Jobseeker, Recruitment

Good Recruiter/Bad Recruiter

In today’s competitive talent market, recruiter-cluttered inboxes are about as ubiquitous as fire hydrants. And, like fire hydrants, just as frequently associated with waste product despite their useful purpose.


And for good reason!


Have you read any of the job descriptions that get spammed your way?  Most of the time they’re the very same job descriptions that were written by the client company, just sanitized of any revealing references.

Bad Recruiter Secret #1: want to find who the end client is, try searching the exact text string (in quotations) of one or two of the bullet points near the bottom of the job requirements…you’ll often get job descriptions for every agency that’s on the search as well as the end client’s original post.

The unfortunate result of responding to many of these blasted InMails is a disenchanting exchange where you, the talent, often feels rejected and undervalued.


See if this reminds you of any past interactions;


You answer one of these vague InMail messages – the Recruiter calls – bombards you with questions about your technical skills, while revealing very little about who they’re representing. They ask your current salary and only then what you would be looking for in target compensation.  Once they have all the information they need, they arbitrarily decide you’re “not a good fit”, ending the call with a flaccid consolation like keeping your profile on file for future reference.


No interest in your criteria for your next job beyond salary…because frankly, they don’t care.


If this sounds familiar, I offer my condolences and apologies on behalf of this industry.

Bad Recruiter Secret #2: similar to the complaints about Realtors, the difference in commission of $10,000 in salary works out to be only a few hundred dollars to the Recruiter. While many will argue that they have your best interests at heart, it’s easier for them to push you to agree to a lower number now than it is to start from the beginning to find someone who fits the prescribed salary range. A few hundred dollars is not enough incentive for an extra 2 to 3 weeks of work.

This is the product of bulk email blasts, usually by template.  You were just swept up in an undiscerning mass of profiles returned by keyword matrices, limited to the most generic of technologies (Java, Spring, REST, SQL, etc).  Your response initiated a trickle of rigid steps designed to push you through to a “yes-no” decision.


If you’re actively looking for a new job, you may tolerate this behaviour from recruiters as part of the game. But it is enough for people sitting even remotely close to the fence to remove themselves from the market entirely.

What should a recruiter exchange look like?

Sometimes you can tell the difference between Good and Bad Recruiters from the first message they send. It’s usually a specific, directed request to connect that clearly indicates the following;

  1. They have read your profile or resume, possibly making reference to your work at a specific company in your past that made you stand out as someone their client may be interested in

  2. Their client is “Company XYZ” (though even Good Recruiters may not share this information if working on contingency)

  3. XYZ is looking to hire someone to accomplish a specific deliverable; plus information on the project, what the company is doing, their goals or future direction, etc. They clearly know more than just what’s in the job description.

  4. Recruiter invites you to explore whether XYZ could be a viable next step in your career trajectory and is interested in learning more about your criteria.

While this might seem like splitting hairs over the content and structure of a first message, there is a very important difference.  In this exchange, the Recruiter is giving you information up front and putting YOU in charge of the process. Bad Recruiters are only interested in having you serve their goal, which is placing you in this role.


The ensuing interactions with a Good Recruiter are relaxed and aimed at discovery, with ample opportunity for you to ask questions.  You’re encouraged to do your own research to substantiate what the recruiter has said. You’re guided through a collaborative process where the observant recruiter helps you explore what you like and what you don’t about your current environment. They’re completely honest in identifying if something doesn’t align with your needs or vice versa.


Most importantly, you feel that “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer at any stage of this process.


I cringe as Bad Recruiters berate candidates for “letting them down” when they withdraw from the process or even accept another offer. 


You owe NOTHING to a Recruiter. Ever.


Good Recruiters will never make you feel this way…they think long term and will simply bid you well and connect with you next time.


Recruiters who are willing to surrender control of the process usually have better relationships with their clients AND candidates.  They serve as conduits of information to both, and they broker meaningful connections based on this transparency.


Perhaps most importantly, Good Recruiters think beyond the role in front of them.  They may have other clients that might be a better fit for you, or they’re willing to work with you to explore relationships even beyond their current portfolio.


Pro Athletes have agents, why shouldn’t outstanding software engineers, or automation specialists, or project managers?


Essentially a Good Recruiter will be able to tell you more about the company than you can read on career pages or Glassdoor.  They’re genuinely interested in making a good connection, not just one that will survive the guarantee period.


