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Recruiters, Search Consultants, and Headhunters

What is a Recruiter?

If you are considering a career move, a resource you may wish to consider is a recruiter. Recruiters, sometimes referred to as head-hunters or search consultants, are independent consultants who are engaged by client companies to locate qualified candidates for professional positions within the client company. They do not charge a fee to the job seeker. Fees are paid by their client company.

Recruiting or search agencies are not the same as Employment Agencies or Career Counselors or Outplacement Agencies. Employment Agencies assist candidates in finding a new job and may charge the candidate for their services. Career Counselors are engaged by job seekers to prepare for and conduct a job search. Their services may include skills assessment or personality testing, and career guidance counseling. Fees for their services are paid by the job-seeker. Outplacement Agencies work with displaced employees to hone their job-seeking skills, and they typically provide temporary office space and clerical support to assist the employee in locating a new position. Their fees are usually paid by employee's former employer. Recruiters differ from these types of employment-related groups in that they are engaged by an employer to search for qualified candidates and represent the interests of the employer in filling an open position.

Should you use a Recruiter?

Companies like to avoid paying fees, so Recruiters are not engaged to fill all open positions in the company. A Recruiter might be used to locate highly specialized and experienced candidates, or to quietly conduct a search for an employee without advertising the position publicly. Recruiters generally cannot help candidates that are entry-level, or those changing fields, or those that are seeking entrepreneurial situations. However, this should not discourage a job seeker from sending a résumé to a recruiter. If your background happens to fit a job order specification for a current, unadvertised search assignment, you might receive what is essentially a free placement service.  However, once sent, do not expect a recruiter to telephone you to acknowledge your résumé or to discuss a career path with you.   Successful recruiters receive hundreds of résumés daily.  While most resumes do not fit the requirements of the current job order, they may be useful to us on a future opening.  Those that might be a good fit are usually telephoned very quickly.   Those that are not a good fit are entered into the recuiter's database for future matching.

Types of recruiters

There are three types of recruiters, retained and contingent or corporate.

Retained recruiters usually have an exclusive arrangement with the employer. They receive fees for their search at the beginning of a search assignment and continue to submit candidates until the employer fills the position or calls off the search. Retained recruiters are usually used for senior level positions.

Contingent recruiters work on assignments without retainer fees. They receive payment from the employer only if a candidate they present to the employer is subsequently hired. Contingency recruiters normally work in the middle management, professional and technical ranges.

Corporate recruiters are employees of the corporation.  They may be assigned to search for all staff openings or they may be assigned specific areas of responsibility - e.g. technical, professional, hourly, clerical, etc.  They usually work under the direction of the Human Resources department though many companies are now having "Staffing Specialists" assigned to critical departments such as Information Systems, engineering, etc.  Corporate recruiters often engage the services of a third party recruiter to locate qualified candidates, so it often happens that a candidate is initially contacted by a third party recruiter, then interviewed or screened by the Corporate recruiter.

Should you work with multiple third party Recruiters?

If you are considering sending your résumé to more than one recruiter, your résumé might be submitted to the same employer by competing recruitment agencies. To avoid potential problems, you should advise each recruiter that you are working with other search firms and you should disclose the names of employers to which you have already been presented. If your background appears to match a current search assignment, a Recruiter will usually discuss the position with you and disclose the name of the company to you before he or she presents you to the employer. You might have been discouraged from submitting your résumé to more than one recruiter out of concern that you might lose an offer because competing recruiters have referred you to the same company. Duplicate referrals can occur, but the client company and the agencies will work out a fee arrangement satisfactory to everyone.

Some Career Counselors advocate widely broadcasting your résumé to many Recruiters, while others will tell you to take a more focused approach, using Recruiters selectively. There are points to be made in both approaches. Most recruiters are specialized. That is, they work in specific narrow areas of interest. One might argue that it makes little sense to send your résumé to a recruiter specializing in sales people if you are a manufacturing Engineer looking for a position as plant Operations Manager. However, the recruiter who received your résumé might also be affiliated with, or knows another recruiter who specializes in your area of interest. Collaborative efforts between recruiters is very common. On the other hand, sending out your résumé to all recruiters without regard to their area of specialty or demographic market is very inefficient and costly.

Tips for working with Recruiters.

Regardless of the type of recruiter, here are some guidelines for working with recruiters:

If your résumé is posted openly on Monster.com, let the recruiter know it.  Some client companies refuse to pay fees to recruiters if the candidate's resume is posted on Monster.com.  They reason that their internal recruiters also have access to Monster, so they do not want to pay fees for the same candidates they already have access to.  If the recruiter is working with a company with these policies, it is better for you that the recruiter NOT present you to the company because it might eliminate you from consideration.

