What does a recruiter do? That depends on the type of recruiter. Writing for Forbes, Marissa Peretz identifies the following categories of recruiters: 

  1. Agency/contract house recruiters. These include temp or staffing agencies and serve multiple industries. Companies that need seasonal or temporary labor use this type of recruiter to acquire short-term labor. Job seekers with the flexibility to work at a moment’s notice may register with these companies to acquire much-needed professional experience and to try out companies and career paths without long-term commitment. Other companies seeking long-term job candidates use agencies to try out job candidates without the obligation of actually hiring them. Positions under such arrangements are labeled “temp-to-hire.” Agencies recruiters receive a commission based on the hourly wage paid to workers.

  2. Contingency recruiters. This type of recruiter receives payment for services only when the position is filled and do not exclusively represent any particular company. These are the “headhunters” with which most job seekers are familiar. They specialize in industry niches and focus on quality rather than quantity. They want to ensure that their candidates fit the hiring companies’ requirements.

  3. Retained search firm. Again, this type of recruiter specializes in a particular industry niche and focuses on quality over quantity. Companies usually engage their services to search for candidates to fill executive positions. Their narrow market focus and industry expertise make them more expensive than the other two types.

  4. Internal recruiters. These professionals “collaborate with employees to find internal referrals in employees’ networks and work with candidates who apply through the company’s own job postings,” says Peretz. The advantage of an internal recruiter is exclusivity and familiarity with the company’s culture and hiring practices. The disadvantage is that they focus on candidates whom the company already employs. Most internal recruiters work for large corporations who can afford to hire, train, and employ such human resources professionals.

Recruiting secrets

Recruiters have secrets they don’t really want applicants to know; however, modern media serves as a great resource for revealing those secrets.

For agency and contingency recruiters, volume matters. They often receive hundreds of applications daily in response to advertised job openings, thus leaving them little time to comb through any individual’s qualifications. To ease the burden of their jobs, recruiters employ filters that scan resumes and screen applicant information for certain keywords that raise a candidate to the recruiter’s notice. Use buzzwords judiciously to show familiarity and expertise in the field, not to showcase an attempt to beat their filters. Sophisticated software also identifies information, such as a gap in employment, that can result in automatic dismissal from consideration without delving into the reasons behind that red flag of warning. 

Should an applicant pass the computer scan unscathed, recruiters use bots and other programmed algorithms to verify a candidate’s veracity. Consistency matters. A job seeker should endeavor to ascertain that recruiters and online profiles are kept up to date and show the same information. Discrepancies and inconsistencies call into question a person’s honesty, social media savvy, and competence.

In an article published by The Muse, the author—who is a recruiter—admits that recruiters in staffing agencies will try to negotiate the highest salaries they can for job candidates, because they earn commissions based on those salaries. However, they also want to fill those open positions to earn those commissions, which may lead them into pressuring a candidate who doesn’t really want the job to accept an offer or to accept a lowballed offer if the candidate is hard to place. Job seekers who take advantage of this seeming conflict of interest will ask the recruiter for assistance in negotiating a higher salary. Remember, companies usually have a salary range for the position, and their first offer starts at the low end of that range. The recruiter will be happy to represent your interests in this task because it translates into a higher paycheck for him.

Job candidates are not recruiters’ clients. The business is simple: the company that hires the recruiter is the client of that recruiter because the client is who pays the bill. Recruiters really want to fill those positions, so to do that, they’ll often offer a bit of job coaching to applicants in order to improve those applicants’ chances of being hired. The applicant who takes advantage of those suggestions may be hired, which means the recruiter gets paid and the client fills the position. Everybody’s happy.

Companies impose conditions on hiring qualifications. With the “diversity police” and the EEOC looking over a company’s shoulder, human resources departments may constrain recruiters by ordering them to focus on hiring a certain demographic—or avoiding a certain demographic—regardless of whether someone outside the desired demographic fits the job requirements and company culture. Unfortunately, when clients impose conditions like that upon recruiters, recruiters cannot inform job candidates.

Glassdoor warns against “phantom jobs.” Although no law prohibits recruiters from posting positions that companies will most certainly fill internally, this dishonest practice that besmirches both the company’s and the recruiter’s reputations even as it frustrates the thwarted job seeker. Unfortunately, the recruiter may not inform job candidates that they are obligated by their clients to run through a process just to satisfy the company’s human resources department’s hiring protocol to prove a fair hiring process.

Working with a recruiter

The recruiter does not actually hire the chosen candidate, but they do screen candidates and refer the best ones to their clients. Therefore, when interacting with a recruiter, job seekers should be on their best behavior and concentrate on making a stellar impression. Consider recruiters as the gatekeepers to employment. Poor manners and unflattering references will slam the door in your face every time, no matter how good your qualifications.

Be aware that recruiters and hiring managers may use deceptive practices to collect information about a job candidate. Especially in the age of LinkedIn, they will “reach out to mutual connections in order to get their honest opinion of you.” Observe the Golden Rule and treat everyone as you wish to be treated in the hope that your tolerance and kindness will be reciprocated when one of your connections receives an inquiry about you.

Related to that, make sure your social media presence would not embarrass your grandmother or great grandmother. Consider what you post on social media as equivalent to displaying that information on billboard signs along a busy superhighway. Even if you activate the platform’s strictest privacy settings, what you post and will be viewed out by those people outside your immediate social network. If there’s anything you do that you wish to remain private or may likely be perceived as damaging to your candidacy as an employee, then don’t post it on social media. Companies prefer employees who conduct themselves with decorum on and off the clock.

Learn to interpret a recruiter’s lingo. For instance, if the recruiter informs you that a company’s hiring manager is dragging his feet or other vague euphemism for a delay in an answer indicates that you aren’t that company’s first choice. At that point, you have three choices: 1) withdraw your application; 2) wait; and, 3) try to convince the recruiter that you really are the best candidate for the job and persuade him or her to recommend you as such to the hiring company.

Understand a recruiter’s limitations

A recruiter assists a company in finding qualified candidates to fill job vacancies. A recruiter works for the company, not for the job candidate. With that in mind, the job seeker bears responsibility for knowing his or her own competencies and understanding his or her career trajectory and expectations. A recruiter will often do their best to assist a job seeker find employment with assistance in resume development and interviewing techniques; however, they are under no obligation to do so.

A recruiter does not serve as your confidant and is not your friend: keep your secrets to yourself. Remember, the recruiter represents the hiring company. However, if you do have employment gaps or other issues in your work history, then be candid and explain the reasons for them. The Huffington Post advises that a recruiter may very well be willing to look beyond those issues “to help you strategize a way to present yourself in the best light.” 

Any recruiter who goes above and beyond the call of duty should receive a sincere expression of gratitude and appreciation. A handwritten thank-you note satisfies that obligation. Gifts could be viewed as bribery; do not send them.

Recruiters don’t control the hiring process: that’s determined by the hiring company. As stated above, recruiters don’t make the hiring decisions: they recommend whom they believe are suitable prospects for those positions. The job seeker’s responsibility lies with convincing—without deception—the recruiter of his or her suitability for that open position.