- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Q: I’m looking for a new job and am planning to contact recruiters. How do I choose a recruiter, and what are the pros and cons of working with one?

A: Recruiters make it their business to match jobs with people, but job seekers should understand several things when dealing with them. Most important is to keep in mind that recruiters work for the employer, not the worker, and so a job seeker’s interests will be secondary.

There are two types of recruiters — “contingency” firms that focus mostly on midlevel jobs and “retained” firms that seek to fill upper-level executive positions.

“There’s a great deal of misunderstanding about what each of them does and a great deal of misinformation about the differences between the two,” said Joseph D. McCool, editor in chief of two industry publications, Executive Recruiter News and Recruiting Trends.

The first type work on contingency, that is, they are paid a fee by employers only if they refer the candidate who is actually chosen to fill a job.

Contingency firms are usually looking to gather many resumes because it increases their stable of candidates.

They are also likely to forward a number of candidates to employers for consideration, because that increases their odds of making a placement. If a contingency firm’s candidate is chosen, it usually earns a fee of 20 percent to 25 percent of the workers’ first-year salary, always paid by the employer. Arguably, that makes it in the recruiters’ interest to negotiate a higher paycheck for the worker, but it may also mean it is in their interest to place a worker in a position quickly.

Many contingency firms have Web sites that allow job seekers to search for positions and forward their resumes for consideration.

Retained firms act more like consultants, hired by an employer to search out and entice the ideal candidate for an opening, usually for jobs that pay $100,000 a year or more.

The retained firm is paid whether or not its recommended candidate is hired. Most, however, do their work by networking and research to reach the right candidate.

“Individuals don’t deal directly with the executive retained firm unless the search firm contacts the individual they’re looking at,” said Allison Cheston of the Association of Executive Search consultants, an industry group.

That is not an absolute. A number of executive recruiting firms allow job seekers to upload resumes onto their corporate Web sites, usually without charge.

A job seeker can reach some retained recruiters through sites like Bluesteps.com, run by Miss Cheston’s association, in which candidates pay a fee to add their resumes to a common database.

With those exceptions, as with contingency recruiters, a candidate should not pay to work with a retained firm.

Their fee, usually about one-third of the annual salary of the job they are seeking to fill, is paid by the employer.

That is important to remember, because it differentiates both types of recruiters from a set of businesses of which job seekers should be wary. Often known as career management firms, these businesses promise to match job seekers with “hidden” positions, in exchange for a fee.

In recent years, a number of these have turned out to be scams, say job-search professionals.

When it comes to finding retained or contingency firms, it can pay to do some research.

“I wouldn’t go with just one firm and I wouldn’t go with just anybody,” said Margaret Dikel, who runs the Riley Guide, an online directory of resources for job seekers.


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