After the first post of the series “Interviewing for an IT Job” went live, I received quite a few emails from readers asking me how headhunters work.

I am not an expert on the subject, so I reached out to a friend of mine who knows all about recruiting and asked her to write this post.


Index of Related Posts:
1. Interviewing for an IT Job
2. What You Need to Know When Interviewing For a Job in IT
3. What to Expect When Going Through the Technical Interview
4. What You Should Know about Headhunters and Recruiters
5. Tips for Networking Success
6. 5 Tips for Successful Webcam Interviews
7. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 1 – Ping
8. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 2 – Traceroute
9. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 3 – Firewalls
10. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 4 – NAT
11. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 5 – PAT
12. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 6 – 1:1 NAT
13. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 7 – Port Forwarding

Below are answers to some commonly-asked questions, received by Technoideas, about using a recruiter:

What You Should Know about Headhunters and Recruiters.

  • What are the various types of recruiters?
  • How do they work? Do they charge fees?
  • How should I use them in my job search?
  • Is it better to go directly to a company versus working with a recruiter?
  • What questions should I ask the recruiter who calls about a job?

What are the Various Types of Recruiters?

(Note: Headhunter and Recruiter are often used interchangeably.)

Contingency Recruiter:

This recruiter is paid by the employer only on completing a successful hire/placement. The recruiter is responsible for the initial recruiting, screening and interviewing. The contingency recruiter will also arrange interviews with the candidates for the employer. The employer pays either a flat fee or a percentage of the candidate’s first year’s salary – only if they decide to hire the candidate.

Retained Recruiter:

Similar to a contingency recruiter in that the employer pays the fees. The main difference between a contingency and a retained recruiter is that the employer pays a nonrefundable retainer fee to the recruiter to perform a search. A portion of the overall search fee is paid upfront and the remainder at an agreed upon later date (oftentimes after a set number of qualified candidates have been presented). This retainer fee is paid whether or not a placement/hire is made. Companies often use retained search firms for higher level positions within an organization (e.g., CIO, Vice President of Sales).

Retingency Recruiter:

Retingency is a word made up in the recruiting world. A retingency search (also known as a container or partial retainer search) combines both elements of a contingency search and a retained search. In this situation, a portion of the overall search fee is paid upfront (retainer) and the remainder is due only upon a successful hire (contingency) – both paid by the employer.

Staffing Recruiter (Contract/Freelance/Temporary):

A staffing firm provides candidates for a client company’s project needs (when a direct-hire employee is not needed). In this relationship the candidate is oftentimes hired by the staffing agency and the staffing agency pays the candidate’s wages or invoice. The client company then pays a slightly increased hourly rate to the staffing firm for the contract, freelance or temporary employee.

Outplacement Recruiter:

An outplacement recruiter or agency provides job search assistance to jobseekers, typically downsized/displaced individuals. Many times the employer will hire an outplacement company to help their recently downsized workforce find jobs. Outplacement services include providing resume/interviewing assistance, career counseling, etc. Candidates can also hire an outplacement recruiter to work with them. However this is often an expensive endeavor.

Do They Charge Fees? How Do They Work?

Recruiters are paid by the employer – they are not paid by the candidate (unless you choose to hire your own outplacement recruiter as explained above). Many think recruiters Find Jobs for People – the reality is recruiters Find People for Jobs!

Recruiters are paid to fulfill very specific requirements for the employer. Often they are looking for “hard to find” skills or a unique combination of skills (they may be hired after the employer is unable to find the right person). In many cases, the jobs are not posted – for example, if conducting a confidential search or searching for a person for a higher level position.

The recruiter reviews many resumes daily working on multiple assignments/positions. They review their own database/network and sites such as LinkedIn, Monster and Indeed, or target competitive companies with similar positions, while looking for candidates. They will conduct an initial screening interview (by phone or in person) to gauge your qualifications, interest and fit. Generally, they will provide “counsel” to candidates who are qualified for the position, help them refine their resume, assist in interview preparation, and coach them on interview expectations.

Unless you match the requirements they are looking for, often recruiters will not spend much time with you. This is not to be taken personally – they do not have time for a lengthy discussion with everyone and are often under a tight deadline to fill a specific job. As a result, only relying on recruiters for your job search is not a good plan.

How Should I Use Recruiters in My Job Search?

It is a good idea to contact industry-specific recruiters, as generally they will each have different assignments/positions – you want your resume in their databases. Some recruiters are more focused than others. For example, a recruiter may be a general IT recruiter looking for any and all technical positions while others may be focused on a smaller subset of IT -SAS programmers or Hadoop, etc… It is worth your time to get on the radar of those recruiters specializing in your field. Check their websites for job postings and contact them if you see a position that is a fit. Ideally, you should tailor your resume for the specific position prior to sending it to the recruiter.

Be sure to keep your online profiles up to date and filled with appropriate keywords to make yourself “findable” when a recruiter does a search. It is not uncommon for a job-seeker to let a recruiter know where they land, in order to develop that connection for the future.

We generally recommend spending only about 5% of your time working with recruiters – use your network and focus on activities to get you in front of the decision makers at your desired companies! Recruiters can be a great resource, but the vast majority of job-seekers will NOT find their next job through a recruiter.

Is it Better to go Directly to a Company versus Working with a Recruiter?

The answer depends on who you know at the company. If you’ve already networked your way to a decision-maker, and have a personal relationship there … go directly. If you don’t know anyone at the company and you talk with a recruiter who has a relationship with the hiring manager … you should use the recruiter. The company’s desire to avoid paying the recruiter’s fee might sometimes be a factor, but a personal relationship generally is the deciding factor.

Most good recruiters develop and build relationships with their clients over a long period of time. Those relationships are invaluable … they have the trust and attention of the decision-makers who are the hardest to reach. They can get you in front of the right people at the right time. That is one of the main advantages of using a good recruiter.

What Questions Should I Ask a Recruiter Who Calls about a Job?

  • Which company are they recruiting for? If you have already applied directly to the same company, generally they will not be able to represent you. Tell them upfront!
  • Find out everything the recruiter knows about that company.
  • What are the job requirements? Ask for a job description. What is most critical for success in that role? Treat it like an interview in that you want to help the recruiter identify why you are a good candidate for the job.
  • Understand the salary range for the position – will your expectations be a fit?
  • Is the position new or a replacement? If a replacement, then what happened to the previous person who left?
  • Who is the hiring manager? What is his/her management style? What is the company culture? Get as much information as you can to help you prepare for a potential interview and determine if you will thrive in the company’s environment.
  • What is the interview process? When do they expect to fill the position?
  • What is the next step?

Good recruiters should be able to answer almost all of these questions and more. They may help you tweak your resume, prepare you for the interview, help you understand the most critical job requirements, and help you negotiate the offer. They should be looking out for everyone’s best interest – their own, their client’s and their candidate’s.

It is always a good idea to ensure that the recruiter will never submit your resume to any company or job without your knowledge and approval. Also, although the screening by the recruiter may sometimes feel less formal, it is a professional interview. Remember the recruiter represents the employer! Be honest about your qualifications, experiences, education, salary, etc… and expect the same in return.

Candace Nelson is a partner at TBN Consulting, LLC a search firm for direct hire, contract and freelance professionals.