Five questions you should always ask recruiters

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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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