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Finding and working with job recruiters

Recruiters can help your job search, so try to approach it like a partnership. We’ll explain what recruiters are, what they do, how to find them, and how to work with them to find a good job for you.

Types of recruiters

Recruiters—less often referred to as “headhunters”—are professionals engaged by an organization to search for and recommend candidates for open positions. The 2 different types of recruiters are:

  • An internal recruiter works inside of an organization and looks for applicants to fill positions with that employer. They may be able to provide insight into the corporate culture, but helping you get the highest salary possible isn’t part of their job description. They can still be very helpful as you progress through interviews and the hiring process. 
  • External recruiters are hired by companies to find people to fill a role. They do the initial filtering of applications and resumes, conduct initial interviews, then typically give the organization a list of 3 to 5 well-vetted candidates. They also may offer interviewing and negotiating tips. Typically, they’re paid a fee equal to some percentage of the candidate’s new salary as compensation.
Sometimes recruiters are hired on retainer. That generally means they’re the only one working to fill a certain position. Recruiters can also be hired on contingency, and the hiring organization may work with several different recruiters. Recruiters often work proactively to find people for open jobs—for instance, calling people who aren’t necessarily looking for a job but are currently working in a similar position.

How to work with recruiters

If you've decided a recruiter is part of your job search strategy, here are a few tips for working with them:

  • Know—and communicate—your specific goals. A recruiter that has a thorough understanding of your background, skills, and career ambitions will be better equipped to find the roles that match your needs. Be well-prepared when meeting with recruiters. They may be your advocate when it comes to getting hired. Just like getting hired for a position, you’ll stand out based on your professionalism and likeability. 
  • Don’t necessarily go with the first one. Like any professional service, there’s a marketplace for recruiters. Ask questions about a potential recruiter’s process, clients, and success record in your industry to make sure you’re comfortable working with them. If you decide to work with multiple recruiters, be honest and upfront that they’re not your only recruiter. 
  • Save time by doing your homework first. Have a polished and current resume in hand and make sure your employment history on social media sites is up to date when you first engage a recruiter. 
  • Be clear on your timeline. A recruiter may be frustrated if they’ve put time and effort into finding opportunities available now or soon, but you’re not ready to make a change just yet. Keeping them in your corner is to your advantage, so it can help to be respectful of their time. 
  • Treat it like a long-term relationship. Know going into this that you want to build rapport with the recruiter. Treat them professionally, but also try to build that long-term relationship. You never know when you may need them again. A recruiter that understands you and your goals can be an advocate for you.

Should you work with a specialist recruiter?

Nearly every specialty has an employment agency—some recruiting agencies work with tech organizations while others work with marketing and advertising, for example.

Working with a generalist recruiter can be a smart way to expose yourself to a wider variety of industries and jobs, especially if you’re early in your career and haven’t settled into a particular industry or role. But if you have deep experience in a specific field—and want to continue in that field—a specialist may better serve you. 

A specialist recruiter may have partnerships with key players and organizations, while also knowing the industry language, regulation, and major trends within your industry. Due to the nature of specialized industries, a relocation could be on the table when working with specialist recruiters, so that may be something to consider before reaching out to one. 

Contacting an agency specializing in your line of work could potentially cut your job search time—but first you must find them. With thousands of recruiting agencies in the US, it can get overwhelming. Searching online for a directory of recruiters is a good place to start. Try being specific by including your profession in your search, like “copywriter, job recruiter.” 

Industry journals—or their websites—often include lists of recruiters in the field. You can also search LinkedIn® professional networking services for recruiters by searching for keywords related to your industry and searching for staffing or human resources professionals. If you’ve found a job opening at a specific organization, you may be able to hunt down a recruiter in that organization through LinkedIn simply by searching for the organization name and recruiter.

Don’t be afraid to do it the old-fashioned way: Start talking to people. Asking colleagues or people in your line of work if they know of any recruiters can be a great way to find someone reputable to work with.

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