Represent, Yo!

Regular reader and commenter Gautam asked the following question in the comments section recently:

Do headhunters represent job seekers or job-fillers?

In other words do we represent the candidate or the hiring company?

Simply put the client companies pay our bills while the candidates get our services (such as they are) for free.

Gautam also asks:

That is, do you start the process after you get a good CV or after you get an opening from an organization?

This is a good segue to illustrate the types of recruiting firms you will encounter in your career.

Basically recruiting companies are divided into two main types: contingency and retained.

Contingency firms work on contingency (natch) which means that they don’t get paid unless they actually fill a position. Typically they don’t have exclusives on a particular assignment but will try to juggle as many openings as possible in order to increase their chances of filling a position and getting paid a fee.

Client companies rarely use contingency firms for senior positions and are more apt to use their services in areas where they have multiple openings in areas that they need to get fast turnaround (information technology for example).

Those who work in contingency firms are often paid on 100% commission and are usually very motivated to fill a position. The upside to this from your perspective is that they will work very hard to get you in to see their clients.

Often if they have a candidate that they feel has a skill or experience profile that is in high demand they will pick up the phone and start making what are called “marketing calls” or “MPC calls” (MPC means Most Place able Candidate) if you fall into that category the recruiter will be working on your behalf to try to get you as many interviews as possible.

The downside to this is that because they are purely focused on making deals happen they often will be so focused on getting interviews that they will send you out on positions that aren’t even remotely a fit.

Remember because they are on contingency the client has no allegiance to them and has no risk in receiving resumes or candidates from them. Often a contingency recruiter has called a hiring manager because the company was advertising and had maybe a 10-minute (or less) conversation about the job. Their understanding of the company and the position may not be that deep.

This is why when you are working with a contingency firm you should ask a lot of questions and don’t go out on interviews if they don’t seem to be a fit.

Retained Search firms are often known as Executive Search firms because they are usually focused on more senior positions. They are hired by the client to perform a specific search and are paid a “retainer” up front to start the search. They are paid regardless of whether the search is successful or not.

You are more likely to encounter these firms once you move into management roles and you will notice a difference in their style and approach.

Typically the type of consultant who is employed by an Executive Search firm is one who has worked in industry in some sort of management capacity and has fairly strong expertise in general business concepts. This enables them to have a greater understanding of the client’s requirements and of the candidate’s skills. They will have spent a fair amount of time face to face with the client discussing the needs and often will help the client develop a position description. When I worked in contingency we rarely met the clients.

Also Executive Search firms because they are on retainer will have exclusivity on a particular assignment. So they will go to market and perform a thorough search, interview as many candidates as possible and then recommend a short list to the client.

The client has a certain loyalty to the process because they are paying money up front. If the search is a retained search you know that the client is serious about filling this position.

Generally if you are dealing with a retainer firm you wont be sent on interviews that you aren’t qualified for. And you will find the process to be more professional.

The downside is that some retainer firms are often unwilling to look at candidates who are “outside the box” as it relates to the job description or “spec”. Some of them will even disqualify candidates who are lacking in something that is very minor.

Also the process can take much longer. But often this is the case with more senior roles – the hiring process is a bit more involved.

Both types of firms ultimately have to adhere to what the client wants and both types also have to represent you in a positive light to the clients if they want to get you in for an interview.

Ultimately the demarcation between which types of firm you deal with more often is going to be where your own career is progressing. The more senior you are the more often you will be dealing with retainer based search firms. The more junior you are the greater the chance you will be working through contingency firms.

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