The Smart Way to Deal with Recruiters


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As the competition for talent in our industry heats up, third party recruiters will take a more important role in staffing across the industry. If you haven’t been contacted by one yet, you will (especially if you’re following our advice and making yourself more valuable), and we want you to make sure you’re prepared to make the most of it. Third party recruiters are professionals who help companies fill openings with qualified candidates by utilizing their networks and headhunting skills.


You are the product! And that’s ok…


The first thing to understand is that regardless of how friendly they are towards you, recruiters are not your friends. They are salespeople whose job is to sell you. You are the product, not the customer. The customer is the company paying the recruiter to fill an open role. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying recruiters are bad people or that you shouldn’t trust them and maybe even become friends with them, but you do have to remember that you are the product. Nothing wrong with this, it’s just the reality of the business. During my last job search, I met several wonderful recruiters. Some of whom were very helpful in my search, and I like them immensely, but always keep in mind that ultimately the recruiter’s job is to please their client, not to please you. After all, the client is the one paying the bills!



The two types of recruiters:

There are two very different types of recruiters: Contingency and Retainer. Contingency recruiters are paid 20% to 30% of the job’s annual salary when they successfully fill a job, but they only get paid when it’s filled. If they don’t fill the job, they don’t get paid. It’s a commission based sales job through and through. Some brokers advertise positions, screen the candidates, and submit the ones they think are the best fit to their client, the hiring company.

Contingency recruiters are awesome, especially during the early stages of your career because many of them have solid relationships with HR at different companies and can get your resume on the right desk. However, you have to be careful. Unscrupulous recruiters might shotgun your resume to every company where they think you might be a fit even if they don’t have an assignment from them or an established relationship. This is not too bad early in your career but can hurt you if you’re seeking a higher level position because once you have been submitted by a recruiter for a certain amount of time the company can’t hire you unless they go through the recruiter, which makes you 30% more expensive. At highly paid jobs, that could be the difference between getting an interview and not getting one. The key is to always tell the recruiter that he only has permission to submit you to jobs you’ve specifically given him permission to submit you to. Personally, I don’t think I ever ran into a recruiter that hurt my search, but you do have to be careful.

The other type of recruiters are Retainer recruiters. Retainer recruiters are trusted advisers to the hiring company and are almost exclusively used for positions paying more than $100k. They are true trusted consultants and generally don’t advertise the positions they’re working on, relying instead on their database, network and asking candidates who say “no” for other qualified candidates.

Retainer recruiters are paid around 30% of the position’s annual salary whether it’s filled or not. They are expected to do extensive screening of all candidates, maybe even a couple of full phone interviews with a candidate before recommending them. They only bring forward their very best candidates to their client. Sometimes, they are even used to help interview candidates found through other channels. Retained recruiters will only offer a candidate to one position at a time, which means that if they’ve offered you to client A for one job and then client B asks them to fill a role that would be PERFECT for you, they won’t be able to offer you to client B until client A has released you. A retainer recruiter will tell you right away that they have been retained and will be very protective of their client.


Understanding the Recruiting Game:

The key thing to remember is that once you’ve been submitted somewhere your price is 25-30% more expensive for the next 6 months regardless of whether that recruiter has a contract with them or not. Early in your career, your interests and the recruiter’s are pretty well aligned and, they can really help open up doors to HR and hiring managers with whom they have good relationships. Since your salary isn’t too high yet, adding an extra 30% is not too damaging.

Once you hit $100k, your interests are not that well matched up anymore. Your resume being sent all over to every employer who might be a good match for you can make you too expensive, and it’s unlikely to find you a great job.

When a recruiter finds a very marketable candidate (say a CPCU, MBA with years of Inland Marine Underwriting experience), they don’t get paid unless they place him or her, so they have an incentive to send that candidate to every department that might need them.

Don’t fall for the the “we represent you” line. You’re not paying the bill, you are not the customer, you’re the product, and that’s ok. When you receive a call from a recruiter he might be working on filling a fantastic job that will advance your career, maybe even on retainer, but he also may be trolling LinkedIn and telling you about a job that doesn’t exist yet, but that he’s hoping will open up soon.

During the first call, you want to interview them about their relationship with the company as much as they’re interviewing you. Do they already have an actual assignment? Can they send you the paperwork showing the assignment? Usually they’ll say no, but I’ve had it work a couple of times. Are they contingent or retainer? And of course find out the hiring company, location, responsibilities and salary range.

If you realize that you’re not interested in the job, tell the recruiter as soon as possible and don’t lead them on. Instead, always offer to refer them to other candidates from your network who might be interested. Recruiters will LOVE you for helping them complete an assignment and get paid and they’ll think of you again in the future. I always make a point to try to help them if I can.


This is just a very brief intro to how to working with recruiters. We highly recommend reading the classic book about working with recruiters for much more info: Rites of Passage of hundred thousand to million dollar Jobs.

About Antonio Canas

Tony started in insurance in 2009 and immediately became a designation addict and shortly thereafter a proud insurance nerd. He has worked in claims, underwriting, finance and sales management, at 4 carriers, 6 cities and 5 states. Tony is passionate about insurance, technology and especially helping the insurance industry figure out how to retain and engage the younger generation of insurance professionals. Tony is a co-founder of and a passionate speaker.

Recruiters are more important for your career than you realize and they're only becoming more important as the talent shortage becomes more acute. They don't work for you, they work for the client, you are the product, and that's ok.

There's two types of recruiters: Contingency: paid only when the position is filled. Used for positions at all levels. Retainer: True consultants and partners to their clients, paid regardless of whether positions is filled. Almost exclusively used for jobs paying upwards of $100k.

You become more expensive to hire once a recruiter submits you to a particular company, this has different effects depending on many things but in general: early career: not too damaging. Late career: might make you too expensive.

There's MUCH more to learn about recruiters, read the full article and read the Bible.

Key Takeaway: Even though recruiters are not your friends, it is a good idea to help them out when you can, point them to people that might be good matches if the job isn't for you, they'll remember and help you in the future.

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1 thought on “The Smart Way to Deal with Recruiters”

  1. These are all good points. I have been on both sides – using a recruiter to find a new role, and using a recruiter to fill a role on my team. It is always better to have good relationships with the recruiters before you need them to search for you.

    Some recruiting firms hire a lot of people, chew them up, and spit them out. You’ll notice recruiters from the same firm call and ask the same questions. They start out saying you’d be a perfect fit for their role (which they never describe), then ask you to explain what you’ve been doing. They have no idea who you are, and are dialing for dollars. The next month, their replacement will call and ask the same questions. You are better off finding a recruiter who actually knows your profession, as that person is more likely to understand what would be a good fit for your skills and interests. Even if you’re currently in a call center and have no idea what the difference is between an appraiser, an adjuster and an underwriter, this understanding is key to a good role. It becomes more important as you move up in your profession.

    Tony forgot to mention working with multiple recruiters – you can do it, and sometimes it can be beneficial, since not all recruiting firms deal with your target employers. BUT be careful that you don’t have two recruiters sending your resume to the same company. No employer will want to litigate who gets the 30%, and you will not be hired even if you are the most qualified candidate. If you work with two recruiters, keep your own list of which employer already has your resume, and don’t allow a recruiter to send to any company without your prior approval. Likewise, if your friend has handed your resume to a hiring manager, don’t let the recruiter also send to that company. As Tony pointed out, you’re 30% more expensive that way.


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