Manchester JobsQ. I am actively job searching in New Hampshire and hope to move in the next few months. What about working with headhunters? I’ve never been recruited before. Do you have any tips?

A. Working with headhunters (recruiters) can be a productive way for you to learn about and pursue job opportunities, especially if you are an experienced professional who is looking for a new position in your established field or industry of expertise. But, if you are new to being recruited, it is important that you understand the different types of recruiters, how they work, and what you can expect when working with one.

  • Employment Agency Recruiters – These agencies generally contract with multiple companies to fill multiple job openings (most often lower and mid-level positions). In the reverse of how most other headhunters work, employment agencies generally start with the candidate and then find the job. While this may sound appealing to you, use discretion, research thoroughly, and make sure you understand any agreements they ask you to sign. Never pay an upfront fee. The employer pays the fee when they hire you.
  • Contingency Recruiters – Similar to an internal HR recruiter, the contingency recruiter starts with a job and then seeks a candidate to fill the position. The jobs contingency headhunters try to fill are usually mid-level and higher and they will likely be trying to fill jobs across a variety of companies. They work on a speculative basis, getting paid only after they have secured the winning candidate.
  • Retained Recruiters – Often contracted to fill the most senior-level or technical-specialist positions, retained recruiters will receive an upfront fee to act as a consultant. In this role, they will then seek out the “perfect” candidate who will fill very precise specifications laid out by the employer.

No matter which type of recruiter you work with, remember who pays them: not you! Recruiters are paid by the employers and award their loyalty accordingly. In other words, they work for the employer, not for you the job seeker. The company is their “client” and you are the candidate.

Most recruiters will seek to work with the candidate most likely to get hired (the candidate who fits a very specific profile). For this reason, if you are trying to make a career change of any sort, you will rarely fit the profile and recruiters will not be your best source.

What about the geographic location of the recruiting firm? Employment agencies tend to be very geographically focused. On the other hand, while it is more likely that a retained or contingency recruiting firm with an office located in NH (or a nearby state) will be trying to fill a position in NH, this isn’t always the case. Many times, recruiting firms specialize in industries or professions and the geographic location of the employer plays little-to-no role in their searches.

The solution, when you are targeting a specific geographic area is to reach out to the recruiters in your target area who specialize in the industry and field of your experience. But also reach out to at least the larger firms nationwide, who also specialize in your industry and field.

How do you locate recruiting firms? Many job search coaching and résumé writing firms, such as Distinctive Career Services, can assist you in developing and reaching out to a list of target firms. But, there are also many resources available for those who wish to do the legwork themselves. For example, Custom Databanks is an excellent resource for searching recruiting firms nationwide and developing a contact list.


Michelle Dumas has spent the more than 20 years consulting and coaching job seekers all over the world on career-related topics such as résumé writing, job search strategies and techniques, career planning, online identity, interviewing, networking, and more. She’s supported thousands of job hunters in conducting successful job searches and has helped entrepreneurs in creating the personal marketing tools they need to pursue funding and launch new businesses. You can learn more about her and her expertise on her websites: Distinctive Documents and FreeStateJobs.com.