Ah recruiters. If you understand their motivations and find a good one, they can work wonders. But the average and bad ones can be worse than searching yourself.
When looking for a job, you should definitely search on your own through websites like indeed.com and simplyhired.com. But you should also work with a recruiter. They can find jobs that you wouldn’t find, that aren’t even listed. And what’s more, they can help you understand how employers will view your resume, and when talking to companies they can help explain away any red flags. They can sometimes even give good career advice, if you know how to filter what they say.
The key to working with recruiters is to understand their motives. They’re middle men who are paid by commission, like used car salesmen and real estate agents. They’re paid by the company that hires you, and are paid 1 – 3 months of your salary, as far as I can tell in Boston.
You might think that, because their commission will go up if your starting salary goes up, they’ll negotiate a good one for you. But even if they negotiate a $5k/yr increase, they’ll only see ~ $1k of that. If they spend that time finding someone else a job, they’ll get a whole other commission, ~ $10k+.
So they try to close as many deals as possible and ignore the quality of each deal. To maximize their income, the bad ones will rush you into the first employer that will hire you. They also spend as little time on each deal as possible, and generally just do keyword matching: “This job requires XML, and you have XML on your resume, so it’s a match!”
The good ones will want to cultivate a long term relationship with both you and the companies they work for. But keep in mind, even good recruiters are generally non technical and don’t understand any of those acronyms. And both good and bad recruiters will only get you an offer from a single company, which really reduces your ability to negotiate.
Plus, each recruiter only represents a fraction of companies in your city. Google, for example, doesn’t work with any recruiters. So you always want to search on your own, even if you’re using a recruiter.
When you first talk to a recruiter, describe what you liked and didn’t like about past jobs. Then ask them for career advice: what sort of job do you think I’d enjoy? At what sort of company? What’s a possible career track for me for the next 10-20 years? Why? Listen to their thought process. The bad (including average) recruiters won’t have thought about such things, so they’ll say something generic. Treat them like another job web site: they’ll send you job ads and that’s about it.
How do you find a good recruiter? The best way is probably to ask your friends and co-workers. If you post your resume on job web sites, they’ll contact you, and you can try the test above to see if they’re any good.
In the end, the best strategy is to look for jobs yourself and work with a good recruiter. Just make sure that you do a thorough search on your own before you talk to a recruiter. One of the first thing’s they’ll ask you is what companies you’ve applied to. Once you give them that list, if you discover a company they work with, you need to go through them.