Don’t Make These Bad Assumptions About Recruiters

WorkCoachCafeMany job seekers are confused about how hiring works, and, specifically, about how to work with recruiters. As with almost everything else associated with job search, things aren’t as simple or straight forward as they seem.

Recruiters are key players in the hiring process, so understanding how recruiters work is important for job search success.

These 3 Assumptions About Recruiters Sabotage Your Job Search

If you’ve never worked with a recruiter, you can make some bad assumptions about them and how to work with them successfully. And, those bad assumptions can make your job search more difficult.

1.) All recruiters work the same way.

Many different kinds of recruiters exist. Understand the differences among them because you must work with the different kinds of recruiters in very different ways. The key is knowing who is paying them, as well as why — and how — they are getting paid.

Recruiters break down into these basic categories, based on their source of income:

Internal recruiters (also known as “in-house”).

They are employees of the employer they represent, paid a salary by that employer. No matter how nice they are, they aren’t on “your side” in this process. So, don’t confide in them, and don’t expect them to do you any favors.

While they are often in charge of initial screening and then scheduling interviews and follow up, they are very seldom the decision maker in the process. Their role, typically, is to support the hiring manager and make sure that all of the administrative processes work.

[Related: How to Work with Internal Recruiters]

External recruiters (also known as “agencies,” “headhunters,” “search consultants,” or “sourcers” depending on how they work and how they are paid).

External recruiters are employees of recruiting agencies or staffing firms, and they usually have many different employers as clients. Most of them are paid when a candidate they propose to the employer is hired by that employer.

Some external recruiters, often called “headhunters,” are paid a flat monthly rate regardless of whether or not their candidate is hired. They typically help employers fill very senior management roles.

Unless they are headhunters paid a retainer, most external recruiters have a “vested interest” in your success because they earn their fee if you are hired. Understand that they may (and usually do, if they can) propose more than one job candidate for a specific job.

Be wary of being submitted to the same job by different external recruiters. Employers don’t like to get caught in the middle of a fight with recruiters for the commission if you are hired. So, they often eliminate candidates proposed by more than one recruiter.

Also be wary of directly applying for a job with an employer if you have also been proposed to that employer by an external recruiter. That can also lead to an awkward situation employers prefer to avoid (arguing over paying the recruiter’s commission).

[Related: How to Work with External Recruiters and How to Get Noticed by External Recruiters.]

2.) I can hire a recruiter to find a job for me.

I’m amazed by how many job seekers contact me, and ask me for the name of a good recruiter they can hire to find them a job. They want to hand their resume to a recruiter, say “Handle it!” and do something else with their time.

I certainly sympathize with the wish to give this tough job to someone else to do — even paying them to do it. If you’ve been in a job search for more than a week, you understand how much work it is to do well.

But, recruiters are paid by the employer to fill jobs. So, their loyalties lie with the employer, although you will often find very sympathetic recruiters. You can develop long-term relationships with recruiters that can result in being referred by them to several jobs over your career, but, still, they are still paid by the employer, not you.

3.) A recruiter can look at my resume and figure out what job I should have.

I doubt that many people could do that. And, since recruiters are paid by employers to fill open positions, they don’t have the time to provide free counseling for job seekers. In fact, employers often measure a recruiter’s success by how quickly they fill a position (a.k.a., “time-to-hire”). So, they seldom have the time to look at a resume and figure out where the person could fit into the organization.

Make the recruiters’ jobs easier by being very specific with your resume or application. Make it clear the job you want. Also, make it very clear how well-qualified you are for that job. Applicant mind-reading is not in the job descriptions for any recruiters.

Connect with Recruiters Before You Need Them

Recruiters can be enormously helpful to you, and certainly play a part in most hiring done today. If you can, connect with them before you need them so that you are on their radar. LinkedIn is, today, the best way to do that, particularly through LinkedIn Groups.

It is in the external recruiter’s best interest to know as many good job candidates as possible, so they can respond quickly to a client’s need. External recruiters seem to be more receptive to those connections than internal recruiters, judging by the amount of contact information they make available in their LinkedIn profiles. Internal recruiters, particularly with very popular employers, often seem to feel under siege by job seekers, so they seem to be a bit more careful of sharing their contact information.

Internal recruiters you meet during your job search may not be comfortable connecting with while you are a candidate for one of their jobs, but they might be more receptive later, particularly if you are the candidate who is hired.

More Bad Assumptions

3 Bad Assumptions About Online Job Search

3 Bad Assumptions About Job Interviews

3 Bad Assumptions About Networking

3 Bad Assumptions About Social Media for Job Search

3 Bad Assumptions About Job Postings

3 Bad Assumptions About Your Resume

3 Dangerous Assumptions About Layoffs


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. Since 2011, Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach.  A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan also edits and publishes, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPostAOL Jobs, and LinkedIn.  Follow Susan on Twitter (@jobhuntorg) and on Google+.


  1. I applied for a job opening 7 months back. 4 months later they called for an inital phone screen and put my application under review. They asked me few questions regarding my current profile. Its 3 months after that phone screen was done. The portal says the application is under review. Is it wise to assume that they recruited someone else and forgot to update the system OR is it that they removed the job opening. Note : The job is not reposted.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Something is going on here, but I doubt that it has anything to do with you or your qualifications or performance in the phone screen.

      My bet is that this job is on some kind of internal hold. Maybe they aren’t sure that they need someone to do the job as it was described. Maybe there’s some sort of reorganization going on or pending. Maybe management has changed, and the new management isn’t sure they want this job filled at all. A thousand other things could be going on, too.

      If I were you, I would be very careful about working for this employer if they offer you a job. Doesn’t look like they are very efficient, and certainly don’t seem to make decisions very quickly.

      Hopefully, you’ve continued to look for a job, not waiting for this opportunity to happen.

      Good luck with your job search!

      • Appreciate your response.

        Yeah, Definitely something fishy. But this is one of the biggest firms in US. If this institution is shut down, its like effectively closing the US economy(more than trillions under management 🙂 ). But yeah ……I am looking for other jobs in the same field.

  2. simonwritesjava says:

    Any particular reason every recruiter constantly asks me what jobs I’m interviewing for at other companies, agencies, etc.?

    I don’t want to think they’d do something to sabotage it, but I’m curious. I’m a new graduate and this market is new to me.

    Thank you ahead of time.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      They are probably checking to see how active your job search is, and how quickly they need to move if they decide you are a good candidate for their opportunity.

      Good luck with your job search!

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