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01/27/2005: "The Truth About Recruiters"

NFT Feature  When I was searching for employment nearly three years ago, I started a spreadsheet documenting all the different recruiters I'd had contact with. When I got laid off this past November, the first thing I did was open that spreadsheet and send out an updated résumé to each recruiter I had listed. I've since updated and added to the file, and have even started keeping track of which recruiter has been representing me to which job opportunity. Recruiters have placed me in 3 of the 5 career positions I've had since graduating. I thought they were great.

After conducting a post-mortem on the lowball offer I had to turn down recently, it's clearer that recruiters aren't really all that great a deal.

I've never been under the illusion that recruiters work for me. I've known for quite a while, and have said here before, that recruiters work for their clients, not for you. Their goal is not to find you a position, but to fill a position that their client has. For this reason I've never been content to deal with only one recruiter, but instead have consistently sent my résumé to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet that calls themselves a "recruiter" or "executive search consultant" or anything along those lines.

That approach has had its ups and downs. The upside has been that most of my jobs have been found through recruiters. The downside has been calls (and e-mails) about jobs of no interest to me, constant requests for referrals for jobs I'm not interested in (or qualified for), a reliance on someone that has generally never met me selling my skills and abilities to a potential employer, and even recruiters that suddenly get very curt and pushy when it comes time to close the deal.

The most recent failure of recruiting was the lowball offer from the Tillsonburg position I was in line for. Let's look at that encounter to see how recruiters may not be as helpful as you think.

The recruiter I was working with there was very helpful. As a person, she's great. Unfortunately, I had to turn down the position likely as a direct result of dealing with her. The only reason I had to turn down the offer was the fact that it was really a low, slap-in-the-face offer. Turns out, there was likely a very good reason they offered as little as they did.

I've heard two figures defining what recruiters are paid for successfully filling a position. The first figure is 17% of the annual salary of the position being filled. That's a low-end figure charged by someone that isn't necessarily a full-time recruiter. The other figure, told to me by the career advisor I've been visiting recently, is $25000 as a rule-of-thumb. Either way, you have to figure on at least five figures going into the pockets of the recruiter each time a position is filled.

While big payouts for filling a position are good for them, think about what it means for your salary offer from the company that is paying this huge sum. If a company is looking at two candidates, one using a recruiter and one that submitted their résumé themselves, one is going to automatically be more expensive than the other by a huge margin. As a hiring manager, what choice would you make?

What I figure is that using a recruiter cost the company in Tillsonburg so much (or would have, if I had accepted the offer) that they simply had to cut the offered salary for it to make fiscal sense to them. A salary is paid out over the course of an entire year, which means that an increase wouldn't cut very deeply on a week-by-week basis. A recruiter's fee, on the other hand, is due after an offer is accepted. Can you imagine what happens to your payroll budget when you have to fork over $25000 in one lump sum? Ouch.

The trouble with recruiters doesn't end with an offer, it continues even if a company never even acknowledges you. By law, a recruiter that submits you to a company has exclusive rights to you at that company for a period of twelve months. If the company does hire you within that time frame, even if it's been months since the recruiter talked to you or submitted your résumé, that recruiter gets paid. There is nothing you or the company can do to cut that recruiter out of the picture, short of waiting 12 months before going back again. If you really want to work somewhere, best to do some networking and get your own résumé in the door instead of getting a recruiter to do it for you.

The last thing that I don't like about recruiters is more of a pet peeve of mine than anything else. At times I will get a call about a position that doesn't at all match my skills or experience, or even relates to me at all. They are usually calls from recruiters that can't fill a position with anyone they currently have on file, so they're looking for referrals. Normally I don't mind referring people, but when I know for a fact that the recruiter is making 5 figures off a successful placement, it irks me that they have the gall to cold call me and ask me for the name of anyone I think might be looking for work.

So I thought recruiters were a great deal. Turns out that's not necessarily the case. Of course, if a recruiter has a client that's going to offer me good money, you'll bet I'll bite. But I don't think I'll be relying on recruiters as heavily as I have been in the past.

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