Expert job search advice.

The Role of the Agency Recruiter: A Curated Career Conversation

Did you know there are FOUR different types of recruiters? Many job seekers are unaware of four types of recruiters: internal corporate recruiters, executive search recruiters, agency recruiters, and staffing recruiters. Each type of recruiter is compensated differently, either through salary, a retainer, or a fee for placement. I am excited to share my conversation with Ben Sheffield about the role of the agency recruiter – a recruiter who works with various companies and often specializes in specific industries.

Ben shares what makes agency recruiters different from other types of recruiters, and how job seekers can leverage their relationships with recruiters to make the most of their job search. Let’s get started…

What is an Agency Recruiter?

Sarah Johnston (SJ): What is the role of the agency recruiter?

Ben Sheffield (Ben): On a daily basis, my main goal is twofold. I want to help companies find the right candidates for their needs, whether it’s a Java developer, a lead data analyst, or any other important role. However, I also understand the importance of helping individuals find jobs or improve their careers. So, my role involves serving both clients and individuals. If I can successfully fulfill both aspects as I want to, then I’ve done my job.

My role involves serving both clients and individuals.

Ben Sheffield

It’s important to note that our approach differs from that of internal recruiters or talent acquisition professionals. Companies pay us to help them find suitable candidates. However, my objective is to assist individuals just as much as I do to corporations.

How are Agency Recruiters Compensated?

SJ:  When considering agency recruitment, job seekers must understand that the job seeker does not pay agency recruiters. Instead, you work on behalf of companies. Can you help job seekers clearly understand how agency recruiters are compensated?

Ben: Individuals do not pay me to find opportunities for them. It ultimately depends on the organizations that compensate us to search for suitable candidates to fill their open positions.

Firms pay us in different ways, such as a draw versus commission scale or a salary with a commission structure. Some firms pay a living wage salary with an escalated commission structure, while others pay a high salary with bonuses based on targets. My job is never to take money from job seekers, as companies are the ones paying for my services.

Are Recruiters Ghosting Candidates?

SJ: I often hear job seekers say that a recruiter ghosted them. Ghosting is a real problem. Candidate ghosting is a term used to describe when a recruiter stops communicating with a job seeker during the hiring process after conducting an interview or multiple rounds of interviews without providing an explanation.

I’ve noticed that a lot of job seekers are unclear about what “ghosting” really means. Just applying for a job and not hearing back isn’t being ghosted in my book. True ghosting is when you’re actively engaged in the hiring process, waiting for a response to an offer, and suddenly all communication stops dead. That’s a clear case of being ghosted, and I believe it’s unacceptable.

However, sometimes people misinterpret a recruiter’s pause as ghosting. It’s important to understand that recruiters work differently and may not contact you immediately. So, don’t assume you’ve been ghosted if you don’t hear back immediately. It’s just part of the process. Remember, recruiters have many candidates to consider and may not have a job that matches your skills right now. Just be patient and keep looking for opportunities.

Ben: I agree. I will tell you, from my standpoint, that I hate that ghosting practice. I know that it exists pretty rampant in my field. That’s one thing I will always strive never to do to a candidate. If you have someone in an interview process, especially if it’s gone beyond the initial discovery phase, that individual deserves the respect of receiving a response, even if it’s a no. I try to give a response every time. I’m not always perfect at it. I’m a human with a busy desk. However, I think that candidates need that courtesy, even just to say, hey, yeah, nothing on the board right now, but I’ll keep you in mind if anything emerges. We’re in the relationship business.

The key takeaway for job seekers is to remember that agency recruiters are working to fill certain positions and will keep you in mind. They are not working for you as the job seeker, and they’ll only reach out to you if they have an opportunity or need that is a match.

Sarah Johnston

SJ: Recruiters are busy, and the talent space is noisier than ever. So, if you’re job hunting and a recruiter tells you, “We’ll keep you in mind for future opportunities,” how can you tell if they’re genuine? And how often is it okay to follow up with them?

Ben: I’ll address the second question first. When it comes to the appropriate number of times to follow up, I usually suggest that people reach out to me after a week or so, especially if I have them in mind for an opportunity. However, as you mentioned, I’ve already presented an opportunity to them. It’s a busy desk, right? We’re juggling many balls in the air as we go through our day-to-day tasks, and sometimes, it’s unintentional if I don’t get back to someone promptly. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you could give me a respectful amount of time to respond.

If [a recruiter has] explicitly told you that they will keep you in mind, much of that will be proven over time.

Ben Sheffield

As for determining whether a recruiter’s “keep you in mind for future opportunities” statement is genuine, I firmly believe that time will reveal the truth to some extent. If you don’t hear back from the recruiter, it’s likely on their end. If they have explicitly told you that they will keep you in mind, much of that will be proven over time. I always recommend staying in contact with me as much as you would like me to stay in contact with you. It may make my desk a bit busier, but it helps build, maintain, and strengthen our relationship.

I’m also the type of recruiter who will be honest and transparent. If we’ve been in touch for about three or four months and I haven’t found anything for you yet, I will let you know that this might not be the best relationship for you for whatever reason. It’s important to be open and transparent from my side as well. So, yes, I place the responsibility of maintaining that relationship and keeping in touch with both the job seeker and the recruiter.

when working with an agency recruiter be politely persistent.

Connecting with an Agency Recruiter Online

SJ: Let’s say a job seeker finds a recruiter online who specializes in your field. What is the right way to approach the recruiter?

