IT Employment

How many recruiters should you work with in finding a job?

To be successful in finding a job, try to resist working with several recruiters at once. Here's why.

A TechRepublic member recently emailed us with the following question:

I am in the job market after five years at my most recent employer, four in a management role.  I am looking at a number of medium size cities throughout the Southeast.  (Louisville is the largest that I'm considering.)  To assist me in my search I've reached out to a number of recruiters.  In my primary relocation city, I contacted seven different recruiting firms and was cold called by an eighth via Monster.  On a recent visit to the area I met with six of the eight recruiters.  As I was completing the interview with sixth firm, the recruiter offered some advice, "I wouldn't give my resume to every recruiter in town."

Oops, well that genie's not going back in the bottle.  This is the extreme in my case.  In my hometown I'm only working with two recruiters.  Obviously the comment is self-serving, but it begs the question, how much should one saturate recruiters in a given market?  I have done my utmost to keep each recruiter informed of positions that I apply for independently to prevent duplication and would do the same regarding a position that one of them presented me for.  What do you think?

How many recruiters should one work with?

This is a great question, and one that comes up fairly regularly. I emailed a few contacts and got a reply back from Todd Tomek.  Todd, like many people from Wisconsin, is about one of the most helpful people I know.  I think it's something in the water up there.  I worked with Todd back in the late 90s.  At that point, he was already an experienced IT recruiter while I was just in the early stages of that aspect of my career. Todd's experience has been varied, and extensive, so he's a good resource.  There's not much that takes place in recruiting that he hasn't dealt with. His advice is sound, but probably hard to follow at times:

"Do your homework first and learn what you can about the recruiter and search firms before giving out your resume. Once you have spoken with them, you may want to hold off giving them your resume until you've spoken with each firm you are considering, doing your due diligence, and know exactly who they are.  After all, you are giving them carte blanche to represent you and your future career. If they don't make the grade, you don't forward your resume."

Todd makes some good points. First, as is true of any profession, there are varying calibers of recruiters out there, and it isn't always easy to know who's good and who isn't based on the first call.  Some are more experienced than others, and some are more honest than others. If you get a call from an agency, ask some questions. Don't try to pin the recruiter down though to tell you who the client is if you're not ready to give him or her the green light to submit you. One great information source these days is LinkedIn. If you have a good Internet connection, you can probably learn a lot about the other person on the phone within about a minute, and then know whether this person is someone you are willing to trust with your resume.

The challenge is that you don't want to entrust your resume to a recruiter who will spread your resume around indiscriminately. The value of a recruiter is that he or she should be able to use his knowledge and contacts to match you with openings in which you are a good fit for the client's needs, and vice versa.

Let's say that you give your resume to someone who doesn't really spend much time getting to know you.  Or maybe he just doesn't fully understand your skills or the type of position that you're seeking.  For this recruiter, making placements is a numbers game. He blankets the city with your resume, hoping that something sticks. Unfortunately, he's not very good at promoting you as a candidate, having submitted your resume along with about half a dozen others on the same day, and your resume doesn't get much attention.  What then becomes more frustrating is that another recruiter calls you up a couple of weeks later, spends a good deal of time screening you, and says that she has a client that has an opening that you'd be well-suited for. She adds that he has a good relationship with the hiring manager, and is pretty confident that she can get you an interview. A couple of days later she calls back to say that you have already been submitted to her client by another agency, and have already been considered. She thinks that if she'd had a chance to make a pitch on your behalf, you'd have been considered.

So, aside from losing control of where your resume goes, why not just give your resume to everyone? After all, if more people have your resume, that increases the odds that one of them will find you a position, right? In theory, yes. In practice, no. This has to do with economics. One of the things that makes something valuable is rarity. So, if I find a penny that has been stamped with two heads, it is more valuable than just a cent. It is unique. So if I, as a recruiter, receive your resume, and you have a pretty marketable set of skills, it's very much in my interest to try to get you an audience with my clients, because you have something that they likely need.

Assume though that along the way, I start learning from hiring managers that they have gotten the same resume from several different agencies. Even if you are exceptionally skilled, my motivation to try to market you goes way down, because it becomes less and less likely that I will find an employer who doesn't already have your resume. Similarly, for an employer, getting the same resume from multiple sources casts the recruiters in a negative light, because it implies that they haven't screened the individual well, and it can also cast the candidate in a negative light.

