Recruiters: How Do You Spot the Good from The Bad?

I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last ten years and to be honest, there two different responses depending on what question you’re asking. If a good recruiter is one that finds you a job, that’s one question, but over the years I’ve met some great recruiters who truly abominable people.

How Does a Recruiter Work?

Firstly, it’s important to remember a recruiter works for their clients (companies), not candidates. Typically, a recruiter will be given a requisition from a client and be tasked with finding candidates for that role. Possibly, in the case of a mass recruiter, they could be given dozens of roles and expected to fill many at the same time.

Recruiters are paid in one of two ways. Either they will work on a contingency basis (i.e. they only get paid if the client hires one of the candidates) or they’ll work on a retained basis (they will get paid regardless of the outcome).

What Type Of Job Are You Looking For?

As well as being paid differently, recruiters will also work on very different roles and specialist fields. The skillset that is needed to find twenty-five programmers for a new division is very different from the skill set that is required in order to find a new CEO or CFO for an FTSE100 Company.

Recruiters will also specialise in a specific sector (Banking, Financial Services, Property, Hospitality, etc.). A recruiter that specialises in Banking is likely to know very little about property and visa-vercea.

As a result, if you send your CV to a property recruiter when you have a banking CV, it’s unlikely you’re going to get a reply. It’s often finding the right recruiter to help that is the biggest challenge and will answer the questions as to whether you’ve found a good or bad recruiter.

The Next Problem

You’d assume that a recruiter with 10-15 years’ experience would be able to help you, however, this is often not the case. A recruiter with 15 years’ experience, simply means they’ve had 15 years of filling roles, and no guarantee they can be helpful to you.

Maybe they’ve just started a new division or company and are building up their network from scratch. They might be totally useless today, but if they’ve survived 15 years of recruitment, they’re probably successful over the longer term.

The Good

Assuming you have the found the right recruiter who specialises in your seniority of roles, how do you go about deciding on whether you’ve found a good recruiter or not. Generally, good recruiters will do all of the following;

  • Spend Time With You – This is very important. Good recruiters will only spend time with candidates they know they can place. A quick 5-minute chat means you’re a name in their file. A one-hour meeting means they’re serious about you.
  • Understand the Softer-Side – Understand whether your going to be right for a client of mine does come down to your knowledge and experience, but it also comes down to whether you’re going to fit in with the team and the working environment. This takes time to understand and involves an in-depth conversation with my candidates.
  • Honesty – Over my twenty-year career, I don’t think I have ever worked on a perfect job. There are always good things about a position and bad. Good recruiters will cover both the good parts of the role, but also focus heavily on the bad parts. To often, I’ve met candidates who were only told the good parts of the position/company.
  • Coaching Candidates on presentation, interview techniques, and what to expect is part of the job of any good recruiter. Often these are difficult, personal topics, but are vital if you want any success. In the past, I’ve told candidates to shave their beard, change their suit-tie combination and change the way they approach an interview
  • Fully Brief Candidates before their interview. Yes, you as a candidate must do your research, but a good recruiter will also spend at least thirty-minutes briefing you on what you need to know. This includes information about the hiring manager to help you build rapport, information about the company and what to expect and any specific questions or answer to give to the hiring manager.

The Bad

Across the market, there are some great recruiters, but there is a lot of junk which has no idea what they’re doing. Recruitment is an industry that does not have huge salaries and requires very little in the way of training or skills, other than being able to hold a basic conversation.

As a result, the industry is full of recruiters who know very little about the market and are simply trying their luck by spamming candidates into companies. Below are five things that show you’re working with a bad recruiter;

  • Money – No good recruiter is ever going to ask you, the candidate, for money. If they do, it’s a scam. Nothing more needs to said. Only bad recruiters, who are trying to make a quick buck or two, will charge you for their services.
  • Job Description – You should always be given a job description showing the responsibilities and requirements of the job. Recruiters who don’t provide a job description, or at the very least, an in-depth review of the job and what it entails, probably are not in touch with the hiring manager and have no real clue whats going on with the position. This also means they don’t have full control over the role.
  • Sell Jobs To You – My job as a recruiter is to let you make up your mind whether you like a position after we’ve discussed the good and the bad. It’s not to bully you into taking an interview, because I have spammed your CV in a company and now need you to attend the interview on the hope you’ll be impressed with the company so that you take the job


Across the market, there are a lot of totally useless recruiters, but there are a lot of totally meaningless candidates at the same time.

Candidates will often scream foul-play when they’ve spammed their CV to ten different recruiters and not received a reply. The honest answer, the candidate has spammed their CV to ten recruiters who cannot help, and sadly don’t have the time to reply. If the candidate actually took the time to find the right recruiter to speak with, they would probably get a much better response.

That all said, once you’ve found a recruiter who works in your space, do think about the above when you start to get your hopes up that this recruiter is going to find your next job.

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Nick Jones

My name Nick Jones, I am a professional Head-Hunter with over 20 years of experience working all over the world. I specialise in out-of-the-box job search strategies to get your CV directly to the hiring manager, thus skipping any ATS portals or recruiters who think they're important.

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