The world of contingent, agency recruiting is extremely competitive. The salesperson that visits clients will usually have a nice suit on and promise you the world, but as the saying goes, don’t ask how the sausage is made.

The main thing to understand is that contingent recruiting is a sales game and, as with any sales industry, it is all about earning commission. Contingent recruiters must provide a majority of their service for free and there still is never a guarantee of earning their commissi

on. [I would venture to say recruiters provide roughly 80% of their services for free]. It is only if their candidate gets selected will they be paid. As a result, it creates a lot of competition, not just amongst competing agencies, but between the many candidates the recruiter has sent to the client.

Therefore, agency recruiters focus more on making a successful placement with any candidate rather than a specificcandidate. So while a candidate may be sent to that client by the recruiter, there could be as many as 5 – 10 other candidates being sent as well. This makes for a difficult situation because the candidate and recruiter have the same goal, but different outcomes.  What I mean is both parties want a successful placement, but the recruiter will be happy with whoever gets placed as long as they are earning a fee.

The point of this article is to take a look into the truth behind agency recruiting. Please understand that I do not have an axe to grind against the agency world. I spent the majority of my career in that environment and I had a great time. I made great money, met some of my closest friends and helped change the lives of people when it came to their careers. However there are parts of the world of agency recruiting that I feel it is important for people to understand:

1) Agency recruiters are not there to get a candidate a job:

If you are working with an agency recruiter, do not expect them to fight to get you a job.

Ultimately recruiters are loyal to those who pay their salary – those people are the client. They will contact you about a job, but if you do not fit the bill it is on to the next candidate. Yes you will enter into a pipeline of candidates because that recruiter should be filling similar positions. However, if they do not have an immediate role for you, do not expect them to go around looking for you!

2) Recruiting agencies hire young:

Most recruiting agencies hire right out of college. There are many reasons for this, but the one I have noticed the most is because recent college graduates will work 60 hour weeks for about 30K a year. That is typically what is asked of you right out of the gate. Most agencies will have working hours from 7:30- 5:00, however if you leave right at 5:00 you can expect a not so great meeting with your manager the next day. As a result there is a high turnover rate.

The amount of people I have seen get let go is astounding. It’s the main reason companies like Aerotek, Adecco, Robert Half or any of the other major agency won’t hire someone with experience. It is impossible to get someone with good recruiting experience to agree to that kind of demand.

3) Agency recruiters have the candidates’ best interest in mind when it benefits the recruiter:

A candidate is only useful to an agency recruiter if they are in consideration for a job. If you are not in consideration for an opening they will most likely not give you a second thought.

Again this industry is sales based and a popular phrase in the agency world is “closest to the money”. A candidate not in consideration is not closest to the money therefore is an afterthought.

4) Your resume may open the door for other candidates:

Go to any car dealership and what will you notice? The shiny, new cars are always out front drawing the customer into the showroom. Recruiting is no different.

If your resume is one that is impressive on paper consider yourself that shiny car. Recruiters will use your resume to show their clients that they should do business with them because they will get them the best resumes. It is good to see yourself as the resume that opens the door for them, but you may only be starting the process to get someone else hired.

Hiring managers do not want to hire the first person they see, they want to do their due diligence. So while your resume may be the catalyst that starts the conversation between a client and a recruiting agency, you may just be setting up someone else to get the job.

5) Candidates are numbers:

The old saying goes “Sales is a numbers game”. The same goes for recruiting. When a recruiter first starts out in the agency world candidates are treated as numbers. For example, when I first started my career at Aerotek I was told to just bring in as many candidates as possible to gain experience. Regardless if I had a job for them or not I should bring them in for an interview. What about the candidate? They are taking their time to come into the office and interview with a recruiter, for what? All so the recruiter can gain experience? I am not against training people, but that is up to managers, not the responsibility of prospective candidates.


This article is not to persuade someone from entering the recruiting industry or candidates from working with agency recruiters. I personally have gone through all these experiences and have enjoyed my career tremendously. If you survive the initial demands as an agency recruiter there is a great career awaiting you. So if you are looking for a career in the industry, jump on in! Just understand the truth behind what goes on.

