I keep my resume up to date on a few sites just to see what's out there. Normally, this leads to plenty of recruiter spam in the form of Dear Sir, I have an immediate opening in the middle of nowhere on a 3 month contract. Kindly reply ASAP. This really doesn't bother me, but it makes me think that the bulk of the recruiters out there are just yanking keywords and blindly spamming the job seeker. Because of this, I'm a little leery of working with a tech recruiter when I seriously start looking for a new position, but the fact is that many of the good tech jobs are unlisted.

So, my question is this:

How do I find a recruiter that's worth working with? Up until now I've just had my resume visible in the usual places and have waited for them to come to me. Is there a secret hideout I can visit or a bat signal that I can use?

Edit: Just to put things into perspective (I probably should have posted this initially), I'm receiving roughly 10-15 contacts a day, and it's rare that there are any positions worth following up on in a day. A lot of it is contract work, when I've explicitly stated that I'm looking for FTE only. The locations are bad, even though I've specified major metro areas or telecommute only. Etc, etc.

I'm absolutely not adverse to networking with recruiters - in fact, that's exactly what I want to do, but it's an uphill battle sifting through all of the poor contacts that I receive on a daily bases.

  • 1
    Relevant related questions (not duplicates) this one and this one
    – enderland
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 15:23
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    Also related - workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/3120/…
    – Jacob G
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 15:24
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    One piece of related advice that really doesn't qualify as an answer: get a disposable phone for this purpose. Switch it off when you don't want to deal with agents. Also, if you speak to them, be brutal with them; they need you more than you need them. Tell them what you're looking for and that the first time they contact you with a non-match will be the last time you speak to them. And stick to it. You'll soon whittle them down to a small number.
    – pdr
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:20
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    Not worth a full answer, but I find the ones that take the time to call you and are personable over the phone are pretty reliable.
    – Grahame A
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 19:00
  • My rule is to avoid recruiters and recruitment through HR departments entirely. If a hiring manager wants me s/he will tell HR to put me through. In short, the only thing you should be looking for is the person you'll be working for, and no one else. Such people are often found on soccer fields watching their kids, or sailboats at the marina. In short, you don't find them through job search channels. Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 19:02

7 Answers 7


Who Recruiters Work For

In most cases, recruiters don't for for you. They work for the client companies that pay them, either on retainer (if they're in-house head-hunters) or on spec if they're outside agencies. Either way, they primarily represent the interests of the hiring company.

With that in mind, you can't expect the vast majority of recruiters to do anything more than attempt to fill requisitions. It's the nature of the business; expecting something else is unrealistic on your part.

There Are Exceptions

Like everything else in life, there are exceptions to the above. You just need to understand the nuances.

For example, working with a search firm that you pay may make a difference, but I don't personally recommend that approach. For the average job-seeker, it's not money well spent.

In the contracting world, some agencies also make a point of investing in relationships with contractors because they need quality candidates on their hot-sheets. They won't go out searching for a job for you, but if you impress them then they may keep you in mind when pitching a potential client, and may call you first when a suitable requisition crosses their desk. This is a step above routine networking, but it does happen.

Invest in the Recruiters

Some agencies are body shops. Treat them as fire-and-forget. Others want to get to know you, and invite you to check in with them from time to time about your availability or your current work status. Seek out the latter.

"Do unto others" is a good approach, too. Recruiters need to place people to earn a living. Help them out when you can, even if it doesn't help you directly---even if the recruiter doesn't pay for referrals, they're more likely to have a helpful person on their hot-sheet than someone who networks poorly.

Also, there's nothing stopping you from calling recruiters and trying to network with them. Some recruiters find that an imposition, but some value the networking potential of maintaining candidate relationships. If you don't invest your valuable time in weeding through the recruiters for people you connect with on a professional level, you can't expect them to beat a path to your door.

