What Does a Recruiter Do?

What Does a Recruiter Do?

Many people have trouble understanding what employment recruiters are and what they do for a living. The irony is that what they do is actually simple—recruiters recruit. Some recruit nurses, while others recruit Java developers. Then there are those who recruit anti-money laundering (AML) and compliance professionals whose clients are financial services firms: traditional banks, cryptos, money services businesses, you name it.

Before we discuss the ins and outs of working with recruiters, we should start with a description of the general types of recruiters and how they work. There are two types: in-house and agency recruiters. In-house recruiters represent just one client: their company. An in-house recruiter at J.P. Morgan, for instance, recruits IT or compliance or customer service professionals only for J.P. Morgan. They get paid a base salary and bonus. The second type of recruiter works for an agency, vendor, a third party—whatever you would like to call them—and has many clients. Most agency recruiters are niched; they work on certain roles within specific industries. The two types of recruiters have the same end goal: To put the best talent in the right seat for their clients. You might not be the best candidate for their specific roles, but that does not mean you should not be open to dialogue with recruiters. I recommend speaking to all recruiters who work in your specific skill set and industry.

How and Why to Engage Specific Recruiters

Now would be a good time to discuss how you should use recruiters for your personal benefit. All recruiters are not created equal. You must vet, verify and try out recruiters just as you would vet contractors for house renovations, research the most appropriate credit card or investigate any type of service for which you are looking to register. However, you should be sure to engage in-house recruiters and agency recruiters differently. They can help you out in unique ways, so it is best to communicate with them strategically, efficiently and with the right expectations.

  • In-house recruiters know their clients best.
    • Recruiters who work for one company are not eating what they kill. Their jobs are to ensure they know their company’s staffing strategy and culture and execute the game plan. Engage with in-house recruiters to learn more about a potential company’s staffing plan, their short- and long-term needs, what it is like working there, the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion philosophy, and what roles they are looking to fill. If not for you, companies might have roles that are a better fit for friends and colleagues.
    • Keep in touch. Your career is a long game. In-house recruiters might not have roles that are a good fit now, but they might in the future. Take calls with in-house recruiters to discuss roles they are currently working on, but also with the goal of being considered for future roles. All recruiters remember the professionals that are open, interactive and helpful. In-house recruiters will also remember you when they move to a different company themselves.
    • Always take their calls. This feeds off the last bullet point but is worth more discussion. Speaking to recruiters does not mean you are betraying your current employer or are on the job market. Recruiters can use all the help they can get and are grateful to everyone who is willing to help. Take recruiter calls to get an understanding of what types of jobs are out there, what types of roles recruiters are working on and how to build a rapport with someone who might be able to help you in your career growth.
  • Agency recruiters know their markets best.
    • Use them for intelligence. Agency recruiters usually focus on one space and know that space both at the macro and micro levels. For instance, they recruit for AML and compliance roles in the financial service space or legal roles at law firms. Use agency recruiters as sources of information about your space, field and the job market.
    • Build long-term relationships. Use them as advisors for both your career and immediate job search. Recruiters are great short-term solutions because they offer opportunities that might help you land a job or take the next step in your career trajectory. In the long term, recruiters can help you take multiple steps in your career or help you find a job when you get laid off for the first time (or the fifth time).

Words of Wisdom

Some words of wisdom to apply when engaging recruiters: Use recruiters proactively and to your benefit. Most people passively engage recruiters—both in-house and agency—only when they are actively working on jobs that might be a good fit at any given moment. That strategy leaves a lot of valuable information and opportunity on the table. One of the best ways to take control is to have advisors and partners. Recruiters can be some of the best partners and advisors. Recruiters are essentially job agents that you get for free. So, run for the hills if a recruiter asks you for payment. No legitimate recruiter gets paid by a person on the job hunt or by potential candidates for one of their open jobs. Plus, some recruiters are better fits for your career growth than others, and you will get along with some recruiters better than others. It is always great to work with folks you like. Make sure you are vetting recruiters as much as they are vetting you because these business relationships should last as long as both of you share similar markets and industries. Here are some tips on how to use recruiters to your advantage:

  • Recruiters are therapists. Agency recruiters regularly have calls with their best candidates and clients that are mostly about how poor their work environment is at that moment. Sometimes, the calls are about how great work is going. But often, we need to get rid of stress. Now, do not call a recruiter to de-stress all the time; they will stop picking up your calls. However, next time you are going to speak to a trusted recruiter to catch up or discuss a role, do not hold back on venting about work. It is usually a safe space. A recruiter works in your field without working at your company. And they are not part of your friends and family circle, so you do not have to worry about it getting too personal. It is a good judgment-free zone.
  • Knowledge is power. In-house and agency recruiters like to talk about what they know. Use that to your advantage. If you are in the job market or thinking about the next steps in your career, trusted recruiters can provide insight into what they are seeing from their clients, which skill sets are in demand, who is hiring and who is not, etc. This is all valuable information that will help you set expectations around your ability to find your next role, compensation ranges and the time duration.
  • Sometimes it is whom you know (and whom you like). Building strong relationships with recruiters can have great passive benefits. Recruiters are good agents to have on your side both while you are keeping your head down and working or if you are actively interviewing and seeking a job. They will reach out to you if they have a strong opportunity because you will be at the forefront of their mind. That is why it is recommended that you build relationships with multiple recruiters because they all work on different types of jobs with different clients. The probability of getting a call about the right role will only increase with the more relationships you have.
  • Networking is one of the ways to control your career. Building relationships with recruiters is like networking on steroids. Agency recruiters are hustling to build relationships with hiring managers at companies. That means you are automatically piggybacking off their business development and networking. In-house recruiters are building relationships with line managers as their clients, and you will have access to those line managers as well. You do not always have to go to a happy hour or a conference to network.


It cannot be emphasized enough that advice from partnerships with and relationships with recruiters—the good, the bad, in-house or agency—are all free of charge. And engaging with recruiters proactively is one of the most efficient ways to gain control of your career. It is your responsibility to determine your career goals, develop a strategy and then formulate a plan. One of the tactics of that plan should be to build relationships with key recruiters in your space so you know when the best times and the worst times are to look for work and when the next job in your career trajectory is open and available.

Recruiters can work as your agents in your search and during the interview process, and they can be good advisors when you have an offer in hand or when you just need to complain about your current job. Finally, based on the law of averages, you will have more success if you have relationships with more recruiters. Having four to five go-to recruiters who have been with the same company or agency for at least three to five years is a great start. They need to recruit in your line of work, and you will need to speak to them (maybe more than once) to get an idea of whether they are knowledgeable or not. It will take time and a few dud calls, but it will benefit you greatly if you have sources of market intelligence you can tap into at any given time. 

Sanjeev Menon, ACAMS Career Guidance columnist, compliance, legal and privacy senior practice area manager, Korn Ferry, New York, NY, USA, Sanjeev.Menon@KornFerry.com

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