Okay, now that I’ve shared some ideas (in the last posting here) on how to locate a set of appropriate recruiters in your field, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  How do these kinds of firms work, exactly, and how does the average professional in transition work with them effectively?

For starters, let me clarify the difference between what people like ME do, as career coaches, and what recruiters do.  As a career coach and outplacement consultant, I work exclusively with and for individual job hunters to help them identify new career options, package themselves most effectively on paper, devise the best possible game plan for generating job leads, and interview more confidently and competently for any opportunities they turn up.

Recruiters, headhunters, and staffing firms, on the other hand, are generally retained by EMPLOYERS (not by individual candidates) to locate, screen, and place qualified people in various positions that the employer has had a hard time filling otherwise — or where the employer simply wants to outsource the hiring process to an outside third party, for convenience.

Where it gets a little confusing is that career coaches and outplacement agencies (at least the good ones) usually DO distribute a few job leads to their client base, from time to time, such as the ones I share in my monthly newsletter.  They also engage in quite a bit of active networking to help their clients make connections and get considered for unpublished opportunities.  For this reason, some people inadvertently think that certain career coaches are actually functioning as recruiters, even though they don’t have any direct involvement in the actual hiring process and are making these occasional connections simply as a pro bono, value-added favor — not as their primary line of business.  And on the flip side, the best RECRUITERS sometimes function a little bit like career coaches, offering some useful feedback on your resume, or perhaps giving you some advice on how to approach the interviewing process for best results.

At the end of the day, however, despite this occasional cross-over, the distinction basically comes down to how each entity gets paid.  If an organization or individual gets paid by the individual job seeker, they’re in the coaching business.  And if their fees are coming from the employer side, they’re a recruiter or staffing firm.  Make sense?

At any rate, now that I’ve clarified the main distinction that separates recruiters from organizations such as my own, for anybody who was wondering, let me move on and share some additional insights in terms of how the recruiting world works — and what you need to know about it from the “candidate” side of the fence:

The Bad News (Potentially):

— Unfortunately, recruiters place only a tiny fraction of the candidates who reach out to them or whose resume comes across their desk, and they tend to work mostly with highly-specialized professionals (e.g. engineers, accountants, computer programmers) that employers are having a hard time finding in the marketplace; they rarely can do much for candidates who have eclectic backgrounds, unstable work histories, or who offer more “generalized” capabilities

Recruiters don’t work for you and won’t/can’t guarantee you a job; they’re not “sports agents” and as stated above, they specialize in finding people for companies, not the other way around; every once in a blue moon, a recruiter MIGHT try to proactively market a terrific candidate to a few companies, even without a formal search order in hand, but this is extremely rare and is debated even among expert recruiter circles, as you can read about here in a great discussion thread I found the other day

— Recruiters have become less of a viable job-finding channel this past year or two, since this recessed economy has resulted in far fewer search orders coming to many firms; most recruiters I talk to, in fact, are actively looking for new searches and placement contracts, NOT more candidates or resumes; this isn’t to say that some great recruiters haven’t weathered the storm just fine, of course, or that you should ignore this channel completely, but I’d estimate the number of jobs being landed through recruiting firms these days is around half of what it was just three years ago in more robust labor market

The Good News (Potentially):

— There are LOTS of recruiters out there and unless you’re searching confidentially, there’s not really much downside to marketing yourself to lots of different recruiting firms instead of putting all your eggs in a single basket; I know many recruiters might disagree with this statement, but again, advocating strictly from the standpoint of professionals in transition, I don’t see much risk in a candidate “playing the field” and working with multiple recruiters simultaneously — as long as they’re not obnoxious or unethical about it

— Recruiters have a pretty cut-and-dried agenda and shouldn’t take much time to deal with as part of your search, since once you contact them and let them know about the type of opportunities you’re seeking, you’ll either hear back from them quickly or you won’t, depending on whether they have a current search in hand that fits your qualifications; so once you’ve gotten your resume into their system, this channel doesn’t take much care and feeding, after the fact

— Most recruiters (at least the good ones) are hyper-connected and helpful by nature; so even if they don’t have an open assignment that fits you, you might ask them politely whether they can share a few minutes of insight about the market, give you some quick feedback on your resume, validate the current salary trends in your field, or pass along some other helpful tips given their unique vantage point of working with dozens of different hiring managers

— Despite the slowdown in recruiting orders these past two years, which I mentioned above, I’ve recently heard from a number of recruiters I know around town that things are bouncing back in a hurry and that they’re starting to get a number of new orders coming in; this is good news and bodes well for the months to come!

So that’s the scoop on the role recruiters play, in a nutshell, and what you need to know about them as a professional seeking a new assignment.  Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll write up a final installment in this series and provide some specific, tactical advice on how to reach out to these types of firms — and the keys to building effective relationships with them, both for your immediate needs and just as importantly, for the long run!