Who Does Your Recruiter Work for?

Young lady who received an email from a recruiter

New Year, new you. An obvious time to be looking for a new job, right?

You've had time to reflect on your achievements and challenges during the past year. You've had the chance to discuss old frustrations and wild new ambitions with friends and family.

Getting in touch with a recruiter

So for many of us, January is the time to update your CV/résumé and fire it over to a handful of recruiters we've identified through LinkedIn. Let's see what they come back with.

OK, first reply from Jamie, Indepedent Recruiter:

"Hi there Black Heart, you have a really interesting profile. When do you have time for a call so we can touch base?"

Before we get too carried away, let's remember the first two rules when dealing with recruiters:

1. Everyone has an interesting profile

Think of it like your waiter at an expensive restaurant saying "excellent choice, sir".

They say it in order to establish rapport – which is fine. But don't get over-excited at their compliments.

2. Recruiters always want to 'touch base'

First time you've messaged each other? "Great to touch base!" Received a new job description? "Just wanted to touch base and get your feedback" On your way to the job interview? "Good luck! Let's touch base after the interview"

You'll soon develop an allergy to the expression 'touch base' – whatever the hell it originally meant. But you'll have to learn to put this aversion to one side if you're serious about getting anywhere with these guys.

Who does the recruiter work for?

But let's get to the heart of the incentives at play when it comes to the recruiter-candidate relationship.

Sadly, many job candidates –even experienced ones– develop the illusion that they now have a full-time careers coach at their service. Although recruiters are usually more-than-happy to help if it will result in a job placement, in the short or medium term, you should be in no doubt about the facf that you are not their client.

You are the product. The commodity.

Recruiters will help you up to a point, but if you're not ideal candidate material, they owe you nothing. Not even a returned phone call.

It's true that the recruiter will generally earn a higher commission by negotiating a higher salary for you, but they usually have to compete with other recruiters who have their own pools of candidates. 

Most recruiters prefer to invest their energy in persuading you to accept a lower salary, rather than to fight for a higher salary from the hiring company.

Any rational recruiter would rather close the deal today (then move on to new deals) than fight for weeks for only a marginal increase in commission. To achieve this, the candidate is usually the path of least resistance.

So whilst it may seem that your recruiter's interests are aligned with yours, human nature dictates that this is not the case.

The client is the client, right?

So we've established that you the candidate are not the recruiter's client. But that's fairly obvious, because most of us know that the hiring company is the client.

Since the recruiter receives a commission paid by the hiring company and wants to guarantee himself a steady income stream for the next few years, you would also be forgiven for thinking that he is perfectly incentivised to go out and find the top candidate for the job.

Wrong again unfortunately.

Whereas companies hire externally with the intention of bringing in fresh minds, with wide experience and new ideas, it's much easier for a recruiter to recommend 'safe' candidates, with boringly linear career paths and no career gaps.

The hiring company would usually benefit from hiring someone with a few interesting quirks, who's seen the world a little, who possibly took career breaks, maybe even switched careers, who took some risks.

But identifying these 'rough diamonds' within a pool of mostly bad CVs requires considerable time and effort on behalf of the recruiter.

This is why in many cases your CV/résumé gets scanned for keywords and big brands (which applies to former employers and higher education). And if your career path looks a little too unconventional, most recruiters would prefer not to take the risk of recommending you to their client.

As a result, hiring companies tend to get presented with a batch of 'good but not great' candidates to choose between. So the person who gets hired will tend to be suboptimal, more often than not.

This is an obvious disservice to hiring companies and to the best candidates.

Looking after number one

But don't be too harsh on the recruiter: Again, they're just being rational. And you would do the same, trust me.

However let's be in no doubt as to whose interests the recruiter serves. In case you're wondering, they go in the following order:

1. Recruiter

2. Hiring company

3. Candidate

Best of luck with your search. Be sure to play it safe out there, peeps.

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