Advice For New Recruiters Starting A Career In Recruiting

If you are new to recruiting don't skip over this. If you've been recruiting for a few years and you're not sure what to do next, keep reading.

Don't listen to recruiters that tell you to stay away from lazy corporate recruiters. Or the corporate recruiters that tell you to keep your distance from staffing agency recruiters or the solo headhunter.

Find the role and side of the house that fits you best.


How recruiting works at a staffing agency:

A couple of salespeople (sometimes the owner, or executives who have been in recruiting in an area for awhile) go out and solicit new business deals (jobs) for their recruiters to find candidates for and fill.

(business development at staffing agencies can be very old school and companies will continue to use a low performing agency based on a long standing relationship)

Once a signed agreement is in place. The role comes in house and is assigned to an account manager.

The account manager acts as the liaison between client and recruiter.

They are also the point person for scheduling meetings and developing the relationship with the client. Your account manager can have a large role in accurately scoping the recruiting work and skills a client is seeking in candidates.

Account manager's have several recruiters that work for them across several clients (hopefully in the same industry with similar kinds of roles).

Your Role:

You the recruiter, are responsible for finding candidates, getting them interested, and filling the role. To do this you use resume databases like Monster, LinkedIn, and CareerBuilder. You also post ads on every site possible, send emails or InMails, and make calls.

It's also your job to interview interested candidates, and forward their information and your notes to managers and pray for feedback. When the feedback is positive an onsite interview is scheduled.

After a few interviews and candidates, the job is filled.

You earn a percentage of the overall agreed upon price, as does the account manager, and your company.

Most agencies are setup to recruit full time or contract-to-hire positions. Or a combination of both around a specific industry. While other agencies will work on any job or kind of role they can land, in any industry. In this setting the type of work and candidates you work with varies greatly.

The most common type of searches staffing agencies take on are:

1. Retained

Part of a fixed fee is paid up front. And the remainder of the fee is paid upon a successful hire.

For example: the entire agreed upon fee is $20,000 for a role. $10,000 is paid up front and the remaining $10,000 is paid once the role is filled.

2. Contingent

Also called contract-to-hire, or direct hire. You the recruiter and your company only get paid after (if) the role is filled by you. These are some of the old school outrageously priced searches that can range from 15% - 30% of the annual salary for a position.

Pay structure:

1. Commission only.

2. Bare bones salary + "awesome" commission earned based on the number of roles you fill.

3. A draw against your commission.


The biggest thing to consider is does the agency have a good book of business and a quality customer base? Next ensure that you are working for an awesome account manager. Your ability to quickly identify and interview qualified candidates and make hires will be the key to you keeping your job. If you can't handle pressure, stress and let downs, this role may not be for you.

Exercise caution when selecting customers for your agency. You will meet a number of customers who are looking for "free recruiting". They interview countless candidates without hiring. And finally "your customer" will end up filling the search with "another source" (also known as another random recruiter or agency).

I'm not for locking customers into exclusive recruiting agreements. (agencies love contracts and service level agreements)

I'm saying there are customers who just want to test drive recruiting services, take you for a ride, and never pay.

Talk to anyone who's worked at a staffing agency or an executive search firm and most will tell you there is good money there when times are good. But "I left to find something that was more stable" i.e. that allows them to pay their bills and eat every month. People like stability.

Study the tenure of recruiters who have worked at any agency you are considering working for. You'll find the average to be around a year. Also consider the reputation that agency has with candidates and companies in the area.


How recruiting works in a corporation:

Depending on the size of the company you can work for an organization (if it's a company of 100 - 300+ employees) and specialize on the kinds of roles you recruit on. For example: you could work for the sales or engineering organization.

If a company is smaller you work as a generalist recruiter that recruits anything that needs to be filled.

(Small companies tend to have existing relationships in place with staffing agencies which can make your job as an internal recruiter more difficult.)

Your Role:

Either as a full cycle recruiter who manages inbound applicants and searches for additional candidates to fill open roles.

Or as a front end recruiter (or sourcer who is focused with searching for leads and prospects).

Organizations that have a front end recruiter have a second part to this equation. The back end recruiter, who negotiates candidate compensation and generates offers. Back end recruiters are similar to an account manager in a staffing agency and can own a large part of the client (hiring manager) relationship.

Depending on the complexity of the roles you work you may use similar job boards and resume access. Or your work might involve much more intensive searching beyond a simple keyword approach or post and pray style of recruiting.

Pay structure:

Contract - Large tech companies tend to hire recruiters as contractors. And some convert them after a period of 6 months to a year. You earn an hourly rate and are responsible for your own healthcare and benefits.

Full Time Employee - Salaried job, bonus, stock, and benefits.


Constantly working with the same hiring teams (can be good or bad depending on the managers you support) filling similar roles. If you are paired up with another recruiter, that can be a challenge. Career growth can also be a challenge as most recruiting organizations are very flat with a Director or a Manager being the top of the pyramid.


Here's what I would do if I were you...

Commit to developing yourself. The skills you need to develop are:

1. Honesty

The recruiting industry is littered with recruiters and customers who have operated dishonestly or underhandedly. Change the game. Be honest, treat people fairly, and tell the truth.

