Choosing a Recruiter: How to tell the Good from the Bad

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email

ChoosingRecruiters often get a bad rap. 9 out of 10 times you hear a friend or family member recounting some grisly horror story about how recruiters are all heartless monsters – chasing after commissions and kicking innocent candidates aside on a whim. Most likely, the storyteller was one of the hapless candidates once upon a time.

But let’s be honest here.

There are a lot of bad recruiters out there. But there are also hundreds of thousands of great ones. Far from being the wild and unsavory beast portrayed in such stories, agency recruiters are just human beings trying to do their jobs as best they can. Like all professions, there are those who excel at their craft, and those who do not.

Recruiting is a high-touch, people business. Like any relationship oriented business, you can expect a very wide degree of difference in service, professionalism, and courtesy.

As a candidate seeking out the services of a recruiter, you are in the position to make sure you find a good one to work with. Do you know how to tell a good recruiter from a bad one? Here are some tips to help you along:

The first thing to recognize about all recruiters – the good and the bad – is that their allegiance lies first with their client (not with you). Don’t take it too personally. You can be friends with your recruiter, even business partners – but you can’t be their boss because you’re not their client. By that, we mean that you don’t pay their salary, their client does. But it doesn’t mean you have to settle. With this in mind…

  • A good recruiter understands where you’re coming from. They’ll listen to everything you say and ask questions about your career, your personal life, and your goals. A good recruiter understands the industries and positions they work with. You should look for industry knowledge that is better than yours and a deep commitment to understanding your real strengths and background.
  • A bad recruiter knows nothing about their job orders. They will blindly go after candidates that seem qualified and throw them at their client, hoping one sticks. A bad recruiter doesn’t care about what you have to say and treats you as a commodity. You’ll hear them reference job order numbers and requisition requests, but very little about their relationship with the hiring manager or a complex understanding of the team dynamics. Chances are these recruiters aren’t offering you anything you couldn’t figure out on your own.
  • A good recruiter cares about your career. Employers hold their advice in high esteem and look to them for suggestions. A good recruiter is a skilled influencer, negotiator, and networker. Yes, they care about your career in the context of how you fit into their client organizations. But the result is the same – a good recruiter should match your intentions and long term goals with highly individualized and nuanced understanding of their job orders.
  • A bad recruiter cares only for their commission.They go through the motions, if only for compensation. Their legitimacy is suspect and their reputation is poorly defined.They have few references and cannot point to a steady track record. The reality is that bad recruiters don’t ever have a solid list of clients. Ask them about who they’ve made placements with, not just who they have orders from – there is a big difference. If you know for a fact that a recruiter has worked with a large number of the leading employers in your field of interest, you can count on them being a solid job search resource for you.

In summary, having a solid recruiter looking out for you can be a tremendous benefit to your job search. Even if you’re not on the job hunt right now, having a recruiter look out for you and network professionally on your behalf can be a way to advance your career. If you do develop a great relationship with a recruiter, hold on to it and make sure you spend time with them. Although they aren’t exactly working for you, having a recruiter work with you can be a great way to accelerate your career.

By Marie Larsen