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7 Things to Know When Working With an Agency Recruiter

Written By Rachelle Enns on February 17th, 2021

In this guide, Mock Questions discusses an Agency Recruiter's goals and purpose and how you can best work with them in your job search. We uncover a few myths of working with recruiters and break down the best way to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. We also provide a few interview questions and tactics to prepare you for a screening interview with an Agency Recruiter.


Recruiters are talent specialists who help companies find top-notch candidates for available positions. Recruiters play an essential part in placing the right person into an open job.

There are different recruiters, including Internal Recruiters, Agency Recruiters, Permanent Recruiters, Temporary Placement Recruiters, Executive Recruiters, and even Headhunters.


An Internal Recruiter (also called a Corporate Recruiter) works inside the hiring company as a regularly paid employee. They recruit for a range of positions for their direct employer only. Internal Recruiters usually have a background and education in Human Resources.

An Agency Recruiter is a third-party professional who works on contract for the hiring company. An Agency Recruiter works for a recruitment agency that has been engaged by a hiring company to find talented candidates for one or multiple open positions.

Agency Recruiters are usually paid by their client (the hiring company) on a commission basis. This structure means that an Agency Recruiter earns payment only after the candidate they found signs the job offer, and a successful match is made.

Some recruitment agencies will charge a retainer fee, similar to a lawyer’s fee structure, to ensure that the hiring company is genuinely committed to the talent acquisition project.


There are many subtleties and untold rules of working with an Agency Recruiter. For instance, they really want you to land the job with their client, but at the same time, they are primarily devoted to the hiring company.

Recruiters work in a highly competitive, relationship-based field. The stronger their connection with you, the job seeker, the better they can represent you. At the same time, they don’t want you calling them every day asking for updates on their clients’ decision making progress. Great recruiters field hundreds of calls and emails every day.

Suppose you have applied for a job advertised by a recruitment firm. Or, mauve you received a call from an Agency Recruiter interested in discussing their clients’ position. In that case, it's essential to understand how they operate. You should understand what a recruiters' priorities are and how you can collaborate with them in a mutually beneficial way.


An Agency Recruiter's priority will always be the side that pays them - the hiring company. The hiring company is the recruiters' client, not the candidate. This misperception is common, but there is a crucial distinction.

For example, let's say a recruitment agency is contracted by Pfizer to find the best candidate for a Senior Scientist position. You are a Senior Scientist, so you apply to the agency's job posting. The job posting is informative, yet it doesn’t mention the hiring company by name. See - the Agency Recruiter is the gatekeeper of their clients' information. They will only reveal certain information once they are sure you are a suitable candidate for Pfizer’s Senior Scientist position. This approach protects Pfizer’s busy internal HR team from entertaining thousands of applicants. This agreement between Pfizer and the recruitment agency states that the agency will submit only the best pre-screened candidates for review.

Since the client is the Agency Recruiters’ priority, the candidate will receive information about the role and updates on the hiring process only as the project moves forward between the recruiter and their client.

What to typically expect after applying to a recruitment agency:

  • If you apply to the agency's job posting and are not a precise match, you will likely not hear back from the recruitment firm. Remember those endless weekly calls and emails I mentioned earlier? A busy recruiter cannot reach out to every applicant (sometimes thousands) to give a status update. However, some of the worlds' best recruitment firms will have email auto-replies set up as a courtesy.

  • If you apply to the agency's job posting and your resume looks like a good match for their client, the recruiter will call you for a pre-screen interview. There will be a few steps to pass with the agency before you are introduced to their client.

  • If you receive a call from a recruiter for a job you did not apply to, they likely found your LinkedIn profile. After an initial pre-screening phone call with the recruiter, you should be told up front and pretty quickly if you are not a match for their clients' role.

  • If you receive a call from a recruiter for a job you applied to, and sound like a good match for their client, they will move you into the interview process. There will be a few steps to pass with the agency before you are introduced to their client.


There are a few reasons why Agency Recruiters work at such a fast pace.

A couple of considerations:

  • Their open jobs are often non-exclusive. This means that their client has engaged multiple recruitment agencies to fill their open position. May the fastest recruiter win!

  • Their client has an urgent need, and they are working on a tight deadline. When a critical position is left open for too long, a company suffers. The Agency Recruiter may be tasked to find a list of suitable pre-screened candidates in as little as 24 hours.

Knowing that an Agency Recruiter is usually under a critical deadline, you can see why your responses must be lightning-fast if you are contacted by a recruiter.

If you receive an email or voicemail from a recruiter interested in speaking about your background, get back to them within a few hours. If you wait longer than a business day, you could miss the opportunity to be considered.

Agency Recruiters work very fast; however, there is also a lot of 'hurry up and wait' in their world. The recruiter may have interviewed and short-listed you quickly. Still, now they have to wait for their client to get back to them before moving ahead with your client-facing interview.

Be fast in your responses while showing patience when waiting for follow-up information. Behind the scenes, you can be assured that the recruiter is nudging their client to move forward quickly (it is their paycheck, after all!). However, once the project reaches a particular stage, the recruiter can only move as fast as their client allows.


