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Recruitment agencies introduce candidates to organizations and hiring managers they might not otherwise access.Nuthawut Somsuk/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Recruitment agencies can be valuable job matchmakers, but job seekers need to know who these firms are working for and the best way to make the most of their services.

Alan Kearns, managing partner and founder of CareerJoy, a people and culture firm that counsels both jobseekers and employers, believes the recruitment industry could do a better job of communicating what it does and doesn’t do.

His firm helps job seekers learn how and why to work with recruiters.

Recruiters are paid by employers to find job candidates, he notes. In most jurisdictions, they can’t charge job seekers for their services.

“We would often hear, ‘I’ve hired this recruiter to help me,’” he says, but then they confirm they aren’t paying them a fee. “They didn’t understand [the recruiters] are working for employers and they’re the candidate.”

Job seekers can access a recruitment firm by applying on its website for a position that fits their skills. Or a recruiter will reach out directly to a prospect who has job skills that fit a position the recruiter’s firm has been hired to fill.

Recognizing that the recruiter is working for the employer, a job seeker can “understand what the recruiter needs and what the employer needs through the recruiter and start to build a more aligned partnership,” Mr. Kearns says.

Recruitment firms can offer some advantages. They may have exclusive relationships with some employers or are recognized for specializing in a certain type of job search, business or sector.

But each agency only has access to a small percentage of the available jobs in the entire market. And with major job-hunting sites such as Indeed and Monster and social networks like LinkedIn, they aren’t the only ways to find work.

Michael French, national director, client solutions at Robert Half Canada, says his recruiters introduce candidates to organizations and hiring managers they might not otherwise access.

“On a job board, many times when you click on ‘apply now,’ you’re getting caught in the company’s artificial intelligence for scanning resumes,” he says. “We know that computers don’t necessarily hire the right people.”

In an introductory interview, Mr. French says his recruiters discuss the kind of company the candidate wants to work for, where they would do well and what kind of boss they want to have – items which don’t come through in a resume.

The recruiters might deal with the employer’s human resources department, but they also may have direct access to people in management roles such as chief financial or chief executive officer, Mr. French says

There are two payment models for recruitment and executive search firms: contingency placement and retained search.

Jeff Aplin, president and CEO of Calgary-based Aplin Group, a national recruitment firm, says it’s good for job seekers to know which model their recruiter is using.

In a retained search, usually used for executive leadership positions, the employer outsources much of the hiring process to the executive search firm and the recruiting firm is paid regardless of the search outcome. It means the recruitment firm has a higher level of control and interaction with the client on that hire, Mr. Aplin says.

Under the more common contingency model, the recruiter only gets paid if the employer hires the candidate it found. In that case, the employer might also be working with multiple recruiting agencies, be taking referrals from company employees, using the big job boards and their own talent acquisition staff, Mr. Aplin says.

“That all adds variability. It affects the ability of the recruiter to get back to the candidate and say this is what’s going on because they may not know,” he says.

One complaint Mr. Kearns has heard from job seekers who’ve worked with a recruiter is sometimes there’s no feedback on what happened after they’ve applied.

Both Mr. Kearns and Mr. Aplin advise job seekers to discuss with the recruiter what they can expect in terms of communication and transparency.

Mr. Kearns says job seekers should also ask the recruiter how long they have been working in the industry, how long they have worked with the employer the applicant is interested in, and how many people that employer has hired thanks to the recruiter’s efforts.

Job seekers can also forge a long-term, trusting relationships with recruiters, the experts say.

“We do a very thorough interview and then we stay in touch with people continually,” Mr. French says. “We know people from the very beginning of their career, maybe their very first job to the sunset years of their very last job.”

Career experts recommend that job seekers not limit themselves to one recruitment agency for their entire job search strategy.

Mr. Kearns compares it to having a diversified investment strategy that spreads opportunity and risks.

“You probably want to work with three to five” firms, he says. “It’s an industry with hundreds of small, mid-sized and global players… Each one of them has a book of clients and opportunities the others don’t.”

If a job match is made and a final deal is being struck, the candidate needs to remember who’s paying who, Mr. Kearns adds.

“When you’re negotiating your packages, you have to do your own due diligence, not just rely on the recruiter,” he says. “They’re acting for an employer who’s trying to make a deal with you.”

He suggests checking with various sources such as friends, peers and people for information on fair contract terms.