Using Recruiters (Headhunters) Wisely

Why recruiters can be key to some job searches—and how best to use them.

Posted Mar 24, 2015

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

If you're unemployed or a career changer, recruiters probably won't be interested in you. But if you're well-employed but looking to make a move, a recruiter can be the key to landing a good job fast.

Jeff Lipschultz,'s recruiter specialist explains:

  • A recruiter specializing in your field and in your geographic region will likely have a bigger and more relevant network than yours.
  • S/he may know about job openings that haven't yet been advertised.
  • If s/he touts you to an employer, it will be more credible than if you do it.
  • If you need to be confidential, a recruiter can do that.
  • If s/he wants to tout you, s/he will give you inside information on what the employer is looking for and on the workplace's culture.
  • If you don't get a position, the recruiter is more likely to get you honest feedback on why you weren't selected.

This article, the eighth in a 12-part series on your career, will help you make the most of recruiters.

What is a recruiter?

Before we get to how to find and entice appropriate recruiters, first things first: What is a recruiter?  It's not so obvious. In theory, every job opening has a recruiter: the boss, the company's HR department, or a standalone company that helps employers find the right talent. In this article, we're talking only about the latter. Such standalone companies include temp agencies and executive or technical recruiting firms, which are often called external recruiters or headhunters.

Recruiters are paid exclusively by the employer. If one asks you for money, run. That's the good news. The bad news is that recruiters will help you or advocate for you only if they have a position for which, after reviewing many candidates, think you are top-of-the-heap. That's why some job seekers hire career coaches—they'll help you figure out jobs at which you might be a top candidate and show you how to demonstrate that to prospective employers and to your network.

Finding good recruiters

Aim to find three good recruiters that specialize in your field. Common specializatioms: executives, health care, finance, accounting, and office temp.

Here are ways to find recruiters:

  • Respected colleagues in your field are often solicited by recruiters. So those colleagues may be able to recommend appropriate recruiters.
  • Your Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn connections.
  • Relevant threads in your field's LinkedIn Groups.
  • Large employers' HR departments.
  • Leaders at the local chapter of your professional association.
  • Directories of recruiters. The RileyGuide contains links to many.

Query recruiters with a crisp phone call—you'll probably get voice mail. Follow that with an email that puts that pitch in writing. For example,

Dear (insert name,)

After five years and two promotions as an HR generalist at Acme Widget, I've gone about as far as I can here and believe another company would be a better launchpad for my career's next stage. My resume is attached. I make $90,000 plus full benefits but to make a move, I'm hoping for the low six figures. If you think we should talk, I'd welcome that.


Note that when writing to a recruiter, you should mention your salary requirements.

If you do get to talk with a recruiter and s/he's interested in you, ask that s/he not broadcast your resume—recruiters, with a click of the mouse, can send your resume to thousands of employers, each of whom would then, to hire you, have to pay the recruiter's commission—20 to 30 percent of your first year's pay. That can be enough to make many employers choose another candidate.

Also ask the recruiter to get your permission before sending your resume to a prospective employer—you don't want someone you're already in conversation with to have to pay that extra 20 to 30 percent to hire you.

Finally, if you want to reduce the chances of your current employer knowing you're looking, ask that your resume to be sent to prospective employers with your name deleted. Of course, during the interview process, your name will be revealed but not unnecessarily.

Check in with your recruiter(s) once a month. Any more and you're a pest. Any less and you may be out of sight, out of mind.

The takeaway

If you're a well-employed person looking to make a move, a well-regarded recruiter who specializes in your field and locale is, along with answering ads and networking, a worthy leg in your job search's three-legged stool.

Here are the links to this series' other installments:

A Holistic Approach to Finding Your Career

An Analytical Approach to Finding Your Career

Getting Well-Trained for Your Career

Networking for People Who Dislike It

The One-Week Job Search

A Contrarian Approach to Creating Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

Ethical and Effective Letters by Job Seekers

Using Recruiters (Headhunters)  (this article)

The Effective, Ethical, and Less Stressful Job Interview

A Contrarian Approach to Negotiation

Getting Off to a Good Start on Your New Job

A Contrarian Approach to Succeeding in Your Career

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.