The Different Kinds of Recruiters: What Job Seekers Should Know

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So wrote William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.  The meaning of the phrase is simple:  If something we know had another name, it would still be what we know.  But this isn’t always true, is it?

Take the word recruiters, for example, a  word wisely used to apply to various human resources professionals.  Although generally known as “headhunters” they are more specifically called retained recruiters, contingency recruiters, and in-house/corporate recruiters.

While these professionals are all focused on sourcing, screening, and evaluating the best candidates for specific jobs, their names reflect differences in how they approach their responsibilities and where they place job seekers on their list of priorities in carrying out those responsibilities.

There are, then, some things job seekers should know about the different types of recruiters:

It’s not a job, it’s a career.  Whether recruiters are retained, contingency, or in-house H.R., remember that finding the best candidates isn’t part of their job, it basically is their job.  Although there are differences among them, one thing remains the same:  They are professionals at what they do.

Do not underestimate them, do not for a moment think that if you can only get past the recruiter you’ll ‘really be able to show the company’ what you can do.  If you don’t impress the recruiter, your adventure with the employer he or she represents will abruptly come to an end.

Remember who pays them.  You don’t.  Recruiters (again whether retained, contingency, or in-house) are paid by employers/employer clients and award their loyalty accordingly.  The more connected the headhunter is to the employer (e.g. in-house), the greater the loyalty to that employer and, conversely, the less incentive that individual has to take a chance on you, the job seeker.

In short, recruiters are risk-averse.  Don’t expect him/her to go out on a limb for you, no matter how well you believe you get along.

Contingency recruiting-success is a numbers game.  These recruiting firms are usually engaged to help the organization fill several, if not numerous, similar positions at the same time.  The firm’s database is scanned for those who possess the experience, background, training and characteristics sought by the employer.

Once adequately screened, the candidates are then presented to the employer for further review, interviewing, and screening.  The recruiter does not devote an inordinate amount of time to the process; in fact, those that are most efficient are also the most cost-effective.

Retained search recruiting.  Firms of this nature engage in search for the more high-level, highly compensated candidates.  Normally focusing on $100K plus per year salaried positions, these recruiters not only research potential candidates but also the company doing the hiring as well.

Given that the reputation of the recruiter depends on whether the placement is successful, a great deal of time and effort is put into the search to ensure that the individual ultimately hired is as good a fit as possible for the employer.

The retained search firm is entrusted with finding candidates of sufficiently high quality. The question, therefore, isn’t whether one of those presented to the employer will be hired but, rather, which one.

A large enterprise that can afford an extensive HR staff  often employs one or more in-house recruiters.  In SMBs, these are usually human resources personnel.   These individuals wear many hats and would prefer not to have to spend time sourcing and recruiting potential candidates because doing so interferes with mission critical tasks.

Regardless, in-house recruiting personnel are  usually the toughest to impress as they report only to their employer, not, as is the case with recruiting firms, multiple clients.  The priority of an in-house recruiter is clear:  Find the best person to hire as quickly and efficiently as possible without compromising the employer’s hiring standards.

Additionally, while an outside recruiting firm’s job generally ends once one or more candidates are presented to the employer, an in-house recruiter often continues to participate throughout the company’s internal hiring process.  At the end of the day, the quality of the hire is viewed as a direct reflection on the individual responsible for the recruitment.

So, what’s in a name?  Well, when it comes to recruiters, plenty.  Job seekers who can determine the nature of the relationship the recruiter has with the employer will be better-positioned to effectively deal with that individual and increase their hiring prospects.

About the Author: Michelle Dumas

Michelle Dumas is the founder and CEO of Distinctive Career Services, one of the internet's longest-standing and most respected professional resume writing firms. Michelle is a 6X certified and 7X award-winning resume writer and career consultant. To learn more about the services offered by Distinctive Career Services visit

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