This is especially important during these time of The Great Resignation, where too many have made moves only to find out that things weren’t as they expected in their new company. See The Great Regret


How to deal with a Bad Recruiter


The unfortunate reality is that even Bad Recruiters sometimes have great opportunities.  And if they are being very cloak-and-dagger you may just be along for the ride.  That said, here are a few tips to help improve your chances of successfully landing the job through a Bad Recruiter;


  1. This might seem obvious, but get as much information from the recruiter as you can. Do your research and ask really good questions to see if they are willing to ask the hiring manager directly. If your recruiter has access to them, you’re making them look good by giving them conversation starters.
  2. Know your value proposition, try to distill it down into a single soundbite. Base it off of the aforementioned pain that the hiring manager feels. Repeat in every exchange with the recruiter. They should be regurgitating this to the hiring manager as it’s the reason you’re going to get an interview.  You’re trying to identify the key area of pain for the hiring manager. Good Recruiters do this as a part of their intake. It’s providing solution to this problem that will make you stand out (see next point).

  3. During the interview the recruiter does not exist. Assume that the hiring manager knows nothing about you and it is a blank slate to carve out your impressions. Ask all the same intelligent job-related questions you asked the recruiter.

  4. Get everything in writing and follow up! Bad Recruiters become ghosts…to both clients and candidates when things get tough.  Two things of which you must be certain; the agency has an agreement in place with the client company and your profile was sent, or not sent, to the end client.

Recruiters should never send your profile to a company without your express permission, it’s imperative that they advise you where they have sent your profile.  Ask for feedback from the client, even a rejection offers closure.

Bad Recruiter Secret #3: Recruiters sometimes try to hide the fact that they did NOT send your profile to the company.  This is because even though they may not want to represent you, they’d rather you not apply directly and risk having the company hire you, thus losing the search.  This is the most unethical behaviour in this industry and is the product of an inability to evaluate candidates and lack of confidence.

I can’t tell you how many times I speak with candidates who don’t know if their profile was submitted to the client through an agency Recruiter.  This is catastrophic.


Most companies that use agencies have their search fees already accounted for in their budget, but one of the sales tactics of Bad Recruiters is the line “it doesn’t cost you anything to look” (since they’re only paid if the company hires their submitted candidates).


Bad Recruiters will take on searches with no information hoping they get lucky with one of their submissions. 

If your profile was submitted by an Agency Recruiter, you have a fee attached to your head.


Again, most companies that use agencies have budgeted for this expense, but if your full profile was submitted on speculation, some companies may avoid you altogether not wanting to get into a battle over fees with a vendor that wasn’t.


By contrast, Good Recruiters earn their fees by cutting through the noise to create actionable market intelligence, a specific recruitment plan, candidate avatar, position evaluation, and then doing the extensive legwork to drive engagement with the right type of people.


Good Recruiters promote transparency.  They try to lessen the imbalance of power that comes with the privilege of access to information.


Finally, on the candidate side, Good Recruiters offer value by helping you evaluate the job market and know what you command in salary/benefits/perks. They can act as broker and agent and share intelligence about what it’s actually like working in different industries.  They understand the nuances of various sectors, like the difference between a Software Engineer at a consulting house, product shop, or internal corporate IT team.


They can walk you through skills gaps and how to fill them, sometimes even providing resources and networking connections.  And they can help you find your voice in selling yourself, knowing how to articulate the value that you bring to the table so that you command the highest salary, plum assignments, and continued career growth.


A great Recruiter can be a powerful connection and I encourage everyone to seek out one that they can grow with.


I would be remiss if I didn’t state that Bad Recruiters aren’t usually bad on purpose. They’re quite often the product of the commoditization of the industry where human interaction takes a backseat to cost containment derived from imperfect processes, metrics, and automation.

Done properly, recruitment is simple, but it’s not easy. You deserve a partner who can lessen the frustration and anguish of transitioning jobs.



Shannon Roach

Shannon has spent the last decade working to restore human connection to the forefront of hiring. She writes about the realities, humour, and heartbreak of engaging talent and standing out in this age of soundbites. Playing different roles as businesswoman, wife, mother, and advocate, Shannon hopes the future leaves room for us to be our whole selves, our best selves, at work.