How should I select the right recruiter for my career?

by Brent Anthony
Internal Talent Acquisition & Operations Lead at Charles Aris Inc.

Large-scale life choices, such as buying a home or car, require a lot of thoughtful consideration. In many cases, individuals seek trusted advisers to help make the ultimate decision – or to at least help navigate the process that leads to that decision.

You may select a realtor with whom you’ve worked in the past, or ask to work with the car dealer who helped your friend get her last car at a great deal. But whom do you consult when you’re looking to shift gears in your career?

Frankly, a lot of the answers are the same. You’ve probably relied on your network of friends and colleagues to stay aware of opportunities in the marketplace. You’ve likely relied on individuals who have helped you in your previous career changes. Maybe you’ve worked with a recruiter to find your current position. If you have that advising network, then that’s great.

However, if you’re facing the prospect of a job change, are contemplating what that next step ought to be, or even if you haven’t given any thought to leaving your current organization, it’s always a good idea to consider this: When the time comes to make a change, how should I select the right person to work with?

Recruiting 101

Before you enter into a partnership with a recruiter, it’s a good idea to know some of the nomenclature of the recruiting profession. One of the most important items you should understand up front in your selection process is the difference between a “contingency” search firm and a “retained” search firm.

Contingency and retained firms both work with individuals to place them as job candidates in client organizations. The difference is that contingency firms are only paid by the client once a candidate is placed, and generally there is no level of exclusivity on that specific search. As a result, multiple contingency firms could be working on the same position at once – which sometimes can be great for the client. Retained firms, on the other hand, are generally contracted by a company for a specific search, and that search firm is the only search firm working on that search. This affords a company the opportunity to truly partner with a firm in a relationship that can help find and land a specific type of professional quickly.

There are benefits to both types of recruiting. Often, recruiters can work on contingency searches and retained searches at the same time. Either type of recruitment model can work to your benefit, as both models require available talent.

Who is benefiting whom?

Have you ever been in a relationship that felt one-sided? I’d say that most of us have experienced this at some point. When working with a recruiter, that is decidedly not the type of relationship you want to be in.

A healthy working relationship with a recruiter should involve two-way communication and consideration. In conversations with recruiters, ask yourself: Do they have your needs and aspirations in mind? Do they have a passion for the roles that they’re calling about, or the prospects they’ve engaged about those roles? Are they asking which next steps make the most sense for you? Or do you simply feel like a pawn on their chessboards?

If you don’t think your interests are being respected, valued and acted on accordingly, it may be time to look elsewhere for that true search partner.

Style vs. Substance

Everyone is unique and everyone has their own individual styles and preferences – and recruiters are no different. Each recruiter, even within the same search firm, has an individuality that helps make them successful (or not).

Not all of those styles mesh with all candidates, though, so you have to make your own choices as to whether the recruiter you are working with is compatible with your own career quest.

Do you prefer to work with someone who has a direct communication style? Someone who is collaborative? Someone who is compassionate? The options are endless, but to have an effective professional partnership that is built for success, you have to know what type of person you are open to working with before you can work with them successfully.


Now, how does all of this apply to you personally?

You may be actively looking for a new position, or a new field entirely, or you may be passively listening and on the lookout for opportunities. In any case, consider upfront what you want to get out of recruitment conversations and the resulting professional relationships so that you are prepared.

Give thought to the kind of person you want as a career partner.

  • What communication style do I prefer?
  • What personality best fits my own?
  • What amount of access and information am I willing to entrust to someone?

Once you become aware of these factors and have thought through them, you’ll be much more prepared to determine the right type of person to engage, and potentially partner with, in your recruitment. Then you’ll be in position to achieve the result you want!