Propel Careers

Working with Recruiters: Understanding the Rules of the Game 

September 10, 2011 
by Lauren Celano 

This article provides insights into the recruiting process that most people will engage in at some point in their career. Recruiters can be tremendous resources and advocates for you, but it can be difficult to keep track of the roles of the various people you may come in contact with while engaged in a job search. We hope that this information sheds some light on the "rules of the game" as well as some of the variability that you may experience working with different recruiters.

This blog is part of a series of blogs that will be written by the Business Area Advisors for Propel Careers. These blogs will share insights into the life sciences industry and thoughts on career guidance. To learn more about the business area advisors of Propel, see link:

I've been a full time recruiter for the last four years but came into recruiting having previously worked in other corporate roles within biotech (clinical research, marketing, and medical affairs). My experience as a recruiter is thus colored by the fact that I've been on the other side. In fact, I frequently think about the things that I've learned while recruiting that would have been helpful to know as a candidate. There's actually a lot to say here, so I'll plan on this being a topic that I'll come back to in future blog posts, but I thought I'd start with some general thoughts on understanding the corporate recruiting process.

My first comment is that not all recruiters are the same, and it helps to understand the differences. This may be information you can gather from a profile or a business card, but I recommend asking explicit questions about the recruiter and the company they work for, if you feel you don't have a clear picture. It's also important to understand the relationship they have with the company that you want to work for, as well as the specific hiring manager. For the sake of this blog, I'm going to use a real estate analogy that I think will help. In this analogy the candidate owns the "house", which is their specific talent and experience. Some recruiters are "buyer's agents", typically in-house or corporate recruiters working for the companies who are seeking the talent. Others are "seller's agents", most often working for agencies that are seeking to market and place candidates into positions with their clients (the employers) who pay the fees that keep them in business.

Why is this relevant? Well, I think it's important to understand that different recruiters have different motivations and objectives. Agency recruiters typically have more of a sales mindset; selling their services to clients and then selling the skills and experiences of particular candidates to hiring managers. The good ones can be terrific advocates for you, but there is also a lot of pressure in commission driven sales environments, so things can also move very fast if you don't assert yourself. On the corporate side, you're dealing mostly with contractors and employees of the company you are trying to get a job with. The motivation in this case is largely meeting the needs of their business partners (hiring managers), and most corporate recruiters work on anywhere from 25-40 jobs at a given time. They are interested in finding the best candidates as efficiently as possible, so if you have interactions with corporate recruiters, I recommend always having at least one specific role in mind. "I am a great fit for this job and here is why!" I don't believe you'll get very far by just describing your background and asking if they have any positions that would be a fit. Hopefully, taking these differences into account can help you tailor your interactions with the various recruiters out there.

My second comment is that, just as in real estate, there are rules (written and unwritten) that govern the recruiting process. For example, if you apply directly to a corporate website, you are often deemed to be a "known entity". Meaning that if an external recruiter sends your resume to Company X and they already have an application from you, they may say "sorry, we will not accept your submittal". That company can then (in theory) contact the candidate even if they weren't being actively considered for that role. This practice varies by company and by the specific terms of engagement each company has with outside firms. Some companies are very strict and other are much more relaxed, but it's important to understand that recruiters have to abide by the terms that they establish with their clients. Applying directly for a role via a corporate website can sometimes limit your options, especially if an outside recruiter has a good relationship with that company. I recommend carefully considering if it is the course of action most likely to be successful. In my experience with Propel Careers, you will receive a clear answer regarding whether they can help you with certain companies or if applying directly is a better path forward.

The converse of this scenario is that an external recruiter submits an unknown person, or in many cases someone who has not been actively considered for an extended period of time (often a year). That candidate is then considered to be represented by that agency and cannot be submitted by anyone else for that role. This is probably the most contentious aspect of recruiting and is the reason why recruiters can get a reputation for being dodgy or aggressive. Fees can be won or lost, literally, by a matter of seconds, which is why some recruiters are anxious to get your approval to submit your resume. Keep in mind that recruiters should be getting explicit verbal or written approval from you to move forward on your behalf for a specific role and a specific company. It can and does get complicated, so it behooves you to keep track of this information (email is a great tool here).

1) Where you have applied directly for jobs (corporate website, corporate career fair, etc)

2) What recruiters have you spoken with and where do they work

3) What companies and positions have they have submitted you to

You'd be surprised how many times I've had lengthy conversations with candidates about a position at a specific company, only to be told upon submittal that they recently applied for that exact job a few weeks ago via the corporate website. This is particularly frustrating for a recruiter, so it's important to disclose where you have submitted applications to and when. Keeping this information organized also indicates that you are a strong and professional candidate, which will only encourage a recruiter to work hard on your behalf. This dynamic is also important on the flip side, although I believe comes up less frequently. Eg. You get a call from an in-house recruiter for a job you are interested in. You proceed without telling them you have already been submitted by an external recruiter. They will at some point realize that hiring you will result in a fee, and this could be a game-changer for them. It's better for this to come up early on and again, indicates to the in-house recruiter that you are organized and professional. As a candidate, you can avoid some of these issues by understanding the process, keeping good records, and communicating openly and honestly while engaged in a job search.

Feel free to ask questions or add comments on any points I've made here. I'll keep tabs on them and will incorporate them into future blog posts. Good luck with your job search!


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