Sometimes a job search takes place while IT professionals have the luxury of still working for an employer. Other times a layoff forces them into the job market without a safety net. In either event, it’s very likely a job hunter will either be approached by or reach out to a job recruiter.

But before you pick up the phone or respond to a recruiter’s e-mail, you need to understand the various types of recruiters, how best to work with them, and why they aren’t necessarily the be-all and end-all to the job hunt quest.

The many types of recruiters
One thing you will quickly realize during a job search is that there are many types of recruiters who work within different business models. This is not to say that any of them are bad; it’s just that they fill different niches. Here are a few examples.

Company recruiters
Company recruiters try to fill current openings within a company. These recruiters could work within a traditional corporate environment or they could work for consulting firms. The key thing to note is that these recruiters actually have jobs that need to be filled, and the hiring process is somewhat within their control.

Agency recruiters (company paid)
In many cases, companies use outside agencies to help fill their open positions. A company could seek outside help because it doesn’t have recruiters on its staff, because its own recruiters have not found the right candidates, because it has too many openings for its own recruiters, or because it is looking for someone in a specialty area that an outside agency is better able to fill.

The key point here is that agency recruiters are looking for candidates for positions that are not totally within their control. They are looking to fill openings for other companies. Many times, when you respond to an ad for a job opening, it is from an agency recruiter who does not actually have the opening in-house and does not totally control the interview process. These recruiters make their revenue by charging the hiring company a fee, usually 20 percent to 25 percent of the first-year starting salary.

Agency recruiters (candidate paid)
These recruiters are similar to their company-paid counterparts except that they usually offer candidates to a company for free. They make money by charging a fee to the candidate if the agency secures that candidate a position. There are also recruiters who charge for services, such as setting up interviews, and so on, instead of just charging a job placement fee.

Contract recruiters
From the candidate’s perspective, contract recruiters are similar to company-paid agency recruiters. Typically, these recruiters are recruiting to fill openings for contract resources at their client companies. The key point in this case is that these recruiters do not have the opening at their own company and they do not control the interview process. Contract recruiters are looking for qualified people to submit to companies for contract openings, and they are competing with many other contract recruiters for those same placements.

Executive/niche recruiters
Executive/niche recruiters specialize in certain fields and markets. For instance, one recruiter might specialize only in CIOs, one might look only for senior executives in the insurance field, while another specializes only in database administrators.

These recruiters are always looking for people in their niche, whether they have openings or not. However, when they do have openings, they typically have some level of exclusivity that gives them a better chance to fill the openings.

There are other types of recruiters who use variations on this basic approach, and some opportunistic recruiters cover more than one special industry or technical skill.

Suggestions for making the relationship work
Now that you have a basic understanding of the types of recruiters out there, you can better decide what type of recruiter to work with and what type isn’t a good fit.

No matter which type of recruiter you decide to work with, there are some specific things you need to remember about recruiters and job hunting to make the relationship work:

No. 1: Remember whom the recruiter is working for
Recruiters are like real estate agents—and the home seller (a realtor’s client) is the employer looking to hire. Keep in mind that when you reach out to a recruiter, that person will be friendly and helpful and even offer encouragement and give you tips. But your recruiter may never present you for an open position—or the house of your dreams, to follow the real-estate agent analogy.

The reason is that, ultimately, recruiters are trying to fulfill the needs of their client. If you are a great candidate for an opening, you will be submitted. If you are not a great candidate, you will not be submitted. Recruiters are just trying to provide a service to their customer, and part of that service is to present qualified candidates. If they present too many candidates, or ones who are not qualified, then they lose credibility and can potentially lose a client.

No. 2: Remember that recruiters are swamped
Many candidates get frustrated because they apply for a position they believe they are qualified for, and they never receive a response back. Is this because the recruiter doesn’t care about them? No, not likely.

You need to understand that today’s recruiters are inundated with resumes. Fifteen years ago, when I was director of recruiting for a consulting company branch office, we received a handful of resumes every day. Typically, if the candidate fit a profile of the kind of person we were interested in, we would call the candidate for an initial screening and set up follow-up interviews if we were still interested. Today, with the use of e-mail and Internet job posting boards, recruiters get hundreds, even thousands, of resumes a week for one open position.

Recruiters use a primary tool—software to scan resumes for keywords—to get through the resumes hitting their desks. If your resume comes up in the keyword search, then you have a shot at getting an interview. If not, your resume will hang in the database.

No. 3: Remember that recruiters are just one option
Whenever I have looked for a new job, I always wanted to use all the options available. I networked, replied to ads in the newspaper, sent resumes to Internet job boards, and so on.

In general, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of job openings that you are a fit for at any given time. However, each position also has dozens, if not hundreds, of qualified candidates.

In my case, I got my first position as a result of a campus recruiting trip when I was in college. I got my second job by replying to a newspaper ad. My third job was a result of personal networking, being first hired as a contractor and then as an employee.

My last job was the direct result of responding to an Internet job posting. I replied to the opening in the morning, had a call later that morning from a recruiter, had a recruiter interview me the next day, met with the client company two days later, and received a job offer one week later. Pretty good, huh? On face value, yes. But before getting the call, I probably replied to 150 positions over a three-month period. In the vast majority of those cases, I never received any call back or acknowledgement of any kind.

Recruiters can be valuable resources to help you find job openings. If you do not use them, you will effectively be closing the door on a vast number of potential job openings. So, don’t be afraid to use recruiters heavily if they are trying to fill positions that you think you are qualified for.

On the other hand, don’t use them exclusively either, and don’t mistakenly believe that they are working to find you a position. If you are looking for a new position, and especially if you are unemployed today, use every avenue you can to find your next opportunity.