Occasionally, a Recruiter cannot disclose the name of the employer to you until the employer indicates an interest in you and wishes to set up a meeting. In such situations, the Recruiter might present your qualifications to the client in the form of a blind resume.

Recruiters work for the employer; they are not your agent. However, their fees will not be paid by the employer unless you are presented to the client company and you accept an offer.

Ask the Recruiter about the process he or she uses to present qualified candidates to employers, and the manner in which your information will be published or circulated.

If you are unemployed, your chances with a recruiter are diminished, but not impossible. Recruiters are usually working on assignments with longer lead times.

Often, recruiters find that the employer actually needs employees with skills very different than the skills listed in the job order. Recruiters may submit test candidates to determine what types of candidates the employer really wants.

When sending your résumé to recruiters, you may request that your résumé not be sent to prospective employers or other recruiters without discussing it with you.

Going directly to the employer after hearing about a position through a Recruiter is very risky and unethical. The Recruiter and the client company usually have an agreement stipulating that a fee will be incurred if the company hires a presented candidate within a period of time (usually one year). If you attempt to go around the agreement, the Recruiter will invoice the client company. Reputable companies will avoid such disputes, and will not want to hire you under those circumstances.

Recruiters often prepare or re-do the résumés of candidates they submit to their client companies. This is not an indication that anything was wrong with your résumé . It may simply be a matter of providing a consistent format to the client company, or it might be done to enable electronic scanning of your résumé into a computer database. You may request that the Recruiter send you a copy of the résumé they are submitting to their client, so that you are not taken by surprise in the interview. However, do not use this copy to circulate to other recruiters.

Recruiting is a people business. Recruiters develop thousands of contacts, and it is a mistake to just assume that they would have no interest in your résumé . Do not be upset if a Recruiter does not respond to your résumé . Their interest in you is generated by the happenstance receipt of your résumé and a job assignment that matches your background. If you appear to be a solid candidate, but one for whom a job order is not currently available, your résumé will often be scanned or coded into the recruiter’s database for future recall. The lack of response to your résumé does not reflect "no interest" or a turndown. Rather, it reflects that no current job assignments match your skills.


If you are considering selectively targeting a Recruiter or multiple Recruiters, you-should familiarize yourself with a few resources available to assist you in selecting the Recruiters.

The Directory of Executive Recruiters, published by Kennedy Publications, Fitzwilliam NH 03447. This publication is available in the business reference section of most libraries, or you may purchase a copy for $39.99. The directory is alphabetically organized and can be cross-referenced by industry, function and geography.

Another directory of Recruiters is The Best Directory of Recruiters, which boasts 16,240 Recruiter Listings, sorted by: 811 Industry and Job Specialties & by Location. The directory listings contain Company, Contact, Address, Specialties, Location, Type of Recruiter, International Affiliates, Telephone, Fax, e-mail, Internet, WWW, and Video-conferencing numbers. The suggested retail price is US $39.99, and is available through Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstores, or you may place an order direct to the publisher at considerable savings on their website at: http://www.bestrecruiters.com/BestRecruiters/home.html

Another good source is Recruiters Online Network (RON), an internet site at http://www.recruitersonline.com/ Or, you can search for "recruiter" + "your discipline or industry" on a World Wide Web search engine such as Yahoo!, or Altavista.

Consultants News publishes the Directory of Executive Recruiters. The directory is a compilation of contingency and retained search firms. The data is formatted alphabetically and by industry, function or geographic area, and is available in paperback, hard-bound, or in PC software. The paperback version contains less detail than the hard-bound edition, but provides the basic information needed to identify target search firms. This version retails for $44.95 US at this writing. The hard-bound edition provides more detail on the search firms, but at considerably higher cost ($149.95 US). The PC Software edition is a Windows-based software product and will enable you to perform detailed searches by areas of specialty and demographic markets. The database will then assist you in mailing to selected recruiters. The cost for software is $195.00 US. While these prices might seem high, they are a bargain if you are determined to conduct a mailing to Recruiting Agencies. There are companies that will search similar databases for you and prepare a mailing to targeted Recruiting Agencies. The charge for such service typically runs $50.00 US for the database search and $1.75 US per letter for a cover letter and one page résumé. A mailing to 300 firms would cost you $575.00, and that does not include the postage.

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