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When interviewing with the actual company, I can ask about all sorts of details such as benefits plans, what kind of software they use, vacation schedules, etc... When I'm dealing with a recruiter, I've tried to ask similar questions and get vague responses, or they don't know the answer (they're not the employer, after all). Often, they can't say much more than what's already on the job posting. I'm lucky if they seem to know about the company in more detail than what is already on that company's corporate website.

How should I approach recruiters (in terms of interviewing with them) since it doesn't seem as though I can treat the situation the same way I would with an actual employer? Should I ask questions about their history as a recruiter? Should I ask about the firm they work for? What kind of payout they get for successful recruiting?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted

If you're establishing a relationship with a recruiter, then the questions you want to ask should initially cover their representation of you:

  1. Will you modify my resume without my approval?
  2. Do I get final say on which opportunities I'm presented as a candidate for?
  3. How does your firm source new candidates and new opportunities?
  4. Do you present multiple candidates simultaneously for a position, or one at a time?
  5. Can I speak with the account manager for each opportunity that you may present me for?
  6. etc

Hopefully, when they bring you an opportunity, they have enough information about the company to help you decide if it's a good potential fit or not. Most recruiting firms split responsibilities between Recruiters and Account Managers. Recruiters source the bodies, Account Managers source the slots. For each opportunity, you should be able to at least have a phone call with the Account Manager so that they can tell you what they know about the culture. Be wary here, though, as they can be "Sales-y" and are obviously motivated to fill the position.

If you're being contacted out of the blue by a recruiter for a specific position, beyond the position details, I usually ask the following:

  1. How did you get my information?
  2. Why do you think I would be a good fit for this position?

I feel like these questions help me get a feel for the people I will be working with and I can decide if they do business in a way that works for me.

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These are very good! –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 8 '12 at 19:22
    
Wonderful! It helps me, too! Add one thought - more and more, I've encountered recruiters who don't seem to want a long term relationship - at which point, I decide yes/no on the opportunity and otherwise try to minimize the time they consume. –  bethlakshmi Aug 8 '12 at 20:06
    
@bethlakshmi I've yet to meet a recruiter who sincerely wanted a long term relationship, but I'm a software developer. I don't know if they've stopped trying to sound sincere or if I just read them better. –  David Navarre Aug 8 '12 at 20:18
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@DavidNavarre - totally agreed. I'd actually swear that in 1999-2001 the recruiters at least pretended to care - there was lunches, meetings, long phone calls. Now, I pretty much feel like it's about as personal as my relationship with Google. Actually, I think Google probably listens to my questions better than the recruiters... come to think of it... –  bethlakshmi Aug 8 '12 at 20:35

There isn't much point in asking about benefits and such from a headhunter. The headhunters are primarily concerned about salary. Their pay is usually based the salary of the person they ultimately place.

You can ask the recruiter for references from other people they placed. You can ask them about their process and the types of companies they deal with. Another good thing to ask is if they deal with contracting, contract to perm or permanent positions.

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Interesting point about asking the recruiter for references of people they've placed. I like the idea. Is this common? Should I expect most recruiters to be OK with this? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 8 '12 at 19:23
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner I don't know. I've never actually tried it. Then again most of the good recruiters I've dealt with were referrals from people I knew that they placed. –  Justin Dearing Aug 8 '12 at 19:29

Some general thoughts:

1 - Always be polite in your questions, don't come off as aggressive.

2 - Ask for the company in question. They may not give it up. If there is no company in question, don't bother with the recruiter. If the lead is real, but they can't give you the name, as for as much detail as you can so that you can infer the company. ("What offices?" "What business are they in?" "Who do they compete with?")

3 - Find out why they are going outside for the position in question.

4 - Find out what they're looking for in a candidate.

5 - Find out the strategic issues facing the client.

Point 2 is important, because it allows you to research the company on your own. Point 3 and 4 tell you how to present yourself. Point 5 tells you if the recruiter is actually tight with the company, and can tell you points to discuss in the interview.

Some recruiters are awful, but the good ones are worth their weight in gold to both parties. Just remember that they work for the hiring firms.

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Will you call me back if I don't get the job?

Have you ever placed anyone with this company?

What suggestions have you made to the company to make the job more attractive? (Salary, benefits, flex-time, telecommuting opportunities, get over your disgust for body piercings).

You're right. For the most part they don't have a clue. In larger firms, you may not even get to talk to the person handling the account until you get a first or second interview. Their main goal is to help people who know nothing about hiring technical people and/or saving the person doing the hiring from getting 500 emails and phone calls.

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The recruiter is only adding value for you if they can put you forward for jobs that you otherwise don't have access to. Therefore I don't really think it is necessary for you to evaluate them on any other basis than that - do they get you interviews for positions that interest you. There is nothing stopping you from working with many recruiters at once and working with a "bad one" doesn't really impact you negatively, it just doesn't help you as much.

I think that recruiters should be able to quickly get the information you need to answer some of your basic questions on benefits, software environment, etc. If they fake their way through it or claim they can't get the information then they are just being lazy. I am usually on the "hiring manager" side of the equation and both myself and our internal HR department would be happy to give that information if required to the recruiter.

The only place where it might get dicey is if you are asking specific guidelines around compensation, that is often a case by case basis and companies aren't comfortable with giving generalizations before getting deeper into the interview process.

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