Tech & Work

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.

Editor's Picks