Working With Recruiters: The Hard Truth

After my last article on working with recruiters, there was some heated debate… name calling, threats… whatever you might call it, but the fact is, it was eye-opening and brought up some hard facts that need to be followed when working with a recruiter.

The gist of the article was that there are, along with great recruiters, some really bad ones. It seems, although the recruiters that commented on the article admitted there are bad recruiters out there, most of the work for job seeking falls upon the candidate. I don’t agree in principle. I have experienced great recruiters who research the company, position and the key players in the job opening.

NOTE: This article is the eighth and final article in our series on Professional Practices which they don’t teach you in art school.

The recruiter negotiated all rights, pay levels, benefits, etc. and, as the candidate, I was able to accept or turn down those negotiations. It’s rare that happens these days and the truth of the matter, whether right or wrong, one must take responsibility in the process.

As one recruiter commented; “Let us not forget a candidate’s need for basic business acumen. Any candidate that accepts an offer needs to take personal responsibility and get promises in writing or at the very least discuss them with the EMPLOYER. Any recruiter would have to be one smooth talking son of a gun to get someone to relocate on promises of a job that never existed; the likes of which I believe would be as hard to find as the loch ness monster.

instantShift - Working With Recruiters: The Hard Truth

So much for one’s professional word being a bond of trust! One might ask, as a candidate, why would I need to take the responsibility to get all negotiations in writing or discuss them with the employer? At least in the past, a candidate was expected to interview and let the recruiter (or headhunter, as some prefer to be called) negotiate salary and benefits). The truth is, a candidate MUST make sure that all points of the aforementioned IS in writing BEFORE accepting a position. Again, it’s a catch-22. A candidate cannot contact an employer or should not, outside the recruitment process. Imagine calling the employer after an interview and stating that the salary the recruiter discussed wasn’t high enough and it needed to be higher or four weeks vacation in the first year is a must to accept the position. The great recruiters I know would go ballistic. They are the experts at negotiations. The reality, once again, is that you, as the candidate must insist on everything being in written form before you ever start working.

As with the example I gave in the first article about so many things being “promised,” it was my fault for being naive and taking the recruiter’s… or company’s word for what I would receive in a giant career move.

Another comment, in support of recruiters, affirmed; “seems you could also be in need of schooling on negotiating skills. I don’t give a rat what a recruiter tells you. In many cases, it’s just what they have been told by the employer. You, the prospective employee have home work do to too. Don’t expect that by hiring a recruiter that you are going to get everything served up to you on a silver platter.”

I’m not sure what this person knows about recruiters because, as the recruiter who is quoted above continued to write; “The services a headhunter provides to a candidate are completely free of charge.”

If you are being charged by a recruiter, then you are on the fast track to losing money and wasting time… not to be confused with a career counselor. Even résumé counselors will charge you and should not be confused with a recruiter.

I responded to one recruiter, “a GREAT recruiter negotiates the entire package and presents it in written form for both parties to sign. It’s called basic business acumen.”

The response was that it is, “BS and won’t hold water. Why? In your example the prospective employee has no onus or responsibility in the process at all, that’s all left to the Recruiter.”

So, How Does This Work?

Again, in a perfect world, the recruiter would handle the entire package. THAT is how a commission is earned. Finding candidates, weeding through them to find one or several to present to the company (or client) for a specific position, arranging interviews, negotiating salary and benefits and making sure the candidate works out (it is general practice that if the candidate doesn’t last one year at the hiring company, the recruiter forfeits the fee). In the reality of today, that may be rare and the comments on the last article attest to that.

instantShift - Working With Recruiters: The Hard Truth

As a candidate, you really do have to do a lot of research yourself. Recently a recruiter contacted me about an opening as the creative director for a company that specializes in identity theft protection. With a little simple searching on Google, I found out that not only had the CEO’s identity been stolen several dozen times due to their advertising campaign where his social security number was shown, but they were being investigated by the Fair Trade Commision. When I brought this up to the recruiter, she claimed she knew nothing about it. The knowledge of these problems made it easy for me to turn down the position, which would have moved me to a new city and then had me stuck there if the company went belly up.