This leaves job-seekers in a bit of a jam, though.  What, for example, if you get a call about a job opportunity from Sam Jones, a recruiter for UberRecruiters-R-Us, Inc., a huge staffing company with a reputation for running ads for fictitious openings, just to keep resumes coming in, and for playing numbers games with employers, sending them lots of poorly-screened resumes, and just hoping that something sticks? You pull up Sam's profile on LinkedIn and learn that two months ago he was working as an assistant manager at Shoe Carnival, and before that he had a brief career in telemarketing. On the other hand, you're out of work, and the job sounds really appealing!

I'm going to leave that scenario open for discussion. I'm sure our readers have a wide variety of opinions.  Some thinkall recruiters are like Sam, whereas others may have had some good recruiter experiences.  All opinions are welcome.

I realize that I haven't provided you with a magic number. The answer probably varies from person to person, and is based in part on the market demand for your skills, and your comfort level with the recruiter or recruiters who currently have your resume. I totally agree with the, "Don't give your resume to every recruiter in town," comment, but would never be so vain as to suggest that you only work with one recruiter, even if it were me.  (Though there have been so many times when life would have been easier for everyone if that had been the case!)

Just in case you'd like to dig a bit further on the subject, here are a couple of other articles that hit on the topic:

Larry Barlow Interview: Larry is a recruiter based in Chattanooga who primarily recruits tax accounting professionals.

Mike Tiffany article: Mike is a director with Robert Half in St Louis and this is an article I found on his blog.  Given that posting a link to a competitor is something like Luke Skywalker giving out Darth Vader's email address, I will say that I don't know anything about Mike. He seems like a nice guy.  His article was the only one I found that actually suggested specifically how many recruiters you should work with. ...So there you have it. For the record, he doesn't appear to have ever worked as a telemarketer or for Shoe Carnival.

In my next article, I will address a question regarding how to deal with having a firm offer, but wanting to wait to see if you get an offer from another company.

21 comments
Pat Ferdinandi
Pat Ferdinandi

I've seen more success with building better trusting relationships with the business community. I've seen more successful career moves because the business person remembers what you did for them and brings you along. Recruiters are focused on the menu of commodity-level skills (and how cheap he or she can get them). If you have a strong relationship with the business community, they know your value and will talk about you and help you more.

sleech
sleech

Wow. Although I've had my fair share of trouble from dealing with dodgy recuiters, most of them I know are pretty good. A couple are exceptional. For me, the key is to find a couple of recruiters you like and trust and follow them from agency to agency over the years. These guys and gals have found me all the contracts I've had during an 18 year career. Also, when you come across a bad one, immediately cross that person and that agency off the list. There are always plenty more around.

wlportwashington
wlportwashington

I worked with numerous recruiters in the past and they were beyond horrible. They promise the world and cannot deliver on a thing. I was told by a recruiter from a firm that was mentioned in the article that I was too old for employment. Talk about a violation of law! But two words...prove it. The firms that I have gone to (about 100 of them) where looking to place the under 30 set, not an experienced IT Pro. Like I said, I have found that most if not all recruiters are beyond horrible.

jcrusselljr
jcrusselljr

the # of recruiters that you work with should be based on the reality of how hot or cold the market is and how critical it is that you get "out there". if you're currently working, and in a competitive market, you can be more selective in your choice of recruiter to work with on your next opportunity. if the market is dead and you're out of work, it does start to become a numbers game and you need to get your name out there -- not all recruiters have the same requisitions -- some even have exclusive arrangements with employers, so you're best to cast a wider net. there is no single right answer -- market conditions and desperation determine the number of recreuiters to work with.

John1801
John1801

None should be used. A headhunter once told me that I got the job, but that I had to "wait" a week for it to go through their x department for approval. Then I found out from the inside that I never got the job and was number two all along... Reputation comes a long way, and respect is earned, not given, that is why I use networking to find my work, and not headhunters.

Englebert
Englebert

The reason why you should not have too many recruiters is because if your Resume ends up on the Hiring Managers desk from 2 or more recruiters, the Hiring Manager casts it aside. Not for reasons of rarity or promotion as Todd points out, but because of conflicts. Rather than getting into a catfight on who 'owns' the candidate, the Manager simply moves on to another candidate, thereby robbing the candidate of a job and the firm of an excellent match. How do I know this ? From my previous Managers who warned me about this. Why does Todd not say this ?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Treat them like free advertising space. "Tony Good bloke, knows a bit, needs job" Understand what they are. You only have some value to them if they think they can match you with a role. The only reason you have more value than any other candidate is if you are more likely to get teh role, or get more money for it if they are on a percentage. They do not care about you. They will cripple you for other roles if they think THEY ae moe likely to get paid for this one. They will mine you for contacts, send competing applicants for other roles you are interesed in, piss off your referees, bug potential employers, massage facts and lie their arses off. The only way you get reputable results is if you ae in a fee paying relationship based on a successful outcome for you. A sizable percentage of them are clueless non-entities with a phone and an email account who responded to a small ad in the paper "Earn hundreds of pounds, no training needed" If their lips are moving they are lying, is always a safe bet.

