There has been a good debate on the Los Angeles Java Users Group mailing list this week about working with , both from the job seeker side and also from the side.

In my career I have worked with recruiters on both sides of the fence and I think the argument boils down to the same issue no matter which side you are on – working with good recruiters is a good idea and working with bad recruiters is a bad idea. Apologies if you were expecting something more earth shattering!

Many houses are simply glorified keyword matching services and they all function almost identically. If you visit their offices you will find a large room with two large tables, one designated for “” and one for “”. All the folks around the Hardware table are working to fill Hardware related positions and the folks are doing the same for positions. There will be 4 to 8 folks at each table, each with a computer and a phone permanently strapped to their head. At the end of each table will be a large white board with the “Hot Jobs” listed with the keywords to try and match, plus salary and commission rate (not surprisingly the higher the salary and commission rate, the hotter the job miraculously becomes). The main purpose of the folks at the table is to process the highest number of resumes as is humanly possible (from active job board postings, from their DB of past resumes etc.) and bring the resumes with the best keyword match to the top of the pile, then do a bare bones phone screening interview (ie. does the person actually exist) and then pass the pile of resumes off to the employer. The employer then has to process the resumes all over again, screen out 80% of them because while the keywords are there, there is an obvious problem elsewhere and then interview the other 20% to find out if any are even close. Most of the time you can achieve the same results as an employer by paying the fees to and doing the search yourself – it might even be quicker.

But as a job seeker you do need to be in contact with recruiters because many positions are never posted widely/publicly (at the request of the employer). In this scenario the employer is engaging the recruiter to get at their pool of contacts that are hopefully pre-screened etc., some of which may not even be in the active job market, but are known to the recruiter. This becomes increasingly true if the position being filled is higher up the corporate ladder (manger, director, VP etc). However, a bad recruiter will waste a lot of your time if you are not careful.

As a manager, these keyword matching recruiters are the bane of my existence and 50% of the reason I never answer my phone at work (the other 50% of the reason is software sales guys, but that is another post). The endless cold calls just trying to present me “a really exceptional candidate” they have found or “just wanting to know” if I have any open positions. These guys are really the sleazy used car salesmen of the IT industry.

As a job seeker it will be pretty obvious if you are working with one of these houses. Firstly if you ever get a phone call in response to a you submitted and it sounds like the person on the other end is sitting in a room full of people talking loudly, then they probably are. I have even been asked to hold the line when talking to one of these guys and while I was waiting I could hear another recruiter at the table talking to another candidate on their phone about the exact some position!

One of the other classic traits of these organizations is their incessant need to keep the job seeker and the employer at arms length from each other – the theory being that they need to control the communication stream so as the employer and the job seeker don’t reach their own agreement and the recruiter misses out on a commission. This is a symptom of the fact that the recruiter and the employer are not closely engaged with each other and do not have a strong working relationship. This also just hurts your ability to present the best of yourself to the employer. You are the person who knows your skill set and experience the best, and yet you are letting a recent high school graduate with 2-days in house training represent you. Another tactic is for these houses to take your resume and rebrand it with their logo and add their contact information and remove all of your own contact information. This involves a cut-and-paste from the resume you submitted and invariably ends up in a less than professional looking document. Just wait until one of these guys takes it upon themselves to actually edit the content of your resume “on your behalf” without asking you and you will very quickly realize that these guys are probably hurting rather than helping your job search.

Also, just be a little wary about the employer if they are using these kinds of companies. Its probably not a deal killer for you as the job seeker, but just pay close attention to what else your employer might not be paying close attention too.

But! There are good recruiters too, they are just a little harder to find.

I have worked with good recruiters on both sides of the fence as well. From an employer perspective a good recruiter who knows your industry and knows the local talent pool can be invaluable. They can help you shape the job description and salary of an open position to align it with what is happening in the rest of the industry and so attract the type of candidates you want. They can find candidates that are not in the active job market because they have built up a high quality contact list of candidates they have placed in the past or have met during prior searches etc.

These recruiters are usually smaller shops with a smaller focused recurring client base. Many work on a mix of retainer and actual placement fees, so they are not all about placing as many people as possible, they have an incentive to establish and keep long term relationships with employers by providing exceptional candidates.

From the job seeker side you will have to do your research to find these kinds of good recruiters. They probably won’t be posting hundreds of jobs on because they simply are not filling that many positions at one time. All of the ones I have dealt with in my job searches have found me, not the other way around. When they call you, the background of their side of the conversation will be quiet, because they are not working in the bull pen, they actually have an office! They will likely want to talk to you for a while and have an actual conversation. They will want to determine if you are an all around good candidate, not just a good keyword match.

If you are presented to an employer by one of these trusted recruiters, you are going to be going into that interview with a lot of credibility already on your side. Plus you already know you are one of just a few folks that are going to be interviewed, because that is what the employer is paying for – to not have to do hundreds of .

So in the end, a good recruiter is someone you want to be in contact with, no matter if you are an employer or a job seeker. A bad recruiter on the other hand can waste a lot of your time and also actually hurt your chances of finding a job or filling your position.