I'm a PhD student in my final year. Regularly, I get spam advertising bogus journals, unknown conferences, or sites that want to list my CV. Recently I received an e-mail from a recruiting firm. The content of the e-mail is partly wrong and partly very generic. However, there is an attachment that is very specific for my speciality. For example, from the content of the e-mail:

Dear IT Professional

(I'm not in IT and I'm not a Professional; I'm a PhD student)

(...) I am emailing to ask if you would like to be considered for the long term contract which is summarised in the attachment. (...)

As far as I can see, this is nothing more than informing me of a job opening.

(...) at this stage, you have been selected from many hundreds of records on the basis of examining a summary of your skills and/or speed reading your CV (...)

So, some software decided I'm more on-topic than someone working in the humanities. This still doesn't mean very much.

However, the attachment describes very specifically my quite narrow field of expertise; it includes an element that probably less than 25 people worldwide have experience with. So topic-wise, they have targeted the right person.

The weird thing is: there is no mention of the employer whatsoever. The e-mail speaks in terms of their client. It is signed by the recruiting firm. It describes in vague terms in what region the employment will be, but precisely enough that I can guess (certainly in combination with the job description) the employer with 99% certainty. Indeed, the employer's name is mention on Pactums website and Pactum is mention on the employer's website. So it's likely not a scam. Then why the mystery?

Why would any company, organisation, university, or other employer, attempt to employ people through a recruitment company that sends out job openings that are completely opaque as far as the employer is concerned? Why the mystery? Why doesn't the employer advertise the position on their own website?


3 Answers 3


The vague job description has to do with the economics of employing a staffing firm. The staffing firm gets paid only if they refer the candidate that gets hired. If the staffing firm expends the time and effort to locate one of the 25 people on Earth that have experience with a particular topic, they don't want the target to then submit their resume to the employer and deny the staffing firm their rightful commission.

As to why the employer doesn't list the position on their web site, there are a variety of potential answers. Often, employers find that they get an avalanche of resumes that are poorly suited to the position and have to expend a large amount of effort in order to sort through them looking for people worth following up with. Outsourcing that work to the staffing firm can sometimes be well worth it. Other times, employers don't want to signal to the world that they're hiring for a particular position. If Amazon decided tomorrow that they wanted to build their own cell phone, for example, they might want to assemble the team quietly rather than posting a bunch of job openings that would make it clear to competitors that they were starting such a project. Still other times, a company may be looking to replace an existing employee or for a position that would signal some sort of internal reorganization where the company wants to make an announcement once they have made a hire rather than when they start looking. If you advertise that you're looking for a new CFO, your existing CFO will probably be a bit upset, for example.

  • 2
    Anyone else wondering what they do to PhD students that damages their sense of the obvious? Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 15:57
  • @AmyBlankenship i'm not sure if that was mean, haha.
    – acolyte
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 19:54
  • I deal with PhD's in my work all the time, and I'm sure they think that programmers' grasp of the obvious is flawed as well. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 21:36
  • As a PhD student I can assure you suffering a PhD is like PTSD, it takes years to get over, it may requires drugs and we will never forget what we have witnessed. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 17:25

Filtering resumes, and interviewing applicants is time and resource intensive. Employers use recruiting firms in order to outsource the activity that has the least return on investment for the employer which is finding candidates worth interviewing.

As an interviewer, it takes a lot of my time and energy to prepare for the interview, conduct the interview, evaluate the interview, and fill out all of the paperwork that goes with it. That is in addition to getting my work done, for which there are enough hours in the day.

A good recruiting firm will interview you and try to find the best match for you and the employer. Use them as a tool to help you. Using a recruiting firm is my preferred way to find a job now. It saves me from searching a bazillion sites, and weeding out those that appeal to me. Often times a recruiting firm has access to job openings that employers don't post anywhere else.


This won't apply in all circumstances, but as my answer to another question states, some secretive agencies won't want their identities known until they're reasonably certain you can and want to be hired.

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