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Five questions you should always ask recruiters

Perhaps the best part of working with recruiters is the time it saves not having to unearth your own job opportunities. That said, if you don’t ask all the right questions up front, you could actually end up wasting time on openings in which you’d otherwise not be interested. Moreover, you may find yourself blind to facts that are critical to the process. Here are five questions you should ask recruiters when talking about a new position.

1. Are you on a retained search?

Generally speaking, recruiters get paid one of two ways. They either earn a percentage of your starting salary – usually somewhere between 20% and 30% – or they are put on retainer, meaning they are paid a small fee up front and the remainder when the position is filled.

With retained searches, the recruiter and the hiring firm are more seen as partners. They’re the only ones working on the opening and have way more sway in the process. Finding a recruiter who works on retained searches – meaning a hiring company is willing to make an upfront investment and work solely with them – means you’ve found someone well-respected and worth engaging with. That’s not to say that recruiters who work on percentage aren’t, but it’s good to know.

Also, recruiters who work purely on commission will get paid slightly more if you negotiate a higher salary, as their pay is based on a static percentage. Retained recruiters usually won’t. Something that’s also good to know.

2. Have you placed someone with this client before?

Again, you’re ideally looking to work with recruiters who have the ear of clients. People who don’t just send in your resume and hope. Rather, recruiters who get on the phone with clients and can tell your story – and push if need be. If a recruiter has a track record with a particular client, you’re likely in better hands. It means they’ll have some pull and suggests that they don’t burn bridges. Those who do tend not to have long-lasting client relationships.

3. Is this a backfill or a newly-created role?

A great question to ask to get a better idea of whether the company is growing or just countering turnover. And asking a recruiter rather than a hiring manager can eliminate any undue awkwardness. If it’s a backfill, it’s best to do some research through your network on the hiring manager and the team to see if it’s worth your time to go and interview.

4. How long has the position been open? How long have you had it?

With certain firms, reaching out to a recruiter is the last step of a difficult search. If a job has been open for six months and a recruiter has had it for three, the chances are good something may be wrong. Certain jobs at certain firms always seem to be open and available to every recruiter under the sun. Typically, these are not your ideal positions.

5. How long have you been a recruiter?

As with any sales job, search firms see plenty of turnover, meaning you’re likely to encounter some rather green and inexperienced recruiters. If you can, work with recruiters who’ve been at it for several years. Not only will you have access to their extensive rolodex and experience, you’re sure to be working with someone who does things the right way. Those who act immorally tend to get flushed out of the system rather quickly.


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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • An
    Andrew T.
    13 April 2014

    I'm not sure about any of this. Recruiters work for hiring companies, not candidates, whatever they say. In my experience the best thing to do is cast your network wide and invest time with a recruiter who has an immediate position that you are applying for.

  • ch
    10 April 2014

    Good recruiters do exist. I only talk to good ones. There are a lot more bad ones than good ones, but if you have a good nose for character you'll know the good ones when they contact you. If you're a good candidate, you're also more likely to be contacted by the good recruiters because it is very much a two-way street.

    Good candidates don't waste time with bad recruiters, and good recruiters don't waste time with bad candidates.

  • MN
    7 April 2014

    Overall, these are good, useful, and workable suggestions.

    However, #3 needs some clarification especially in the current hiring climate when any steadily paid job is valuable, may be with some extremely rare exceptions. Actually, if someone leaves a company and there is a need for to substitute an employees, such a situation signals stability and consistency for a company overall. When a role is totally new, it will be better then nothing for the unemployed job seekers, but such a new position in some cases may be less solid and less sustainable.

  • Wh
    White Hunter
    4 April 2014

    These five questions posit the assumption that the recruiter is a serious professional who maintains genuinely valuable relationships with bona fide hiring managers who actually want to hire someone and are sincerely looking for qualified candidates. Unfortunately, many of us have yet to find even a single such person with any of the major national "recruiting" franchises.

    Far more often, the "recruiter" is a twenty-something with no such contacts and little likelihood of ever developing them. Moreover, it's well known that these agencies frequently post "openings" that in fact don't exist at all. But they're all very inquisitive about the applicant's own contacts to add to their own files; and at least one agency, incredibly, claims perpetual copyright on the work in the applicant's own portfolio--yes, that means even work that has no connection at all to the recruiting agency or any of its clients.

    The sort of recruiter presumed in the article would be a priceless treasure indeed. The question is, does such a person exist in the real world?

  • je
    3 April 2014

    Unfortunately, in the current job climate, getting **ANY** job is the most you can hope for.

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