How UX Recruiting Agencies Work (and how to use them to your benefit)

(a couple friends helped me with the ideas in this post, but don’t wish to be identified right now. Thanks – you know who you are!)

I’ve had friends , who I’ll refer to as Camp A, get great jobs at companies like Google through recruiting firms. But I’ve met much more in Camp B – those who’ve had bad experiences with talent agencies.

What you’re reading now serves to help you fall into Camp A, and hopefully avoid the pitfalls of Camp B. To do that, we have to properly understand how recruiting & talent agencies work.


Companies small and large use recruiting agencies because recruiting takes ton of time, effort and money.

There are few things more important to a business than hiring the right people. But not all companies have the resources to spend on finding that talent.

Here’s the opportunity for a middleman. Recruiting agencies make this offer to companies:

“Look, you don’t have the time to sort through thousands of resumes and find the best people to bring on board. But our talent agents do – that’s their full time job. And you don’t pay us until we bring you someone you like that you hire*. We take X%* of the hired employee’s first year’s salary.”

Sounds like a fair deal.

(*These revenue deals are just an example. There are probably multiple ways companies pay recruiting agencies.) 

Not all applicants see that much of recruiting is a lead generation business. Just as a dentist office might pay $50 to Google for each sign-up that goes through AdWords, companies may pay recruitment agencies for each qualified lead they bring to the interview stage.

A not-so-well-kept secret is that recruiting agencies often have quotas to reach. For example, Company A tells the agency to bring them 3 leads.

Even if the recruiters only find 1 truly qualified person for a UX job…they have to bring in 2 more. 

This is just business. When I get get weird job requests that seem like a really odd fit for me,  I start wondering if the recruiting agency might be feeling the pressure to add a few more leads.

So let’s talk more about finding the right fit, and avoiding those strange job application requests.


Got your portfolio? Check. Got your resume? Nice. Now you hit the job sites and start applying to UX jobs. You might get a fast response, or (for many of us) spend time wondering when you’re going to hear back.

And then you receive a LinkedIn request from someone you don’t know, and they invariable have something like “Recruiter,” or “Staffing” in their titles.


Working with staffing agencies isn’t always the most intuitive experience, so I’ll break down the best practices to get you the best results:

Manage Your Expectations

Staffing agencies are not a guarantee of getting a new job.

Treat them as another potential source of jobs. It’s nice to know that someone is out there hustling to find you opportunities, albeit they’re interested in getting a commission as well.

Also, the jobs that come through staffing agencies may or may not already be publicly listed. Recruiters are keen to ask you if you’ve already applied to a job from a certain company.

Question: “Have you already applied to X Company before?”
Translation: “We’re not going to get a commission for a job that you already applied to yourself, so let’s move on to the next one.”

Companies pay staffing agencies for new leads, not leads that are already sitting in that companies’ existing database of job applicants.

To protect both yourself and the recruiter, make sure you’re not applying to a job through them, that you’ve already applied for on your own.

Being Unique Helps

It helps to think of recruiting agencies as opportunity to practice interviewing skills. Recruiters will ask you many questions that you’re bound to run into on real job interviews like:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What type of projects have you done in UX?
    • Website? Responsive? Mobile app?
  • What are your skills…
  • What kind of opportunity are you looking for?
    • Full-time? Freelance? Contract?

This is basically how recruiters “qualify” their leads (you), which is part of the value they bring to companies.

Answering all those above questions is like an exercise in establishing your identity. This is worthwhile to do because if  recruiters can categorize who you are, they…

1) Will remember you more easily than the dozens (hundreds?) of other applicants they’re working with

2) They will find a better fit for you

And finally, the most obvious-but-not-obvious tip…

Follow up

It makes sense to send a quick email to your recruiters about:

  • Your current job search (has it ended? are you happy now?)
  • A major life change (I’m moving to Senegal!)
  • If your job preferences or skills changed.

Learned mobile design and are now ready to take on new UX positions? Your recruiter won’t know unless you tell them.

Which reminds me, I need to catch up on my emails…

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2 responses to “How UX Recruiting Agencies Work (and how to use them to your benefit)”

  1. These are some great tips regarding how to best utilize the many benefits of using recruiting agencies. I would suggest that managing your expectations is the most critical. If you do not understand what you want and you haven’t communicated that to the agency, it is next to impossible to achieve your goals. Understand what you need and how the recruiting agency can best help you achieve it.
    Professional Recruiters

  2. You make some very good points in your article, but I must take exception to one assumption. I have been a recruiter for over 20 years and have never been paid to get leads to an interview. I have only ever been paid when my candidate gets hired. Sometimes it takes only one submission., oftentimes more. Submitting people who are not qualified for a position in order to “pad” my list of candidates is a waste of my time, my candidates’ time and my client companies’ time – and just makes me look incompetent in the process.

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