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On this page: How to find a job working with recruiters, staffing firms, and head hunters.

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

The "middle man/woman" in the job search process is usually a recuiter, someone who specializes in finding people to fill jobs.

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There are many different kinds of recruiters, and it's helpful to understand 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 their job.

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.  Contingency recruiters.

They are paid only if they have referred to the company the person who is hired. If they refer candidates who are not hired, they are not paid for their efforts. Most staffing firms are really contingency recruiters.

Their compensation is typically a percentage of the first year's annual salary, up to 30%. So they are well-motivated to help you get a big salary, but their compensation also raises the "cost of hire" for applicants they put forward, a negative factor for cost-conscious employers who may choose a "cheaper" applicant being paid the same or even a greater salary who doesn't come with the extra money due a recruiter.

Many contingency recruiters and firms may be competing to fill the same jobs for the same employers with the commission paid to the recruiter/firm who's applicant is hired by the employer. This means that working with several contingency recruiters simultaneously can be problematic, particularly if more than one submits your resume for the same job with an employer.

2.  Retained recruiters.

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.

To understand this marketplace and how to play this game, read John Lucht's classic book "Rites of Passage at $100,000+." John is the dean of executive recruiters, and he also has an excellent Web site for executives and senior managers, RiteSite, a Job-Hunt sponsor.

3.  Temporary staffing agency.

Often a variation on contingency recruiting, these people are paid by the employer when they provide the employer with someone to fill a temporary need for help. In turn, they pay the temporary employee. Many also provide benefits for people who qualify, requirements for qualification varying by 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.

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 the Working with Recruiters column for more information.

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 WorkCoachCafe.com:

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, 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 Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.