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Anyone who has ever made a career change or been in the job market has either contacted or considered contacting a headhunter to help them in their job search. The most important thing to understand about headhunters is that there is a broad spectrum of agencies offering a variety of services. Some can be very useful, others not so much.

When you consider a particular HR agency or headhunter, the most helpful piece of information you can find out is how the agency gets paid. Who pays them and when may have a large impact on how hard they work for you. In most cases the company who does the hiring is the one that pays for the service, but there are different ways this is done.

Some HR agencies who work to fill a company’s job openings are paid regardless of whether a position they are attempting to fill is filled or not. Other agencies are only paid when the position is filled. Most headhunters work one way or the other, a few do it both ways depending on a client’s preferences.

If this is your first career change, understanding the ins and outs of headhunters can be confusing. To begin with these companies go by a variety of names that include headhunter, HR firm, recruiter, executive search firm, and the like. While they all offer more or less the same end result, the way each company approaches their clients and career counseling varies from firm to firm.

When trying to choose an agency it is helpful to determine exactly how each agency works by asking as many questions as possible. The most important thing to know is that you do not have to lay out any money yourself and most will not expect you to. Money changes hands only between the agency and the hiring company. There was a time when the fee was paid by the employee for low end jobs in particular. This is rarely done now except by temporary agencies which operate differently.

If you are seeking career advice, you may have better results contacting a career counselor whose only job is to evaluate your skills and abilities. But when you are working with a headhunter always remember not to let anyone “sell” you on a job. Remember, if you are working with an agency that only gets paid when they fill the job, they will want you to take the job whether it is right for you or not. Let them work for you and arrange contacts and interviews but make sure it is the right career change move for you.

Keep in touch with your recruiter should you decide to work with one. Keep them on their toes and your name at the top of their list.

Hiring agencies work primarily with people who are interested in management and salaried positions. Part time and hourly employment is not their expertise. That is better found through an agency that specializes in temporary employment.

When beginning a career change search using an HR agency, take plenty of time to learn how the agency operates. Make sure you understand what they will do for you, how they are paid, and what you can expect. It is perfectly fine to work with more than one agency and may be the preferred route to take in your job search. Each agency has its own unique clients.

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