Being in the recruiting industry, I probably get 10 LinkedIn invites a day from recruiters. I'm selective about which recruiters I speak with...and my career doesn't depend on it. I can't imagine NOT being selective when my livelihood is at stake! My LinkedIn network consists of approximately 14,000 professionals; 25 or so are fellow recruiters. I am asked constantly (by professionals of all levels of experience, and all industries, not just accounting), "How do I actually choose what recruiter to work with?" There is no "right" answer, but being in the recruiting business for the past 15+ years has helped me to know what you as a candidate should avoid.
*NOTE* As a supplement to this article I have created a checklist that candidates can use to qualify or "interview" recruiters that reach out to them. Feel free to comment/message/email me for a pdf copy. If you don't like their answers, move on!
LinkedIn is fantastic. The first thing you should do when a recruiter contacts you is look them up on LinkedIn. If they don't have a profile on the world's #1 business networking sight, then discount them immediately. Let's assume they (probably) have a LinkedIn profile. Look at their experience. Review their resume much as a hiring manager would. How many jobs have they had? Have they bounced around from recruiting agency to recruiting agency? If so, it may be because they haven't been able to produce enough successes to stick around. Sure, they may have had a run of bad luck, but do you want their bad luck to affect your job search? Are they a new grad? I wouldn't discount them because of that, but they aren't going to have solid relationships with the hiring managers at clients. Also, beware agencies that give their recruiters Manager titles. That doesn't mean they are Managers, i.e. actually manage anyone. Some firms give their recruiters nice titles in the hopes the candidates/clients are impressed and that the recruiter appears as an expert. (Note, plenty of actual Managers and experts out there...obviously not talking about them. But when you have someone with one year of recruiting experience and they are presenting themselves as a Recruiting Manager, there's something off). Were their previous jobs in sales? Yes, external recruiting is sales, in the sense that you are selling your recruiting services to companies looking to hire professionals. BUT many large recruiting agencies employ sales professionals to utilize those techniques to "sell" candidates on the jobs they are working on. A lot of recruiters don't go out and find jobs for the candidate based on their extensive network...most recruiters have a list of jobs they are working on and they try to "sell" candidates on these roles. Also, agencies utilize the sales technique of "closing" to try to get candidates to accept offers...they create urgency, they tell half-truths (I can't tell you how many times over the past year alone I have heard about recruiters lying about a company's atmosphere, turnover rate, even expected bonus). Yes, there are good recruiters that have come to the industry from sales, but if you as a candidate feel you are being "sold" on a particular opportunity, you're probably right. No one wants to be pressured into accepting a job.
Treat the recruiter the same way they are going to treat you. They are going to Google you. They are going to look you up online and try to see everything they can about you...your pictures, your postings, etc. Recruiters do everything they can to try and find potential red flags about your candidacy. Do the same to them...if they engage in unprofessional behavior, if they rant online, remember: Hiring Managers look up recruiters they are going to work with. If they don't like what they see, they won't give their submissions top priority. Also, in terms of their social media (including LinkedIn) be aware of their spelling and grammar skills. You want to make sure they don't make glaring errors (role/roll, they're/their, etc). Why? Because recruiters sometimes revise resumes without your knowing. I once knew a recruiter that modified someone's resume and actually added a typo, which led to the client turning down an otherwise ideal candidate.
Does the recruiter specialize in your industry? Whatever your industry is, find a recruiter that specializes in that industry. I can't stress this enough. When you specialize in an industry, you understand the ins and outs of the industry. The concerns that clients and candidates have specific to that industry. It helps you make the right match. It helps you understand how clients review resumes and what they are looking for in certain positions. When agency recruiters are trained, they are trained to look for keywords for certain industries. But they don't understand the meanings behind the words/phrases...they may be able to screen a resume based on skills (sometimes...you'd be surprised how many recruiters don't know alternative terms for certain skills/experiences!), but if a candidate asks detailed questions about the day to day work as it relates to the skills, a non-specialized recruiter will be smiling politely and nodding, telling you what you want to hear, as opposed to actual knowledge. Also, just because an agency or recruiter uses the word "specialize" doesn't mean they specialize. I can't tell you how many times a day I see on a recruiter's profile "I/We specialize in Accounting, IT, Sales, Public Relations, Human Resources, etc." Unless they have specific industry groups within their agency, they don't specialize. What that means is they will take on any job that comes their way and figure "Hey, some shot at closing a job is better than not." Last week the Managing Director of an agency I had never heard of asked me to connect on LinkedIn. They did not personalize the invitation but I still decided to do a little research because I had never heard of the agency. I looked at his profile. I looked at his firm's website. I could not find what they actually recruited for. I responded to his invite, thanking him, and asked what he actually recruited for as I couldn't find it anywhere. He replied that they really don't have a targeted industry and it's "constantly in motion," depending on what jobs they could get to work. He listed Accounting, IT, Sales, and a few others. He did make a point to say that right now what they were working on were a few internal audit roles. This is why people get frustrated with working with recruiters...if you give this individual your resume, you have almost no shot of getting a job with one of their clients, and then you are thinking "Recruiters are useless." Well, you're partially right...useless recruiters are useless.
