The Truth About Contingency Recruiters

A contingency recruiter works for the company, not you.  They are paid to find people for jobs, not jobs for people.  True, if you seem to fit what a client company is looking for, a good recruiter won’t treat you as a commodity.  He’ll respect your presence in the process by keeping you in the loop.  On the other hand, unless you fit something, your paperwork languishes.  They have no obligation to you whatsoever.

Recruiters who view their recruiting career as long term give equal attention to both sides of the equation. The objective is to make the best match between the client company and the candidate, and understanding that that can only be done by thoroughly knowing each side.  The client is literally defined by who pays the fee – thus the client is the company.   But the involved candidate should also be treated as a client.   Recruiters who seek to slam placements by talking people into hiring situations not well suited to them are at best, denying themselves the opportunity to be the best recruiters they can be, and at least, working themselves out of a job.

The problem isn’t the recruiter who doesn’t bring you to a client’s attention; it’s the recruiter who doesn’t do his due diligence on your – or the company’s – individuality.  It’s a disservice not only to you and to the client, but to himself as well.  But because contingency firms are paid only when and if a candidate is hired, this can understandably lead to questionable behavior, because if the placement isn’t completed, the recruiter isn’t paid at all.

The thought is that the focus is on the placement so there’s the necessity for both speed and numbers.  The assumption is that because contingency recruiters are paid only when they make a placement, often there’s more than one firm working a search. While speed and numbers are important, they shouldn’t take the place of the recruiter’s qualifying each candidate he’s found.  Too many refer quantity to their clients rather than quality.    As a result, many contingency recruiters shoot resumes at their clients fast and furiously in an attempt to be the first one that hits the target. Obviously when a recruiter works in this manner, no one really benefits.

Ironically enough, it’s this group that misses the point, because understanding the client and the candidate is what eliminates the recruiter from having to beat their competition on the same search. A good contingency recruiter who focuses on relationships serves his client thoroughly, productively, and usually successfully, which results in continued business from that client to the exclusion of the client feeling the need to use other contingency firms.  A recruiter benefits from repeat business, but too many fail to understand this.

Companies that use the same contingency recruiter repeatedly are doing so because that recruiter has performed consistently for them. They feel the recruiter has a solid idea of the company’s personality and what its goals and ideals are. A recruiter who has worked with the same company repeatedly comes to know instinctively, who will be a good fit with that company and who will not.

A recruiter who pays attention to you as an individual is not behaving as your friend, and should not be attempting to be your friend.  Camaraderie, yes.   Open communication, yes.  Mutual respect and trust, by all means.  These factors aren’t friendship. Don’t mistake it for such, and don’t expect it.  They should be present as an indication that the recruiter is behaving professionally and striving to put together the best possible, long-term match between you and a client company.

Those who know me know I advocate narrowing your options as you qualify companies through interviewing.  A competent recruiter should do the same with candidates.  For both of you, it’s about quality, not quantity.  And to achieve that, you both need to have examined in depth what you’re looking for.

Judi Perkins, the How-To Career Coach, was a recruiter for 22 years and worked with hundreds of hiring authorities on entry level through CEO. She set up over 15,000 interviews, and has seen over half a million resumes. Her clients often find jobs 8 – 12 weeks because she brings them sequence, structure and focus, and shows why typical strategies often fail. She’s been on PBS’s Frontline, Good Morning Connecticut, in Smart Money magazine, CareerBuilder, MSN Careers, Yahoo Hot Jobs, New York Times, New York Daily News, multiple radio shows including a regular Thursday morning gig, and quoted in numerous career books. Sign up for her free newsletter at

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