Finding the Job: Recruiting Firms


How Do I Use a Recruiting Firm?

The value of dealing with recruiting firms is that you can cover a lot of territory without too much effort.  The negative is, like advertisements, you are dealing in the open market where the jobs are known to everyone so there will be many candidates and a great deal of competition.  Still, with a 5-10% probability of landing a job, you do not want to avoid the opportunity.  It is important to remember, however, that 75-90% of jobs are won through networking so that is where the majority of your time should be spent.

There are a couple of basics that you will need.  You will need a straightforward, hard-hitting, accomplishment-oriented resume.  Focus on the recruiting firms that are at the appropriate level for your position and salary requirements.  You need to contact the firms through email or a letter and you should attach a copy of your resume.  You will want to ask for and attain a personal interview, if possible.  See “The Types of Recruiting Firms” for a breakdown of the firms that specialize in various positions and salary levels, what to do to prepare to deal with them, examples of firms, and a sample cover email or letter.  

The Types of Recruiting Firms 

Recruiting firms focus on candidates position and salary levels.  The firms are employment agencies, contingency search firms, and executive search firms. If you are currently at an entry or lower level you will be dealing with employment agencies.  Employment agencies can be helpful to you in temporary, contract, or full-time employment.  Some employment agencies specialize in a given field.  You can find them in any geographical area you want.  Employment agencies get paid by a company that hires you.  You will need to contact them, typically by email, with a resume attached.  You may need to complete their application forms.  Request an interview.

As you move into the middle level you will be dealing with contingency firms.  As a general rule of thumb, contingency firms can help you land in a job with a salary of under $75,000.  Some of them specialize in a given field, such as accounting or technology.  Contingency firms get paid by a company that hires you.  Contingency firms do not get paid as they are finding and sending candidates to their client firm so there is an incentive to get a number of candidates to the firm.  They will, however, want to make sure you fit the company job specification so as not to embarrass themselves.  Contingency firms are in direct competition with other contingency firms.  Contact the firm, typically by email, with a resume attached.  Request an interview.

Executive search firms are the highest level of recruiting firms.  These firms are hired exclusively to fill a specific position.  The search firm helps the company to create a job specification that is specific for the position and one that should predict success for the right candidate.  They can help you if you are in the market for a salary of over $75,000.  The search firm sources and interviews candidates that fit the job specification, education, experience level, etc.  Since the search firm has no competition, they have the luxury of spending the time to find the best candidates.  Still, the expectation is that the client company should be seeing candidates within 60-90 days.  Executive search firms can fill jobs domestically or internationally.  Executive search firms may call you if you fit a search they are working on, or you can contact them if you are between jobs (attach a resume).  Again, request an interview.

Characteristics of Employment Agencies

  • Represent a client company to fill a position
  • Sometimes specialize in a function or industry (e.g. accounting, information technology)
  • You need to contact and register with one or more agencies
  • Fill out an application, provide a resume, and have an interview
  • You may be asked to take a qualifying test or go through training

National Employment Agencies that can help you find temporary, contract, or full-time employment:

  • Adecco
  • Accountemps
  • Aerotek
  • Manpower
  • Office Team
  • Spherion
  • Kelly Services

Characteristics of Contingency Search Firms

  • Represent a client company to fill a position
  • They are in competition with other contingency search firms
  • They are paid when a candidate they introduce to the company is hired
  • Deal mostly in jobs under $75,000.
  • Spend time on a job specification, but little time on research
  • There is no obligation to guarantee the success of the new hire
  • You need to contact the agency through email (or hard copy) and attach a resume
  • Request an interview

Contingency Search Firms:

  • There are hundreds of contingency firms. Some of them cover specifics fields such as accounting, technology, not-for-profit, etc. Others cover the basic functions, such as marketing, sales, etc.  Go onto the internet and search for “contingency search firms” or “search firms.” 
  • It is sometimes confusing to understand whether a search firm is a contingency firm or a search firm. You should ask.  If you are out of work you don’t care.  If you have a job you will want confidentiality.  A contingency firm will be less careful keeping your information confidential so you must tell them to get your permission before sending your resume to a company.  An executive search firm will keep your information confidential.

Characteristics of Executive Search Firms

  • Are hired on an exclusive basis to fill a specific job for a client company
  • Deal mostly in jobs over $75,000.
  • Typically spend a good deal of time creating a job specification
  • Search consultant and research team develop a strategically focused campaign aimed at candidates who fit the job specification
  • Source candidates who fit the requirements of the job specification
  • Goal is to present 3-6 candidates in 30-90 days to general management and human resources
  • There is often a 6-month guarantee (if the candidate doesn’t last 6 months the search firm will complete the search again)
  • Typically, the search firm will find you, you need a resume and will have an interview

Executive Search Firms:

  • Spencer Stuart
  • Russell Reynolds Associates
  • Egon Zehnder International
  • Korn Ferry International

Whichever type(s) you approach, be sure to attach a cover letter or email to your resume.  Here is a model template.


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