Working with Recruiters and Staffing Agencies

Basically, a recruiter or staffing agency’s job is to connect you with other jobs. If you’re struggling to find job openings, or if you want help getting into large companies, they can help with that. Learn more below about how to work with these resources to find your next position.

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Why would I want to work with a recruiter?

Aside from helping connect you with job opportunities, a recruiter can also give you advice on your job search: guidance on preparing for an interview, tips about the company and workplace, or advice on improving your qualifications. It’s in their interest to help you do well because, after all, their goal is to get someone hired into their jobs.

That said, working with a recruiter is easier in some industries. Jobs in the arts or in research may have a hard time finding recruiters with that industry focus. If you’re pursuing a career in a STEM field, consulting, or accounting, you may find that lots of recruiters want to talk to you.

What’s the difference between a Recruiter and a Headhunter?

“Headhunter” usually refers to a recruiter who works on retainer for executive or senior-level candidates. Students likely won’t have much reason to work with a headhunter.

Recruiters are the outward-facing people in an HR department. Their job is to find and interview candidates for open positions within a company. You can think of a recruiter like a matchmaker — their goal is to make sure they find the best person to fill their jobs.

Recruiters might work directly for a company (with the title of Corporate Recruiter), or might work for an outside company that specializes in recruiting (often just called Recruiter). Both have very similar job responsibilities.

What kinds of jobs will a staffing agency have?

Companies will post their job openings on their own website, or on job boards like Handshake or Check out those job postings to see if the company is one you’re interested in working with.

What is a Temp job, and why would I consider one?

There are three ways to categorize a job — Temporary, Temp-to-Hire and Direct Hire. These terms have to do with who your legal employer is; basically, these are about where your paycheck comes from.

  • Direct Hire is what people think of when they are looking for a job. The company wants to hire candidates directly onto their staff, with no expected end date.
  • Temporary jobs (aka Temp) are short-term — anywhere from a few weeks to several months. A company may want Temp help to cover a medical absence, or to help with extra project work. You may also hear temp jobs called “Contract” or “Long-Term Employment” (LTE).
  • Temp-to-Hire jobs start out as Temporary jobs, but the company plans to hire the Temp employee directly if the job fit is good. These are kind of like “trial period” positions, intended to let both you and the employer decide if you belong in the job long-term.

What should I expect if I am working with a recruiter?

When you first talk to a recruiter, expect a 15-30 minute conversation where you explain your work history, experience, skills and job search preferences. This is a good opportunity to use your personal branding preparation in order to present yourself well — make sure the recruiter knows who you are as an employee.

Be honest with a recruiter about your limits. A good recruiter will do their best to listen and work with your limits. Expect an ongoing dialogue to compare what jobs the recruiter brings you and what jobs you are willing to consider.

Expect a recruiter to ask about your pay expectations before they discuss job openings, and well before a job offer exists. Recruiters must provide pay information along with their candidates. Do some research on average salaries for the jobs you’re targeting on websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or Glassdoor. Check out our resources section on Negotiation for more info.

Once you’re working with a recruiter, be reachable by phone and email. A recruiter’s work can move quickly – an open job today may be closed tomorrow. If you see communication from your recruiter, move quickly on it to not risk out on losing the opportunity.

How do I find a good recruiter?

A good recruiter should be:

  • Honest and up-front about their capabilities, situation and connections.
  • Open to sharing reasonable information about their clients (e.g. company names and market information).
  • Attentive to candidate concerns/questions. If you express concern about something, a good recruiter will want to understand your concern rather than dismissing it.
  • Have good communication – it’s a problem if you have trouble reaching the recruiter by phone or email.

The best recruiters are proactive and have genuine care for their candidates’ activity. They won’t press you for info that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, and they will have genuine interest in interview prep and support.

Misconceptions about Staffing Agencies

“A staffing agency charges me for their services.” 
FALSE — a recruiter’s services should not cost the candidate anything. A corporate recruiter is part of the company’s HR department. A staffing company makes their money from their client companies, not from their candidates.

“A Temp job is a dead-end when compared to a permanent job.”
FALSE — All work experience is valuable experience! Temp jobs can be a great way to rapidly build work experience, especially if the job gets you experience that you haven’t gotten elsewhere. Keep an open mind, and develop parallel plans just in case things don’t go as expected.

Temp only means the job has an expected end date. The end date may be flexible, or there might not even be an end date, depending on circumstances. There are lots of stories about people who took a Temp job, and found themselves staying in the career for decades! Your recruiter should be able to answer your questions about terms of employment and expected end dates. It’s okay to ask about the end date, but also keep in mind that circumstances can change.

“I should work with as many recruiters as I can find.” 
FALSE – You only need one recruiter contact per company, or staffing company, since companies share information internally.

When working with staffing recruiters, it is critical to make sure that your resume isn’t being submitted to the same job by different recruiters. This is called a double submittal – it’s common practice to disqualify or reject a resume that appears multiple times from different sources. The recruiter doesn’t know what jobs you’ve applied to, other than what they’ve shown you — it’s important that you do the tracking to make sure this doesn’t happen.

A good rule of thumb is to have at most 2-3 staffing recruiters working with you. Pay attention to each recruiter’s strengths and weaknesses to not overlap too much. This will ensure a good job search process both for you and the recruiter(s) you are working with.

“The recruiter does everything for me – I just need to sit back and wait for them to find me a job.” 
FALSE – a recruiter’s job for the candidate is to add to the job search process, but the recruiter will not do everything for you. You still need to review the job description. You will need to present your personal brand to the recruiter so they understand you. You will need to research the company and prepare for the interview. Ultimately, you are the one who has to get the job!