What Job Seekers Should Know About Working With Recruiting Agencies

I recently received a question that is important for all job seekers to consider: "Should I work with an external recruiter, and if so, how do I do that?"

If you've never tried it before, enlisting the help of a placement firm can be a confusing proposal. It's tough to know where to find a recruiter, how to begin, and what to expect.

The good news is, working with an external recruiter (a.k.a., a "headhunter") is not as hard to do as it seems – you just need to know a few things first.

External Recruiter 101

First, you should know how they work. Typically, headhunters are paid a commission if they are able to help place a job seeker in a job. The hiring company pays this commission, and the headhunter is only paid when and if a placement is made. Think of an external recruiter as a matchmaker or salesperson of sorts. They help source candidates that fit well with the companies they work for.

Arranging a meeting with a headhunter isn't hard. You can find local recruiters online. Then, you can reach out to them by phone or email to request a meeting. Most placement firms are open to meeting with new candidates because doing so allows them to keep up with the available talent in the job market. The firm will keep your resume and personal details in its database.

Along with your resume, you must typically disclose all your salary information right up front. This is a bit different from applying directly to a company, where you can often skirt the salary issue until the end of the interview process. In addition, you may also be asked to take exams in order to demonstrate your competency in certain subjects.

Keep in mind that headhunters meet with many candidates every day. You need to work closely with them in order for the process to be effective. If you just sit back and hope the recruiter will show up with the perfect job for you, you're probably not going to see results. Keep the recruiter up to date on your employment status, what kind of job you're looking for, and any changes that occur. If you stop reaching out, they'll assume you found a job.

The Downsides of Working With Headhunters

Although there are many positives to working with a headhunter, there are also pitfalls to consider.

Many job seekers feel that placement firms work for them, but the reality is that their ultimately goal is to keep their clients happy – and job seekers are not their clients; hiring managers are.

Additionally, recruiters only earn commissions if they make placements. If you've ever sold a house, you know that there are times when a real estate agent would be happy to sell a house at a lower-than-ideal price in order to ensure a commission. When working with a headhunter, there's a chance you could end up as that house.

Placement firms can be helpful, but they're tools rather than complete solutions. To maximize success, continue looking on your own even when you've connected with a recruiter. You are your own best advocate, and after all, you only have one job seeker to worry about: yourself.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.