Friday, July 27, 2012

Working with Search Firms

With the release of Employment Crossing's The 2013 Most Influential Recruiter List(s) it might be a good time to read up on using employment agencies (or recruitment agencies, search firms).

What is a Search Firm?

So what exactly are search firms and how can you use them to your best advantage? Using a search firm can be a good job search strategy because with little effort on your part, your resume will be submitted to openings that may not be advertised. Using a search firm can be an integral part of your job search, but don’t limit yourself to this one resource. Use all available resources, contacts, and job listing sites to conduct a thorough job search.

Employers use search firms when they do not have the time or expertise to fill positions using their own resources. Reasons may include the need to fill contract positions, rapid company growth, interest in luring a competitor to the company, a needed internal change requiring an outsider, or higher level or specialized openings where there are fewer qualified candidates. A company may work with one preferred search firm or several firms.

Recruiters earn a living by identifying, selecting the best candidate for a specific job vacancy, and placing candidates for their clients. They usually understand the sector or industry they work within and many were once employed in the very discipline or industry in which they specialize.

Search firms are typically divided into large global companies or small specialists or “boutiques”. Global search firms can be organized either as highly centralized and integrated or as independently run branches or networks. Integrated firms can have more consistent standards and adopt a common way of conducting searches while branches can be more entrepreneurial. Boutique firms tend to be specialized by sector or industry niches, for example biotechnology, financial services media, software, and emerging technologies.

How Search Firms Work

Before approaching a firm, it is important to know how they work. The search firm exists to help client companies find employees, not to help people find jobs (even though that is the outcome)! The client company pays their fee. Fees are usually a percentage of the annual salary for the position being filled. Positions can range from entry level to upper level for experienced individuals. Many recruiters try to coax individuals already working into making a change based on motivating factors including advancement, greater challenges, different management style and company direction. It’s not uncommon for a recruiter to place the same candidate numerous times in their career.

The process involving a candidate usually includes the following: the recruiter creates an initial list of possible candidates for an assignment, these candidates are then screened and appraised to create the final short list of highest quality individuals (usually 3-4 contenders who have all expressed real interest in the position) presented by the recruiter to the client. The client will then interview the short listed candidates possibly resulting in an offer to the best candidate. Hiring decisions are always made by the client.

Be aware that in your initial conversation and evaluation as a potential candidate, the recruiter may not divulge confidential information about the client or position until after you have been identified as a legitimate candidate. Even then, there are times when certain client information must remain confidential.

Types of Search Firms

Search firms can run from "traditional" temporary help services such as office/clerical and industrial to firms that provide more highly skilled workers in technical and professional areas. They can offer a wide range of employment-related services and solutions to their client companies, including temporary and contract staffing, recruiting and permanent placement, outsourcing and outplacement, training, and human resource consulting.

For contract and temporary services, the jobs may last from a few hours, to several months or even years depending on the industry. The contract employee may be paid directly by the client company or they may work for and be paid by the staffing agency. A company may contract regularly to handle peak production or seasonal periods, special projects, and to supplement their permanent workforce. This may include the use of temporary-to-permanent hiring- a concept where a client company plans to make a permanent placement hiring decision during or after a temporary help assignment.

Executive Search Firms mainly recruit for exempt-level managers or professionals at an executive level. The recruiter is sometimes referred to as a “headhunter”. Headhunters are generally considered more aggressive than in-house recruiters or may have preexisting industry experience and contacts.

How You Can Use Search Firms

Choosing a Firm

As with any potential employer, do your homework before selecting a search firm with which to work. Research to gather information on industries and functions served, geographic locations, and whether they are general or boutique firms. Check their legitimacy as a recruiting agency, review their website, and get information on their reputation by asking for references and some of their clients. Above all, do not sign with a search firm who tries to charge you a fee; reputable agencies collect their fees from the client companies for which they fill positions.

Connecting with a Search Firm

How do you approach a firm with whom you are interested in working? Here are some tips for making that initial connection, and developing a productive relationship:
  • Get a referral to the company from a client, colleague or friend who has worked with the firm. A recommendation from a known source will put you at the top of their candidate pile.
  • Contact a specific person within the firm, preferably the contact for your field of interest, if the firm represents many industries. You will be better able to establish a connection with someone who shares your industry knowledge and interests.
  • Be professional and ethical at all times; respect your relationship with the recruiter and treat them as an employer. Limit the number of recruiting firms with which you work, and if you do work with multiple firms, let them know, so they don’t promote you to the same employer. Also, don’t “back door” the firm, or go behind their backs to send your resume directly to the client company.
  • It’s important to establish a good rapport with the recruiter, so he/she can represent you well to their client companies. Make sure you feel comfortable with the recruiter and fairly treated by the firm.
  • Give the recruiter specifics on what type of job you’re looking for, so they don’t waste their and their clients’ time; discuss things like preferred location, job type, and salary range in detail.
  • For Executive Search firms, you may wish to register with Blue Steps , a service of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, to raise your visibility within the search firm community, as reputable firms use this service to search for candidates.

What Recruiters Look For in a Candidate

 Recruiters will be selling you to potential clients, so they will select candidates based on a combination of experiences, achievements, relevant skills, and personal attributes which match well with their clients’ needs.

Resume and Cover Letters
Your resume and cover letter should be a good presentation of your skills and qualifications.  Make sure your resume is updated; most recruiters do not write or edit resumes.  Keep your cover letter short and straightforward, using bullets for your career and skills highlights.  Here are a few other tips:
  • Emphasize achievements (in experience, education, and the community), skills related to the industry and types of jobs you’re applying for, and quantitative results wherever possible.
  • Present a strong and consistent career path, showing growth and accomplishments within the industry.
  • Demonstrate industry knowledge, a breadth of experience, and leadership experience.
  • Highlight well-known industry names you’ve been associated with on the job and in your education.
  • Leave off a resume objective as it may not match openings for which you will be considered.  
Maintaining a Relationship with a Recruiter
Once you’ve begun working with a recruiter, you will both need to put forth effort to maintain a productive relationship.
  • Realize how search firms work and work with them within these parameters.  The recruiter works for their client companies, not for you.  You are a resource they use to fill their open positions.
  • Give the recruiter a list of companies that you would like to work for; it’s possible they may have contacts at these companies, and can check for available positions that may fit your qualifications.
  • If the recruiter sets you up for an interview with a client company, get as much information about the company as possible before the interview, so you can research and prepare for the interview.
  • Be realistic -- research the industry and salary norms so that your expectations are in line with the market.
  • Keep in contact -- email the recruiter at least once a week to demonstrate your enthusiasm.  This will keep you in the forefront of the recruiter’s mind, and they’ll hopefully make more effort to place you.
  • Once you accept a position at a client company, continue to ask the recruiter for advice, or if you have any concerns or problems.


  1. Your resume and cover letter should be a good presentation of your skills and qualifications. Make sure your resume is updated; most recruiters do not write or edit resumes.

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