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What does a recruitment consultant do and should you speak to one?

Often when people are thinking about their next move, one of the first things they consider doing is signing up with a few recruitment agencies.  They may also consider having a confidential discussion with their HR manager about openings elsewhere with their current employer and ways in which they’d like to develop professionally. 

Are these the right people to speak to?  That depends on what you’re trying to do.  If you’re clear on what you want your next move to be, then speaking to a recruitment or HR consultant makes a lot of sense. If you’re not clear, then you’d do better to speak to a career consultant. 

Here’s why…

What does a recruitment consultant do?

The recruitment consultant’s raison d’être is to help businesses and organisations fill vacancies.  They match suitable candidates to jobs and earn commission from the employer through doing that. 

What happens when you sign up with a recruitment agency?

The recruitment consultant will want to hear why it is you’re now looking for a new role. They’ll discuss with you what sort of work you’re interested in doing, and they’ll want to go through your CV with you to understand more about your previous experiences, your knowledge, interests, skills, abilities and qualifications. They will also want to know about your career aspirations – what you’re aiming for in the longer-term and what you see as a desirable role now for where you’re trying to get to.

Why do they do this?

The reason they do this is because they have been employed by a business or organisation to identify suitable candidates for a role that the business or organisation is seeking to fill.  

So they have to screen people (like you) that turn up in the agency to ensure that they’re the right sort of potential candidates for the sorts of roles that the agency is tasked with filling.

Whose side are they on?

The crucial point to note is that the recruitment consultant is paid by the client, i.e. the business or organisation.  Their allegiance is to the business or organisation, not you. 

So what do you get out of the relationship?

Because the commercial sustainability of the recruitment consultancy depends upon them matching enough candidates to jobs (and getting paid for doing that), it is in their interests to ensure that the candidates that they do present to their client businesses or organisations are well-matched and showcase their abilities and expertise effectively on their CVs and in interview. 

This means that the recruitment consultant will advise and guide you on:

  • how to spruce up your CV and cover letter 
  • how to approach an interview and give of your best

They’ll also discuss with you what did or didn’t go well in any interviews you go to so that you can refine your approach next time (with a view to them successfully placing you and getting their commission).

What else do you get from the relationship?

The recruitment consultant will be able provide you with valuable labour market information (LMI for short). 

This is because most agencies specialise in particular sectors and therefore have detailed understanding of the nature of the work that those sectors undertake, as well as up to date information on skills shortages in those areas, and types and numbers of jobs currently available.

And, of course, they make sure you hear about suitable openings. They will have you (and all the other candidates in their caseload) in mind so that when a client business or organisation approaches them with a vacancy to fill, the consultant can scan through their list and pick out the people who might be most suitable.  When a potential job match comes up, they’ll contact you.

So, does this mean that a recruitment consultant should be your first port of call when you’re looking for a new job? 

If you’re sure that a change of job is needed and you know what sort of role you want to move onto and in which sector, and you are clear about what you have to offer in terms of expertise, and the ways in which you want to develop through taking on a new role, then yes, a recruitment consultant or headhunter is a sensible next step.

Your working relationship with the recruiter will be much more productive if you have this self-awareness and clarity of purpose. 

If you haven’t got these, then you need to speak to a career consultant first, get that self-awareness and clarity, and then sign up with the recruitment agencies.  

Ok, so what does a career consultant do?!

The raison d’être of a career consultant (aka career coach, career counsellor, careers advisor, career practitioner, career guidance professional etc. ) is to provide support, guidance, information, and advice to help you understand yourself better with a view to making more informed decisions about what do next in your career.  

In financial terms, this is how career consultants make their money. You pay them. You’re the client. 

In contrast, you don’t pay a recruitment consultant. The business or organisation that is seeking to fill a vacancy pays them.

This means that the recruitment consultant’s allegiance is to the business or organisation whereas the career consultant’s allegiance is to you. They are impartial and have your best interests at heart.

Who do you need to speak to and when?

The bottom line is this:

  • speak to a recruitment consultant when you know what you’re looking for
  • if you’re not clear on what you’re looking for, speak to a career consultant

A note about HR consultants/managers

An HR consultant’s raison d’être can be broad or narrow in scope. Some HR Managers/Consultants specialise in helping businesses and organisations manage their ‘talent pipeline’ so that they have people with the right expertise to do the sort of work in which the business or organisation is engaged. 

If you’re happy in the organisation where you currently work, but feel it’s time to move up or sideways into a new role, it may be helpful to speak to the HR manager in charge of talent management if they exist in the organisation. 

Having said that, it may be worth speaking first to a career consultant to have a confidential discussion about what changes you feel are needed in your work and where you think you might be heading in your career.  This is because the conversation you have with the HR manager/consultant will be more constructive if you know in advance what it is you want to offer and why. You can help the HR manager to help you if you present them with a well-thought out and positive rationale for seeking a new role in the organisation. 

I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you’d like find out more about career coaching, get in touch to request my free brochure ‘How to Choose a Career Coach’. This includes all the information you need in order to find the right coach for you, including links to professional registers in the UK, USA and Australia which list people with the right qualifications to help.



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