5 Myths About Working With Recruiters

Understand a headhunter's role in your job search.

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Arnie Fertig
Arnie Fertig
Despite continued high unemployment numbers, companies are hiring. Surprisingly, they are finding it difficult to find just the right people for positions that they need to fill. Recruiters, often called "headhunters," who took a huge hit when the economy tanked in 2008, are reporting that they are now busier than they have been in several years.

Working with a recruiter can be a great benefit in your job hunt, but only if you understand their role in the hiring process. Unfortunately, too many people have misconceptions about what they do, and how to motivate them to be your advocate. It's time to clear the air and bust some of the myths.

1. MYTH: The Recruiter's Job is to Help a Job Hunter Find Employment

FACT: Recruiters work for employers, not job hunters. Their job is to find the best talent for the position the employer is seeking to fill, bearing in mind all of the employer's "must haves," "should haves," and "shouldn't haves." They aren't paid to help people to transition to new fields, but rather to find talented individuals who have done the job already in a different context, or people ready to move up to the next level in their same career path. To be sure, they help individuals whom they are able to place, but their primary responsibility is not to be a career counselor or coach for job seekers.

2. MYTH: All Recruiters Are Paid the Same Way

FACT: There are essentially two types of recruiters for full-time permanent jobs:

Contingency recruiting companies aren't paid unless their client company hires a candidate they submit. Competition among firms is intense. For individual contributor-type positions, employers will frequently offer multiple recruiters the opportunity to work on the same job posting, and only pay a fee to the recruiter who actually finds the right talent.

That said, many contingency recruiters form networks or alliances to cooperate with each other and do "splits" where they share job listings with one side, taking 50 percent of the commission for getting the listing and another side taking 50 percent for finding the successful candidate. This is much akin to realtors sharing commissions for the sale of a home. If a recruiter advertises a search for "my client," but doesn't include the name of the client, it is likely a contingency search.

Retained search firms are paid by a company to take on an exclusive role in a given search, with the understanding that they will receive a higher level of service and more complete candidate vetting than is typically the case with contingency firms. These firms are most often utilized for executive level searches. Fees earned for retained searches are generally much higher than for contingency searches, and are paid out at specific points in the search process.

3. MYTH: Recruiters Are Rude and Unresponsive

FACT: Recruiters, like anyone else with very limited time, prioritize who that time is worth speaking with, and for how long. They are likely to be very responsive to clients or potential clients who have job orders for them to fill, and people who they see as strong (potential) candidates for those job orders. They are likely to be much less responsive to individuals who approach them out of a sense of desperation, with a career change in mind, or who are not perceived as "A" class workers.

Most recruiters simply don't have the time to respond to the hundreds of unsolicited resumes or phone calls that they receive virtually every week. And it simply is not their role to coach people who aren't a close fit for the kinds of positions with which they work. It is common for a recruiter to make 50 to 100 phone calls each day, and with that kind of volume they simply don't have the time to deal with extraneous conversations.

4. MYTH: Recruiters Aren't Out to Get Job Hunters the Best Possible Compensation

FACT: In almost every situation, recruiting fees are pegged as a percentage of the new hire's first year base salary. The more you earn, the more they earn. Often they have inside information about what the company is willing to pay, and are able to obtain a higher salary than what a job hunter initially thought they could get. Companies do not take the recruiter's commission out of the new hire's compensation. Much more often they understand that they must pay a premium for candidates sourced through recruiters.

5. MYTH: Recruiters Don't Care About Creating Long-Term Relationships

FACT: Recruiters are essentially in a relationship-building business. The successful ones know that their long-term success is based on building their network of relationships. They remember who helps them on one search, and will be likely to want to aid that person later on. They appreciate when a job hunter isn't a good fit for a current job, but goes out of their way to introduce them to someone who will be. They love the repeat business that comes from gaining multiple job orders from the same company. One surefire way to get a recruiter's attention and build a long-term relationship with them is to offer to provide the names of people who are strong connectors to others, thought leaders, and high performers in their specialized field.

Not every job hunter will find success working with a headhunter, but if you are accomplished in your field and committed to staying in it, building relationships with recruiters who specialize in your skill set and industry will be a great asset in your job hunt.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.