  • I suppose I should have worded this a bit differently. I'm well aware that I'm the product and not the customer, but I get overwhelmed with the sheer number of contacts that I receive. It's often more than 10 emails and 5 or more phone calls in a week, and it's rare that there are any jobs worth considering in that mess. I was hoping for a way to quickly key in or locate good recruiters that will actually try and match me based on my requirements and not just copy+paste spam me to improve the signal to noise ratio that I'm currently receiving.
    – Hi pals
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:37
  • @MDMarra There really is no shortcut to networking. Take the time to ask them about their process. If you don't want to invest the time sifting through potential professional relationships, why would you expect differently of them?
    – CodeGnome
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:47
  • I completely agree. I'm not adverse to networking, in fact it's what I want, but it seems like the majority of contact that's being made isn't worth following up on. I'm hoping for a way to increase the quality of the initial contact. Right now, when I receive a recruiter contact, I assume it's spam and I'm surprised if it's a good opportunity. I'm hoping to somehow reverse that. Maybe that's just not possible and I'll have to just sort through and pick out the gems.
    – Hi pals
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:58
  • @MDMarra - That is the thing sometimes even really bad recruiters can come through with some fantastic jobs. Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 14:21

A few things I've found that help in determining if a recruiter is a good recruiter...

  1. If their initial email to you doesn't include your name, they're probably not worth your time. Seriously, in this day of form letters, if an email can't even be bothered to add your name in from a database, it's not worth it.
  2. Respond to the recruiter's initial letter with an initial letter, asking questions like, "Why do you think I'm a good fit for this position, and what do you think my chances are?" I've found recruiters not worth their salt will never bother responding to these.
  3. If I get on the phone with them, they have to speak clearly and coherently. They will be presenting you to the end client, and if they can't convince you who would be receiving money if successful, they sure aren't going to convince those paying money.
  4. After you've started talking with them, do they specialize in your field? Do they try to meet you and build a relationship? Will they send you out

I've hit points of getting over 3 dozen recruiters going for my time at once. Just because you're searching for work on your off (or unemployed) time doesn't mean that it's not valuable time. For every recruiter you respond to, you could just as easily send your resume directly to a company (those usually do better anyway.) So that recruiter has to be worth your time.

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    What about, Hello NULL, I have a great opportunity for you!. Great first answer and welcome to the Workplace!
    – enderland
    Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 16:37

What is a good recruiter?

This is not a rhetorical question. Is a good recruiter one that gets you the job you want? Is s/he one that befriends you and makes you feel like a buddy of theirs? Is s/he the one that keeps checking in with you regularly and takes you out to paid lunches? Do they have a kind and soothing voice on the phone? ...

I would argue that the only thing you should care about is getting the job you want at the rate that you want with a contract that you want.

If you make life-long friends while you're at it - great, but that's not the point of a job search. (For the record, I've made friends with recruiters and our relationship continued well after our professional one has ended). If you get to eat some free lunch, again, great, but wouldn't you rather have a higher rate or work with a more interesting technology?

How to find them

You don't really find them, they find you. To become more visible, you should use:

  • Job hunting sites (monster, workopolis, etc...)
  • Go directly to big & established recruiting agencies in your area
  • Linked In
  • Professional associations
  • Blogs
  • Stackoverflow, etc

Copy-pasted emails and 3-month contracts

One point regarding yanking keywords and pasting them to emails. If you had to design the optimal strategy to match a giant pool of candidates into a giant pool of jobs where the only thing you cared about was maximizing matches and minimizing time, does that not sound like a decent idea? I'm not saying that it's the best form of human interaction by a long shot, but it does solve that particular problem very efficiently. That also happens to be the way that most of the pay incentive systems are set up for these people.

Finally, regarding 3 months contracts in the middle of nowhere: this is the works of supply and demand. Obviously the great jobs are more rare and the crappy jobs that nobody wants to do are more abundant. You are merely being exposed to all segments of the market. Who knows, maybe for whatever reason you will find one of the offers attractive? The recruiters are spending very little time filtering or thinking about it as per the point in the previous paragraph. I don't find this to be a bad thing once you consider all the actors and ther incentives in the system.

