10 Questions to Ask a Recruiter Before You Sign On

Interrogation Chair

Recruiters can be a big help when you’re looking for a job. They’re an excellent source of market intelligence and the experts who know how to get your resume in front of elusive hiring managers. But with dozens of them to choose from, how can you tell which recruiter is right for you?

The short answer is by learning as much about them as you can. To start, ask these questions early on.

What’s your niche or specialty?

IT recruiters tend to focus on vertical markets or industries, specific career clusters and specific technologies. A mutually beneficial relationship hinges on the alignment between your technical skills and career objectives and a recruiter’s client base and focus. For instance, one recruiter may place senior software engineers and architects into Wall Street firms while another specializes in junior Java and Web developers in Silicon Valley and Austin.

What kind of placements do you make?

Retained recruiters typically charge employers an upfront fee for finding a candidate. Contingency recruiters charge once a candidate has accepted an offer and started work. Because employers often engage a number of firms for contingency searches, you’ll be competing against a larger slate of candidates when you work with them. Retained searches are usually reserved for key leadership roles and hard-to-fill jobs.

If you’re interested in contract or contract-to-hire opportunities as well as direct placement, you may need to partner with several recruiters.

How long have you been recruiting?

Tenured recruiters are more effective because they know the hot buttons of hiring managers, how to negotiate salary and how to close a deal. As they build trust with their clients, they’re more likely to get exclusive orders, confidential searches and fewer requests for purple squirrels. Best of all, a busy recruiter won’t waste your time: If they can’t place you, they won’t interview you.

How often do you place people like me and who are your top clients?

Nothing speaks like results. A successful recruiter will gladly share his or her top clients and batting average.

How long will it take me to get a job?

Gauge your recruiter’s effectiveness by comparing his or her average placement time to these stats from Boston-based recruiting software provider Bullhorn: In 2013, the average time-to-fill for all staffing firms was six days for temp, eight days for contract and 32 days for permanent placement. Naturally, placement time can vary. However, an experienced recruiter will give you an estimate and explain why your search may take more time.

What’s your resume submittal process?

Make sure you understand all the rules, procedures and protocols before entering into a relationship. Will the recruiter call before submitting your resume? Does his or her company broker candidates through other firms? How many resumes do they submit for each opening? To put this in context, the average number of submittals for direct placement is seven, according to Bullhorn.

Will other recruiters have access to my resume and contact information?

Will your resume reside in a shared database? While a team approach increases your access to job requisitions, unfamiliar staff members may offer you unsuitable positions. Don’t be afraid to request a single point of contact.

How will you help me land a job?

Will the recruiter customize your resume or cover letter or negotiate salary on your behalf? Will he or she prep you for interviews, tell you where to park and what to wear? Market your resume to companies that interest you? Top notch recruiters extend your reach and increase your chances of success, so look for someone who’s going to be proactive.

Do you charge a fee?

Services should be free to candidates, but always confirm you’re not being charged.

Do you offer training, career counseling or other perks?

Some recruiting firms offer training, networking events, salary data and courses in interviewing, resume writing and other job-hunting skills. If you having a hard time choosing a recruiter, these things can be a tie breaker—and an enormous help.

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5 Responses to “10 Questions to Ask a Recruiter Before You Sign On”

  1. Thanks for the tips. Some seem like worthwhile questions.
    The only issue I see is if you apply for a job that a recruiting company posted, you often don’t get a choice as to who you work with. It’s still good to ask some of these questions to find out where you stand with the recruiter (aka will this person actually HELP me get the job or does he/she simply want the commission without doing any work?)

  2. Greg T

    I know that technical recruiters in Houston charge fees ranging from 18% to 22% of the 1’st year salary for the employee that they match with a client firm. This fee is usually paid within 30 days after the recruit is hired and if the employee doesn’t work out within 90 days, the recruiting agency will usually guarantee that they’ll find a suitable replacement.

    • That’s good to know, Greg. Do you know how much recruiters get in general for a contracted employees? For example, if you signed a 3 or 6 month contract, what percentage are they getting from the employer for finding you? Let’s say they are offering you a $20/hr job. How much more are they getting paid for that position?

      • It varies. Very large corporations tend to be working with a vendor management system with agreements in place restricting mark ups on hourly contract rates. Those markups can vary from 16%/hr for a 1099 employee, up to 40%/hr for a W-2 employee. If there is no VMS in place, the markup can very greatly, but generally recruiters don’t want to be involved if the markup is less than 15-20$/hour due to the headache of staffing for highly technical positions.