job search

“Should I use a recruiting agency as part of my job search?”

I’m occasionally asked by job seekers if we do a lot of hiring through recruiting agencies/headhunters. The answer: “Occasionally.” We have agreements with a small number of agencies that specialize in different functions. We engage an outside recruiting agency when speed & quality win out over cost-effectiveness; that is, we need a very hard to find skill set–and we need them yesterday.

Agencies are usually paid a set or sliding scale percentage of the candidate’s first year base compensation; for specialized technology or more senior roles this can be $20-25,000 so you can understand that many companies do not undertake the engagement of this type of agency lightly.

Should you consider using a recruiting agency as part of your job search? Yes–but you must be an informed consumer who asks the right questions.

  • Who are the primary clients they work with in your specialization? (ex: “With what companies have you placed your last 10 Program Managers?”)
  • How many people in your job title have they placed in the last year? (Try to get a sense of how focused they are in your field)
  • If you are contacted about a position with a certain company–ask if they have been retained by that company to work on this position? (Please see why below)
  • It’s also worth asking how many positions have they placed with that company this year?

You need to ensure they are really representing an actual job opportunity for a corporate partner–and not just a fishing expedition for a ‘full desk’ recruiter (who are responsible for both finding their own business and sourcing/placing candidates) who is trying to get your resume, then contact the hiring manager and try to convince them that you’re worth paying them a large fee for. This is often a waste of both their time and yours.

Worse, if they have a signed contract with the company, if you have agreed to have the recruiter represent you and are presented to the company by the recruiter–you may not be able to be hired by that company without them paying a fee to the recruiting agency for the next 6-12 months.

Recruiting agencies can be beneficial as a resource in your job search, but like many things it’s important for you to be well informed before agreeing to be represented by an agency. Something that at face value looks to be an additional resource in your job search can, in some scenarios, end up limiting your opportunities.



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