What to look for in a recruitment consultant

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Any experienced jobseeker can tell you, there are plenty of recruitment consultancies out there. However, with each varying significantly in terms of experience, expertise and style, how do you find the one that’s right for you? Here, with the help of our experts, are five key questions to ask:

1) Are they a specialist in the area you’re working in? 

Job roles are increasingly specialised, and it’s frustrating for a candidate to talk to someone who claims to have in-depth understanding of your sector and discipline, but when you scratch the surface, it’s clear that they don’t really understand your area at all. How can someone represent you credibly to potential employers if they don’t really get what you do? 

“You want to look for functional expertise in your area,” says Joanne Chua, Regional Client Development Director for South East Asia and Greater China, Robert Walters. “If you are a digital marketing candidate, for example, you want to be sure that you are talking to a recruiter who has a demonstrable track record of recruiting in that area – or who can at least draw on a large team, backed by appropriate experience, that does.” 

“What you don’t want is someone who’s a jack of all trades and a master of none,” says Louise Campbell, Managing Director, Robert Walters Ireland. “For example, someone who was working with a lawyer yesterday, a marketer today and a receptionist tomorrow. Look for evidence of knowledge of your industry or sector – throw a few keywords at them and see how they cope.”

2) Do you have people on the ground?

For candidates considering an international move, it’s vital to have people on the ground who know about your target territory. This kind of local knowledge and experience will help you as a candidate decide if the location is a good fit for you.   

“If I’m looking to relocate from London to Singapore, I’m about to move somewhere that’s very different in all sorts of ways to what I’m used to. I need someone who’s physically based where I’m going, so they can advise me on all those vital details beyond work, such as tax, housing and culture,” says Joanne.

3) Do you work on commission?

“When consultants work on individual commission, the dynamic changes,” says Louise. “Without the pressure of commission, there’s no need for a consultant to over-sell a specific role or try to shoehorn you into something that’s not really the right fit for you. So, it’s really worth taking the time to find a recruitment consultancy that incentivises recruiters to work in the long-term interests of organisations and candidates.”  

Joanne agrees. “Ask yourself: Is this consultant in it for the long haul? Do they care about me? Some recruiters are very transactional – they just want to get you placed so they can pick up a commission and move on to the next one. But as a candidate, I want a recruiter who cares about me and my future, who’s in it for the long-term relationship.”  

4) Will you have the whole business working for you – or will you be working solely with one person? 

“You want a consultant who’s interested in finding the right job for the right person,” says Louise. Good recruiters will introduce a candidate to other experts within their business, she says, all of whom will be happy to contribute their skills, contacts and knowledge of different territories. 

“You want access to the widest possible pool of opportunity – the whole array of jobs and opportunities even up to the global scale,” she says. “This is another disadvantage of the individual commission-based agency, where you’ll only meet the one consultant, who’ll be desperate to place you among their contacts and won’t be able to take account of the wider network of possibilities that might be out there.” 

5) Will I have to work with one agency exclusively? 

Candidates should think twice about working with a recruitment consultancy that demands you work exclusively with them. 

“A good consultant should make you feel you’ve no need to go elsewhere, that the whole market is being covered for you – but they should never try to pressure you into any kind of exclusivity agreement,” says Louise.

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