Recruiters & Job Search (Part 1)

Although headhunters and executive recruitment consultants (referred to as recruiters from here on) are key stakeholders in the job search process, they represent just one-third of potential opportunities in the job market, at best.

Yet so many professionals allocate a disproportionate amount of time and energy to recruiters when looking for a new job.

If you’re going down that track, here are some things you should know about recruiters before your throw yourself into the job search process.

The recruitment industry

The recruitment industry is nuanced and fragmented.

Recruiters can focus on specific sectors, industries or be generalists employed by a large global organisation, boutique firm or work independently.

Although they can handle assignments for positions offering remuneration anywhere from $80K-$400K, recruiters tend to work on positions within a much tighter salary range.

And at the top end of this range, a recruiter’s work can start to overlap with executive search consultants, also often referred to as ‘headhunters’. The big difference between the two, apart from the scope and remuneration of the roles they handle, is that recruiters often advertise (but not always) their assignments.

Executive search consultants are involved with Board, C-suite and senior executive appointments, and include firms such as Egon Zehnder, Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds, Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart.

Unless they are building up a talent pool, or have watching briefs for clients, recruiters tend to only invest time in candidates who match their client’s requirements.

Depending on the type of position and the nature of the brief, recruiters may interview 8-10 people to form a short-list of 3 candidates for a position.

While they are excellent contacts who can offer valuable insights during your job search, recruiters aren’t motivated to devote energy to your unique career aspirations.

If you happen to speak to a recruiter at the right time, it’s a bonus. If not, you are networking, practising your interviewing skills and making progress with your career due diligence. Unfortunately, your background may not be useful to them now, or at any time in the near future.

The 70/30 job market

As mentioned above, recruiters handle about one-third of available job opportunities in the market-place. This can vary by industry and profession.

Many of these jobs are advertised in newspapers and online. This is referred to as the ‘visible’ or ‘reactive’ job market.

Social networking platforms eg LinkedIn and online job search boards like SEEK in Australia, and employer candidate introduction incentives have disrupted and changed how recruiters have traditionally operated.

While recruiters are still important reference points and sources of knowledge about potential job opportunities, the ‘hidden’ or ‘proactive’ job market ie learning about jobs vacancies via your professional and personal networks, shouldn’t be overlooked in any job search or career planning process.

Retained vs contingency recruitment

The other key issue to understand about recruiters is the nature of the relationship between the recruiter and the organisation.

Recruiters can work with client organisations on a retained or contingency basis. This arrangement will influence how they manage a recruitment assignment, and engage with applicants for the position.

If a recruiter is working in a retained basis, an exclusive business arrangement exists between the recruiter and the organisation. Typically, the client will be invoiced in stages eg at the commencement of the assignment, at the presentation of the short list to the client, and on successful placement and appointment of the preferred candidate into the organisation.

Recruiters operating at the top end of the market tend to operate in this way. Although they may present suitable candidates on an ad hoc basis to their clients, and get a placement fee, these recruiters don’t focus on contingency based recruitment.

If a recruiter is working on a contingency basis, they do not have an exclusive relationship with a client and will be working for a success fee.

They are often competing with other recruitment firms to find candidates, and will only get paid if the individual they present to the organisation is appointed to the position.

Why a recruiter will meet you

As there are various reasons why a recruiter will meet you, it’s important to clarify the objective of the interview, which could be any of the following:

  • They’ve been retained by a client to find candidates for a position.
  • An organisation is looking to fill a vacant role and invited recruiters to submit resumes of suitable candidates.
  • They are canvassing the market for fresh talent to update their database.
  • You, your current/previous organisation are of interest to them.
  • They like meeting and networking with impressive professionals.
  • They’re doing a favour for a client or family member.

Get you head around all of this, and you’re well on the way to managing your expectations about recruiters during job search.


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