As a candidate you need to be selective with who you work with. Develop a relationship with a recruiter beyond just picking up the phone the next time a job comes in. Understand which recruiters are working in your specific industry and networking with the people you want to meet. Then develop an understanding with the recruiter of what your career goals are so they can align you with the proper hiring managers. A good recruiter should be there to create conversation between two people who normally may not be connected. Recruiters can open up doors that you didn’t even know existed, you just need to know which ones to work with.

Views: 1335

Comment by Matt Charney on December 4, 2014 at 9:39am

This is an awesome post with some very salient points that are very true, too. Great read with some obvious experience and expertise backing up your arguments - which is what good content is all about. Keep it up.


Comment by JP Sutton on December 7, 2014 at 4:24pm
Overall pretty good. #4 is a lost cause. Not a recommended way to gain or impress employers unless the candidate is interested in the position and has been vetted for it.
Comment by Raphael Fang on December 8, 2014 at 2:18pm

On the flip side, Candidates don't care much about Recruiters, unless they are looking for work.

Comment by Ronald S. Jordan on December 8, 2014 at 2:58pm

I read  maybe far too many recruiting blogs but yours was one of the worst ones I have seen in a while. The content of the topics have some validity but most of it is garabage. Let's start with #!, Recruiters are not trying to get a candidate a job, I don't know how you get paid, the client the company does pay but without a candidate there is not commission or retainer to be had. I have worked in the legal search business for over 20 years and in a agency for close to 10 years before I started my own firm. The candidates that seek me out are looking for a new opportunity, their loyalty to me is because of my success. In the legal/law firm business at least the way I started and maintain my business, there aren't any jobs, my candidates and I create them based on their talent and my ability to bring their talent to decision makers, so everyone wins. #2, some recruiting firms hire young but the majority here in the states are seeking folks who have been working in the industry thus that would disqualify most young people, because they would not have the industry experience. Also, a agency or recruiting company wants to have recruiters who have a following of corporate clients or in my case law firms that want to hire who I represent, in my case, diverse attorneys of color. #3. you are partly right but only in the benefits of the recruiter you missed the candidate also has to benefit from the recruiter's expertise of the market place or practice area in the legal recruiting space. #4,  a candidate's resume could be the catalyst for a opening but truly if a opening is already in the hiring manager's mind the recruiter is going to know about it and depending on the relationship with the HR or in house recruiter or in the law firm business the Managing Partner, Chairman or Practice leader will let the recruiter know about an opening either by contacting the recruiter or a recruiter may simply ask. those leaders. #5, I learned long ago, that clients don't want to see numbers of resumes, they want to see the right fit for their position or a position they are thinking about adding to their organization. Numbers only work for recruiting agencies that want to play an old game that only works once in a blue moon. Any candidate that works with a firm that is not specifically interested in the talents the candidate brings to the talent market place, the candidate should find another source to find a new opportunity. Numbers don't work for another reason and this is the most important reason, "confidentiality." Candidates utilze recruiters to work with them in keeping their names and talents under the radar of their current employer. I recommend if a candidate is truly looking for a new job, use a recruiter and if they don't think the recruiter has any of the attributes listed above, they can always use Monster or Indeed, that way they can tell their whole industry that they are seeking a job and confidentiality is not important, nor are they worried about being fired from their jobs.

Chadd next time you write about why one shouldn't use a recruiting agency, talk to people in a recruiting agency first, not every person fits the model you think is best, sometimes other modes of recruiting may work for other candidates.

Best regards and Happy Holidays,

Ron Jordan


Carter-White & Shaw

Diverse Attorney Recruiter

Office No: 410-778-5062

" One of the oldest black owned and operated legal search firms in the nation, since 1991,serving the diverse attorney of color community for law firms and selected in house corporate, across the nation."

Comment by JP Sutton on December 8, 2014 at 3:06pm

Ouch... Dang Ron, a little rough with the comments I see. I think Chadd is coming out of the Commercial Recruiting world, so what he is saying does have some validity.

