phone“Hi, I’m Tami; I’m a recruiter with ___________.” This is how I used to begin most of my phone calls. After I said my hello, I knew people were thinking, “Maybe this one is actually legit and not just another scumbag.” Defending myself as a “good” recruiter took its toll on me after 15 years. I got tired of explaining the ins and outs of the recruitment system (this contributed to me shifting my career to coaching). Yes, there are good recruiters out there. I personally know a ton of them.

I’ve always felt that the term “recruiter” is too generic and should be subdivided into more specific names—the way the Inuit people have 50 words for “snow.” So let’s take a look at the differences in varieties of recruiters, how they’re compensated, and why/how you can partner with each type in your job search.


Contingent Agency Recruiter

Who they are: Third-party recruiters are not attached to a particular company. Some individuals act as solo agencies; some are with boutique firms; others work with large organizations such as Robert Half. Most specialize in an industry or type of career field, ie: accounting, high-tech startups, or creative jobs (graphic designers, writers).

How they’re compensated: A placement agency is typically engaged by a corporation to find candidates to fill an open requisition (job). Often multiple agencies are vying to fill the same job at the same company, in which case you may be contacted by different agencies, all with the same opportunity.

The agent is paid on commission (often without a base salary). Only when the job is filled by a candidate the recruiter submitted do they get paid. Some firms push harsh monthly quotas on their reps, which can lead to you feeling “pressured” to accept a job or a specific start date. If the recruiter doesn’t place a candidate, they don’t get paid—at all. I once had $100,000 in placement fees fall through in the span of six weeks.

The agency recruiter’s only incentive is to find the “needle in the haystack” or “the purple squirrel,” that candidate that will offer them a lump-sum finder’s fee. In exchange, corporations pay from 10 to 35 percent of first-year salary (20 percent is typical across all markets). In an agency in which the recruiter is an employee (not the owner), he or she gets only a fraction (20 to 40 percent) of the final fee. The rest goes to the corporate office.

How to partner: The agency recruiter serves as an agent on your behalf, introducing you to jobs that are often in the hidden market (never advertised). Depending on the relationship the recruiter has with the company, they’re submitting candidates to either an internal recruiter or directly to the hiring manager.

Be honest with the agency recruiter about your salary history and what you’re looking for in your next role. The higher the salary the recruiter can get you, the better their fee.

Call or email them back! Don’t ignore an agency recruiter’s outreach; he or she could have a good opportunity. You never pay them to help you search, and you should never expect them to go out and find a job that fits you. They’re only incented to fill the openings companies have asked them to fill. Thoroughly vet these recruiters and try to avoid building a relationship with the type who simply “throws spaghetti at the wall” and who will send your resumé to companies where you aren’t really a match.


Corporate Recruiter (sometimes goes by Talent Acquisition)

Who they are: Corporate recruiters are employees of a company tasked with filling all open positions. Usually they are overwhelmed and can have 40-plus open requisitions to fill at any given time. (Multiply that by 60 to 150 resumes for a position and you can see why corporate recruiters spend an average of seven seconds reading your resumé.)

These recruiters know the culture of the company as well as the personality makeup of the hiring manager, their teams, and the staff who will interview the candidates for a job opening, but they are sometimes buried in too much administrative work to take the time they’d like vetting each candidate.

There are a spectrum of experience levels, partnership levels with management, and engagement levels for corporate recruiters. It’s often difficult to ascertain how respected and influential the recruiter you’re working with is in the organization.

How they’re compensated: They are on straight salary. They are rarely given incentive pay. I once saved the company a boatload of money by finding a VP-level candidate through networking rather than paying a third party to headhunt. I got a pat on the back. Had I been at an agency I would have received a massive commission.

How to partner: Respect a corporate recruiter’s role as the company gatekeeper. Treat them with intelligence and kindness and work hard to cultivate a connection with them.


Contract Recruiter

Who they are: Contract recruiters are hired on a temporary basis to support a corporation’s growth. They usually don’t know as much about the corporate environment and don’t have the political connections in the company to the degree the corporate recruiter has (unless the recruiter has been on contract for a long time).

When I was a Recruiting Manager tasked with hiring 40 nationwide sales reps between Thanksgiving and Christmas one year, I hired a contract recruiter to help staff those roles. (I also had other jobs in the company to fill at the same time.) When the staffing was complete, the contract recruiter was no longer needed.

How they’re compensated: Contract recruiters are usually paid an hourly rate by the company. There is no commission or bonus involved.

How to partner: Treat them with the same respect you would a corporate recruiter.


Other Recruiter Types:

  • Executive Third-Party Recruiter: Most at the executive level are paid on retainer. They have exclusive rights to fill the role and have been paid a deposit up front to partner in the search. They will thoroughly vet job candidates like a corporate recruiter. In many ways they are more like a contract recruiter than an agency recruiter.
  • Third-Party Agency Recruiter (noncommission): A new style of recruiting is emerging in which outsourced agencies are contracting on flat rates. They’re taking the pressure sales out of the equation and servicing companies much more like a corporate recruiter.


In summary, the most important thing to remember is that recruiters are always working on behalf of the company, not the candidate. An ethical, engaged, and strategic recruiter will marry the best interests of the candidate and the company to find a solid fit. Understand what their role is in the transaction, respect that role, and hear them out about the opportunities they can offer you.