How to Get Your Résumé in the Hands of a Recruiter

Working with a recruiter may be one strategy you consider in your job search. You may be approached by a recruiter (sometimes called a “headhunter”), or you may wish to make contact yourself. While you may find your next job through a recruiter, it’s important to understand that recruiters aren’t in the business of finding jobs for jobseekers — instead, they are in the business of making a match between what their client (the employer) needs, and the candidate (jobseeker) they want to place in a job opening.

Jobseekers do not pay fees to search firms. Recruiters are paid by the companies who hire them to fill a position. Because search firms don’t work for you (the jobseeker), don’t expect them to be overly responsive when you contact them. If you are a fit for a current or future opening, they may add you to their database of candidates. You will hear back from them if they have a position that fits your qualifications, or to ask you to recommend other people who might be interested in the job. Otherwise, you probably won’t hear from them at all.

There are different types of recruiters, and it’s important to understand the differences.

  • Internal Recruiters / In-House Recruiters / Corporate Recruiters. These individuals work for the employer and are usually a part of the human resources department. They only facilitate placements of candidates within their organization. (They don’t place candidates for positions outside of their employer.)
  • Contingency Recruiter. This recruiter is only paid if the candidate they want to place is hired by the client organization (thus the use of the word “contingent” in the title). They are paid on commission for job placements. If their candidate isn’t hired, they don’t get paid.
  • Retained Recruiter. These individuals are paid by the client company regardless of whether or not their candidate is hired. These recruiters are most likely to help place candidates in six-figure jobs, and may handle extremely sensitive (confidential) placements, like for large public companies as well as high-profile university or sports organization positions.

Approximately two-thirds of all recruiters are contingency recruiters, while the remaining one-third are retained recruiters. Retained firms are hired by a client company for a specific assignment for a specific amount of time — typically, 90 to 120 days. With a retained search, usually only one search firm is hired by the client company for a job opening. Retained recruiters are more often used to fill high-level positions (salaries of $100,000 and above). The search firm will assemble a short list of candidates that will be presented to the client company.

Contingency firms are typically used for positions in the $40,000 to $100,000 range. Because contingency recruiters are paid only when their candidate is selected (and hired!), they are competing with other recruiters to provide candidates for each assignment. Keep in mind that you might be one of several candidates being presented by your recruiter to the client company. Remember that if you are trying to keep your job search quiet, you may not want your résumé widely distributed by the recruiting firm — something that may happen if you work with contingency recruiters. Be sure to talk with your recruiter about this. You can work with more than one recruiter at a time — however, be sure to let the recruiters know you are working with other recruiters so they don’t present you for the same position. This can result in a situation where you are not considered at all for the opening, because the client company doesn’t want to get in the middle of a fight between recruiters about who deserves the commission.

Remember: recruiters are paid by the employer, not the jobseeker. This means that the recruiter is looking for the best fit between the client’s needs and the jobseeker’s qualifications. Recruiters will not place candidates looking to make a career change. Instead, the recruiter is usually working from a list of requirements: specific skills, years of experience in the position/field, certifications, competency in specific areas (i.e., computer applications), fluency in a specific language, degrees or specific training, etc. If you’re not a match, you won’t be recommended to the prospective employer.

When making contact with a recruiter about an advertised opportunity, make sure you meet at least 90% of the requirements listed for the position. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time — and the recruiter’s time — because “the match” is critical. If you don’t meet the criteria, you won’t make the cut. Recruiters — especially contingency recruiters — only present candidates who are “hire-able,” because they won’t get paid if they don’t make the placement.

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