robalexclark
robalexclark

I don't know about the US, but in the UK, IT recruitment personnel truely are the most awful and nasty people to deal with (I'm being polite here). I could tell numerous stories about how they have lied and manipulated myself and others for their own ends through various means. It wouldn't be so bad except they deal with peoples lives and livelihoods. I've been around the block a few times so don't fall for their tricks so much these days, but have done in the past. The thing is that it doesn't have to be this way - I got my current job through a scientific personnel recruitment agency and they were honest and respectful throughout.

Papewaio
Papewaio

Aus avoided the GFC to a large extent. Also as entry level wages in IT have got worse over the last ten years, less and less new talent has came in. This has caused a long term trend of the IT talent pool diminishing in favour of mining and other jobs (including overseas options). So there is probably a shortage in some areas of IT in Australia. So the recruiters are finding it harder to get good contractors for their books and are sweet talking them. If the market had deflated like the rest of the world we might have seen the recruiters in starvation mode doing anything to survive.

jriedel99
jriedel99

Absolutely! I was out of a job for about 6 months, and the market was just not there. I had my name in with multiple agencies and eventually got a contract position. I worked with reputable companies, though, and each asked me to let them know if I was already up for a job they were also trying to staff. It worked perfectly for me, this time.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

Todd is a great guy. Really. Yes. Catfights can happen. Generally good employers have contracts in place that dictate who has the "right" to present candidates, but I have known them to happen, and have seen a candidate excluded by the employer even when both agencies were open to a reasonable compromise. Candidates are "worth" much more than a potential placement though. Good recruiters who rely on developing relationships with their candidates look to them for referrals when they have openings, and often get recommended to new clients by past candidates. In that respect, a recruiter is just like any other profession. If you establish a good reputation, word gets around. If a candidate doesn't see the value of building those relationships, it becomes clear to the recruiter when he/she starts hearing that every other agency in town has the candidate's resume. The recruiter has no incentive to deal with you because you have effectively diminished all potential value that you might otherwise have offered. Let's further suppose that today you could magically insert your resume into every employer's database in the country in which you reside. Yet, because of current economic conditions, no employer calls. Because of the fact that you have blasted your resume all over creation, no external recruiter can help you, or has any incentive to help you. For 12 to 18 months after you have uploaded your resume into an employer's database, most employers will tell recruiters, "We already have that person in our database." Oddly enough though, if 6 months from now, the perfect position comes along for you, unless you possess an amazingly rare skill, you probably won't get called. That's because corporate recruiters are typically so overwhelmed with applicants, that they don't have the time or energy to search their database of old candidates. They get 500+ resumes for every posted position in a matter of days. At some point, the hiring manager or the corporate recruiter will call the external recruiters and ask for some help. That's when having a relationship with a few recruiters would be helpful. (As opposed to just having your resume in their databases.) It's at that point that it's very helpful to have someone who's credible tell the hiring manager, "I know someone who would be *perfect* for that job." The "blast your resume out to everyone under the sun" approach might get you hired. It will if you are exceptional. (But if you're exceptional, the recruiters will find you first anyway.) Generally though that tactic does not impress anyone. So the "catfight" issue is one legitimate but rare concern that's part of a much broader picture. (And I'm sorry to hear you all have had such poor experiences. I don't deny any of what you all have experienced. Sadly, there are some really lame recruiters out there. I know some really lame IT people too, but it doesn't mean they are all lame.) ;-)

Shiznit770
Shiznit770

I have started job hunting recently and am surprised by this comment. How can a recruiter "own" a candidate. I have never been told by a recruiter about this exclusivity contract. I am not saying it is not true but if someone has some more insight on this I would be very appreciative.

RJ.2000
RJ.2000

Englebert is exactly right. A manager in the US will trash any resume received from more than one recruiter simply because of the legal issues involved in determining who really 'owns' the candidate. They don't have the time to waste.

ckulins
ckulins

I had the benefit of a career coach as part of my severance package. The professionals there said we should select 30-40 tech recruiters who have some specialty in the area we are seeking work. I think I worked with about 20 at most but out of the 20 probably only kept in close contact with about 5. I am in NY, USA and One of the best recruiters I worked with was from England UK. He was seeking a certain specialty that I had and sought me out. Unfortunately I came in 2nd but he kept me in the loop all along the way and gave me some detailed insight as to why I was #2. Great Work Michael E. !!! ck

justJekke
justJekke

A better question is "How awful of a recruiter should you put up with?" My own personal benchmark is "someone I can stand working with indefinitely if I get a job through them." Particularly if you're a consultant, placement is only the beginning of a long-term relationship.

