Sourcing Opportunities (Demystifying Recruiters)

uncle-samMany people (including most of my family) have no idea what my job as a recruiter entails and when I try to explain it to them I can just see them getting more and more confused. Those that are not in the know (the general public at large) generally have many misconceptions of how we work, how we make money, and the value that we bring to the table.

To help demystify what recruiters do we are going to look at the different types of recruiters and how they work, look at some important things to remember when working with recruiters, and hear how to best work with recruiters from several corporate and third-party professionals.

To start off with, it is important to realize that there is more than one type of recruiter out there. In fact, there are three main categories into which a recruiter can be classified – contingent, retained, and corporate – with sub-categories inside of each.

  • Corporate recruiters are an internal member of an organization and typically (although not always) work in HR. They can be specialized (involved in recruiting day in and day out) or may be multi-functional, serving in an HR generalist role (recruiting, employee relations, benefits, training, etc).   Their main responsibility is to filter out candidate as per the requirement of the job description and hiring manager.
  • Contingent recruiters act as an independent contact between their client companies and the candidates they recruit and although some specialize in direct hire positions or contract positions, many do both. Generally speaking, contingent recruiting firms are used when filling mid-level positions and seldom work on an exclusive basis with their client companies. In most cases contingent firms compete against each other firms to fill the positions they work on and they get paid only upon the completion of a search.
  • Retained recruiters also act as an independent contact between their client companies and candidates but they work as an exclusive vendor on the positions they recruit for. They receive a retainer (up-front fee) to perform a specific search for a company, normally at the senior level (often for positions that pay $100,000 and up). Fee payments are made in thirds, 1/3 of fee paid on initiation of the search, 1/3 paid thirty days later, and the final 1/3 paid thirty days later or upon placement of the candidate.

No matter whether the recruiter you are working with is corporate, contingent, or retained there are some important things to remember:

  • The job-seeker is NOT the recruiters customer, the organization is (they pay the bills).
  • A recruiter does not ‘get’ you a job. Their role is to work with the client, understand their need and find the best match to fit that spot.
  • Just like with any profession there are good recruiters and bad recruiters. Sometimes you have to go through a couple of bad apples to get to good ones.
  • If approached correctly, a recruiter can be a great resource of information on the job-market, your industry, and best practices on how to find employment.
  • To maximize your time in working with recruiters, find those that specialize in your job-function as they will be more likely to have opportunities that are of interest to you.
  • Make sure that you have a firm understanding  with any third-party recruiters that your résumé is NOT to be sent to any opportunity without your consent.
  • Not tracking where you have applied and been submitted can easily lead to a double submission to an organization which can result in you being eliminated from consideration completely.
  • If a recruiter recognizes your number on caller id you might be calling just a little too much

Now that we have looked at the categories of recruiters and some best practices lets look at four different perspectives on how best to work with a recruiter while you are looking for new opportunities from two corporate and two contingent recruiting professionals.

Matt Lowney is a Recruiting Manager with DaVita, Inc. In his role, Matt manages a clinical recruiting team in the southeast. You can reach Matt by email at or

My perspective is that of a corporate recruiter handling clinical (RN, LPN, social worker, dietitian, and administrator) openings for outpatient dialysis units.  I find that a lot of job seekers don’t realize the work load corporate recruiters are supporting, especially given the economy (corporate recruiting staffs have been cut anywhere from 30 to 70%).  As a result, job seekers get aggravated at the turnaround time they get in correspondence from recruiters…if they get any feedback at all. 

While I understand the frustration of applying for a position and not hearing anything back, a recruiter is tasked with finding the best candidate (i.e. one that most closely fits the job description) as quickly as possible.  The recruiter’s job is not to be a career counselor. Most candidates don’t honestly appraise their skills in terms of the talent pool available in the market. 

That being said, if you understand the recruiter’s day you will be much better prepared to work with them.  Too often I speak with candidates that see my role as one they need to “work around”.  Big mistake.  My number one suggestion is to treat your recruiter with respect as he can be a big ally in the interview process internally.  Your recruiter can be a strong advocate especially if the decision comes down to two candidates so make sure to follow-up and stay in touch with your recruiter. 

You do need to remember they work with a lot of candidates, managers, and positions.  Even if you feel you connected with your recruiter, always be sure to reference who you are and what position you are applying in your correspondence.  However, don’t follow-up too much.  For those who don’t know daily follow-up calls are too many.  Every recruiter I know has a list of “stalkers”!  I think touching base weekly by phone and/ or email is sufficient.

