How to differentiate good and not-so-good recruiters

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Candidates complaining about recruiters, calling them unhelpful, unethical and even immoral is as old as the hills, and nothing provokes comments on eFinancialCareers like a debate over their merits and pitfalls.

Truth be told, there are plenty of good, helpful, ethical recruiters in the business. I spent nearly four years working as a recruiter and saw them first hand. However, there are also some that skirt the line of professionalism who you wouldn’t want to represent you. Below is a guide to how one should go about choosing what recruiters to work with and who should be avoided.

But first, one point that always seems to get lost by candidates about the role that outside recruiters play in the hiring process. The reason that they are paid fairly handsomely – oftentimes between 20% and 25% of a candidate’s starting salary – is because the client is having difficulty filling a very specific role.

Companies in any industry do hire people who aren’t perfect fits for positions that they can grow into, but those hires tend to be through referrals, networking and internship programs. They wouldn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire an OK fit. Recruiters are paid to find the perfect match, which is what makes the job so difficult. The bar is set higher. Knowing that can eliminate some sense of frustration when dealing with an agency. Now on to the advice.

Identify strong client relationships

As noted above, clients want the crème de la crème from recruiters. That said, headhunters with strong, long-lasting relationships with clients can do a bit of pushing if they feel you have great soft skills that accompany a B-rated technical match.

Ask how long they have been working with a particular client and how many placements they’ve made within the firm. If they’re just sending your resume into generic HR inboxes, find yourself another recruiter. Being represented by someone with no real relationship with a client can actually be worse than sending your resume in yourself. You’re not being backed by anyone with leverage and you’ve got a price tag – the recruiter’s fee – attached to your candidacy.

Conversely, recruiters with strong client relationships can have access to un-posted jobs. If a recruiter can tell a client, “you have to meet this person,” and an interview ensues, that’s the man or women you want to work with.

Avoid lead chasers

One tactic some less professional recruiters will utilize is tapping candidates that they don’t find useful at the current moment for sales leads. Pushing you for references before you even get started in the process and asking where else you are interviewing should send up red flags.

I even heard a story of one recruiter making up a name of a hiring manager to elicit a real contact. “Was that Bob Johnson who you were talking to?” Avoid these people.

Look for hints of brutal honesty

The most common frustration candidates have with a recruiter is that they feel they are blowing smoke. That they said they sent in your resume when they didn’t, that they promised results knowing the chances were slim and that they’ll get back to you with feedback when they likely don’t plan to.

The easiest way to avoid these pitfalls is by identifying signs of honesty early in the process. The best recruiters are the ones that tell you what you don’t want to hear. That you aren’t a fit for the job, that the interview went poorly, that your resume needs work etc.

The most successful recruiter I’ve ever seen started every new conversation telling a candidate what’s wrong with their background and the hurdles that will need to he jumped. You obviously want to work with someone who’s nice and professional, but be leery of those who will promise the world then disappear when it doesn’t fall on their desk.

Find someone who will sit down with you

Bad recruiters throw a thousand resumes at the wall and hope one sticks. Great recruiters invest in a smaller number of people who have promise, even if they don’t have the perfect role available on day one.

Look for recruiters who want to sit down and meet you in person to understand what you’re looking for and what you’re hoping to avoid. Good recruiters don’t just represent good resumes but also good people. That starts with a desire to actually get to know you.

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