When a manager needs someone with special skills she can place an ad on a job board. Job boards are great.
But if those skills are in high demand, most of the people she is after will not be checking job boards -- because they are already employed.
The job might pay well and offer a great potential for advancement but the right people won't hear about it unless someone calls and tells them. And that's what a third party, external, agency recruiter does.
The manager tells the recruiter what she needs; he researches the companies that would have people with those skills; he finds out who they are and he calls them.
When the recruiter finds someone who looks good and is interested, he interviews them. He finds out what they've done and what they can do and what they like and what they want. Then, he makes a report to his client.
If the hiring manager agrees that the candidate looks good, they set up an interview. Then, the recruiter manages the relationship between the candidate and company through to the offer.
Selling The Job and The Candidate
Of course, sometimes, people express no interest in a job even if it would be a good move for them. That's where sales skills come in. Some recruiters are very good at making a case for taking a look at something that is really worthwhile.
Sometimes, a hiring manager needs a little prodding, too. Perhaps, she doesn't want to see someone the recruiter thinks is good until the recruiter persuades her that it's worthwhile.
I once had to beg a project manager to look at someone for a senior position whom he thought was too young. Once they met, however, he was completely sold. Unfortunately, the candidate decided to stay where he was even though the company offered him more than they had initially wanted to spend but my point is that he was worth talking to.
Now, some recruiters would say that I didn't do my job well because I brought in a candidate who wasn't pre-sold on the position but I disagree.
When you call someone who is already employed, out of the blue, and give her a sketch of a job, how can she make up her mind about it before she even speaks to the people she is going to work with and report to? No, the goal of the recruiter is to find the right people and get them to take a look at the position.
Mind you, some recruiters will say that handling the salary negotiations is also an essential part of their role and they will insist on doing so whenever possible.
They believe that, in this, they are the ones with the most expertise and they want to prevent the candidate and hiring manager from making unreasonable demands or walking away in a huff when they don't get what they want immediately.
Still, some companies and candidates want to handle compensation negotiations on their own and that's their right.
Feedback From The Field
There are other ways, as well, in which the recruiter can guide the client to do the right thing. Some companies don't want to pay enough to get the people they want. And, sometimes, they want someone with a combination of skills that is almost impossible to find.
The recruiter has to go out into the field and report back that the client's goals are wrong and have to be reset.
Advising Against Delay
Sometimes, the recruiter will struggle to find a good person who is willing to move but the client says "I want to see more people before I make a decision".
The recruiter has to warn the client, then, that while he's out looking for a needle a haystack, someone else might grab the candidate who has already been primed to make a change.
Many clients have habit of saying that they need to fill the job immediately or even yesterday but when it comes to setting up interviews or making a hiring decision they go AWOL and drag their feet while the candidate who, again, has been primed to make a move, is easy pickings for a recruiter working for another firm. So, of course, we warn them against that, too.
Many recruiters will insist that they screen candidates for culture. The candidate has to be a good fit for the company, they say, and they are adamant about that.
It might be true to some extent. The recruiter gets a feel for the candidate's personality and that can be important but, really, it is up to the hiring manager and her team to make decisions about a candidate's personality and work habits.
A recruiter focuses mainly on whether or not the candidate has the skills to do the job. Even then, the recruiter is really doing an initial screen. He rarely knows the job as well as the hiring manager or the other people on the team so it's their job to drill down and see what the candidate has to offer in terms of skills and technical ability.
That said, I suspect that the recruiter can usually pick a winner on his own but, ultimately, it's not up to him or her to make that call.