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How to identify the best financial services recruiters

Despite many a vocal complaint from candidates, there are plenty of professional, ethical and helpful agency recruiters who specialize in financial services. After spending four years as a recruiter myself, it became obvious that headhunters who employ sketchy tactics and cut corners won’t be long for the business. It’s just not possible to book sustainable revenues as a recruiter without developing long-lasting relationships with both clients and candidates. Random one-off deals don't pay the bills. 

So how do you distinguish the best from the rest? There are several things to look for and ask of recruiters before you truly get started.

Find recruiters with strong client relationships

Typically, firms tend to utilize outside recruiters when they have a niche opening or one that has proven hard to fill. That said, headhunters with strong, years-long relationships with clients can do a bit of pushing if they feel you have great soft skills that accompany a B-rated match on paper. They may also be able to press a hiring manager to talk to you about a job that isn’t technically open. If a recruiter can tell a client: “you have to meet this person,” and an interview ensues, that’s someone you want to work with.

Ask how long they have been working with a particular client and how many placements they’ve made within the firm. If they’re just sending your resume to generic HR inboxes, find yourself another recruiter. In fact, being represented by someone with no real relationship with a firm or hiring manager can actually be worse than sending your resume in yourself. You’re not being backed by anyone with leverage and you’ve got a price tag – the recruiter’s fee – attached to your candidacy.

“My simple advice is always ask who the client is and ask in detail about what they do, as many recruiters don’t even have terms,” said one securities headhunter who asked to remain anonymous.

Find someone willing to sit down with you

Bad recruiters throw a thousand resumes at the wall and hope one sticks. Great recruiters invest in a smaller number of people who have promise, even if they don’t have the perfect role available on day one. Look for recruiters who are willing to sit down and meet you in person to understand what you’re looking for and what you’re hoping to avoid. While a meeting isn’t always possible, you never want to feel like the relationship is purely transactional.

Work with recruiters who always get your consent

There’s one industry trend that has been around for some time but has been picking up steam over the last couple years, we’re told. Some recruiters will submit a resume to a company without ever getting permission from the candidate or even talking to them about the job, according to several banking headhunters. The idea is to use a strong resume to get in bed with a company with which they don’t have a relationship, showing potential clients the type of candidates they can deliver.

This type of move can injure your reputation in the market and could kill your candidacy if your resume has been submitted through another recruiter at your behest. One investment firm told eFinancialCareers that they won’t consider a candidate who has been submitted twice as they don’t want to get in the middle of a commission war.

Look for hints of brutal honesty

One of the more common frustrations candidates have with recruiters is the feeling that they are blowing smoke. That they said they sent in your resume when they didn’t, that they promised results knowing the chances were slim and that they’ll get back to you with feedback when they likely don’t plan to – or at least that’s the feeling some candidates are left with, whether accurate or not. 

The easiest way to avoid these pitfalls is by identifying signs of honesty early in the process. The best recruiters are the ones who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. That you aren’t a fit for the job, that the interview went poorly, that your resume needs work etc.

Give the edge to recruiters who specialize or have worked in financial services themselves

Unlike in some other industries, there are loads of recruiters who cover banks or hedge funds who have previously worked for one at some point in their career. These people should have tighter relationships with clients and a better understanding of what the job requires. The same thing can often be said about firms or individual recruiters that specialize in covering one business line rather than those who work across financial services generally.

But perhaps the best piece of advice is the simplest: talk with your network and pick out a select few recruiters who come highly recommended. 

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • Ja
    Jason B.
    2 August 2019

    An increasing number of funds and banks seem to refuse to work with external recruiters. In the age of automation and thanks to negative feedback from candidates and clients, the external recruiter business seems to be dying.

  • Ca
    5 November 2014

    My favorite thing recruiters do- refusing to answer emails and phone calls after they supposedly sent your resume, or after to interviewed with a client. They give you the 'I haven't been able to contact the hiring manager' or stop answering altogether. I've learned that cutting off contact is recruiter-speak for 'you didn't get the job, I didn't get my commission, therefore you are dead to me' Rude, lazy, and unprofessional. Might I add that quite a few of these people who don't have time to return calls or emails add a new contact on LinkedIn every 15 minutes? They have time for that!

  • Ro
    30 October 2014

    The Recruiters are mostly useless. The ones I have dealt with at temporary agencies or temp to perm have very few positions/assignments available (and they will note how it is the worst job market now that they've ever seen, etc.)-- and then when they finally secure an assignment from a company, they over hire from their lush pool of candidates (as there are more than five people after every open position these days), necessitating phone calls to the ones who didn't make the cut (for purely random reasons as having a name with a letter toward the end of the alphabet) and telling them they are being put on a waiting list.
    Besides most companies are not even using recruiters these days. Why should they bother with the extra hassle and expense when they can place an ad on their own and get a 100 or more resumes of qualified candidates to shuffle through for interviews.

  • Bu
    30 October 2014

    Do recruiter understand that they can face penalties for discriminating against the unemployed in several states and the District of Columbia ? Perhaps it is time for them to learn this and stop complaining that qualified candidates are not available...really.

  • Ob
    27 October 2014

    the worst:

    -recruiters for contract jobs who refuse to consider unemployed candidates: when I was unemployed I was refused by several recruiters because their clients preferred candidates that were currently employed (and were "smart" enough to name these clients!); my unemployment ended with a contract job at one of those clients

    -recruiters for permanent jobs who refuse to consider candidates currently working con contract: wash, rinse, and repeat of above

    -recruiters that fail to understand commute times/geography: when I was living in an outer borough of NYC (south of Manhattan), a recruiter tried to push me into a contract job in Stamford CT (northwest of Manhattan) saying "that commute isn't too bad, it shouldn't be more than an hour for you" forgetting that it took me an hour and a half to reach her office in Midtown. Manhattan

    -recruiters that insist that candidates should be generating leads for the firm during a contract gig, only to then exclude the lead generating candidates from the new projects to save money (this did not happen to me, but to a colleague)

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