When an Agency Recruiter is ready to introduce you to their client, you must be packaged and polished. You represent not only yourself but also the recruiter. This fact means that the recruitment agency is trusting you to put your best foot forward every step of the way.

A few ways you can achieve professional polish:

  • Have a well-written and up-to-date LinkedIn profile.

  • Set your personal social media accounts to private.

  • Have an up-to-date and professional resume/cover letter ready.

  • Start practicing for your interview ahead of time.

  • Invest at least one hour of your time researching the hiring company.

  • Take at least one hour of your time to study the job description.

  • Attend every interview (phone, video, and in-person) with a refined appearance and an appropriate outfit.


An Agency Recruiter's goal is to send well-vetted candidates to their clients. Candidates must check all of the boxes from their clients' list of skills, qualities, and more. The most efficient way for a recruiter to collect this knowledge is to ask very direct discovery questions when speaking with a candidate.

These questions may include:

  • Why are you looking to leave your current position?

  • How soon could you start?

  • How many years of experience do you have in your field?

  • What are your salary expectations?

  • Are you open to relocation? What would you need to relocate?

  • Can you identify any skills required for this role that you are missing?

  • Describe an average day/week in your current role.

  • What challenges are you looking for in your next opportunity?

  • Are you willing to travel? To what extent?

  • Are you actively interviewing with other companies?

  • Are you close to an offer stage with any other companies?

For a list of 30 potential pre-screen interview questions with answer advice and example responses, check out this Telephone Interview Q&A set from Mock Questions.


Since an Agency Recruiter needs to work fast and present the best possible short-list to their client, your match to the job description needs to be distinct.
A recruiter will not spend a lot of time reading your resume. They have no intention to spend precious time digging into your application for the necessary details. Stand-out details of you and your background need to be hyper-obvious in your application.

To help your recruiter make the connection:

  • Ensure that your resume uses the same keywords and terms that the recruitment agency outlines in the job posting.

  • Outline your cover letter in an easy-to-scan format with essential skills clearly pointed out. You can strategically use bold text to achieve this, but be careful of overdoing it.

  • Have a LinkedIn profile that is clear and adequately keyworded. LinkedIn allows you to list up to 50 skills on your profile. Ensure that you have used all 50 spots in the most efficient way possible.

  • Give direct and honest answers in your interview. Candidates who are vague or elusive will not be chased by a recruiter.

  • Offer forthcoming answers regarding your salary, compensation needs, willingness to relocate, and travel.

The Agency Recruiter needs to be 100% comfortable with your background and know that you will fit their clients' culture, values, and goals. Their professional reputation and paycheck depend on this match being BANG ON.


When conversing with an Agency Recruiter, aim to be direct and transparent in every interaction. Many candidates are tempted to respond to questions in an elusive way, 'saving' the meat of their responses for the actual hiring company. This approach won't get you far with a recruiter!

An Agency Recruiter is hired to find suitable candidates for their client, after all. They are a representative of the hiring company! Any red flags from a candidate will result in a firm toss to the rejection pile.

A common conversation between recruiters and candidates:

RECRUITER: “What are your salary expectations?”

CANDIDATE: “I am not comfortable talking about my salary with a recruiter. I’d rather discuss this with the hiring company directly.”

NOTE: With this type of response, the recruiter is placed in a situation where they cannot move forward with your application. They don’t even know if their client has the budget to hire you.

ALTERNATE RESPONSE: “We can certainly dive into the details of the compensation package further into the interview process. I’d like to have the chance to research this role and the market before providing an exact response regarding my compensation needs. For now, I can estimate that my base salary ask is between $X and $X.”

TIP: Make sure that the lower figure in your range is what you actually want to earn, not your bare minimum.

LEGALITIES: In many regions, it is unlawful for a recruiter or hiring manager to ask you for specifications of your current compensation plan.

It is prohibited in many regions for a recruiter to demand evidence of your current earnings in the form of a paystub or signed employment contract.

By no means are you under any obligation to disclose confidential or sensitive information to a recruiter. However, you should be willing to provide them with the foundation they need to move you forward in the process.


Recruiters have droves of conversations with job seekers every week. The number of calls and emails they field and the sheer amount of interviews they conduct make them experts in noting areas for improvement and providing helpful feedback.

Consider asking questions such as:

  • May I ask for specific feedback regarding my interview performance?

  • How can I improve my resume and cover letter?

  • Does my LinkedIn profile offer a clear picture of my background?

  • Is there anything in my application that I can clarify?

  • Can you provide me with suggestions to improve my chance of success with your client?

After you converse with a recruiter, it’s a wise move to ask them for their thoughts on your performance. Be as specific as possible when asking for feedback, ensuring you narrow in on the most critical areas for improvement.


It's normal to feel a bit confused when first working with an Agency Recruiter. They are third-party sources acting on behalf of the hiring company. For that reason, it's normal for the hiring process to seem more cumbersome than working directly with a hiring manager.

The more you understand a recruiter's focus and priorities, the better your communication and overall candidate experience will be.

Need more help preparing for an upcoming recruiter interview? MockQuestions offers private interview coaching to all of our members.