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    Who knows, maybe for whatever reason you will find one of the offers attractive? - And I suppose that's part of the issue. After I respond to those poor positions saying something like "I appreciate you reaching out about this, but I'm not interested in contract work and I'd only relocate to another major metro area unless telecommute is involved," many times they continue to send unappealing offers. I know I'm the product, not the customer, but I'm looking for a way to hone in on recruiters that will treat me as less of a product and pay more attention to what I actually say.
    – Hi pals
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:32
  • And I know the answer to that is to only respond to the ones that act that way, but I'm hoping for an easy way to weed out the junk. Just to put it into perspective, I receive 10+ emails and at least 5 phone calls a day, with only about 1 or two worthwhile positions in a given month being presented. Maybe weeding through all of the copy and paste spam is the only way to find those diamonds in the rough, but I was really hoping someone had an inside scoop about an alternate way :)
    – Hi pals
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:34
  • Email filters :)? 10+ Emails/5 phone calls a day sounds excessive. In my experience if you pull down your resume from workopolis they all stop after a month or so. Finally if you're only getting crap from them, then you can always just blacklist them straight to spam.
    – MrFox
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:41
  • Sure taking my resume down will reduce the calls. But that leaves me with the original question. How do I actively seek out the kind of recruiter that I want to work with? It's always been a passive process on my part involving sifting through the spam and picking out the one or two that aren't form letters and actually meet my requirements and following up. As you mentioned in your answer, I can just call up some of the bigger names in my area, but what can I do to ensure that I get paired up with someone that isn't the type of person I'm looking to avoid there?
    – Hi pals
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:48
  • I found that using the job hunting sites was the worst thing you can do for finding a good recruiter. You can find positions there but the recruiters that use them tend to suck. The other suggestions are good. Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:00

Your best bet might be to find one via a colleague.

Why? Because most recruiters are a lot like used car salesmen. With experience, you will learn this. Your colleagues have likely interacted with recruiters, and it's possible that some of them have had a rare, good experience with someone. This is much more reliable than looking at ads in magazines, etc. There is no www.ethicalrecruiterswhoreallycareaboutyou.com

How? Simply ask your colleagues. "Hey Sally, can you recommend any good recruiters?"

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    @Fernando I would also raise a caveat of the grapevine at work - if you ask a colleague for a recruiter be very careful how you do it, otherwise everyone will know you are looking for a new job!
    – Dibstar
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:06
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    For all the whining prior to this answer being fattened out, this is the correct answer. The only way you'll find a good recruiter (other than sheer luck) is personal endorsement from someone who has worked with them. I could name two excellent recruiters in my city, for instance - and have done, every time someone has asked me for a recommendation. Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 19:58
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    Despite it being correct or not, our policy is that answerers should explain why their answer is correct. The topic of this site makes it difficult to take statements at face value without them being backed up with facts, references, or specific expertise. Please see this meta search on the "back it up rule" for more details. With that said, this answer appears to fit those guidelines at this time. Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 3:41
  • What's really funny to me is that even now, after I've added detail to my answer, it continues to get down-voted.
    – Fernando
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 15:02
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    @Fernando - Your answers need to be complete answers. But what we have here are series of unsubstantiated and unexplained claims. They are not explained and they are not backed up. I will not lower my standards just because you want to get over the bar. Get better Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 22:17

I wouldn’t say that there is a ‘bat-cave’ of awesome recruiters that I’ve come across, but I tend to find the following sources quite good:

  • Technical magazines / trade magazines
  • Salary surveys are often commissioned by recruiters with a very active interest in the field (and can be quite good)
  • Word of mouth – anyone I have been recommended has been very good (although care does have to be taken in who you tell!)
  • Some jobs on linkedin are promoted by recruiters, and if you have a look at their profile you might be able to get a better sense of their fit for you

That said, most of the good recruiters I’ve used have come to me dependent on either applications, or from finding me online (stackoverflow careers / linkedin), and whenever I am approached I look for a few tell-tale signs that they might be better than average: anyone who wishes to speak to you or ideally meet face to face before sending an application out is more likely to be a better recruiter.

All good recruiters I have used also have an excellent knowledge of the more technical aspects of the industry and will know what realistic salary expectations for your sector are. As a personal preference I tend to believe a recruiter who believes you are worth more than your current salary is better as anyone who feels you are not qualifies for the jobs you are applying for will (I assume) not have as strong a conviction as if they felt you were a sure thing.

