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Recruiters: Useful? Or Not?

Career Pointers

Recruiters: Useful? Or Not?

What about recruiters and employment agencies?
One of the most often recurring questions put to me by professional and/or management-level clients, is "I was thinking to contact some employment agencies. Is that a good idea? How effective are they?" While the question seems straightforward enough, the answer is more complicated than you would expect.

The short answer is: For most well-educated, experienced mid- to senior level staff, and especially those seeking a career or industry change, recruitment agencies are often next to useless. Let me explain in some more detail:

Recruiters or employment agencies can be effective if - and that’s a big if - they actually have been retained to recruit for a specific position. And if your résumé arrives at the precise time that this recruitment task has been accepted by the agency. And if your résumé makes it easy for the recruiter to fit you into a predictable pigeon hole. In other words, if you are a senior accounting professional, with an employment record of working in well-respected and well-known firms (easy to check your references and reputation) and are looking for a similar position as a senior accounting professional, in a similar industry ... you might get presented to the recruiter’s client (the company seeking a new staff member).

In many cases, however, the recruitment agency works on spec - that is, they troll the internet and their network for job leads, and then they offer “shoo-in candidates” on speculation to the company. A shoo-in candidate can be defined as “Over-qualified, with experience in the same sector or industry and modest salary expectations”. Because the recruitment was not commissioned, the recruitment agency will offer the candidate “at a discount” - less than their normal placement fee. Sometimes companies bite, particularly if they’ve been looking for some time, but in most cases they respectfully decline. You may have noticed how some job postings contain a small-print line at the bottom of the ad that reads: “No solicitation, please” or “No third-party responses”. That’s directed at recruiters.

You may be a potential career changer, perhaps with a non-Canadian employment history; maybe you speak English with an accent (as do I, incidentally) or you may have ambitious salary expectations, or your previous job is no longer what you’re looking for … most agencies won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole as soon as they sense that you may not be so easily ‘pegged’.

Oh, they’ll accept your résumé all right, and they may even talk with you, and tell you what a great candidate you are. They’ll keep you dangling, on the off-chance that an “easy fit” could come along. What they’ll tell you is that they are going to “aggressively market you to employers”, and that they are “already thinking of positions you would be perfect for” ... trust me: in many cases that’s marketing-speak; they’re just stringing you along.

It’s important to remember just WHO their client (or potential client) is: an organization with a vacancy that is not easy to fill ... not you. To the agency, you are just a commodity. It’s also important to understand, that when there is an actual vacancy - even if it is one that you think you would be suited for - a company’s willingness to take risks becomes even less than usual. You’ve heard of the expression “must be able to hit the ground running?” What that means in practical terms, is that the company wants someone who has done it (whatever “it” is) successfully before, and will not screw up. The recruitment agency is going to most want to please their client - and will not promote a candidate who could fail, or who has not worked in that capacity or in that industry before.

So, while it may seem like an easy way to have other people do your job-hunting for you - you’re going to have to do it yourself, the hard way, by developing and leveraging your business contacts and uncovering the opportunities that don’t get advertised.
In a competitive market, it’s really the only way you’ll find out about senior positions before they become vacant, and because you’ll have established connections to executive teams and board members, you’ll be contacted when the position does come open. 

Last updated on Apr 18, 2009 at 01:12 PM
Category: Career Marketing  Career Strategies 
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