How to identify the best financial services recruiters

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Despite many a vocal complaint from candidates, there are plenty of professional, ethical and helpful agency recruiters who specialize in financial services. After spending four years as a recruiter myself, it became obvious that headhunters who employ sketchy tactics and cut corners won’t be long for the business. It’s just not possible to book sustainable revenues as a recruiter without developing long-lasting relationships with both clients and candidates. Random one-off deals don't pay the bills. 

So how do you distinguish the best from the rest? There are several things to look for and ask of recruiters before you truly get started.

Find recruiters with strong client relationships

Typically, firms tend to utilize outside recruiters when they have a niche opening or one that has proven hard to fill. That said, headhunters with strong, years-long relationships with clients can do a bit of pushing if they feel you have great soft skills that accompany a B-rated match on paper. They may also be able to press a hiring manager to talk to you about a job that isn’t technically open. If a recruiter can tell a client: “you have to meet this person,” and an interview ensues, that’s someone you want to work with.

Ask how long they have been working with a particular client and how many placements they’ve made within the firm. If they’re just sending your resume to generic HR inboxes, find yourself another recruiter. In fact, being represented by someone with no real relationship with a firm or hiring manager can actually be worse than sending your resume in yourself. You’re not being backed by anyone with leverage and you’ve got a price tag – the recruiter’s fee – attached to your candidacy.

“My simple advice is always ask who the client is and ask in detail about what they do, as many recruiters don’t even have terms,” said one securities headhunter who asked to remain anonymous.

Find someone willing to sit down with you

Bad recruiters throw a thousand resumes at the wall and hope one sticks. Great recruiters invest in a smaller number of people who have promise, even if they don’t have the perfect role available on day one. Look for recruiters who are willing to sit down and meet you in person to understand what you’re looking for and what you’re hoping to avoid. While a meeting isn’t always possible, you never want to feel like the relationship is purely transactional.

Work with recruiters who always get your consent

There’s one industry trend that has been around for some time but has been picking up steam over the last couple years, we’re told. Some recruiters will submit a resume to a company without ever getting permission from the candidate or even talking to them about the job, according to several banking headhunters. The idea is to use a strong resume to get in bed with a company with which they don’t have a relationship, showing potential clients the type of candidates they can deliver.

This type of move can injure your reputation in the market and could kill your candidacy if your resume has been submitted through another recruiter at your behest. One investment firm told eFinancialCareers that they won’t consider a candidate who has been submitted twice as they don’t want to get in the middle of a commission war.

Look for hints of brutal honesty

One of the more common frustrations candidates have with recruiters is the feeling that they are blowing smoke. That they said they sent in your resume when they didn’t, that they promised results knowing the chances were slim and that they’ll get back to you with feedback when they likely don’t plan to – or at least that’s the feeling some candidates are left with, whether accurate or not. 

The easiest way to avoid these pitfalls is by identifying signs of honesty early in the process. The best recruiters are the ones who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. That you aren’t a fit for the job, that the interview went poorly, that your resume needs work etc.

Give the edge to recruiters who specialize or have worked in financial services themselves

Unlike in some other industries, there are loads of recruiters who cover banks or hedge funds who have previously worked for one at some point in their career. These people should have tighter relationships with clients and a better understanding of what the job requires. The same thing can often be said about firms or individual recruiters that specialize in covering one business line rather than those who work across financial services generally.

But perhaps the best piece of advice is the simplest: talk with your network and pick out a select few recruiters who come highly recommended. 

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