Your Job and Career Seach Resource

For Smarter Job Search

Linked In Facebook Twitter

How to Find Jobs Working with Recruiters, Staffing Firms, and Head Hunters

By Susan P. Joyce

The "middle man/woman" in the job search process is usually a recuiter, someone who specializes in finding people to fill jobs. Many different kinds of recruiters help employers fill job openings. It's helpful to have a good idea of how that marketplace works.

Understand that recruiters are paid by the employer, so they work for the employer, not for the job seeker.

They may be very helpful to job seekers, but helping job seekers is not a recruiter's job.

Find Your Next Job Here
job title, keywords
city, state, zip
jobs by job search

Working with Recruiters

There are many different kinds of recruiters. Some are employees of the employer with the open jobs. Many work for companies that specialize in  finding new staff for their client companies.

Sometimes you are approached by a recruiter or you approach the recruiter to find a job. Recruiters can be very helpful for you in your job search.

Some job seekers work successfully with individual recruiters for many years, but don't expect a recruiter to find a job for you.

Different Kinds of Recruiters 

Recruiters, who are not employees of the company for which they are recruiting, can be divided basically into 3 classifications, depending on how they are paid. Know which kind of recruiter you are working with - ask them, if they don't tell you.

1. Internal recruiters

These recruiters are employees of the organization with the open job. They usually work at the employer's location and interview you at the employer's location.

Internal recruiters do not usually have any vested interest in helping you get hired. They are usually measured by their managers on how long it takes them to fill a job (a.k.a. "time to hire"), so they are usually in a hurry and looking for the best possible candidate.

2.  External/contingency recruiters

They are paid a fee by the employer (not by you!) if they refer the "winning" candidate for the job -- that's the "contingency." Many contingency recruiters and firms may be competing to fill the same jobs for the same employers.

Their income is "contingent" on their candidates getting the jobs. So, contingency recruiters have a vested interest in helping you land a job. If they refer candidates who are not hired, they are not paid for their efforts.

The fee is typically a percentage of the first year's annual salary for the job being filled, up to 30% or more. Consequently, they are well-motivated to help you land the job and get a big salary.

However, their compensation also raises the "cost of hire" for applicants they put forward, a negative factor for cost-conscious employers. Employers may choose a "cheaper" applicant being paid the same or even a greater salary who doesn't come with the fee due a recruiter.

Working with several contingency recruiters simultaneously can be problematic, particularly if more than one submits your resume for the same job with an employer. If you land the job, the employer would be faced with a fight over which agency should receive the fee, and most employers will try to avoid that situation.

[MORE: Guide to Working with Recruiters]

3.  Temporary staffing agency

Often a variation of external recruiting, temporary staffing agencies are paid to fill temporary roles for an employer. You work for the temporary agency.

The agency finds you a temporary job, and pays you to do it. They get paid by the employer and mark-up your hourly rate to cover their efforts finding the opportunity, doing all the administration, and making enough profit to stay in business.

The best part of working for a temp agency is the revenue stream for people with bills to pay, and, often, the chance to convert a temporary and/or part-time job into a permanent one. Many agencies also offer the opportunity to get trained in different products and services that are in demand, too.

The downside of being a "temp" can be the feeling of isolation from the permanent employees and the lack of consistency in job duties, but some people also see that as an advantage.

You aren't stuck with the employer if you don't like the job, but the employer usually pays the temp agency a fee, adding to your "cost of hire," if they hire you to a permanent position.

Employers often view the temporary job as a try-out for a permanent job. So they can be an entry to a full-time "permanent" job as well as a way to pay the bills until you find that "permanent" job.

[MORE: Guide to the Temporary Work Option]

4.  Headhunters/retained recruiters

These recruiters are relatively rare. They are paid regardless of whether or not someone they referred is hired. They are "on retainer" to find the best-qualified applicants.

They do not add to your "cost of hire" if you get the job, but, typically, companies use them only for the top jobs in the company.

Cautions About Working with Contingency Recruiters.

You will be aided by them only if they introduce you to an employer you would not have contacted directly yourself. When you contact the employer directly, no fee is paid to any headhunter, and candidates who can be hired without incurring the extra cost of a fee may receive greater consideration by employers.

So, working only with contingency recruiters can sometimes be a high risk strategy.  However, many people do get jobs through recruiters or the industry would not exist.

For More Information About Recruiters

Read Job-Hunt Expert recruiter Jeff Lipschultz's articles in Job-Hunt's free Guide to Working with Recruiters column for more information. For more information about working with a temporary agency, read the articles in Job-Hunt's free Guide to the Temporary Work Option.

For more on each kind of recruiter, how to work with them, and the advantages and disadvantages of each, read these two posts from Job-Hunt's sister site

Recruiter directories:

Next: Finding Jobs Using Job Boards

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2012, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and onGoogle+.