How To Use Search Firms And Recruiting Agencies To Supercharge Your Job Search

There are various ways to search for a job. You can find postings on job sites such as Indeed, CareerBuilder, Monster, Dice, or social media job sites like LinkedIn. You can also respond to inquiries from recruiters. Another option is to network with people you know to ask for leads.

Although you may not always know it, search firms and recruiting agencies can be incredibly useful for you in your job search. They can help connect you with potential employers, provide resources and advice, and help with the application process. They do not charge you but get paid by the employer and so can be a great way to find a job that is the right fit for you.

Corporate Recruiters vs. Recruiting Agencies vs. Search Firms – what is the difference?

Corporate recruiters are usually employed by a company to find candidates for their open positions. These are the ones who set up a screening call with you on behalf of the company after they have reviewed your profile for a match. They work for the company and are responsible for filling roles only for that company. Once they screen you for your qualifications and compensation requirements, they submit your profile directly to the hiring managers and stay in touch with you throughout the hiring process.

Search firms, also known as headhunters, are third-party organizations that may assist a company with their search, especially for niche, confidential, or management roles, though there can be exceptions. A search firm employs a rigorous form of candidate identification, assessment, and selection. They often specialize and are highly networked in one or more areas of expertise and can work in a retained, contingency, or container mode – different models of how they get paid. In a contingency search, search firms may compete with other firms for the role, whereas in a retained search, the firm usually has exclusivity. According to one research study, 26% of more senior roles are filled by retained executive search consultants than by any other formal hiring process. From a candidate’s perspective, firms with exclusivity are often better.

Recruiting agencies, also known as staffing firms or employment agencies, typically provide companies with contract resources for a certain duration. However, some recruiting agencies also engage in permanent employee searches similar to search firms or enter into a “Contract to hire” agreement with the company to allow for the contractor provided by them to be converted into a permanent role against a mutually agreed fee at a later date.

At any given time, recruiters working at search firms or recruiting agencies may represent multiple employers.

Why work with Search Firms or Recruiting Agencies to get a job?

Recruiters from these types of organizations may have access to jobs that aren’t advertised either because of the confidential nature of the search or the desire for some companies to engage in the “try before buy” – “contract to hire” model. Working with these organizations therefore can be a great way to get a job. These recruiters especially the search firms often have direct access to decision-makers and can influence them to consider your candidacy because of the credibility and relationship they have built over time. They can cut through red tape and help you connect with the right people at the right company quickly.

The other great thing about them working with multiple companies is that they know your needs as a job seeker, so you don’t have to spend time figuring out where to apply.

Figure out which agency is right for you

There are a lot of agencies to choose from, so it’s important to figure out which one is right for you.

If based on your skills, role, and level you do not mind working in a contractor/consultant or interim role for a short period or want to wait before considering a permanent role, recruiting agencies are the ones you should reach out to first. These agencies typically focus on hourly to mid-level salary roles. If on the other hand, you are targeting niche, mid, senior, or executive salaried roles, working with a search firm is your best bet.

The second thing you need to find out is the industry specialization. Both of these types of organizations specialize in certain industry verticals and develop long-standing relationships with companies that enable them to present candidates directly to the hiring managers. Do your research to find out which ones operate in your area of specialization, have a good reputation in the market, and have a large company roster.

Finding out if they have an exclusive relationship with the end client or if the hiring company is a direct client of theirs with a signed agreement in place is also important for you to find out. If not you may end up wasting a lot of time as some agencies are just fishing for good talent to present them to a future potential client hoping to solicit business from them with no guarantee that the client will entertain their solicitation.

Will these agencies be willing to work with me?

Recruiting agencies are always looking for new candidates as they operate in high volumes. As a result, they would be more than willing to talk to you and vet you either for their immediate client or would like to keep you in their database for the future.

On the other hand, whether the Search firms or headhunting companies will speak with you will depend on if they are on the retainer model or not. Usually, the ones on retainer may not respond to your outreach as they make money off the companies and need to spend more time with them. Unless you have built a great relationship with their recruiters over a period of time or they found you while searching for candidates, they typically will not promote you. The ones on a contingency agreement with the hiring company are more likely to entertain you as they do not get paid until they have placed someone and are competing for talent with other similar companies.

How do I find these agencies and recruiters from those agencies who can help me?

If you are looking for a job, the best way to find a search firm or a recruiting agency is to do a web search. The radius of the search will depend upon whether you are looking for a job in the local market or nationally. You can also ask your friends if they know anyone who works in the recruiting industry for names. Once again remember that some of these agencies may specialize in certain types of industries, roles, and levels and so make sure you keep that in mind while you search.

What should I know while working with a Search Firm?

When you reach out to a search firm for the first time, make sure to include a cover letter to introduce why you could be a great candidate for their clients. Show them that you have researched their clientele and their needs and how you might match what they are looking for. Since they may have multiple recruiters listed on their website, figure out who would be the right person for you to reach out to and follow up with them with a call. Once you are able to establish first contact and have made your case, set yourself a goal to build a personal relationship with them and keep that relationship going by having periodic chats. Treat these recruiters as your clients and make sure that if possible you meet them physically and are “Top of Mind” for them. Always remember that they do not have time for you as they are more focused on building relationships and serving their clients.


If you can find and build relationships with recruiters from search firms or recruiting agencies, they can be immensely helpful in your job search process. They can help you find the right job and cut down the time it takes to get a job.

In my coaching practice, I help candidates figure out how to effectively incorporate the use of agencies in their job search. For more information, book a free consultation with me at

About the author: Kaushik is an accomplished HR and Talent Acquisition executive and a Career Coach with more than 35 years of experience. During his career he has hired thousands of employees for global companies across skills, roles, levels and industries and has helped hundreds to land their dream jobs and careers. He has been a board member at multiple talent organizations across USA and is an accomplished speaker on career related topics. You can reach out to him directly at for job search and career guidance. More information about him can be found at or at

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