How do you know if a recruiter is good? Ask people you trust for recommendations, and pay attention to whether the recruiter listens to you to understand what you are (and aren’t) looking for.

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When Andrew Edmond left his job last summer, he didn’t immediately look for another one. But when he was ready to get back out there, he went straight to his network of recruiters.

“Everyone I’d put on hold for the past five months, I wrote back to,” he says. “I worked with four recruiters, and one of them happened to have the one special opportunity that I loved and chose.” His job search took just nine days.

Edmond is a highly skilled software engineer, but you don’t need a resume like his to use a recruiter in your job search.

Dozens of third-party recruiting companies in the Seattle area match candidates to companies in fields ranging from accounting to technology.

“Good recruiters will add value to someone in their search by helping them navigate the hiring process, by introducing them to good opportunities that may or may not be advertised [and by] helping to negotiate a compensation package,” says Matt Joelson, managing partner of Seattle-based recruiting firm West500 Partners.

In-demand fields
While the national jobless rate is lagging at around 8 percent, the picture is brighter in King and Snohomish counties. That’s great news for our local economy, but it can make things tough for smaller, lesser-known companies to recruit top talent, particularly in high-tech and health care.

That’s where third-party recruiters come in. Companies work with agencies to help fill open positions. If recruiters find the right person for the job, they earn a tidy sum: usually 20 to 30 percent of the position’s annual salary, paid by the client (the hiring company). Job seekers don’t shell out a dime — and they get to take advantage of all the benefits of using a recruiter.

And those benefits can be considerable. Not only can recruiters whisk you past the queue of unread resumes, they can also give you the scoop on a company’s culture, and even the hiring manager’s personality.
“It totally takes the jitters out when you have the inside track of knowing the landscape,” says Chris Moody, a consultant who got his current position at Slalom Consulting through a recruiter.

Finding a good fit
But not all recruiters are created equal, says Bridget Hughes, a senior marketing analyst working as a contractor at Microsoft. While some are seasoned pros with deep connections, others are clearly more interested in jamming candidates into jobs.

“There’s nothing more painful than getting 15 minutes into a phone interview or 30 minutes into an in-person interview and find that this isn’t going to go anywhere,” she says. “It does feel like the solid grasp of what the team and company need from a future employee is tenuous, at best, with external recruiters.”

Building, not burning, bridges
Outside recruiters are only as good as their network, so it behooves them to be ethical and transparent.

“We’re hired by our clients to help find the right talent, but if there’s a role fit or a culture fit that’s not there, we have to be honest about it,” says Joelson. “Any recruiter who cares about [his or her] clients and reputation will try to make the best match possible, especially in such a tight-knit community like Seattle.”

Checking credentials
How do you know if a recruiter is good? Ask people you trust for recommendations, advises Joelson. Also, pay attention to whether the recruiter listens to you, and understands what you are (and aren’t) looking for.

Be sure to ask about the recruiter’s experience, says Moody.

“If somebody’s green, they may not be able to advocate for you and present you to the client,” he says. “And they may not have the connections — or the work.”