known, there tends to be some animosity toward recruiters. If they don’t have a job for the person, it’s perceived that the recruiter doesn’t want to help. They’ll feel the recruiter doesn’t care about them or they’re not worthy of the recruiter’s time. Some candidates will take it personally and become incensed. A job seeker will point out that the recruiter helped a couple of their co-workers, so why won’t he help me?
Maybe due to ego, the recruiter didn’t make it clear that, at the time he dealt with the other co-workers, he had relevant jobs to share—and now he doesn’t. Unfortunately, recruiters sometimes don’t do enough to explain their limitations to avoid any hard feelings and bad press.
If they don’t have a job for you right now, you’ll probably feel the brush off. If the recruiter can’t help, there’s little they could do about it. They need to move onto someone they could place, so they can earn a living. That’s the problem with an “eat what you kill” business model. You can only work with people that you know you can place and earn a commission.
It is not easy to solicit a company, say you have a great candidate to share with them and get an executed contract. When I first started recruiting, this was relatively easy to do. Oftentimes, we would work on a job assignments with a verbal agreement and just worry about the contracts later. Now, the process is much more bureaucratic and cumbersome. It takes an inordinate amount of time and high-level sign-offs to get accepted as a vendor to a large corporation. This is why recruiters can’t readily share your background with a wide array of places. In fact, corporations specifically warn against doing this, as they don’t want to cause any confusion between those recruiters that have contracts and were asked to work on an open job and those who are just shopping people around.
If you feel pressured by recruiters, it’s because they may only have that one job for you. It’s not like a supermarket where they can take other jobs off the shelf. Either they can entice you with this one opportunity or there is no other way that they can help you at this current time. If they feel you are perfect for the role and know that they will earn a hefty fee of 20% to 30% of the first year’s annual salary, they will be very pushy.
On the positive side, recruiters possess a deep understanding of the job market. They know what compensation is being paid at a variety of different companies. Many are experts in a specific field and have long-standing relationships with key decision makers. They will be cognizant of jobs that are not widely advertised. Top recruiters will help you spruce up your résumé, prep you before your interviews, sell the hiring managers on your abilities and negotiate the offer. They will be your friend, confidant, therapist and chief cheerleader. The best recruiters are not transaction-focused and seek to build and maintain long-term relationships that could span the rest of your career. A recruiter is a great person to have in your corner and fight for you. It’s especially tricky and awkward to negotiate salary directly or share that you forgot to tell them you can’t start in two weeks and need more time. The recruiter deftly manages all of these variables and makes you look good in the process.
I’m not trying to make any excuses or have anyone look good or bad. Don’t blame the players; blame the game for most of the problems. My goal is to add transparency to an often misunderstood, large part of the job market and interview process.