Some tips on engaging more effectively
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, agency recruiters and search firms are a fixture on the job search (or hiring) landscape. But they’re not interchangeable and they do need some cultivation. Here’s a roadmap to save you some time and potential heartache.
PART 1: they’re not all created equal :: Things to know
Agencies have different focuses. Some search firms only recruit and place people with deep skills in a particular technology tool (ie. Office 365 or Salesforce). Others focus on a skillset (developers, scrum masters, etc). There are agencies that target midlevel (2-10 year) candidates and others that only work on executive search (senior- and C-level). If you’re new to working with agency recruiters, take a look at their ‘available opportunities’ to get an idea of their practice. Make sure their area of specialization aligns with your skillset.
They often have different lines of business: some work strictly on contract or contract to hire job searches, others only work on permanent placement. Find out what their ‘bread and butter’ is ~ and then, if their focus isn’t the same as yours, keep moving.
Just because a recruiter calls does not mean you need to work with them. Do your homework! For instance, if you’re looking for a perm/direct hire role, don’t waste time (yours or theirs) with a firm that only places people in contract roles, unless you’re truly open to a contract position.
In the direct-hire / permanent placement world, there are different kinds of searches:
Contingent (the agency doesn’t get paid unless they find a candidate that the client hires); usually non-exclusive and a race with other firms to present qualified candidates.
Engaged (the client company pays part of the agency fee up front), which generally gives the agency some exclusivity and traction with the client.
Retained (the client company pays the agency fee in installments, even if the agency doesn’t find a candidate). Essentially, the agency is getting paid for its time, and hopefully for a well-suited candidate. Retained searches are most-often used for senior- and executive level searches.
Why is this relevant? Because the agency’s influence depends on whether the client is using them exclusively or putting the search out to many firms.
Recruiters vary wildly in experience. The big firms like Robert Half and Modis hire inexperienced recruiters, train them up, and see who makes it. Recruiting is a tough and competitive game with a high turnover rate. Especially if you’re 10+ years into your career, be discerning. Work with a recruiter with 5+ years of experience (and proven success).
Just like the rest of us, agency recruiters have relationships of different degrees with their client companies. It’s worth asking how well they know a hiring manager and whether they’ve made recent placements with the company before agreeing to be represented there.
Here’s why: once an agency presents your resume to a company, the agency can charge a placement fee if you’re hired. Agencies typically claim this right for 6 – 12 months.
The problem comes when a company is NOT willing to pay an agency fee. If you’re competing against someone who comes in via the company’s Careers page or a referral, it could easily tip the balance in their favor.
So ask your recruiter: how many people have they placed with the client company? Who pays the agency fees: Talent Acquisition (which might say no even if the hiring manager agrees to consider agency candidates)? Or does the fee come out of the hiring manager’s budget (meaning s/he has decision-making power over paying an agency)?
An agency recruiter who’s invested in your success will generally have answers to these questions. They’ll also tell you if their relationship is strong enough to get traction on your behalf.
PART 2: How to work smart with your agency recruiter
NOTE: You are not the agency recruiter’s client ~ the hiring company is. You’re paying your recruiter zero dollars. Please don’t be that candidate who expects their recruiter to do everything. They’re not your agent, though a good and well-connected recruiter will often act as one for a top-notch candidate.
- Unless you have sought-after skills (and even if you do), collaborate. Stay in touch (find out from your recruiter how often is appropriate). Ask about positions you’ve seen on the agency’s ‘opportunities’ page. Mention jobs you’ve seen posted on companies’ Careers pages to see if they’ve got a lead in.
DO NOT APPLY TO THE POSITION FIRST AND THEN ASK YOUR AGENCY RECRUITER FOR HELP ‘GETTING IN FRONT OF THE HIRING MANAGER’. Once you apply to a role directly, the agency cannot represent you at that company.
- Give back: offer to help your recruiter by tapping your network, by introducing them to potential candidates, etc. If you’re a hiring manager who needs help filling a job on your team and you can use a search firm / agency, your recruiter should be your first call.
- Don’t be needy. Calling for daily updates or expecting your recruiter to fix your resume / LinkedIn profile is asking too much.
- Slow down a bit and ask questions, especially as you get close to an offer. It’s your future. Here is where an unscrupulous recruiter (who’s getting paid to place you) might not be 100% forthcoming. If you have niggling doubts, address them. Ask for a final phone call with the hiring manager or HR if you’re not clear on things. Better safe than sorry.
- You can work with different agency recruiters. However, you cannot (generally) be represented by more than one agency to the same company (even for jobs in other departments) within the same 6-12 month period. Once your resume is inside the company, that’s the agency who’ll get the fee if you’re hired.
A longstanding relationship with a trusted recruiter provides a lens into the marketplace, even when you’re not looking. As with any relationship, it needs attention, care and feeding.
Consider it an investment in your craft to have a good recruiter on speed dial.
I use my agency- and corporate recruiting experience to help mid-career job seekers.
Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15-minute Q&A.
Don’t be shy.