There is a list of things a candidate should have for any position. They are not brain-twisters:

What is the title of the position?

This also lays out responsibilities and expectations. A job description is important so you AND your supervisor will know what is expected of your performance.

To whom does the candidate report?

It’s no secret that when you are the new hire, there are people who will try to use power plays to gain control over you. Once you submit to their wishes and position over you, it will be hard, if not impossible to regain your true position in the corporate pecking order.

What is the salary?

I’ve known people who are surprised when they are told the salary includes health benefits and other “fees” that one might think are separate from straight salary. By the same token, will there be performance-based bonuses? Is there a set cost of living increase every year? Not getting this in writing can cost you thousands of dollars every year you are employed in the position.

What are the vacation policies?

I got stuck when an extra week of vacation was negotiated by a recruiter at one job, in lieu of a higher salary. When the corporate structure of years of service/adding a week of vacation was met, I was told another week would not be added and I was, in essence, losing a weeks pay from there on in. The additional week wasn’t covered in the contract. I should have realized it when I was signing the contract but it just wasn’t something I thought of at the time. Little things like that need to be covered, as does the fact of vacation days being carried over to the following year. I knew one corporate coworker who, due to his position of responsibility, was unable to take vacations and accrued several months of vacation. The time came when he had to use them or lose them.

As one of the comments stated in the last article; “The employee has to know what he is signing and is just as responsible as the recruiter in many cases. LOL…maybe the employee needs to seek advice from a layer ahead of time?”

What about “sick days?”

This may be critical. Some companies have PTO (Paid Time Off). If you don’t use any sick days, you can add them to your vacation time. What if you have to take more days than allotted?

Then again, what if you are injured (what are the disability policies?) and have to be out of work for a couple of weeks or a couple of months? Losing paychecks can put your family and life at risk when there is no income.

Relocation fees?

Most companies will pay to relocate you when you are hired but what about if you are fired or laid off? Will you be stuck in a city in which you don’t really want to live? It will cost you thousands of dollars to move. This should be a negotiated point when being hired although it will be a hard point to negotiate.

Company culture?

This is something you need to see for yourself. When interviewing, take a look at how people are dressed. Are they smiling? Is the building a dirty crack house? Will parking cost you money for a garage?

At one job, the corporate parking lot was a half a mile from my office. Good exercise but not so pleasant in the heat of summer, cold of winter and rainy days were a soggy joy of wet clothes by the time I got into the building.

If you’re a smoker, where do you need to go to smoke? How often can you go out to smoke and how far do you have to go to light up?

You also need to research using LinkedIn to see what kind of turnover the company has. Do people stay a long time or is it a year or two and then depart? Write to past employees and ask how they liked the company. Would you want to work at a place known for burning out workers?

Whenever I interviewed at a company, I would always ask to see the art department and/or interview with designers as well as the executives. If people slogged through the art department like it was a Soviet gulag or designers broke down into tears when I asked about input on design decisions, I knew it was not the place for me.

Will You Get The Job?

There are never guarantees. The recruiter/headhunter who took offense at my last articles says; “In the search of that talent, a headhunter will talk with and actually bond with many candidates that may not end up not representing the top talent for THAT opportunity but that could very well represent the top talent for the NEXT opportunity or an opportunity that may arise in the next 2 months, 2 years, etc.”

instantShift - Working With Recruiters: The Hard Truth

She goes on to impart; “I’ve never once met a headhunter that claimed to be a psychic. Until a headhunter gets a feel for your work history, experience, and personality, they will not know how you stack up against your competition. Don’t forget for a minute that the personality and attitude of the candidates sourced may also play a vital role in who will make the final cut to the client. Time is money– so trust me in that the phone will never ring in a simple attempt to arouse you. For whatever reason, the recruiter calls because he or she believes you may be at the top of your game.”