CCIE Agent
CCIE Agent

Working internationally as I do I have had the opportunity to place Network Engineers - CCIEs in four continents. Since this has been my calling for the past 12 years I have learned a lot about the culture of lying and half truths. I function as a career agent and advocate of my network engineers because the demand is so high I don't need to be the client advocate. In India it is not unusual for the recruiter to take a fee from the candidate to promote them over others competing for the same role. In the US this would seem unethical, but in India it is business as usual and comes with no guarantee other than getting an interview. Many IT recruiters are very ethical and will do a good job, but as times have grown harder I have seen some awful results. If you have a resume on a job board you can bet a recruiter has sent it to companies you are not aware of. If you have included your address and contact information you are also open to identity theft. Best bet for job boards is to post anonymously. This prevents either of these issues from happening. How many recruiters to use? I would limit them to the ones you have confidence in. Ask who they are and how long they have been a recruiter. Who are they presenting you to and what are the details of the role. Remember the keywords the recruiter used to find you might not be the key to your next positive career move. I have seen a lot of dirty tricks as well. Like recruiters sending your profile to companies they are not an approved vendor for. This creates issues that the candidates will suffer for. Treat a recruiter like a used car salesman and kick the tires and test drive the car before allowing them cart blanc over your reputation and career. If they don't feel right hit the brakes and exit the vehicle!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Happened to me, legit recruiter rang me back to tell me off for putting myself forward twice. Then some other bugger range me back to say he'd already put me forward on the off chance I would be interested. We had words.... Mine weren't what polite society would consider 'erm acceptable. :p Not just time, I got binned because they would have had to pay both....

mikepowers51
mikepowers51

I have been hiring IT people for over 20 years and have seen both sides of recruiters. The ambulance chasers are calling constantly, but know nothing of my company. On the other hand, I have one firm that is ethical, listens and screens. To the gentlemen who asked about multiple recruiters, I had an experience where I was working with only two firms for a PC and an AS400 position. I found a great candidate for the PC position but he was claimed by the second recruiter. It seems each had customized the resume and they did not appear to be the same candidate. Job seekers should not allow their resume to be altered without review and can not allow it to be submitted to any company without their permission. I did not hire the candidate above because the recruiters got in a nasty fight over the fees. Both were dismissed and barred from working for us, but the candidate lost a job and I lost a very good candidate.

robalexclark
robalexclark

After I got offered my present job another recruiter phoned me to see if I was interested in another job. I replied that I wasn't since I had recently secured a new role. He then asked where it was and I stupidly told him. He then said "ah yes we sometimes work with them, who is your manager there?" Not wanting to let on but not being blunt enough to say "I ain't gonna tell you", I made a name up - "I think my manager is Martin Pike", to which he replied "Ah yes I know Martin, he's a great bloke!".... I suspect that the reception at the company soon got a phone call asking to be put through to Martin Pike.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

recruiters, you get a whole new set of horror stories about them. Even the better ones leave somthing to be desired. One lot who'd got me a contract rang me up to see if I was looking for a job at the place they getting paid for me working at! While I was abroad... Used up the rest of my credit. :( I won't give them references anymore. I know they abuse them because when I've been a referee myself they spent more time pumping me for info on my current employer and status than they did about the colleague they'd rung me up about...

robalexclark
robalexclark

Once I had this guy ring up and try and persuade me to go for a job interview (which was in completely the wrong location anyway) even though myself and my family were abroad on holiday at the time and insisted that I break my holiday to come back for the interview. He was incredulous that I declined such a wonderful opportunity! I eventually hung up on him after about 15 minutes of the hard sell. Once I got a job offer but the salary was not what I was expecting so I politely declined (I suspect that the recruiter exaggerated what salary could be expected just to get me to go to interview). Again the recruiter couldn't believe I was turning down the job, and of course letting her down as well - I was accused of wasting her time! But the worst tale... Once I was phoned up with a guy purporting a wonderful job with a salary that was far above what I was expected and saying the I was perfect for the job. All I had to do was get a couple of references from my boss and the IT director to secure an interview. I smelt a rat (it was too good to be true) so I gave a couple of friends as the referee contacts. Needless to say that they were soon contacted by this guy asking whether he could recruit for any jobs for them. If I had really given out my boss as the contact the results could have been disasterous!

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