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There are two main categories of recruiters - retained and contingent.

Retained recruiters have specific jobs that employers are retaining them to fill. They typically get paid 30+ % of the candidates first year salary. This fee is typically to cover a 90 day effort to find the right prospect, however they get paid whether or not they actually fill the job. They are exactly like consultants who get paid whether or not the company chooses to implement their recomendations or not. These recruiters are very important for everyone to develop as career contacts. At any given point in time (correction: at almost every point in time) they are not working on an assignment that happens to be relevant to you. Consider that even the most successful of recruiters may only have a couple of live searches underway at any given time. What are the odds that you're perfect for one of them? At any given point in time the odds are low, however, over time the odds are high. That's why it's important to develop contacts with high end recruiters who know your industry. If you contact one of these recruiters they may be willing to invest their time to get to know you since their success is all about knowing people to develop their database for future assignments - howver that does not mean that they have an open assignement suitable for you. So, after such a conversation, if you expect that they're going to find a job for you - you've misunderstood their role. They don't shop you around, that's not their job. However, when you get a call from one of these recruiters it's because they have a live assignment that they believe you may be a good fit for. Whether or not it's a good fit it is a golden opportunity to make a connection, help out, recommend others, etc. Do this always, with everyone, and you will build a strong network of recruiters. If you have good connections with 10 of them, that means that you may have access to to 20+ open jobs at any point in time that may be relevant to you. The best of these recruiters are super smart, know their industries well, have a strong handle on trends, know everybody and are as valuable in the business ecosystem as high end consultants. Treat them with respect and you will benefit. Some aren't so good — treat them with respect as well.

Now let's talk about contingent recruiters. These recruiters also provide a valuable service but night and day different from retained recruiters. These recruiters are generally not under contract from a hiring company as retained recruiters are. They use basic research to uncover open jobs (from comapny websites, job postings, cold calling etc) and they try and find candidates who seem to have the right skills set. Then they contact the company and say "I've got a great guy for you; he's done x, y and z". If the company hires they get paid; typcially a flat fee in the $15k-$25k range for most $100k positions. They don't get paid unless the candidate is hired. These recruiters are in a position to shop you around but let the buyer beware. The candidate doesn't normally pay the contingent recruiter a fee (be aware that there is another variety of search firm that does charge the seeker a lot of money) but do you really want someone who isn'[t actually working for the hiring comapny representing you? In most cases you can find the same job openings that they found and apply directly. When you go thru them you have a $20k bounty on your head — employers would rather hire you directly and save the $20k. So be very careful about letting someone "own" you. There are caveats. Some contingent recruiters are retained by the hiring company and are dealing in unpublished jobs. It's ok to work with these ones, but you have to ask and clarify exactly what their affiliation is. With so much blind job posting on the web, it pays to be very careful.

Bottom line: understand who you're dealing with, what their job is, and how to best leverage their expertise for long term networking and maybe, maybe a job now.

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