Often a recruiter will call candidates they find in business or social networking sites but it is important to create and nurture a relationship with a recruiter who specializes in your industry. As they get to know you, they will also be able to match you to opportunities that arise. Sometimes, however, it’s a numbers game of sending several candidates to a client even if all of them are not completely suited to the position. As a former recruiter commented to the article; “They are just trying to throw something up against the wall and hope it sticks.”

Sometimes, when a recruiter contacts a candidate, a starting salary range will not be discussed. The worst reason I’ve ever heard is a recruiter who told me, “we are trying to convince them they need to pay for quality.”

That’s a red flag for a cheap company. If you hear that, it’s better to just stay away.

One recruiter told me that salary is not discussed because it depends on the candidate. The client may feel the candidate is better suited for a higher position… or a lower one. Having once jumped through many hoops to interview for a creative director position, flying for many hours in one day to meet with the company owner, it turned out he thought I was better suited for a lower position but wouldn’t make an offer. He just kept asking, “how much are you willing to gamble?”

I kept asking how much he wanted me. We never met on a figure. In fact, a figure was never mentioned. The recruiter never returned my calls or emails. None of the research I did could prepare me for that outcome.

The owner did contact me several months later and asked where we had left it. I reminded him that he didn’t name an actual monetary figure. He replied, “how much are you willing to gamble?”

By Default, You Are The Final Word.

A comment from a non-recruiter, in an attempt to portray the recruiter’s point of view, the gentleman writes: “the employee also needs to research the company they intend to work for beyond what the recruiter will provide you. Learning negotiating skills are also in your best interest as often times the hiring manager may be able to make allowance beyond what they previously discussed with the recruiter. In many cases the recruiter is dealing with an internal HR associate and not necessarily the actual person making the hiring decision.”

He goes on to chastise my points by stating; “read the fine lines in any agreement you arrive at with a recruiter and then do your home work before your interview and you will have much better experience. If you still have issues then maybe you need to take a closer look in the mirror because the issue is not the recruiter.”

I can’t say I agree but one must protect one’s career and job search. You need a job and if the recruiter won’t do the research, then you have to do it yourself. Reality is a kick in the pants and only you can help yourself.

Oddly enough, as the debate on the comments section of that last article raged, everyone, even the recruiters agreed there are good recruiters and there are BAD ones out there. No one will protect your needs and career better than you. Keep that in mind when working with the good or the bad.

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  1. My biggest complaint is that they all want to change your resume. Now in principal I don’t think this is a bad thing. However , why don’t they offer viable suggestions . let’s face it they have a copy of your resume so if they think there needs to be revisions, have that discussion and make the changes. The candidate getting the job is a win /win situation.

  2. Recruiting is a poorly understood profession (sometimes even by those who call themselves recruiters). There are several types of recruiters, but the mechanics and psychology of recruiting are all the same.

  3. Like many services, the quality is very variable. There are a lot of recruiters who play the numbers game, put an advert up, collect CV’s, send them to the client and hope to get a few interviews for candidates. Poor service to everyone with no value add.

    A good recruiter should clearly understand the clients requirement, target candidates with a good fit, conduct due diligence to ensure candidate is interested and right fit and then send CV.

    If a candidate is successful, the recruiter should help through all the steps to get a suitable offer in writing to candidate.

    Given many recruiters charge 10 – 15% of starting salary, they should do these steps as a minimum.

