Search & employ: Recruitment firms can be a crucial part of any job search

Recruitment firms can be a crucial part of any job search

Julien Masson wasn't even really looking for a job when Yacoub & Associates Recruitment Professionals Inc. told him about an opening at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment for a manager of financial reporting. The 26-year-old had been working at KPMG in Toronto for three years and had only recently earned his chartered accountant designation. But Masson liked what the company–owner of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Raptors–had to offer, and the job was a good fit. He told the recruiter to go ahead with his application. Y&A presented him, prepped him for the interview, negotiated a salary, bonus and job upgrade on his behalf, and landed him a position in early January. “The opportunities working with a headhunter are far, far better than what you might find on your own,” Masson says.

Recruitment firms can be a crucial part of a job search. Some companies make key positions available only through search firms–and they can cut down the time you spend wading through Workopolis postings or newspaper ads. Only a small percentage of jobs are actually posted on the web or in publications; the rest are landed through word-of-mouth or recruiters. But using a recruiter is not always seamless. And job seekers should be cautious: the ultimate goal of recruiters is to make money by placing you. What's good for them may not always be what's best for you.

Recruiters, also called headhunters or executive search consultants, are hired by companies to fill vacancies. They either work on a retainer (when they're at least partially paid upfront) or on contingency (when they're paid after they successfully place somebody). They gather a roster of potential candidates and rely on networking to identify those who fit the roles they're trying to fill.

Where a lot of job-seekers go wrong, says David Smith, a Toronto-based partner at the executive search firm Mandrake, is believing a recruiter works for them. “A lot of people make themselves enemies because they call me the next day and the next day and the next, and you know what? I get it. You're in my database. When I have a role that comes up and matches, absolutely, I'll phone you,” he says. “But it's not like I'm sitting there with a role to fit everybody that calls every day.”

It is a good idea, however, for someone looking for a job to become part of a recruiter's consideration set. “Someone may be getting some good training in marketing [at their job] but ultimately they really want to end up in sports marketing,” says Rick Chad, president of Chad Management Group, a recruitment firm in Toronto specializing in marketing and communications. “If I don't know them, but a job comes up in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment or the Calgary Stampeders, I won't know to call them.”

The good recruiters tend to be quite widely known. “Generally, if we're established, somebody in their peer group will know who we are,” says Chad. If you're unsure, you can ask recruiters questions such as how they got your name, how long they have been in the business, and if they work on retainer or contingency. “If you're working with a good recruiter, they'll give you not only the sizzle and the steak, but they'll tell you about the company, warts and all,” says Andrew Gaspar, whose Toronto-based firm, Gaspar & Associates, has been in business since 1979. “One of the reasons organizations will use a firm like us is because we have worked with them for many years in the past. We know the kind of culture that is there and the kind of person that will do best in that culture.”

Unfortunately, when you engage a recruiter in your job search, you relinquish a lot of control over the process. Benjamin Roberts, who found out about his current job as a category analyst at Cadbury Adams through a headhunter, once applied for a position where the recruiter had two candidates going for the same job. The company liked both, but the recruiter pushed the other candidate because Roberts had more transferable skills that could command a higher salary, and fees are almost always based on a percentage of the first year's earnings.

Given that, it's important to look out for yourself during the process. You should guard your resumé closely, and only send it to a recruiter if you're comfortable with them, as your reputation is in their hands. One of Masson's co-workers at KPMG was too liberal with his resumé and a recruiter sent it to a company without his permission. It turned out to be a position that he had already applied for, been offered and had turned down. Before allowing anyone to send out your resumé, you should definitely ask what company the opening is with, what the role is, and ensure you see a job description. If a recruiter conceals the company for confidentiality or to guard against your applying directly for the position, ask questions about its size, industry and location to help narrow it down. “People start to look on it like it's someone else's responsibility to find them a job,” says Smith. “What they need to do is take the responsibility on themselves.