What Is a Recruiter and How Do They Get Paid?

Recruiters can provide valuable insights into the hiring process and help candidates prepare for interviews.
Cara Smith
By Cara Smith 
Updated
Edited by Taryn Phaneuf

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Recruiters connect individuals with job openings that match their skills and experience.

Recruiters typically specialize in an industry or position, says Johnny Roccia, director of career services at Ama La Vida, a career and life coaching firm. For example, a recruiter might work exclusively in finance or with software salespeople.

While recruiters are mostly associated with white-collar industries, they also work with trade industries, filling positions for mechanics, electricians, carpenters and more.

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In this article, we’ll break down the different kinds of recruiters, how recruiters are paid and how candidates can find a recruiter to work with in their job search efforts.

What is a recruiter?

Recruiters place qualified candidates in open jobs.

Within their specialty, recruiters are experts on typical job interview questions and sought-after skills. They can provide candidates with valuable insights into a position’s interview process and help candidates highlight specific qualifications employers value.

There are two main kinds of recruiters: agency recruiters and corporate recruiters.

Agency recruiters, sometimes called external recruiters, work for recruiting firms that are hired by a company and tasked with filling that company’s open positions. They're frequently juggling multiple corporate clients and tend to specialize in a specific industry.

Agency recruiters also work with individuals and help place them in open positions.

Corporate recruiters, or internal recruiters, work at a company and fill open roles at that company. A corporate recruiter at Bank of America, for example, works to fill positions at Bank of America.

What do recruiters do?

Think of a recruiter as a “giant networking job,” says Michael Steinitz, a senior executive director at Robert Half, a human resources consulting firm. Good recruiters are plugged into their speciality, have close relationships with companies and professionals and attend industry events.

They also spend time on LinkedIn, looking for qualified candidates who may be a good fit for positions they’re trying to fill, Roccia says.

To maintain a good relationship with their client companies, recruiters want to find candidates who really want the job and won’t leave the position shortly after starting, says Lisa Severy, a career advisor at University of Phoenix. That means recruiters are motivated to place candidates in jobs that match their career goals.

“Their best outcome is not just a placement, but a good placement, Severy says.

To do that, recruiters rely on candidates being honest and transparent about their goals and priorities during a phone screen interview or similar introductory call. So, if a candidate is only interested in remote roles or positions that include travel opportunities, they should tell the recruiter.

How do recruiters get paid?

When a company hires an external recruiter’s candidate, the company pays the recruiter a percentage of the candidate’s salary, typically between 20% and 30%, says Steinitz, who has more than 20 years’ experience in external recruiting.

Recruiters’ fees might seem like a major additional cost for a company, but budgeting for those fees is a standard part of a company’s financial planning, Steinitz says. Recruiters typically work with sought-after individuals with strong qualifications, so paying a recruiter’s fee, on top of a competitive salary, is worth the long-term benefits the company hopes to gain from the candidate.

That means companies won’t offer candidates lower salaries, or pass over someone using a recruiter just to save money during the hiring process, Steinitz says.

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Ways to reach out to a recruiter

Experts recommend job searchers reach out to a recruiter on LinkedIn. Most working professionals should have a LinkedIn profile, in large part because of how many recruiters use it to find candidates.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, make one, and follow these tips to make your page stand out.

If you don’t want to use LinkedIn, search online for recruiting agencies that specialize in your industry or profession. It may be harder to find a recruiter’s contact information there, though. You also could look through job listings and see if a recruiters’ contact information is included in any relevant postings.