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    Unfortunately, most recruiters are snakes. Ads in magazines, sponsored salary surveys, etc. doesn't change that fact.
    – Fernando
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 15:52

First, what makes a recruiter good for you? While this may seem like answering the question with a question, I'd wonder if you really know what you want in that recruiter other than placing you in your dream job. A few factors to ponder in terms of which recruiters would be good from your view:

  1. Frequency of contact - Do you want daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly e-mails or phone calls giving you an update on such a position?
  2. Technical competence - How well do you expect the recruiter to know your field and area of expertise?
  3. Company profile and culture - How familiar are you expecting the recruiter to get into a company in terms of knowing culture, team size, methodologies, processes, etc.?
  4. Interviewing preparation - Do you expect the recruiter to give you a sheet of tips for handling an interview? Do mock interviews and help you be better prepared for interviews?
  5. Experience in the field - Are you OK with someone new to placing people or do you want someone that has done this for 10+ years?
  6. Relationship situation - Does the recruiter want to have a long-term relationship or are you just a piece of meat for them to place somewhere?
  7. Recruiter succession - If the recruiter changes companies, would you go with the recruiter or stay with the parent company? For example, say there is a Bob at Robert Half that you really like and enjoy having conversations. If Bob goes off to start his own firm, does your resume go with him or not? Do you still use Robert Half or not?

Second, with this set of criteria you can now go and interview various places and I'd be tempted to point out that while there may not be any opportunities right now that are a fit, you want to communicate what you want and to be kept in mind if something comes up. This could be interesting to see who would meet and discuss things as you may run into something like, "That's not how we do things here," which would be a way to weed out those places that aren't necessarily after the long-term beneficial relationship. There will likely be some issues to resolve as well as more than some time spent making sure you know what you want here.

To actually find recruiters, here are a few ideas:

  1. Google and other search engines can be a way to find the firms that handle recruiting within a specific specialty.

  2. You could ask various people that work in the field where you want to work though I would avoid asking current co-workers as that could create an awkward situation.

I do think part of the nature of the question here is what defines a good recruiter which isn't necessarily that simple to answer if one really wants to ponder the question at micro and macro levels.

  • This doesn't seem to adress the question at hand, which is how to find good recruiters; rather it discusses how to evaluate the quality of a recuiter once in contact.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 16:55
  • I found it a bit unclear. It seems to just say "go off and interview at places", and weed out places you aren't interested in. The question is about finding a quality recruiter (to avoid wasting time interviewing at such places). You've described how to determine if someone is a good recruiter, and said go off an talk to people, but haven't addressed how to target your search to good recruiters.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 19:49

To find a good recruiter, you need to be able to identify what it is you're looking for. A good recruiter is one who's willing to invest a little effort into a potential hire! Of course, what counts as effort can be a few different things:

  • Actually reading my resume beforehand, i.e.:
    • not offering me roles that are clear mismatches to my experience / education / expressed intent to have a certain job or live in a certain part of the country
    • not having to dismiss me out of hand on the first interview when they learn my resume is, in fact, up to date and I'm not secretly hiding some Professional iOS experience somewhere
    • Demonstrating some clue they've read my resume before the interview, like mentioning some detail from the resume (Oh, I see you've just graduated!)
  • Giving me some degree of information on the actual role they're looking for, rather than treating their interactions with me like a fishing expedition -- at least on the first phone call, I should know what company I'm dealing with and a simple job description!
  • Asking about my experience with certain skills needed for the job (but not demanding I need a certain skill with an obscure piece of software!), and helping in regards to how to gauge "years of experience"!
  • Provides some level of tips for an interview -- not merely referring me to a checklist (half of which doesn't apply to a phone interview!), but actually giving me useful tips beforehand that I hadn't thought of previously!

And just for good measure, doesn't hit one of these pet peeves:

  • Speaks my language clearly -- phone quality is enough of a crapshoot without having to translate a heavy accent, and it just makes both our jobs harder.
  • Pronounces things like company names correctly when referring back to my resume.
  • Spells my name right (really, now... this is just "gives-a-damn"-level respect I'm asking for here. I get my last name is tricky, but my first name should be EASY.)
  • 2
    While this answer is a pretty good description of what a good recruiter is, it doesn't answer the question asked, which is how do I find the recruiter you've just described?.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 16:09

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