Lastly, I would suggest finding a current employee at the company you are applying to, if at all possible.  Ask this person to give you an introduction to the recruiter.  Recruiters are networkers by nature and they like to work with candidates that they feel they can trust.  Who better to trust than a current employee referral? 

Kyle Allen, CPA is the Managing Director, Executive Recruiting for Creative Financial Staffing in Brentwood, TN. He can be found at

This tough economy brings about many frustrations for both recruiters and individuals working with recruiters, but I wanted to quickly focus on the frustration individuals have and ways to fix that. Most professionals get frustrated with their recruiter(s) because they haven’t found them a job. Even though our success is based on solely producing a job for you we could give you so much more if you look beneath the surface. Unfortunately this is the perception and as a recruiter I try to educate individuals on how to effectively utilize a recruiter.

The fact is, as recruiters we are in a client driven business as they are putting food on our table.  If our clients’ don’t have opportunities that fit your background, we can’t help.

The best way to use a recruiter, in addition to getting a job, is to ask questions of them on how to improve your résumé, appearance, interviewing skills, and marketing yourself.  These are all important aspects that recruiters won’t always give you. Tell a recruiter you are looking for the truth even if it is brutal.

Recruiters avoid these discussion because they don’t want to offend individuals or make them upset.  I know this because I have avoided these conversations in the past.

If you keep hearing “you weren’t a fit” or “they went with someone who had the exact experience we were looking for” dig into those responses.  Those are very surface answers and almost 100% of the time there are deeper issues that kept you from the job.

The quicker you are to be open-minded about yourself and take constructive criticism, the better chance you have to land the next job you interview for.

Bashty is a Recruiter with Texas Home Health and Guardian Home Care. In her role, Bashty primarily recruits for Clinicians (LVN, RN, PT, OT, PTA, COTA) in Texas, Tennessee and Georgia. You can reach Bashty at or view her profile at

As a Corporate Recruiter it is my job to find the best candidates to fill our openings.  I know many feel that working with Corporate Recruiters is more of a hassle than a help, but we can truly be an asset to job seekers.  Instead of viewing Corporate Recruiter’s as a road block in between you and the hiring manager you should see them as a resource.  They generally are experts on the company and have a wealth of knowledge regarding the position that you are interested in, what the hiring manager is looking for and the company culture. 

It is my job as a recruiter to know the core job duties and responsibilities for all of my openings.  Even if I have never worked in the role that I am filling, I still know the core competencies and key requirements that are required to be successful in this position (that information may or may not be listed on the job description).  Use the recruiter as a resource and ask about the core competencies and what they are looking for in a candidate.  If you ask what they are looking for you stand a better chance of selling yourself to them and making it through to the next steps in their hiring process.  It is also good to ask about the hiring process as each company’s process is different and the recruiter that you are working with will be the expert.

Who knows the hiring manager better than the recruiter that works with them?  The recruiter has worked hard to forge relationships with their manager’s to determine the type of candidate that they are looking for and the type of candidate that will work best with them.  Take advantage of this knowledge and ask questions about the manager.  Be sure to keep the questions professional in nature.  Here is an example “What made the last person in this role successful and what made them unsuccessful?”  Typically the Recruiter can answer this because the hiring manager has expressed concerns or satisfaction regarding the last individual in the role.

Company culture plays a larger role in the hiring process that what you might think and the recruiter is also an expert in this department.  If you need a low-stress or flexible environment ask questions about the work environment.  I know many people agonize over what to wear for an interview, so ask the question what is acceptable attire for an interview.  Some managers feel if you show up in a suit you are not a good fit for their culture and others feel that if you do not show up in a suit that you are not a good fit for their company.  The recruiter will be able to give you inside information and will be more than willing to answer your questions.

Rick Ross is the Director of Recruiting for NGP and is based in Nashville, TN. In his role, Rick primarily recruits for senior level information technology candidates nationwide. You can reach Rick at

I believe one of the biggest misconceptions of a recruiter’s role is that we are not part of the interview process and that it’s OK to not return a call from a recruiter or to answer emails in a timely manner.

Candidates need to understand that recruiters talk to multiple candidates and that you can be ‘dismissed’ by a recruiter from consideration – I have withdrawn potential candidates based on their behavior with me. Maybe they were consistently slow to call me; maybe they used inappropriate language with me; but I decided that based on this behavior, they would not be an employee with my client. My client companies never question my decision and they would rather eliminate someone early in the process rather than after the hiring decision.