Comment by Chadd Balbi on December 8, 2014 at 3:33pm

To Ron: I welcome all feedback, both negative and positive. I'm not one to post on the internet and be narrow minded enough to think everyone will hoist me on their shoulders and agree with what I have to say, I know how the world works. However when someone calls my work garbage, I simply can't sit idle. I will not address your argument point by point, because we all come from a diverse background and could be here for years talking about it. However the argument you present to support your point of view has 2 major flaws:

1- I have close to a decade of agency recruiting experience. You mention I should talk to someone in a recruiting agency first. I guess 10 years in that world should suffice to satisfy your need. 

2- You write "next time you write about why one shouldn't use a recruiting agency..." This shows your ignorance to the post and how you clearly did not read the entire article. Had you, you would have read where I wrote "This article is not to persuade someone from entering the recruiting industry or candidates from working with agency recruiters. Just understand the truth behind what goes on". 

Like I said, I welcome all feedback negative or positive. But if you are going to label my work as garbage, have the respect and courtesy to read it in its entirety and not just make ignorant, misguided comments because you read the first 3 lines. That's the equivalent of someone reading the first page of a theoretical physics textbook and considering themselves a Physicist. 

Comment by Shirley Ray on December 9, 2014 at 8:54am

Ron: Legal recruiting is very different from Commercial recruiting.  Taking that difference and trying to use it to make someone wrong reveals your ignorance in ways I'm sure you didn't intend.

Chadd: Great post.  When a candidate calls me to say they need my help finding a job, I make it clear to them that I'm in the business of finding people for jobs, not jobs for people.  That said, when I'm able, I do try to help candidates with resume advice and ideas around where/how to look for a position. 

Comment by George Genel on December 9, 2014 at 9:33am
Ron, chad, you're both right on your points. I have owned my firm since 1991 grew it to 26 recruiters and have been in the business since 1986. I find the recruiters described by Chadd to be more on the novice side trained by large Robert Half, Addeco type firms or firms still stuck in the 70's and 80's.

In the Legal search area most candidates are signing exclusive agreements to be represented by one recruiter so Ron needs to perform for the candidate. I know the legal arena well and my best friend owns one of the top legal search firms in the nation and is very well known. Legal is a completely different animal.

We specialize in a very niche market that is very hard for a recruiter to break into and need to form close relationships with both clients and candidates as referrals in this business is the best way to top people. Winners associate with winners.

While numbers are important as they equal placements, this is really a relationship building business and the ultimate networking game.

Chadd, it's good to use your experience in the article but I think it would be better if you also interviewed a number of recruiters which would have given you even more points of view for the article. It's a good article but far to general and from the point of view of large firms not the service oriented boutique firms that work hard to counter the negative percievement caused by large through mud against the wall and see what sticks firms.

George Genel
GSI Search International
Comment by Chadd Balbi on December 9, 2014 at 10:17am

I agree Shriley. Candidates need to remember clients pay the bills. So as much as it would be nice for the recruiter to be out there finding them a job, it is not going to build revenue. But if you build a relationship with a recruiter, they will take that extra step to potentially get you to that next point in your career. I actually wrote about that a year ago in the below article

Comment by Ronald S. Jordan on December 9, 2014 at 10:35am

Chad, I did read the article and it more of a hit piece concerning large recruiting agencies, which we both worked for. I might have been a bit harsh when I used the "word garbage" In that instance I can step back and admit it was the wrong word to use. The article was hit piece about the "truth about recruiting agencies", which you don't like and that is the essence of the article. Ten years is a lot of time out of one's life to dedicate to a profession and you should be commended, I commend you. I have been working in the search business for 30 years mind you the bulk in legal search for 20 plus years. Legal search and Commercial  are similar in cultivating clients and candidates, that want to work with recruiters. The nuances are different but all recruiters, contingency, retained, etc. are all in this business to make a living on a long term basis. I wish you continued success in all your endeavors and may you and yours have a great holiday season. rsj


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