1) How exactly does a staffing firm work for me, the job-seeker?
With few exceptions, the staffing firm becomes your advocate and "represents you" - a relationship that starts whenever you apply for a job through an staffing firm listing and submit your resume. In most cases there is no fee to you as you are the applicant; employer is the client;. Your link is the headhunter or representative who contacts or helps you.
2) If there is no fee for me - then who pays the placement fee?
There is no fee for you - client pays the fee. Many staffing firms work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they don't get paid unless they successfully fill the open position by submitting the best candidate. There are also retained searches, meaning that the staffing firm gets paid no matter how long it takes to fill the job, and there is no other competing agency involved. If the client finds a candidate on their own, they must go through the staffing firm and the firm gets paid.
3) Is it wrong for me to submit my resume to multiple staffing firms?
No, it isn't wrong, but do limit yourself to a very few firms and let the staffing firm know that you have. When you submit your resume to an online service (i.e. Monster.com or CareerBuilder) you won't get a chance to set up an appointment and talk to a recruiter and let them know. If your resume fits the bill -- meaning of the keywords in your resume are picked up through the online services' algorithms and an employer finds you, then you'll get an email or a call from the prospective employer. Staffing Firms with real live recruiters would appreciate knowing you've submitted yourself elsewhere (you needn't go into detail that's your business) - and they would also like to know if you have submitted yourself for the position directly. If you have, they won't submit you or represent you for that job because it is duplication of your efforts.
4) What can a recruiting firm/staffing firm do for me that I can't do for myself?
A good staffing firm will get your resume and set up an interview to talk about your skills, your goals, and the job you are applying for. Resumes don't always do a candidate justice, and a good recruiter is almost like a job therapist - and will draw out of you information relevant to the position that you may not have thought to mention in your resume. A good recruiter knows a lot about the job you are applying for too, which can be helpful. Job descriptions are notoriously bland and don't really give you all of the useful inside scoop it would be useful to know before you actually interview. Recruiters also have jobs that aren't posted, and after talking with you may recommend you for something you didn't even know was out there.
5) I applied online to a recruiting firm and no one called me - what does that mean?
It can mean one of many things - you weren't qualified for the job you applied for and they didn't bother to let you know. Your resume wasn't received - if you didn't get a confirmation notice of some sort that might have happened. Email them and ask. It was received but they haven't gotten back to you yet - sometimes these things don't happen in "real time". Our advice? Don't be shy - write and ask!
6) I have an interview with a recruiter - do I have to do anything special to prepare?
The recruiter is your dress rehearsal for the interview with the employer - and remember too, the recruiter is the gate-keeper. The recruiter's job is to look you over, assess how accurately you represented yourself on your resume and to report back to the employer. Treat the interview with the recruiter seriously! Dress appropriately, bring a fresh copy of your resume, and be prepared to be interviewed - but also be prepared to do some interviewing yourself. You can ask the recruiter candid questions that you may not want to ask the prospective employer directly. Use this interview to get information and to sound out the recruiter about any and all aspects of the job. If you have heard bad things about the management, or if the company has a revolving door reputation, this is your chance to ask these type of questions. Don't pass up the opportunity!
7) I submitted my resume to a recruiter and now I need to do a lot of editing - what gives?
Recruiters know - and you should too- that your resume is your calling card! Its your sales tool. What you think you are telling a prospective employer about yourself may be a message that needs to be tweaked. We aren't talking about lying, we are talking about tailoring your resume to fit the job. As recruiters we so often get candidates who leave a lot of relevant experience off their resume because they forgot, or didn't think it was relevant. This is why the interview with the recruiter is so important.
A good recruiter will go over your resume with you line by line, and discuss thoroughly where you have been, what experience you picked up along the way, your interests and non-work experience- all of these factors are uncovered and discussed. Very often we send candidates back to work on their resume further. This is true for candidate regardless of their level. New graduates need to find ways to turn their lack of work experience into something positive and relevant for the job; candidates who have been with a single employer or who have been working away and suddenly find themselves looking all have different vantage points. The fact it was suggested that you edit your resume is not a sign that you have failed or that you have a poor resume. It usually means that you have other experience or education to add that will make your resume that much better! Also recruiters often have insight into a job and know that if you tweaked your resume to "speak" to that insight you will be viewed more favorably by the prospective employer.
8) If I get to the offer stage, do I negotiate my compensation through the recruiter or the employer?
That depends. Some recruiters handle this but very often you will negotiate directly with the employer. In either scenario, unless you are working with an agency that did little except send your resume over to the employer, you should ask the recruiter for advice and discuss any issues you have. A recruiter works for the client - but it is the recruiter's job to turn every assignment into a triple play win: the employer is happy, the candidate is happy (and you really can't have one without the other) and the recruiter is happy because in most instances they don't get their fee unless they help produce a good and lasting match.
9) What is the etiquette in working with a recruiter in general?
So glad you asked! Recruiters appreciate honest communication! So if you are working with multiple agencies or are actively submitting resumes to prospective employers on your own, it would be better for everyone if you let the recruiter know. You don't have to give a lot of details but a recruiter is working on your behalf, might as well make life easier on everyone. Recruiters worth their salt never send unsolicited resumes and always contact the candidate before sending a resume to a prospective client employer. A good recruiter will at least conduct a phone interview with you so they can properly present you - and even better- meet you in person, if at all possible. So keep it simple, keep it honest and keep the communication lines open. You never want to burn your bridges with anyone - including a recruiter who can so easily influence the way a search can go. Like many others out there- recruiters can forgive but they rarely forget!
10) What about online recruiters- should I post my resume?
First - some quick do's & don'ts:
Do keep your resume in tip-top shape (that is current and free of errors including spelling!) and have it prepared and ready-to-go as a plain Word (text) document. Get on sites with job alerts to keep your finger on the pulse of what's out there.
Some Don'ts... don't put confidential information other than your physical address, cell phone or home phone out there on a resume that is available to the public (or even a limited public). You might want to get a Gmail or Yahoo account and use that address for your job search. Remember that your email address is also a calling card so please be conservative, don't use cute or unusual names. Your first name, last initial or vice-versa @ works just fine. Don't put references on the public resume either with their contact information because they could be contacted without your knowledge.
Many others have given this advice but we will give it too -- The Internet is just another tool, but good old-fashioned human contact is the best way to find a job! Use a recruiter, go to a professional meeting, or just get out there! You will make that contact that leads to a job.