How to Work with External Recruiters

WorkCoachCafeSince many people don’t understand that there are different kinds of recruiters who have different motivation and interests in working with job seekers, this is the second of two posts explaining the two basic categories of recruiters and how to work with them.

In the first post, we covered how to work with internal recruiters who are employees of the organization with the job openings.  In this post, we will examine external recruiters who work for – and are paid by – an organization which is external to the one with the job openings.

Bad Assumptions About Recruiters

There are three important things for job seekers to understand about recruiters to work well with them and avoid making assumptions that could hurt their job search:

First, understand that recruiters are paid by employers to find the best candidates for the jobs the employers have open. Consequently, pleasing employers is their primary goal. Many will help job seekers if they can, but helping job seekers is not what they get paid to do.

Second, recruiters are seldom the decision-maker determining whether or not you get a job offer.  They often have input into the decision, depending on the organization, and they are often the person who delivers the news to the job seeker.  But, someone else, often a committee in very large organizations, makes the actual hiring decision.

Third, understand that recruiters operate differently, depending on who they work for and how they are paid.  To work most effectively with a recruiter, the job seeker should know which kind of recruiter they are working with to approach them appropriately.

External recruiters, also known as “independent” recruiters, earn their fees in one of two ways:

  1. “Contingency” recruiters are paid a commission IF someone they have referred is hired.  If they don’t refer someone who is hired, they don’t get paid, no matter how much work they may have done.
  2. “Retained” recruiters are paid a flat fee to find good people, usually in senior levels, regardless of whether or not someone they refer is hired.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Working with an “External” Recruiter

External recruiters are usually paid a percentage of the employees’ annual salary as a “finder’s fee” for introducing the people who are hired.  Sometimes more than one agency will be trying to help an employer fill a job, and they compete with each other to bring forward the winning candidate because that’s the only way they will earn a fee for their efforts.

External recruiters may do the initial phone interview or first round of interviews, and then the process is turned over to the internal staff to manage to completion.  Sometimes, with small organizations, they manage the whole process, or most of it.


  • If you are introduced to the employer, that is usually a very positive indication that the recruiter thinks you are a good candidate for the position.
  • They have an outsider’s perspective, so they are not caught up in the politics inside the organization, although – if they have worked with an employer before – they may understand quite a bit about how the organization and the people inside it operate.
  • They may coach you about handling the different personalities and different issues associated with the employer to help you succeed.
  • Contingency recruiters may be strong advocates of your candidacy – because they, or their employer, will earn a commission if you are hired.
  • Retained recruiters may be strong advocates of your candidacy, too, to help them continue their relationship with the employer


  • External recruiters are outsiders.  They don’t know everything going on inside the organization.  They may or may not know the people involved in every hire, so they may not be able to provide you with any meaningful coaching.
  • They often put forward several candidates to increase the probability of earning a fee, and you might not be the one they think is most apt to be hired so they might not promote you as vigorously as they promote another candidate.
  • Your “cost of hire” (what it costs the employer to hire you) is higher than an internal referral or someone who walks in off the street because of the commission paid them if you are hired based on their referral.  It can be as much as 20% to 25% of the annual salary.
  • Sometimes, competing external recruiters can mess up a job seeker’s opportunity if more than one submit the same candidate.  If a “hire” results, the employer knows they’ll have a battle over the commission, so they may choose a different candidate just to avoid the conflict.
  • Some less ethical external recruiters may modify your resume inappropriately, giving the employer a bad – or just a  wrong – impression about you.  This is why it’s a good reason to be careful of where you post your resume and how you distribute it.
  • Less ethical external recruiters may submit your resume without your knowledge or permission.  This sounds like it might be OK, but it can cause you problems.  If you also approached the same employer directly yourself or a different recruiter approached that employer with your permission, the employer may decide not to consider you since employers often prefer to avoid a fight with a recruiter who may think a commission is due.

How do you work with an external recruiter?

The best part about working with an external recruiter is that you both usually have the same goal – getting you placed with the employer.  Don’t tell them all your secrets, but do be honest with them about your interests and experience.  If you have gaps or other issues, they may be able to help you strategize a way to present yourself in the best light.

Don’t expect them to help you figure out what you want to do, but do expect them to provide you with some insight into what is going on inside the employer’s organization – what the “hot” issues are, who are apt to be your allies in the hiring process, and who the real decision makers are.

After you have been in for an interview, they may be your primary source of information on what is going on “behnd the curtain” during the often extended hiring process.  Try very hard not to drive them crazy with daily calls, but do stay in touch.

If you land a job through an external recruiter, be sure to send them a thank you.  A good relationship with an external recruiter can be an asset to your career for many years.  Connect with them on LinkedIn.  Send cards during the holidays.  Refer top performers you know to these external recruiters.


Like anyone else, recruiters have different degrees of competence and different levels of credibility with their “customers” (the employers with the open jobs).  Understanding whether the recruiter you are working with is internal or external can help you work with them more effectively.  An external recruiter can be a strong advocate for you and connect you with opportunities at many different employers – widening your “net” in the job market.

