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Making the most of a job hunt means approaching your search from every angle. While your chances of finding work through a headhunter may be as low as one in 10, it's in addition to your chances through job banks, cold calls and other search methods. Understanding how employment agencies work improves your chances for becoming that one in 10.
Headhunters come in different flavors, and knowing which one you're dealing with will affect how you interact. Internal recruiters work for the hiring company, usually a human resources professional. An employment agency may offer advice and job search help, but an internal recruiter will not. She has no vested interest in you, unless you are a prime candidate. "Internal recruiters are the first step in the hiring process and no matter how they contact you, remember they are employees tasked with finding top candidates, so always present your best. Every contact is an interview," says Michelle Marriott, vice president of human resources with a global public relations agency in Atlanta.
Also called employment agencies and executive search firms, external recruiters make their living by finding people for jobs, often building a store of candidates for common job openings. Many agencies specialize in particular industries, and may have access to insider knowledge and job listings that will benefit your search. While an external recruiter may offer advice and tips to help you perform well in interviews, she's not a career counselor. It's in her interest that every candidate -- not just the hired one -- performs well, because the hiring company pays the recruiter and, ideally, will rehire the recruiter when other positions become available.
Choosing a Headhunter
If it's possible, select a recruiting specialist. A company that focuses on information technology may not be your best resource for a banking job. If you work in a competitive market for recruiting firms, be selective -- and exclusive -- about who you work with. Most headhunters want to offer specific choices to a hiring company, and you don't want to appear for one job through multiple employment agencies. On the flip side, don't sign an agreement of exclusive representation. Working with two or three recruiters is reasonable. Likewise, never pay a headhunter. Asking you for a fee is a sign of a disreputable recruiter.
External headhunters are every bit as impression-critical as internal recruiters, so punctuality, appropriate dress and a great resume are as important to present to your headhunter as they are to an employer. Assume that a recruiting firm will contact references and confirm your credentials. Be honest about your qualifications, who you are interviewing with and never contact an employer behind the back of the recruiter. If a company requests a meeting directly, accept it and inform your agency contact. Be realistic with your search firm. Headhunters are rarely decision-makers, and have little, if any, control over the hiring process.