So what should you do to keep this from happening? Just treat the recruiter like he or she works for the client (we do) and we (the recruiter) is the decision maker. Return calls even if you are not interested; keep them updated as you meet with the client; show them your best business behavior.

What if the job isn’t for you? Most recruiters really do keep your resume in their database and if they had a positive experience with you then you will eventually (usually soon than later) get another call. Recruiters needs change often so it doesn’t hurt to check in occasionally so that you stay on the top of the list.

And if you know the job isn’t for you, let the recruiter know – we always err on the side of telling you about an opportunity and if it’s not right then no harm done!

It is important to keep in mind that when you are looking for a job that a recruiter will not ‘find’ you a job – that is still a you project. Recruiters are a tool to use as part of the search process and if used correctly can lead to a long-lasting relationship that can benefit both sides in many ways.

Until next time, good hunting and good luck!


34 responses to “Sourcing Opportunities (Demystifying Recruiters)

  1. I love this blog post. With so many talented candidates looking for work this greatly clarifies what we as recruiters can do and for whom.

    My best advice to job seekers – revise your resume and make it relevant to each and every position you apply for.

    Paula Wood
    Twitter: financejobs

  2. To date, my experiences with recruiters have not been positive. I have yet to feel welcome in the process. I realize placing younger candidates is a much simpler task, and that to some, grey hair equates to functional obsolescence rather than experience. The sense that I am not someone the recruiter deems an attractive candidate for their client is immediately apparent and made even more obvious by the lack of attention, multitasking, and complete absence of eye contact.

    Perhaps it has just been my misfortune to have only dealt with very young recruiters…

    I remember more than one occasion when I was on the other side of the job search table our in-house recruiter steering me away from older candidates, even if they were younger than me. Her rule of thumb was to screen out anyone older than herself. Luckily for potential applicants, she had a birthday NEARLY every year!

    • Hey Greg –

      I can tell you that that is definitly not the norm. There has never been a situation where age has prevented me from moving forward with a candidate.

      One thing I will say is most recruiters have a specialization and candidates that specialize in something have a better chance of finding success.

      Recruiters are paid to find a square peg to fit in a square hole and in most cases not only does the peg have to be square but it also has to fit perfectly.

      As I said in the post – just like with every other profession there are good eggs and bad eggs – sorry you have dealt with the bad ones.

  3. This information is a real gold mine for job seekers. I will share this information with all my business contacts. You can be sure that folks networking and searching for jobs in the Dallas/ Ft Worth metro area will be directed to this site/blog.

    I would like to see more information for how job searchers can work with their recruiter(s).

    Thank you, I will be monitoring this site for new information to share with job seakers.

    OdysseyOneSource- OneSource Virtual HR.

    • Hey Doug –

      Thanks for the comment!

      Here are a couple of thoughts on how your clients can improve their chances with recruiters –

      1) Realize that recruiters are not the end all and be all (coming from a recruiter) – they are a piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle.

      2) Find recruiters that work in your area. An accounting guy working with an IT recruiter will not have much success.

      3) Recruiters (in most cases, not all) will be able to help those that have some specialization in their career. If you have someone that has a very varied background (as an example did customer service in a call center, then sold office equipment, then managed a retail store, then did accounts payable work) they probably not going to get anywhere with a recruiter.

      4) Realize that recruiters sometimes struggle to get feedback from hiring managers just like candidates do. If a recruiter is not calling you back it might just mean that there is no feedback to give yet and they are working on getting it.

      5) To maximize your success you should interview the recruiter to find out a little about them (you would ask questions of a surgeon who is going to cut on you wouldn’t you?). Here are some ideas on questions to ask –
      — How long they have been in the business
      — Their relationship with the client company and hiring manager
      — How many placements they have made in general and at that company in the last year
      — Why they were initially interested in speaking to you

      Obviously there is more to it than that but those are some things you can look at to improve your chances of being succesful at working with recruiters.

    • I want to add to #1, we are a piece of a puzzle. Seeking employment is a full time job, a job seeker who displays no effort in their job search is not the ideal candidate that a recruiter wants to help.

  4. Exceptional article. This is one that I’ll take back to my “The Job Hunter Group” forum and post it. I’m also going to send the link to every member of the group too. The more they know about where I fit in, in support of their job hunt, the better!