Ben: The right way for a job seeker to approach a recruiter they find online who specializes in their field is to send them a direct, professional connection request on LinkedIn stating who you are and your needs. It is important to be concise about your background and what you’re looking for in your first message. I also suggest doing some research on the recruiter first so you can demonstrate that you know about them as well. Being transparent about your situation and needs upfront will help the recruiter understand how they can help you.


Subject: Exploring New Opportunities: Experienced IT Leader

Dear [Recruiter’s Name],

I hope this email finds you well. After eight successful years leading IT transformations and security operations at CloudFare, I’m now confidentially considering my next move.

Your expertise in executive search could help me explore potential opportunities that align with my background and goals. Would you be willing to schedule a brief 15-minute introductory meeting? I’m eager to share more about my experience and aspirations.

Looking forward to your response.

Best regards,

SJ: If an agency recruiter gets on the phone with you as a candidate, does this mean they are interviewing you or interested in you for a SPECIFIC opportunity?

While they may have a role in mind, recruiters are also evaluating candidates for future potential fits.

Ben Sheffield

Ben: A phone call from an agency recruiter could mean they are interviewing you for a specific opportunity they are actively recruiting for at that time. However, it’s an opportunity for the recruiter to assess if you would be a good fit to represent their firm. So, while they may have a role in mind, recruiters are also evaluating candidates for future potential fits. I recommend that job seekers assess the recruiter’s transparency, professionalism, and mindset during the call to understand if it’s genuinely for a specific current role or a more exploratory conversation.

Is Double Dipping (Applying) Okay?

SJ: If you– job seeker– learn about a role from an agency recruiter and then see the same job posted on a company website, are you allowed to apply?

Ben: That’s a very common question in the industry, one that I often encounter myself. Let me be transparent and share my perspective. My hope is that the candidate will trust me enough to effectively represent them for that opportunity and work with me throughout the process. However, there are certain scenarios in my line of work where if someone applies for a role directly with an organization, even after speaking with us, it can jeopardize my ability to represent that individual.

My hope is that the candidate will trust me enough to effectively represent them for that opportunity and work with me throughout the process.

Ben Sheffield

Now, looking at it from the candidate’s point of view, which I always try to consider, if you haven’t heard back within a month or so, the job is still open, and the recruiter isn’t reaching out; it may be a decision call. However, in my experience, it doesn’t usually drag on for that long.

I should also mention something called a “double middle” in my line of work. While it doesn’t apply universally and can vary from opportunity to opportunity and company to company, it can be detrimental for a candidate to go through a recruiter and apply directly to the job. Although it’s not as common these days, it still happens occasionally.

SJ: I’ve certainly heard of scammy phishing strategies where an agency posts fake jobs to generate candidate interest.  Then, once they get a strong candidate, they present a blind resume of the candidate to a hiring manager in order to gain the business of the company hiring.  Once the business is gained, they repost the opportunity to gain more candidates.  How can job seekers know if the agency has the authority to post the position AND if it’s even a real job?

Ben: Unfortunately, that practice is quite common in my industry. However, I want to clarify that neither I nor my firm engage in such practices. Now, I must admit that this is a challenging question to answer. At the end of the day, a firm will always present an opportunity, providing all the details. But from a candidate’s perspective, it’s not easy to determine with certainty whether it’s a good fit. Based on my experience, it comes down to building trust and relying on your instincts.

I think it’s important for candidates to develop a sense of who they can trust with their information and time and refine that over time. While this practice does exist, it’s not as prevalent as it used to be in the early days of recruitment. The competitive nature of the field has led to the exposure of bad agencies, while the good ones have risen to the top.

I must be honest and say I don’t have a foolproof solution, apart from advising you to be cautious if an opportunity doesn’t align with your expectations. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there’s a way for job seekers to determine if a job is being presented differently on a website than intended by the company. I wish I had all the answers, but this is one of those situations where relying on your instincts over time is crucial.

About Ben

Benjamin Sheffield comes to today’s conversation with ten years of hands-on recruitment experience, most of it spent in the agency recruitment space (outside of a yearlong detour running a Management Consulting Talent Acquisition practice in the northeastern United States), and is currently a National Technical Recruiter for SNI Technology, focusing on a wide spectrum of skillsets in this space, including Software Development, Infrastructure, Information Management/Data Analysis, and Cybersecurity opportunities, among others.

The bulk of his individual work currently is found in the mid-to-senior level IT recruitment space, but he has a wide network of individuals that can help not only across the Information Technology space but through a variety of other access points with SNI’s parent, GEE Group (, he can make introductions across all industries his organization serves.  (GEE Group offers a variety of services to folks in a myriad of industries, from providing professional services and solutions in the information technology, engineering, finance and accounting specialties and commercial staffing services to serving the healthcare and legal realms.)

He is often participating on (panel discussions both in the Atlanta area and virtually), discussing topics related to employment and recruiting.

Further, he’s an Executive Leadership Council Board Member for Autism Speaks, serving the city of Atlanta and other markets across the southeastern United States in growing awareness, providing resources, and expanding outreach between the global business community and individuals on the spectrum.  Autism Spectrum Disorder holds a very near and dear to Ben’s heart, as he and his wife are the parents to a handsome little man on the spectrum.  He’s readily available for any conversations related to the ASD space as he is in the recruitment arena.

In addition to his hands-on recruitment efforts, he hosts a monthly webinar for layoff-impacted individuals, where he guides global audiences through a variety of industry-related tips at various points of re-engaging the job market. During this webinar, Ben, along with a long-time colleague and mentor, dedicates an hour each month to guiding people through transitioning from being laid off to securing another opportunity. It is worth a listen!

If you are interested in learning more, Ben invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.



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