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9 rules for working with headhunters and IT recruiters

Recruiters, executive search firms and employment agencies are all valuable tools in your job search arsenal. Here are nine tips for making the most of your relationship with them.

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There's a common misconception about working with headhunters, recruiters, and employment agencies: while it's true that IT recruiters can be valuable matchmakers, connecting talented technology professionals with companies in need of their skills and experience, 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 difference among recruiting professionals, Myers explains.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. Proceed with extreme caution if using a contingency recruiter; they're out to make a placement, any placement, regardless of fit, he says. 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.

Following some important guidelines will help you get the most out of working with recruiters.

Be selective, but open to new opportunities

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

"Before you agree to work with a firm or an individual recruiter, interview them and ask for recommendations. Are they reputable? Respectable?” Myers advises.

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, he 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," Myers says.

Take the call

Sometimes, though, recruiters are the ones making the initial contact, says Shravan Goli, chief product officer and head of consumer revenue at online training platform Coursera and former president of Dice.com, and you should always pick up that call.

“Fundamentally, recruiters just want a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ on the initial outreach, so they can put a slate of candidates together quickly,” Goli says. “For candidates, it's always a good practice to respond to the initial outreach. If the recruiter doesn't recognize a 'no' or sends a job that doesn't match your passions and interest, then technology professionals can always block them,” he says.

Be honest

Make sure you’re honest with your recruiter about your job objectives, past compensation, desired salary, geographical preferences and other details. When you're working with internal recruiting and HR professionals, though, you can hold some of this detail back, Myers says.

"With external recruiters, they're motivated not just to find you a well-suited position, but 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

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.

Ask the right questions

When interviewing, make sure that the job is exactly what the recruiter described. Confirm (and re-confirm, if necessary) 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, Myers says.

You should be asking questions not just about the role, benefits, perks and salary, but dig a bit deeper to fully understand the context around why the role is available, the health of the hiring company and other salient information. Some of the questions you should be asking include:

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