    We remind members that we are not a “Magic Bullet” as posted on the group home page. We also remind them that “Finding a job is a full-time JOB!

    I am also in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (20 miles east of Dallas, in Forney) and I act as a Contingent recruiter. I’m just starting out, so I’ll be looking to this site for more valuable information.

  5. I’ve confirmed my subscription and corrected my website link!

  6. Thank you!!! As a healthcare recruiter (RN,LPN,CNA,PT,OT,SLP,and Pharmacy) I cant tell you the number of times I have had stalker applicants and applicants that have called clients directly, after hearing you not a good fit at this time, gee I wonder why? I think I will use this article as a handout to all applicants. Especially that we cannot give you a job, we can only present and profile, the rest is up to you. And yes we do go to bat for applicants that we feel strongly about, and take applicants out of the running based on the interaction with us. Our job is to build a relationship and make a match!

  7. Just wanted to say that this is an extremely appropriate article right now in the current economy. I’ll be passing it along to several unemployed friends as they embark on their job search/transitions.

    Thanks again!

  8. Great article as usual. This should be mandatory reading for job seekers. It would make recrutiers’ lives easier.

  9. If you want another take on working with recruiters check out – a very good post by friend Dan Ryan on how to be ‘found’ by recruiters

  10. Matt,

    Great article! I will definitely agree with your comment “Just like with any profession there are good recruiters and bad recruiters. ” I have had the good fortune of working with many excellent recruiters. In fact, there was one recruiter at CAI Personnel in Brentwood who placed me in two consecutive jobs. I have also worked with some not-so-good recruiters. From a candidate perspective, there are a couple of things that recruiters do which are very un-encouraging to those of us seeking jobs, the worst offense is taking a completely impersonal approach to a candidate’s job search. I can tell within five minutes whether a recruiter can help me or not, mainly whether he or she is intereseted in me as a human being or only as a commodity. Most people will pick up on this very quickly. Recruiters who will spend 20 minutes talking to the candidate, asking personal but not too personal questions – these are the recruiters who are talented enough to really understand what a good fit is for the candidate, as well as the hiring company.

  11. Matt,
    This is a very good article. Keep up the good work!
    S. Hinton
    Hinton Human Capital

  12. Matt,

    Great post-keep up the good work!


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  14. thanks for breaking it all down, and helping clarify a misunderstood topic. Do you think the misinformation came from poorly performing recruiters just like a bad lawyer or sales person?

  15. Matt,

    Great article and I liked the pieces from the different recruiters. I hope this helps a lot of people understand the different types of recruiters and each recruiter’s role.


  16. Great article for (us) job seekers especially in the world we live today when competition for the same position is unbelievable. Key take-aways for me: 1) find a recruiter in the right industry and stay in touch, 2) know that they are not your “friend” but an opportunity for an invite into the game, 3) stay clear of the ‘bad apples’, and 4) except the fact you may not get a response (but don’t take it personally). I’m not sure about the stance from another recruiter of changing resume’s to fit (more relevant) to the posting. I’m not a recruiter but I have hired many managers over the years. My POV is to have the best professionally-written resume with the right “fresh” key skills identified and create the best “relevant” cover letter to match the posting. Most importantly, post ONLY for jobs with 100% match of job requirements. This keeps the recruiters looking at the right applicants and able to respond more quickly.

    • Toni –

      Thanks so much for reading! Great thought/comments and I agree with you that the best résumé is one that includes all of the keywords that you need so you don’t have to redo it for every position that you apply for.

      Also – appreciate you pointing out applying for jobs that are a 100% match for your skills. Many folks wonder why they never get call-backs from sending their info in and that is the reason why.

  17. Matt:

    Thank you for an excellent overview. As a niche recruiter (Communications and Marketing) with my own practice, it can be difficult . . . sometimes heartbreaking, in this climate . . . to have a candidate understand that we can’t fit square pegs into round holes and that our first requirement is to fit our clients’ needs — from both experience and cultural perspectives.

    That said, developing relationships with candidates will keep them top of mind when an appropriate search does come along. It is difficult to explain to candidates, however, that “I’m a fast learner,” is not going to work in most situations. I once had a candidate pursue me relentlessly about an opportunity I was working on, for which he was not qualified — and I told him that. He barraged me with e-mails and phone calls telling me to “get on it.” I finally had to tell him to cut it out and I forewarned the client that an overly aggressive candidate was not pleased with my decision to exclude him from the search. He did reach out to them directly and was told that all inquiries had to go through me. As you would expect, I didn’t hear from him again and my experience with him means I’ll never reach out to him.

