10 rules for working with recruiters and search firms

The first rule of working with recruiters is to remember they work for the employer. For that reason, you need a strategy to ensure you’re using them to your advantage.

Working with IT recruiters
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Working with IT recruiters

There's a common misconception job seekers have about working with executive search firms, recruiters and employment agencies: They think these agencies are in business to help them land a job. It's important to remember that these firms work for employers, not for you -- and they are merely channels through which you may secure an employment opportunity, says Ford R. Myers, career coach, speaker and author of "Get The Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring."

First, it's helpful to understand the differences among recruiting professionals, Myers says. Placement agencies that charge a fee should be avoided completely, he says. Contingency-fee recruiters are paid a percentage of the candidate's salary -- but only if they actually place a new employee, so proceed with extreme caution if using a contingency recruiter -- they're out to make a placement, any placement, regardless of fit. Retained executive search firms are the classic headhunters, who are granted an exclusive right to conduct a search on behalf of their client company and are paid a consulting fee even if the search is unsuccessful.

"When working with any type of executive search firm or recruiter, you must maintain control. Even though the search firm is not working for you, I tell my clients to supervise the work of recruiters as though they were managing a group of employees," says Myers. This means following these important guideline.

1 be selective
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Be selective

Be careful and selective in choosing which recruiters you want to work with, and politely decline to work with those that don't appeal to you or are inappropriate for your situation.

"Before you agree to work with a firm or an individual recruiter, interview them and ask for recommendations. Are they reputable? Respectable? Ask them specifically how they work, and make sure you understand the specifics of their arrangement. Are they working internally for a hiring company? Are they a third-party recruiting firm with contracts to fill positions for clients? Or are they contingency recruiters?" says Myers.

One of the best ways to find a reputable, respectable recruiter or search firm is through networking and personal connections, much the same way you look for open job roles, Myers says. "Ask your friends, family members, even colleagues who they worked with successfully. People are going to talk about their bad experiences first and foremost, so you'll more easily know whom to avoid," he says.

be honest

Be honest

When speaking with external search firms be honest and direct about your job objectives, past compensation, desired salary, geographical preferences and other details. When you're working with internal recruiting and HR professionals, you can hold some of this detail back.

"With external recruiters, they're motivated to land you a higher paycheck -- they receive their commission based on that amount. With internal professionals, they're motivated to save their business money by getting you to take the job at a lower salary," Myers says.

Never pay for anything
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Never pay for anything

Never pay any sort of "registration fee" or any other money -- for anything in the whole recruiting process. All the search firm's fees should be paid by the employer.

Confirm the job is right for you
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Confirm the job is right for you

When interviewing, make sure that the job is exactly what the recruiter described. Confirm (and re-confirm) the salient job details, responsibilities and compensation. You don't want to be blindsided on your first days and weeks at a new job with responsibilities and duties you weren't prepared for.

Demand respect and communication
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Demand respect and communication

Remember that you are the source of the recruiter's income, even if it's indirectly. You are entitled to courtesy and respect, as well as honest and prompt answers to your questions. However, remember that you're not the recruiter's only candidate. You must be persistent.

"Another common misconception about recruiting, especially with third-party search firms, is that they're constantly working with your resume to find a position. That's not the case," Myers says, "When you call a recruiter, they don't care about you unless they happen to have an open job order that fits your qualifications exactly, that happens to be sitting on their desk right in front of them. If you get lucky and call or email at exactly the right time and all the stars align, they'll be really happy to hear from you because you've given them a great opportunity to get a commission. If not, don't take it personally. I recommend my clients call their recruiters and search firms every two weeks to maintain contact."

Another notable myth is that, when recruiters get new job orders, they first look through the resumes they already have in their system in an attempt to fill that role -- not true, according to Myers. "That's the way it should work, in a perfect world. In actuality, what often happens is recruiters and search firms will look at new orders and start doing research on their client's largest competitors to see who they can poach. They want to feel like a hero and look good to their corporate client by luring someone away from a competitor," he says.

Play the field
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Play the field

Do not sign any contract or make any agreement that obligates you to work exclusively with one search agency, as that will diminish the power you have over your own job search.

"Never ever sign an exclusive arrangement with anyone -- sometimes I hear of firms and recruiters who demand that job seekers sign an exclusivity arrangement. That's not acceptable. Many times, the fine print will say, 'If you leave that job within a certain amount of time, you're on to hook to pay us our fee,' and you don't want to be responsible for that," says Myers.

maintain control
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Maintain control

Ask that your resume and other information not be forwarded to any prospective employer without your prior approval. Again, you need to maintain control over your job search efforts, and you don't want to duplicate efforts, either.

"You have the right to know who they're contacting and when, so you're not duplicating efforts. While it doesn't sound like a big deal, fielding resumes from the same candidate through a variety of sources could jeopardize your ability to land a role at that company, and it makes you seem disorganized and lacking in attention to detail," Myers says.

Often, companies will disqualify candidates whose resume is received from more than one source to avoid getting in the middle of a turf war, says Michael Spiro, director of recruiting, NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance.

retain editorial control
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Retain editorial control

Be sure that the recruiter does not edit your resume or any other documents without your permission. Again, this is key to maintaining control and responsibility for your own job search and career path, says Myers. If you feel your resume could use some tweaking, you should consider working with a career coach or a professional resume writer - don't just let the recruiter have a go at edits and changes.

Handle salary negotiations yourself
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Handle salary negotiations yourself

At the point of negotiating your compensation for a new position, do not rely on the recruiter. You must either conduct the negotiations yourself, or at least be actively involved in the negotiation process, according to Myers.

Don't rely entirely on recruiters
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Don't rely entirely on recruiters

While recruiters and search firms can play a valuable role in any job search, Myers advises focusing only a small percentage of your job-search energies here.

"The only person who's going to get you a job, and who's truly going to care about your long-term job success is youI tell clients that 95 percent of their search time and effort should be in networking, and the other 5 percent should be 'everything else,' into which recruiters fall. I can't emphasize the point enough: Don't rely solely on recruiters to land you a job," Myers says.