Does the recruiter work a "full desk" or not? Different agencies have different set-ups. For those of you that do not know, the term "full desk" in recruiting refers to recruiters that work both the candidate and client side of a job order. I personally think working with a "full desk" recruiter is the way to go. They are working directly with the client and have a direct line of communication to the client. They (hopefully) have a better idea of what the client is looking for, so they search for it. "Full desk" recruiters can see the whole picture of the search. Typically, agencies that do not have "full desk" recruiters employ sales professionals to get jobs from clients, and researchers to find candidates. It is the researcher's job to constantly collect resumes, call X amount of candidates a day, meet X amount of candidates a day, and enter the fully qualified candidate into the agency's computer system. So when the sales side gets a job order in, they go to the "inventory" first and search by keyword. This usually leads to a disconnect, where the researcher calls the candidates in the system (or new candidates they found online) and almost never has answers to the specific/detailed questions that the candidates have about the role. They take all of the questions down and promise to find out the answers from the recruiter working the role. Too many cooks in the kitchen usually leads to miscommunication somewhere down the line.
Look at reviews online of the recruiter/agency you are considering working with. The larger firms have Glassdoor profiles, as well as Yelp, Google reviews, etc. See what actual people have said about working with the recruiters. Look and see if the recruiter has recommendations on their LinkedIn profile (not endorsements by the way...actual recommendations). If someone has actually taken the time to write a recommendation on LinkedIn for a recruiter, that is a great sign.
Interview the potential recruiters! They will use every available method to screen you...turn the tables! Ask them questions that YOU care about during the hiring process. Ask how long they have known/worked with the client who has the job opening. Ask if they modify resumes without permission (recently a candidate told me that a VERY well-known recruiting agency changed all of the job titles on his resume and used that resume to get him a consulting gig, which unsurprisingly did not work out). Ask if they have a specific role they are contacting you about. Ask if they will seek your permission and tell you where they want to send your resume prior to EVERY submission. Ask if, by some "internal mix-up" they send your resume without your permission, will they relinquish their claim to your resume with the client. Ask when you should expect to hear updates from them. Ask them what some of their recent placements were. If you don't like the answers, I have a simple solution: DO NOT WORK WITH THEM. You are under no obligation to work with recruiters just because they contact you. It is your career. It is your livelihood. There is no reason to compromise. Just as you take your time and do your research in finding a new position, do your due diligence on recruiters. Recruiters represent you and are an extension of you professionally. If they do not take the time to present themselves well, how well will they present you?
Finally, I think the best way to find a recruiter is through referrals. I know it is hard if your search is confidential, but utilize your professional network. See if people you know are connected to recruiters. You don't have to be specific. You can ask, "Hey, I saw you are connected to this recruiter. They reached out to a buddy of mine and they asked if I knew anything about them...did you work with them?" It's as simple as that. If a recruiter did a great job for someone, they will let you know. If a recruiter did a bad job, trust me, they will let you know! The points above are good for doing your own research to help you decide, but actually hearing experiences about working with a recruiter are usually the best indicators of how successful it would be to work with them. No matter how you decide to go about it, working with the right recruiter can be successful as long as you keep in mind your best interests and goals...so be sure to do your due diligence.
For more information on me, please check out my profile www.linkedin.com/in/akarpiak
For more information on my company, please check out www.karpiakconsulting.com