Common Expectations vs. The Reality of Working with a Recruiter

You’ve probably heard negative stories about recruiters who don’t return calls or “headhunters” who pursue a candidate aggressively, only to disappear. If you listen to all the buzz, recruiting professionals seem to be more likely to lead people on and ghost than a bad Bumble date.

If you’ve ever been frustrated working with a recruiter or recruiting agency, there are two probable reasons for that. Either you were working with a bad recruiter, or you had false expectations about what working with a recruiter is really like. Here are five truths about the recruiting business that will help you learn what to expect from recruiters and get the most out of any future encounters.

Expectation: I should only reach out to a recruiter when I’m actively looking for a new job.

Reality: The best time to connect with a recruiter is while you’re content with your employment situation, but want to stay open to other options. 


Recruiters are typically not a good last resort, but you’d be amazed at how many people come to us with comments like, “I’ve been looking for two years and I’m finally reaching out to a recruiter.” Except perhaps in temporary placements, this is the worst time to rely on a third party.

When you’re feeling vulnerable, frustrated, and maybe even desperate in your search, use as many resources as possible, because so much of the process is based on timing. You might be the greatest Payroll Specialist in the world, but if the recruiter you’re working with isn’t working on a payroll position at that time, they’ll be unlikely to provide help on the timeline you need.

So, make sure you are clear on your expectations and timelines up front.

Expectation: Every recruiter I meet will be well-versed on a variety of industries and career fields.

Reality: Most recruiters are industry specialists or only work on specific types of positions. 


In fact, you want your recruiter to specialize in what you do! If your experience or interests don’t align with our specialty, we’re typically not as useful to your search because we won’t have the connections, relationships, or experience to be a valued resource to either you or the employer in that area.

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There was a viral post by a recruiter on LinkedIn where he broke down this specialization (he’s an accounting recruiter) and the comment section was flooded with responses like: “I graduated top of my class and have 20 years of engineering experience! Are you saying you wouldn’t place me?” And the recruiter’s answer was an emphatic no, because he didn’t work on engineering roles. And you’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how many people were offended by his answer.

I’m always a little surprised at how upset people can get around this subject, but if you think about it – we don’t expect a person selling real estate in New York to find us a house in Arizona and we don’t expect a tax attorney to handle our divorce.

Wouldn’t you rather work with a market expert rather than someone who does a little bit of everything? One easy way to get the most out of working with a recruiter is to exercise due diligence on a recruiter’s areas of expertise before connecting with them.

Expectation: Serving my needs is my recruiter’s top priority.

Reality: Like many professionals who work in human resources, recruiters serve two masters: employers and job seekers. 


Although we’re here to be a resource and an advocate for candidates, the placement fee paid to recruiters is always paid by the employer. Our job is to identify and engage great talent, and to keep the process flowing smoothly. Armed with a thorough knowledge of your skills and interests, a recruiter will present you for jobs that match what you’ve told them you’re looking for and our client’s needs.

However, even if you are qualified, you may not be the most qualified candidate for the role. In these scenarios, the recruiter’s job is to satisfy the employer’s desires regarding what they think is best for the role rather than presenting a candidate who fulfills only the basic requirements. For example, if I was working with a creative agency, and they asked to see candidates who had worked in creative environments, I wouldn’t be a good partner to that client if I submitted a candidate coming out of a manufacturing environment, even if the title and job duties were the same, and even if the candidate really wanted to be in a creative field. Moreover, that candidate would have much more success applying for that role on their own, without a client considering an agency’s fees in addition to their lack of industry experience.

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Additionally, recruiters are almost never the decision-maker determining whether you get an interview or job offer. We typically have input into the decision, and are often the ones who deliver the good or bad news to the candidate. Your recruiter should be as honest and forthcoming as they can be, given the feedback and information available from the client.   

Expectation: I can go to my recruiter for career coaching.

Reality: Recruiters are not career coaches (although they generally offer career advice).


If you need or want a career coach, there are many excellent fee-for-service career coaches. However, since recruiters are a free resource and don’t have the same training and expertise as career coaches, you shouldn’t expect in-depth assistance in figuring out what you want or to switch careers.

Generally, recruiters are very helpful with specific resume advice, and can offer solid information on current market trends. They are often less helpful for candidates who are “open to anything” because if you don’t know what you want, you can’t expect a recruiter to do the legwork for you! Additionally, recruiters are typically not a strong resource for those looking to switch career tracks, because their task is to source candidates with proven, documented experience in a role, industry, etc.

Career coaches, unlike recruiters, are usually very helpful for job seekers who want to invest in career exploration, which is an often intensive and thorough dive into new careers options, roles, and industries. A career coach can help bridge the gap between roles in career change by helping candidates build skills, network effectively, and articulate transferable skills.

A career coach is also an amazing resource for more hands-on job search assistance. They’ll give in-depth advice, resources, and coaching on resumes, interviews, cover letters, salary negotiations, etc. Career coaches are not free, but they’re great for people in transition, feeling lost, or who want to level up in their career.

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Recruiters tend to be best for job seekers who have identified their top skills, roles, or industries they want to pursue, but want to benefit from the connections, market insights, general feedback, and support that a recruiter brings. Working with a well-connected recruiter means tapping into their networks, relationships, and influence with clients. Instead of being one in a pile of resumes hitting an employer’s desk, the right candidate for a position can be showcased directly in front of a waiting employer’s eyes.

Expectation: Recruiters can help me define my expectations and hone my interests, and I can call them with frequent questions.

Reality: Recruiters are salespeople, and try to spend their time in high-value ways, which means you should set communication expectations up front.  


Generally, we won’t call you just to chat — if we don’t have jobs that fit what you’ve said you want, or where you wouldn’t be a strong match for the role, we probably won’t be in touch. Sometimes, we’ll run multiple roles by you, but we may be working on jobs that aren’t in sync with your background. We’re usually working hard to close another deal and are focusing our energies and attention on that. It’s important for both candidates and recruiters to set expectations. It doesn’t mean we don’t think you’re great, or can never help you, or that we aren’t accessible. Feel free to check in with questions, especially, if anything changes in your search.

So, in summary: if recruiters can help, we usually will! We make our living creating matches between candidates and employers and gain a lot of pleasure from hearing about how our services impacted a job seeker’s life in a positive way. However, it helps to know a little bit about what we do, to get the most benefit from our services.