Be business-like and professional in your dealings with them, and you will usually be fine if the opportunity is appropriate for you.

For more information about recruiters,’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz provides many tips for job seekers.  Jeff is president of A-List Solutions, a recruiting firm,  and, in his column on, he offers excellent advice for job seekers about how to work successfully with external recruiters.

More About Working with Recruiters

How to Work with Internal Recruiters

How to Get Noticed by External Recruiters

Job Interviews: Are You Listening?

Guide to Working with Recruiters (

© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. A little external recruiter connundrum…
    I was contacted by a recruiter who was passed my resume for a specific role with a large global company. The recruiter called me after 5pm to set an interview for the next day. He was gushing with excitement over my qualifications, experience, multiple grad degrees and bilingual fluency. He forwarded me some notes about the position and the next day (Friday) we had a 20 minute phone call. The recruiter spent over half of the time complaining about other candidates and “fakers.” He asked me 2 questions about my experience and also why I am looking for employment. Mentioned something about putting me in the system and to let him know if I had any questions. On Monday, I sent him an email follow-up with a couple questions and some notes I had made after investigating the company’s regional sites, press releases, etc. I got an automated response from the recruiter about keeping my resume on file for future opportunities. Seems like the end of it, right?

    Three days later I attended a networking event at my alma mater. I ran into some employees of the global company and mentioned I heard they were opening up this new role, which is not publicly posted. Also, a faculty member was present and jumped into the conversation to add their knowledge of alumni at the company and extoll my professional virtues a bit. This faculty member then facilitated introductions on Linked In between me and the alumni at the company. Suffice it to say, I now have a phone interview set up with the company HR director.

    No agreements were made between me and the external recruiter regarding representation or exclusivity. In fact, he never presented me to the company at all. My interview was secured through networking with the university and current employees.

    What obligation do I have to disclose my initial wareness of the position came from a recruiter?

    A recruiter who did not want to put me forward to the company. I don’t want to mention him and appear undesirable since the recruiter didn’t have faith in my candidacy. I also don’t want to apppear like I’m circumventing the system in some unethical way. But I also don’t want the company to find out if I don’t disclose and view me as a dishonest.

    Thanks for any thoughts you can offer!

    • chandlee says:


      For what it’s worth, here’s my personal take — be honest with the Director of HR. Explain that you learned of the potential opportunities from a recruiter but they did not follow-up with you — and be clear that your additional leads came from your alumni event. Just say what happened. No adjectives. No interpretation. No mention of the recruiter’s disparaging remarks about some candidates…

      Again, this is my personal take — not the official opinion of Work Coach Cafe — and is not intended as what you should do. It’s just my thoughts on the situation as you describe it.

      Good luck and all the best,

      • Chandlee,

        I just wanted to say Thanks!

        The HR manager did ask me today during or phone screening how I heard about the opening and even offered me a few explanations. I followed your advice and noted it was a recruiter initially but then my network stepped in when the recruiter didn’t folllow up and things started rolling along. The HR manager didn’t seem phased and moved on with exploring my experience.

        I feel better now too that it won’t haunt me or call into question my ethics or honesty later in the process. I would have stressed and fumbled on that one without your sage advice.

        Thanks again!

      • chandlee says:

        Hi Jay,

        So happy to hear it went well. Glad you don’t need to worry about it anymore…Good luck!

        All the best,

  2. I had a situation earlier from a well known “external recruiting” company where they said they submitted me for a position but LIED about it . I came to know this through some cross verification.So in other words they hoarded my resume but submitted someone else in favor or me . That co. kept sending me requirements for a few years now , but I find other “external recruiters” for the same job and go through them. Just recently one of their reps called me – let me a vm about a position. I would not have known about this otherwise – so this time I did not jump the gun but applied through them. Just because she left me a vm ( a kind of special invite )
    Now I have 2nd thoughts about doing that – I did it primarily out of some sort of integrity. Their recruiters repeatedly contacted me and stopped showing interest. Now on 2nd thoughts – I thought why not give em a 2nd chance . I wondered if they ‘d do the same thing all over again. I wondered how fishy this recruiting thing gets – because if they did not want me why did they ask my resume ( like when the lied to me ) . Is it because my resume had a lot of meat – and they wanted to promote some other novice candidate with stuff from my resume. Does this happen ? I mean this world is freaking closed doors – why cant there be more transparency about what goes on behind ?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Saul,

      Perhaps the first person was exceptional, and all the other recruiters who work there are straight shooters. Or, perhaps, they are all deceptive. I think it’s a good idea to try working with them one more time to see.

      Try NOT to anticipate that this situation will also go bad! But do keep your guard up. Stay in touch with this recruiter to keep track of what is supposed to be happening. Perhaps if they know you are paying attention, they will be less likely to abuse the relationship.

      Good luck with your job search!

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