The #1 point to remember about search firms is that they work for employers, not for you. That’s not necessarily bad news (see the first “Don’t” on the list).
- Don’t pay a recruiter. Recruiters are paid by employers.
- Because they’re working for employers, don’t expect recruiters to go out of their way to find a job for you.
- Don’t focus on search firms if you’re changing careers or are not an obvious fit for the job you’re seeking. If this is you, you’re most likely to find a job through networking.
- Don’t take it personally if recruiters don’t get back to you. They are usually extremely busy, overworked and inundated with candidates. They don’t have time to return everyone’s messages.
- Don’t expect advice on your resume or job search (but if they do offer it, listen carefully!).
- Don’t expect unbiased “inside” information about the companies they represent. Do your own research.
- Don’t phone them except by request. Unsolicited phone calls are a pet peeve of recruiters.
Ask recruiters to check with you before sharing your resume with an employer. Why? Because if they send a resume to a company you’ve already approached on your own, awkward fee issues result that can cause the employer to simply drop you from consideration.
Pick one or two recruiters who specialize in your field–through word of mouth or Internet research–and build a relationship with. Email them quick updates regularly (once a month or as requested) on your availability and career (new skills, etc.), and attach your resume. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn. After you land your new job, keep an eye open for opportunities to connect them with excellent candidates for the types of jobs they recruit for.
It may also be helpful to broadcast your resume to a list of recruiters, perhaps via an online service like CustomDatabanks.com.
Continue job searching through other means, especially through networking your way into companies you’re interested in.
For most job seekers, using search firms should not be the main strategy, but it can be a valuable part of an overall campaign.
This article was originally published in August 2013 and has been updated.