Would it be appropriate to ask a company, during an interview or phone screen, why they are using a 3rd party recruiter?

  • I am curious to know why you are considering this question.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 14:50
  • @Masked Man : Some external recruiters are definitively not excellent, to stay polite. And if they are your first contact with the firm, it's not a good first contact. In those conditions, asking yourself questions is a natural reflex.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 13:16
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    @MaskedMan There are 2 main reasons I'd want to know. The most important is if they have an active HR department, since HR often does the recruiting. The second is if I suspect, after reading the job description, that they are "too picky". They've been searching but refuse to hire qualified candidates because they don't understand the realities of the position, for whatever reason - like the hiring manager is inexperienced with a certain role, someone currently in the role is unusual in some way.... The goal is to understand their culture and management.
    – user70848
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:05
  • @JoeStrazzere No, that is not the reason.
    – user70848
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:06
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    And how woudl the answer to this question help you in any way to answer your questions. Lots of companies use outside recruiters and their internal HR and lots of companies are too picky when using recruiters or when using their own HR. However, too picky is a value judgement that is usually incorrect. Too picky is when you can't find anyone at all qualified for the position, not that you turned down some people who thought they might be a good fit. Every hire turns down people who thought they would also be a good fit unless only 1 person applied.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 16:34

7 Answers 7


I think the question you want to ask yourself in general is "is this thing I'm going to ask going to help me ascertain whether or not this company is going to be a good fit for me?". I don't see any answer to this question helping much with that, unless it's really bizarre or really awful. Your time is almost certainly better spent with other questions (if you do want to know about contractor culture, for example, you would ask who you'd be working with, or how many contractors the company employs).


I'll tell you the answer to that question: because they don't want to/can't afford in-house recruiters and they want to find top talent without having to dig through stacks of resumes.

It's not really your business to wonder why, anyway. If you are looking for a job, recruiters are part of the territory.


The only time I can see that your question would be relevant to your hiring process is if the role you're being hired for is in recruitment.

As a hiring manager, I use a third party recruiter because they're the experts in advertising and candidate filtering, they have knowledge of the market and can advise on the level of reward needed to attract the right quality of candidate and they handle all the logistics and feedback for interviews. I'm a busy person, I don't want to have to do all those activities which aren't core to my day job of managing people.

Not knowing that, or not being able to work it out for yourself, will flag you as inexperienced, possibly naive or lacking in common sense and would almost certainly count against you in the interview.

  • +1 for looking outside your own office walls for informed opinion about the marketplace. Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 16:18
  • 1
    And frankly if you are not in HR , whether they use recruiters or not is none of your business.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 16:37

Would it be appropriate to ask a company

No it wouldn't, it has no bearing on your application. Avoid wasting time on inconsequentials.


Asking that sort of questions strikes me that the interviewee has thought "I must ask a question even if it is irrelevant".

Why not ask the company what brand of coffee they have in the kitchen?

Basically ask questions that are pertinent to the task in hand. Any other question will tell the interviewer that you can be easily distracted from the job. That is something that you do not wish to convey.

  • 1
    Correct. Hypothetically if the OP received 2 equally compelling offers, then it would be legitimate to break the tie by coffee. That is extremely unlikely but possible. It is hard to imagine how the OP would use info about the recruiter to break a tie.
    – emory
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 14:18
  • So how would their choice or recruiter break the tie
    – Ed Heal
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 14:20
  • I can not imagine how.
    – emory
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 14:21
  • 2
    @emory Not as unlikely as you think, I suspect. I know a handful of people who picked one job over anther because the one place provided free K-cups for the breakroom Keurigs. Not that it's smart to take a job based primarily on a couple hundred bucks worth of "free" coffee a year, but people do it anyway. Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 16:32
  • 2
    If I was asked that question, I would not think it was because the interviewee has thought "I must ask a question even if it is irrelevant".. I would think that the interviewee is starting a thread of discussion that would eventually lead to an unethical decision to cut out the middle man.
    – emory
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 17:29

There are many reasons a company uses a third party recruiter. Here are just some that come to mind, from my time on the "other" side of the table:

  1. They do not have the staff to handle the flood of resumes that companies get.
  2. They do not have the systems in place to manage resumes.
  3. They are hiring for a position for which they have no expertise to judge the qualifications of applicants.
  4. Cost savings
  5. They are in a business with a lot of "churn" so they constant need resumes and recruiters are an easy way to get those.
  6. They want to keep the vacancy private from their own organization, so they use a third party to advertise discretely.
  7. Any number of other reasons or combinations of the above.

The bottom line is, as others have mentioned, it does not help you evaluate the company if you know the reason they are using 3rd party recruiters. It has no impact on the probability that you are offered or not offered the position, and it most likely will not have an impact while you are working there (this, coming from my experience working in a company that actively outsources some HR functions - including recruitment).

So, ask about things that will help you evaluate the company as a good fit or not; rather than worry why they are using a 3rd party contractor for hiring.


The only time I consider using a third-party recruiter as a drawback is when I get a call from someone who is clearly from India or another popular outsourcing location (Phillipines, Vietnam, etc.) I politely let them know that this isn't a good time for me to talk to them (which isn't a lie, as far as I'm concerned any time isn't a good time to talk to them), and would they please send me an email with the job description. Usually that works, but sometimes they get pushy and demand to know when I'll get back to them, and I tell them I'll get back to them after I've reviewed the JD. If they press further, I let them know that I don't appreciate their pushiness, and I am not interested in the job they've called me about as a result.

Why do I put them off? Because I figure that any company that won't pay for a domestic recruiter, when finding good people to work for you is so important, is a company that is likely to be unduly cheap in other matters (like salary, benefits, etc.) They've done me a favor by letting me know that's a company I don't want to work with. There are several good reasons for a company to work with a third-party recruiter; perhaps they're small and can't give an in-house recruiter enough work to justify their salary, for example. But this is not someplace a good company will look to save money.

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