There are a variety of types of firms and labels used in the recruiting business: executive search firm, employment agency, etc., which we describe below. Whatever the label, the firms we are discussing here have one key thing in common: their fees are always paid by employers. (Although a few applicant-fee-paid firms still exist, they usually cater to low-skilled applicants; nannies are a common applicant-fee-paid category.)

Here’s how we categorize the recruiting industry:

“Employment Agency” / “Temporary Agency” / “Personnel Agency”. Handle office support/administrative, and low to mid-level professionals on a temporary or permanent (i.e.-staff) basis. Business is characterized by multiple placements of similar positions from a pool of applicants having interchangeable skill sets. These characteristics make it possible for the job “counselor” (as they are often called at these firms) to work on the candidate’s behalf to match the job seeker with a client that hires this type of person on a periodic basis. The fees charged to the employer are contingent upon placement.

“Recruitment” / “Executive Search Firm”. These terms usually refer to the placement of mid to senior level professional and management positions where the candidate requirements are more specific. For high-demand job categories, the recruiter may actively “market” a candidate to prospective clients, however the majority of their business is driven by client assignments which require the recruiter to seek out candidates who meet specific criteria. The fees charged to the employer are contingent upon placement; some firms require a down payment to initiate an assignment, particularly at higher salary ranges.

“Executive Search” / “Retainer Search”. Here we see the confusion: “executive search” is used to refer to both contingency and retainer firms. In this category we are describing firms that work on a full retainer basis, often placing CEO’s at million dollar salary packages. Their fees are due whether or not a placement is made and are typically one-third of the anticipated candidate’s annual salary. Korn /Ferry International, Russell Reynolds and Heidrick & Struggles are the largest retainer firms with offices around the world. (Heidrick & Struggles is the firm tasked with the task to find a new CEO for Apple to replace “interim CEO” Steve Jobs). These firms never market a candidate–they are strictly driven by client assignments. On a typical assignment they will conduct original research to uncover the entire universe of candidates, approach dozens (if not hundreds) of potential candidates, conduct in-depth interviews, prepare comprehensive information about the candidates for the client and negotiate complex compensation packages.

“Headhunter”. Means whatever you want it to mean. Is used by different people to describe one or more of the above categories.

Okay, now here are the tips:

  1. Do research to identify appropriate recruiters to contact. Before sending a resume to a recruiting firm, find out if they work in your industry or function. Most recruitment firms specialize or have staff members who are industry or job category specialists. It’s better to send your resume to three recruiters in your field than three dozen at random. In addition to your online research, you may want to check the yellow pages or your local library.
  2. Make it easy for the recruiter to get your resume. Don’t make the recruiter work to get your resume (i.e. – send an e-mail suggesting the recruiter download your resume from your website). Call to find out how they prefer to receive your resume (fax, e-mail, snail-mail) and whether to send it to someone’s attention. Don’t assume that the recruiter has compatible software for e-mailing. If you are faxing, keep in mind that whatever you send may be sent again (probably by fax) to a potential employer, and thus will lose another iteration in its appearance. (See Resume Do’s and Don’ts for more tips).
  3. Spare the recruiter a lengthy cover letter and small type that is very hard to read(particularly on your resume) . Many cover letters aren’t read–we look for the beef on the resume, if we like what we see then we look at the cover letter; (message: you should always put important data on your resume and not rely on the cover letter to sell yourself). You have a greater chance of your cover letter being read if it is 1/3 to 1/2 page maximum. No need re-hash what’s on your resume and please–we don’t have time for your life story.
  4. Provide salary information. For some reason, people think it is to their advantage to not provide salary information–not true. If you don’t tell us, we have to make some assumptions about what jobs to contact you for–if we guess wrong we might not call you for something you would want to consider. You can provide current salary/bonus, desired salary range, or both.
  5. Don’t assume that you should follow-up on a regular basis. Find out if the recruiter wants you to call them periodically to “stay in touch”. Some do, some don’t. (We don’t; we’d rather spend our time working with clients and uncovering great jobs to place you in).
  6. Don’t expect a recruiter to be available for career counseling. Recognize that recruiters get a huge number of requests for free resume advice, courtesy interviews, career counseling, etc. Even if you have just a question or two, the time adds up and detracts from the recruiter’s opportunity to find and fill job opportunities. (Now if you want to pay for a consultation, that’s another thing).
  7. Recognize that recruiters generally can’t place people who are changing careers. It’s not that we wouldn’t like to; it’s because our clients almost always want us to present people who already have directly relevant experience. When employers are willing to consider generalists or candidates from other industries, they are less likely to work with a recruiter, since qualified applicants may be readily available to them.
  8. Call the recruiter as soon as possible after being sent on an interview to provide feedback. Be as candid as possible about your interest level in the position and other opportunities you may be considering so that he/she can facilitate the interviewing process.
  9. Your goal should be to have a recruiter to keep you in mind for positions as they arise. Here are a few suggestions on how you can keep them in your thoughts:
    -Savvy people always take or return a recruiter’s phone call. If you are not interested in the position they describe, try to refer an on-target person or make a helpful suggestion. This is a good time to say something like: “I’m very happy here, but if a ‘thus-and-such’ position becomes available, please call me”.

-Refer job seekers for high-demand jobs. Find out what kind of candidates a recruiter seeks and try to direct job seeking acquaintances or friends accordingly (do not refer people randomly).

-Be available to answer questions and provide information. From time to time, recruiters need information about companies, industries, job functions, technology etc. The help is appreciated and keeps you in their thoughts.

-Pass on a tip about an opening or recommend the recruiter to an employer who has hiring needs in the area(s) the recruiting firm handles.

Written by:

Doug Noble,