  4. may be that’ll help to everyone, because we should learn from other experiences. thanks for this article

  5. A young lady emailed me to inquire about asking a recruiter to remove her résumé from their files. She was quite upset at the recruiter and wanted no further dealings with them or for them to have access to her résumé and contact information. Perhaps the advice I gave her will help others…

    I don’t have experience requesting the removal of my information from a recruiter but I have written a pointed letter to the head of one firm, detailing poor service and another experience of calling a higher-up on an agent who was quite incompetent. Chances are, your résumé is lost in the system. A gentle and professional reminder that you are available is needed to stay in the mind of recruiters. Send a new/updated résumé when needed, call once a month to say hello and remind them you’re around and ask if you can do anything to help in the search or send a postcard every now and then. With so many people looking for work, you need to stand out without seeming desperate or becoming a pest.

    In the long run, it doesn’t pay to sever ties with an agency. Today’s screwup may be tomorrow’s success. You can’t take it personally because it’s not. No one will blacklist you as it doesn’t reflect well on them. It’s best to just ignore the screw ups and keep moving forward. Agents come and go with recruitment firms, so one bad one will only be with the firm for a short time. The next one might be very good.

    If it makes you feel any better about the situation, the one recruiter whom I called her superior about didn’t last very long. When her superior (who is also gone) tried to protect her and suggested I would “be happier not dealing at all with the agency,” (which is global) I replied that if I found another position in which I was in charge of hiring, would she want me to refuse any calls from the agency? She changed her tune very quickly.

    Recruiters need qualified candidates as much as we need them. They can’t afford to have people out there that have hard feelings and might not want to deal with them once a position is gained. It’s best to be patient and humble (and bite one’s tongue) when it comes to recruiters.

    Let me leave you with a laugh on this Monday. When I was first starting out, I had a recruiter tell me about a job with a Wall Street firm as an art director with a VERY high salary. He insisted I cut off my long pony tail and buy a $300+ dollar navy blue suit (I only dress in black and have done so since my art school days). He said I had to do this BEFORE he would pitch me to the client. I sadly cut my long, beautiful hair and emptied my savings for a suit, shirt, tie, and shoes and called him several days later. He had gone on vacation for two weeks.

    When he returned, I appeared before him and he said I “passed the test” and would give my résumé to the client. After another week of unreturned calls, I stormed into his office and he sheepishly admitted the position was not for an art director but for someone who ordered office supplies and the salary was much, much lower.

    I never heard from him again and several weeks later was informed he was “no longer with (that) office.”

    Goodbye hair, savings and self-respect for being duped by him. I finally learned to ask more questions, do my research, get everything in writing and to wait for the interview to be set before spending a dime on anything.

    Just hold your head up high, have self-respect and keep moving forward. Agents will come and go, your résumé will be updated and sent in to new agents and you will continue to gain momentum. Just do what you have to do to survive while you wait for a position in a very bad job market.

  6. Recruiting is a best profession to earn money if you keeps on lying with all your clients. however if you wants to earn money with truth than no one will trust on you.

  7. In my profession, website design & development, many companies seeking to employ have now taken the “no agencies” tack for a number of reasons.

    I think the main reason is complete lack of understanding of the medium – I have yet to chat to a single recruiter who actually understands what I do.

    So many digital agencies have been burned by hiring via recruitment ‘specialists’

    I will *never* use a recruitment company again, as quite simply, I have never landed a decent job by using one. Pretty much my entire professional career has been by word of mouth, or me approaching a company.

  8. I think that a key factor here is whether the recruiter understands the company needs and the job position profoundly or not. If they do, they can perform well and be useful for companies that need to outsource recruiting. The problem is recruiting agencies are not specialized enough because it’s too risky to specialize only on graphic designing jobs or programming jobs. If they did though, they would probably be able to provide much more satisfying options for both companies and employees.

  9. I think any candidate that was serious about the vacancy at a company would do their own research in addition to the information provided by the recruiter.

    Unless the recruiter is incredibly thorough, there will almost always be questions that the candidate has.

    The service provided by agencies large and small does vary, but that is the case with any product or service – quality varies, as does the focus of the service or product in terms of market position.


  10. what a brilliant post.

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