Career Transition Tip – How to Work with Recruiting Agencies

Recruiting Agency and Candidate

How to Work with Agency Recruiters During a Job Search

Companies recruit with internal recruiters or with an external recruiting agency. Sometimes companies use both methods at the same time. As a recruiter, I started at a recruiting agency and then later moved to be an internal corporate recruiter. Understanding how a company works with an external recruiting agency is crucial for candidates.

Why Companies Use Agencies:

  1. Hire unique/ hard-to-fill positions where the company has limited in-house hiring expertise.
  2. Maintain confidentiality during a sensitive executive search.
  3. Outsource their corporate recruiting function to reduce costs.
  4. Minimize Risk during Economic Uncertainty – Hire a Contractor. If there isn’t a reliable growth forecast and a project needs to be completed, hiring contractors is preferred
  5. The lack of a reliable forecast can happen when a company is growing very fast, anticipates company instability, or when a recession is forecasted.

Two Categories of Agency Agreements: Retained or Contingent

With a contingent contract, the client pays the agency after hiring a candidate. With a retainer agreement, the client pays the agency at hiring milestones: for example – 30% when the client receives candidate resumes, 30% after interviewing candidates, then 40% after hiring a candidate. For each opening, companies will employ ONE retained agency versus SEVERAL contingent agencies.

Are You the Agency’s Client?  NOPE. The Hiring Company is the Client

A company contracts with agencies to find desirable candidates for a specific job opening. The agency is always going to be more attentive to their paying client’s needs than your needs.

If you are working with an agency on a contingent contract, the recruiter is 100% motivated by filling the client’s position with ANY candidate. They focus on candidates who will impress the client. If they don’t have a role for you, don’t expect them to keep looking for opportunities for you.

Does the Agency Understand the Ideal Candidate Profile?  Not Really

Companies generally share more information about their ideal candidate profile with retained agencies than contingent agencies since the company is more invested in the agency’s success. Often contingent agencies will have less accurate information about the role and the client company. Also, agencies tend to “test out” different candidate profiles to get a better picture of the ideal candidate profile.  You may be one of those “test” candidates.

Your Resume is Valuable to the Agency

Agencies are always looking to expand the number of clients contracted with them. Often they get a chance for a contract by showing a potential client an impressive resume and using the resume as “bait”. You don’t want the agency sending your resume to a company where you intend to apply; otherwise, the client company will be contractually obligated to the agency if you are hired. That could get messy.  Always find out the client’s name and whether the agency already has a contract with that client before giving them your resume. Get the agency’s commitment to ask for your permission before submitting your resume. If an agency isn’t willing to do this, then seriously consider not working with them.

Be Picky in Choosing Agencies

Starting a staffing agency doesn’t take a lot of investment. There are many “agencies” out there that will do almost anything to get a contract with a client. Be selective with which agency you choose to represent you. Here are the criteria to use:

  1. Work with agencies that have been in business for at least a couple of years and have a successful track record in your specific industry or career path. Recruiters at these agencies can have insight into hiring trends since they talk with many companies in the same sector. Often they have gathered macro market knowledge in advance of the published news.
  2. Check their website for customer names. Ask the agency if this is an accurate list of current. If the clients’ list is relevant to your career objectives, schedule a meeting with one of the experienced recruiters. You want to understand how they work with candidates and how they work with clients.
  3. Are you a good fit for their clients? Tell the recruiter that you want honest feedback about your fit with potential clients so you don’t waste their time in the future. If they indicate you are a fit, then discuss a plan to stay in touch.
  4. Speak regularly with your chosen list of recruiters. Proactively reach out. The recruiter will likely keep a record of your resume and history of conversations in their candidate database. When the agency gets a new position, you might be the person they call for that role. If you invest time, a recruiter can become a career mentor.

What Next?

Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what to expect from recruiting agencies and how to work successfully with them. Happy to help you further by developing a list of questions for you to screen agencies.

Send me an email at with the subject line “Questions for Agency Recruiters.” In the email, tell me:

  1. A summary of your career
  2. Your career aspirations
  3. Your previous experience working with agencies

This information will help me tailor the list of questions for your situation.

Tricia Dolkas

© Kickstart Career