    As pointed out in these responses, developing a relationship with a recruiter (whether internal or external) is a valuable log-term tool. Your post will certainly help candidates understand the boundaries, or perhaps more appropriately, the expectations of developing those relationships.



    • Susan –

      I agree it is heartbreaking to tell folks that there is nothing that you can do for them and I agree that candidates that are overly aggressive and don’t act in an appropriate way can definitly exclude themselves from great opportunities both now and in the future.

  18. Claire Holman Thompson

    As a seasoned development professional, I have met and worked with a number of recruiters, some good, some bad. It really is a matter of finding the right fit for the job, and if I am not the right person, I would rather know it today than after I move across the country! I would advise job hunters to listen very carefully when speaking with recruiters, and, having done your homework on the hiring organization, ask whatever questions you need to with regard to the organizational culture, financials (those of the hiring organization), the team with which you’ll be working, etc. If, having heard the answers, you feel you are not a fit, say so, and tell the recruiter why. In the best working relationships it is a dialogue. A good recruiter wants you to succeed!

  19. Excellent post. I agree with Bashty who is trying to make sure job seekers understand the value of a corporate recruiter.

    I have helped build a couple of small companies. In those cases we contracted out ‘corporate recruiters’ to represent us.

    These recruiters are tremendous resources for both the company and job seekers. They could answer any questions about the company for the job seeker. Also, if a candidate was not a fit at our company the recruiter often had a lead at another.

    So it’s very important to treat the recruiter as a positive resource.

  20. Great article that really helps distinguish the huge difference between recruiters. Very useful. Thanks

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  22. Matt:

    You forgot to mention the differences in recruiters.

    Contingency recruiters do not get paid unless you accept the job. HR people treat them like lepers (a necessary evil?) and they want you to jump through hoops for them (they think you should kiss their butt). They misrepresent the jobs to you, usually in the salary department, and they say that they are on the up and up by telling the client companies that they thoroughly check your background (yea right, they verify your employment dates and hit up your references to see if they are looking for a job, HR really does not believe the information they supply) I have seen them really screw up a potential job , that is why I no longer deal with them (even in this recession).

    The retained recruiters are the better ones to deal with. They are paid a retainer to look or good candidates. They are easy to deal with and many times truly act for the company. The problem is that they find you, not the other way around. And usually only recruit for higher level positions. A lot of contingency recruiters try to call themselves retained but it is only in their mind, stay away from them…

    Corporate recruiters usually have the intelligence of a brick. They do keyword searches on Monster and the like and send you a e-mail inviting you to apply on their website. Don’t count on any return phone calls from these guys, they are not HR.

    • At least you are posetive on retained recruiters. I unfortunatly am not. In my opinion all recruiters have the intelligence of a brick. They are no more than meat pedlers who have no idea what the jobs they are trying to fill are.
      Most of them are very arogant because of the amounts of money they make. They think people should kiss their butts.
      I have dealt with at least 20 of them in the last 3 years and non of the 20 is any good. Most of these work for well known firms in Toronto.
      Good recruiters that existed 20 years ago are long gone. They used to understand what the job is and tried to fill it by understanding the talent and expertise of the applicants.
      Dealing with these people is at best a humilliating experience for any professional.

      • Hey Christian –

        Thanks for reading but I do have to take exception to your point that ‘all’ retained recruiters are arrogant and have the intelligence of a brick. While I do agree that there is a small percentage who might fit that description, there are also a small percentage of doctors, professional athletes, accountants, CEOs, barbers, and just about any other job title who do as well.

        I am sorry that you have picked a few ‘bad apples’ to work with – I assure you there are some very good recruiters out there who are very humble (even though they are successful), intelligent (even have Master and Doctorate level degrees) and competent.

      • Christian

        I have to agree with you that contingent recruiters are meat peddlers bit and having no idea what the the jobs they are trying to fill are. Over my career, I’ve talked to dozen of recuriters. I don’t remember ever getting an interview with the client from one. The jobs I’ve found, I’ve found on my own. Now when I see a posting from a recuriting company, I spend a only a few minutes to send them my generic resume. If I hear from the great. If not, so be it. I just don’t waste my time. Corporate recruiters are a different breed. I consider them to be part of the company’s HR and will cater to them.

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