2. Thick Skin

You need to develop thick skin to survive as a recruiter. There is a great deal of set backs and risk involved in the day-to-day tasks a recruiter performs. You will need the mental toughness, and optimism, to manage outcomes without becoming negative or pessimistic.

3. Relationships

Develop relationships by adding value without asking for anything. Also stay in touch with the best candidates.

You need to become the person they call before they re-enter the job market. (to this day I still get these calls and am able to help people at no cost)

4. Experience

You can't please everyone all of the time. But you should be so good at your craft that people refer you to their friends (candidates + companies)

5. Be OK Being Uncomfortable.

To be a great, you need to learn to learn. This requires being uncomfortable.

You'll also need to develop skills like cold calling, cold emailing, interviewing, telling candidates they didn't get the job, and providing constructive feedback to unskilled hiring managers.

6. Manage Upwards

Learn to manage your boss, your hiring managers, and your candidates.

Most of the people you will work with are clueless about making hires and decisions. Become the pro in the room. Learn what works and provide solutions, ideas, and results. As well as advising on key decisions.

7. Study Top Performers

Become the best recruiter at your company or agency. Study the top performers around you and soak up as much information as you can. Don't pick up their flaws. Learn what's working for them. Figure out their weaknesses and make sure they are not your weaknesses.

8. Pick a Niche

Find your niche in an industry. Then select roles to work on that A. are very difficult/complex. B. earn you a significant amount of money for filling.

Why fill 40 roles a month when you could fill 5?

9. Deliver

Be really good at filling roles. Results are what matter. As a top recruiter you need to be able to pull your own weight. I know a number of recruiters ....but only recommend a few who are valuable.

10. Build

Build your brand and network around valuable connections and cultivate relationships with other top candidates.

11. Go the distance

Learn everything about the niche you selected. Know the players in the space and develop a depth of knowledge on the kinds of roles, tools required, and how to interview / select/ locate / contact the top candidates and get replies.

12. Organized & Detailed

To become very successful. You need to be organized. You'll need to be able to keep track of your candidates and know exactly what metrics matter.

Detailed recruiters are the ones to learn from. Disorganized recruiters seem to be more stressed but make an OK living.

If you want to fall into the "OK" category follow them.

13. Creativity

"This is how it's always done" is not in your vocabulary. It's ok to learn how a task is done. But you should begin to think of ideas to improve a task or to increase results.

Test new methods. And don't be afraid to break things.

14. Priorities

Young recruiters struggle to find their priorities. And your manager and hiring managers will tell you they are "number one". That's a lie. There is only one #1.

You need to develop a simple system to prioritize your work to be effective and stress free.

15. Listening

Early in your career it's easy to talk too much. Learn to listen. Not just hear the candidate or manager you are working with. But listen to what they are saying and what they are not saying.

16. Rejection

You will receive rejection in many forms. It is the nature of the work.  Study strategies to help you respond and manage objections and rejection.

17. Persistence

In order to be successful at any task you must persist. Everyone else will give up. Go through it. Hold to the thought that there is something to learn here and there must be a better way.

18. Go Internal

Use your niche to go internal. I focused on tech roles, specifically software engineering roles. I was fortunate to be in a hot market and was recruited by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others.

Even if they hadn't recruited me, I would have looked them up to grow beyond the staffing agency I started at.

Make a short list of companies that are top paying and work your way into them. Market your skills and how you can help them fill similar roles posted on their site. Land interviews, get the job.

This shouldn't take you more than 24 months to complete. Less if you are hustling.

To me corporate recruiting is better, I doubled my income after leaving the agency world. And then continued to excel until I was earning 6 figures. Corporate recruiting is also better because you get to focus and go deep. You also have a massive brand on your resume that 1. candidates are attracted to 2. that brand makes you attractive as an employee to competitors

19. Communication

I feel like everyone says they have great communication skills or a job requires great comm skills. Let me be specific.

Become a great writer:

With the ability to write emails and send messages that get candidates to respond.

Become an excellent interviewer:

You are a paid interviewer on the front line. Figure out the best questions to ask in interviews. You need to learn what information your team is seeking and how you can best deliver it.

Ask great questions:

Of hiring managers and of your leadership. Make absolutely clear you understand what they expect from you and that they understand the work and cost associated with their requests.

Give the best advice:

Managers want to know what you think. Have an opinion on candidates and openly share your concerns.

20. Don't Ever Think Like A "Recruiter"

Think and act like YOU. Do the work you want to do. Use your skills and strengths to become more of who you are.

The title "recruiter" is just the name of a character you can play in the game of work.

When you embody the "just another recruiter" mindset, you limit yourself. There might be some other role or career you want to play. Keep a big picture view and don't pigeonhole yourself.


Think like you. Act like a person, not a robot.


Read my latest blog post: What I Learned From Reading 1017 Cold Emails Sent By Recruiters

About the Author: Clinton Buelter is the founder of ColdEmailForRecruiters. He’s a tech recruiter turned entrepreneur. With more than six years of recruiting experience, starting at a staffing agency and working his way into technical recruitment for software companies like VMware and Glassdoor.


(Photo by Pryere)

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