Simply seen, recruiters often appear to be like the "village match-maker", trying to pair up a candidate seeking a job with a firm looking for the job-seeker's talent. So who do recruiters work for? If they are being honest they'll admit that they are working for the hiring firm, not the candidate. After all, who's signing the check?
Having said that, recruiters are only paid for brokering deals mutually acceptable to both parties. Because this is the case, a recruiter's motivation can become the occasion for good fortune among the candidates he represents. Recruiters can do wonders to expedite and streamline the interviewing process and can be better at holding the hiring firm to the best compensation; an individual interviewing himself/herself often has an "I better take what they offer me" attitude.
The way this works best is if the recruiter works with the candidate as a coach rather than a mere broker. A recruiter who sees his business as primarily a brokerage often won't even tell a candidate when the client is no longer considering him/her for the position. As one of my candidates told me "Usually the phone just goes dead," and at that point he assumed he was no longer in the running. An even more common concern is when a so-called recruiter just takes a whole stack of resumes, sometimes ten or twenty, and just throws them all at the hiring firm. Then the HR person or department head has to spend a week going through each resume until information overload sets in. Or, more likely, he stares at the scary pile for several seconds and decides to leave work early that day.
The coach model is more successful for everyone involved. When the recruiter acts as a coach, he looks at the candidate in his/her entirety as a person and decides if they are a good fit for a position. He will ask questions to learn as much as he can about the candidate's professional skills and experience: how much have you used this skill? when is the last time you worked on this system? The recruiter will also ask about certain pertinent aspects of his/her personal life: how much traveling are you willing to do? are you willing to relocate? does this position fit your career path? etc. If they are not a good fit, the recruiter will tell him or her up-front rather than just trying the spaghetti method -- "throw 'em up and see if they stick." If the candidate is viably skilled, his or her contact information will be kept on file.
In my experience, not only is this method of recruiting necessary for basic human decency (we shouldn't treat persons as object to be sold, like crates of turnips), but aids in long-term business success. Around 75% of my placements have been on "second attempts"; when presented with a position to be filled I remembered someone who had the credentials needed to do the job. If I hadn't had real conversations about skills, experience and career issues with the candidate, I probably wouldn't have even recalled the candidate's existence.
I hope to post more about these philosophical questions about the recruiting practice in the future. Stay tuned. And feel free to comment.