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How to Choose the Right Recruiter for You

Lionseye insights from AC Lion


A job seeker recently asked me for advice on choosing the right recruiter, which is a great question. How do you choose the best person to represent you? How do you find the right firm to help you move up in your career?

The most important fact is to find the recruiter that has the best jobs for you. You need to know what you’re really looking for in your next job. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people really don’t know. It’s totally acceptable for a recent college grad to be exploring in their careers – I help out people like that all the time. It’s a very different story for someone in their mid or senior level. That person, even if they are making a career switch, should have a good idea what their next move looks like.

Recruiters fall into two general buckets: generalist firms (which tend to be larger and work with larger corporations, and may have a more national reach) and niche firms (generally focused on a particular industry or market vertical). Niche firms, often called ’boutique’, are best for people already within that industry. If you see the word ‘staffing’, that generally means the company specializes in contracting or temp work.

Some Dos and Don’ts for Selecting Your Recruiting Partner

  • Look for a recruiting firm that focuses on your industry. That means they really understand your job, your work, and the typical career path in your industry. Specialists also usually have a good handle on the compensation packages in your industry. That gets you more relevant information and can accelerate your job search.
  • Look at their job postings and reach. How many openings do they have in your field? Are they in your geographic area? Do they have only entry-level or very senior positions? Do they have more than one job that looks right for you? If so, that’s a pretty good recruiter to connect with.
  • Every industry has its jargon and abbreviations. Evaluate the recruiter’s website and job postings carefully. How well do they seem to know your field? Are they using the terminology correctly?
  • When speaking to a recruiter for the first time, ask them questions as well. Find out which companies they work with and how many openings they have in your field. How long has the company been in business and working in your field?
  • My favorite trick to evaluate a recruiting firm: do they want to meet you in person? That usually means they are a high-touch agency, one that values their relationships. Since they are taking the time to carefully vet their candidates, it shows they are thorough and serious.
  • I usually advise applicants to avoid one or two person firms since they usually have less job openings. It’s a little more hit or miss.
  • When possible, connect with a particular recruiter at the firm, instead of just emailing your resume blindly to an email drop. Use LinkedIn to find that particular recruiter. A large network is a good sign but not the only one. Are they connected with people that you know (and that you could ask about them)? How long have they been recruiting?
  • I encourage candidates to be very aware of the business side of the house. Most recruiters are paid by the employer, not the job seeker. A recruiting firm is not an outplacement agency (paid by the ex-employer), a government job agency (your tax dollars at work), or a talent agency (who represent a stable of actors and gets a percentage). Like other firms, recruiters have ‘clients’ – the employers who hire them to find them the talent.
  • No recruiter I know asks professional candidates for direct fees upfront. If they do, I’d stay away. The sole exception would be optional (and optional is the key word here) services like a professional resume writer. Those things can be great, but should not be required. If someone is pushing them hard, find someone else.
  • Finally, be honest with yourself and your recruiter about your background, compensation, and career history. Those things are carefully vetted by good recruiters. You will probably be asked for verification of those things down the line and misrepresentation can cost you a good job offer.


What’s your experience with recruiters? The good and the bad? Share in the comments!