Should I use a recruiter?

Should I use a recruiter?

I’ll state up front by declaring and assuring that this is not a whinge or a whack directed at recruiters and recruiting agencies. I’ve had great relationships with some recruiting firms over the years, and I’ve seen some terrific engineers, draftees, and project managers get placed that I would never have encountered had it not been for the engineering recruiter.

However, like many things in life, there’s another side to the coin:  Many of the potential candidates whom I’ve been most keen to interview (and subsequently offer a position to) were those that took the initiative to contact the firm and apply directly, rather than come via a recruiter. Why is this? I’ll explain in just a moment, but it does beg the question: Why don’t more engineers simply take the initiative to job search for themselves and apply directly to the companies they’re interested in working for? Or simply respond directly to the job ads?

If you’re a mid-level engineer with anywhere from two to eight years’ experience and you’ve spent your career working for just one, maybe two firms, then you may not have advanced high enough through those organisations to understand how recruitment works. If you’re looking for a change or wanting to take that “next step” then, yes, it’s tempting and extremely easy to ring a recruitment agency and simply say, “Find me a job”.

What you might not appreciate is that recruiting agents charge the employers a fee. There’s no problem with that…they’re providing a service; they deserve to be paid!  Most recruiters have a commission or sliding scale fee that is usually a percentage of your placement’s combined salary + super package, and that fee can vary anywhere from 12 to 21%!  Which means that if you’re looking to change jobs and you’re wanting to secure a new position with a salary + super package of (say) $95,000, then your prospective new employer will have to pay around $17,000 just for you to rock up on Day 1 of the new job!  And, if things don’t work out and you only last (say) six months before deciding to move on again, that’s $17,000 your employer has flushed down the toilet. I’ve never had the privilege of working for the “big guys” out there with the big projects and corresponding budgets, but for the smaller firms I’ve worked with, I know how many projects I have to win (and then actually make a profit on) just to put $17,000 in the bank so I can afford a recruiter’s fee. It’s a big call.

So now consider this from your prospective employer’s point of view: Let’s say we have two candidates with roughly equal and comparable experience. Both interviewed well, and both candidates are capable of filling the position.  In short, there’s nothing to split them, but the employer can only choose one. If one of these candidates applied for the job directly and the other came through a recruiter and will cost me (say) $17,000 to employ, which candidate do you think will be the more attractive prospect?


Recruiter - scales


This is the crux of the matter and one that many engineers naïvely overlook or ignore when they simply shop their CV out to recruiting agencies.  As much as you’re in demand and as impressive as your CV looks on paper, you come with a price tag when you come through an engineering recruiter. (And, if you’re worth your salt and the recruiter does their job properly, then it’s money well spent and everybody’s happy). But if you apply directly to the company you’re interested in, then you come for free and without strings attached. It’s as simple as that. So if you’re looking for an edge over your competition, or that little something “extra” to make the shortlist, then this should be a major consideration for you.  Having the communication skills, the confidence, and the initiative to approach a company directly yourself are all attractive attributes in a candidate. And if you’re coming without a recruiter’s commission fee, then you’re suddenly that little bit more appealing to a prospective employer than the other applicants who applied via a recruiter.

If you are going to job hunt through a recruiter, then do both them and the employers a favour and invest in one exclusively.  I’m amazed how many job hunters lazily sign themselves up with multiple recruiters and then wonder why the job hunt is a slow one.  This very article was inspired by an actual recent experience when I was approached by four different recruiters within 48 hours, all of them trying to place the same candidate!  This alone was enough to turn me off the candidate, as it showed not just a lack of discernment but also a blatant disregard for the recruiters’ requests for exclusivity.  Even if I had been interested in pursuing that candidate, which recruiter was I obliged to do the transaction through?  Which one of the four gets my money?

Finding good staff for an engineering consultancy is hard work and it’s also risky. Most candidates seeking a new role don’t want their current employer to know they’re job-hunting, and so we can’t even speak with the current employer to get a meaningful reference or recent feedback. Engineers can list all manner of previous projects on their CV, but it’s only in the heat of the kitchen that your skills in design and how well you communicate and collaborate with clients and teammates can be judged. This can take a few months to assess and not all recruiters have useful guarantees or replacement policies that are sympathetic to employers if the candidate doesn’t work out.  In short, it’s just another reason why candidates who apply to an employer directly can be a more appealing prospect. If you’re looking for a job change or wanting to take that next step, then be assertive and apply directly to the job ads or simply approach the companies you’re interested in.

Don’t get me wrong: There are some awesome, effective recruiters out there who do a great job. Long may they continue to serve our industry.   Unfortunately, there are also some who will do nothing more than simply scattergun your CV to all the contacts on their database and hope they get a nibble. And that’s not in your best interests.   Choose one engineering recruiter, then give them your time and exclusivity so they can work diligently and appropriately for you. Or do what engineers are renowned for: Take matters into your own hands and solve the problem yourself! ????


The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are personal and reflect those of the author only. They are not intended to reflect or represent the opinions, HR policies or recruitment activities of any firm the author has worked for.

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