Career coach or recruiter? How to choose the right expert support

Apr 25, 2024

Back in March, I spoke at The Law Society of NSW Careers Summit. After my presentation, I did an extended Q&A off stage, so participants could ask questions in person.

I LOVED this format, as I got to do two of my favourite activities — meeting new people and talking all things careers!

During the Q&A, someone asked: ‘HOW — and WHEN — do you recommend working with a recruiter?’

A week later, one of my private clients wanted similar guidance on how to approach a recruiter in a new market.

When the same question comes up, I listen! Which is why I’m going to answer it for you here today…

Lots of leaders come to me for coaching after they’ve engaged recruiters without success. They know they want more — yet aren’t sure what this looks like. Or for others, if the pathway they want is even available in their current company or profession.

Can you relate?

If you’ve followed a conventional career path, you’re taught to immediately search for a new job. So you’ve tried using your network and reaching out to recruiters — but you’re still stuck!

The problem with this approach is you’re not addressing the root cause: What’s missing in your current career — and what you want next.

It’s why the whole methodology behind my work is about creating a career by design. One which fits YOU, not the other way round. This starts by finding clarity on what you want before looking at your career strategy.

Your job search — and in particular, working with a recruiter — is ONE small piece of your career strategy. As a career planning specialist, I promise you it’s not the first place to start!

So when should you work with a recruiter? And do you need a recruiter — or a career coach? I’m unpacking these questions and MORE in this article.

And as a former recruiter, you can bet I have some best practices and top tips to share on this topic!

Read on to discover the practical steps I recommend you follow when working with a recruiter. You’ll find out how to create an effective strategy — and choose the right expert to support your goals!


First, let’s talk about the how. Here are the 3 steps I recommend when working with a recruiter…

Step #1 — Find someone you trust

Look for a recruiter with deep knowledge of your market. Get a referral from a friend or colleague who’s had success working with a particular person.

Also, do your research. Review LinkedIn and online job boards to see who’s advertising the bulk of roles in your specific area.

Step #2 — Have an initial conversation

Have an initial conversation with this recruiter. Provide them with a summary of your background, experience and what you’re looking for. Identify if they can help you and if they are someone YOU want to work with.

PLEASE don’t feel pressured to send them your CV or commit to meeting them until both these aspects are clear. Use this preliminary chat as an opportunity to get market information too. Understand areas of demand, salary levels and your suitability to current opportunities.

Step #3 — Set up a meeting

IF — and I emphasise ‘if’ — you believe they can help you, schedule a face to face or virtual meeting via Zoom or Teams. THEN send them your CV. Give them clear instructions not to send it out or speak to any client about you without your permission.

Use this meeting to gain further intel and create a plan for how you will work together. A GOOD recruiter will tell you about the current roles they’re working on, which they think you’d be a fit for.

A GREAT recruiter is worth their weight in gold. They’ll be proactive about mapping the market and approaching employers on your behalf. Build a partnership with this person so they can contact you if — and when — a suitable opportunity comes up.


HOW do recruiters fit into your broader job search strategy? Here are my top two tips…

Tip number one is to work in partnership with a recruiter you trust. Or if you’re active in the market, limit it to a couple of people.

Make sure you’re clear they must get the go-ahead from you before sending your CV to a potential employer. This will ensure you avoid any double-ups with your applications!

Tip number two is don’t rely on recruiters alone. Working with a recruiter should always be one small part of an effective job search strategy. Focus on using your network — and connecting with people in the organisations and teams you want to work for.


Now we’ve covered HOW, let’s talk about WHEN you should and shouldn’t use a recruiter.

The first reason to work with a recruiter is when you want to make a move in your existing profession or industry. The second reason to use a recruiter is when you have a solid level of experience in your field. And third, is when you want information on available opportunities or salary levels.

Here’s when NOT to work with a recruiter.

The first situation is when you’re a graduate or early in your career, with limited experience in your field. Second, is if you’re looking to transition into a new career or industry where you have little or no experience. In this instance, you’re better off using your network and applying direct to employers.

And finally, I also don’t recommend working with a recruiter when you’re unclear on WHAT you want next. In this case, start by working with someone like me to clarify your direction and strategy.

Recruiters often get a bad rap when they tell you your only option is to stay in a similar role — or the move you want isn’t possible. Or worse because you never hear back from them.

But the truth is, a recruiter acts on behalf of their client. They’re paid to find someone with existing experience when an employer struggles to source them directly. The career you want ISN’T impossible — it’s just difficult for a recruiter to help you and you need a different strategy.


I recently had a consult with a senior executive who was at a career crossroads. This person wasn’t clear on what they wanted next in their career — and mentioned making the mistake of being ‘reactive’ in a similar situation in the past. But despite having NO clear strategy or plan, they held off working together to ‘wait and see’ the outcome of a role a recruiter had put them forward to.

This is a great example of when to work with a career coach versus a recruiter. Here’s a breakdown of what each expert can help you with, so you can choose the right support…

A recruiter acts for an organisation. They focus on finding candidates with existing knowledge, skills and experience. If you’re looking for a new role or want advice on job prospects in your specialist field, work with a recruiter.

If you want to change careers, lack direction or need a strategy, a career coach is best placed to assist you.

There are also different types of career coaches and related professions, like career counselling.

Remember those career assessments in high school — the ones which provided a list of potential careers for you to consider? Career counsellors provide advice on study requirements and career pathways for these options. They’re often linked to a university or education provider and give guidance on the organisation’s training programs.

When I was considering a career change, I consulted a career counsellor who presented a list of career options which didn’t seem to fit. They didn’t consider me as a whole person, or my entire life. A career coach will never provide you with a list of jobs or tell you which careers to pursue.

The key difference is career coaching dives deeper into who you are as a person and what you want. This includes your values, purpose and what fulfilling work looks like to you. It also considers your whole life and how work fits in.

A career coach works with you to find your OWN answers and make the career choices which are right for you.

Some career coaches focus on areas like job search and interview preparation. I specialise in helping high-achievers at a career crossroads to clarify their direction and strategy. Then, I support them step by step to achieve their next level of career success.

When you follow these tips, working with a recruiter will form ONE part of your career strategy. If you’re changing careers or industries, do connect with recruiters in your new area of interest. They can be a wealth of information on the market and helpful when building your network.

However, a more effective strategy is using your network to approach companies directly. A career coach can also assist you to clarify your goals and hold you accountable to your career plan. They’ll also help you overcome any fears, doubts or mindset blocks holding you back.

These strategies have helped my clients know how and when to work with recruiters. PLUS how to design an effective career strategy and choose the right expert support. I hope these tips assist you too!

Are you an ambitious leader at a career crossroads?

If you resonate with the coaching approach I’ve described, I invite you to book a free 30 minute consult to find out how working together can support your career!

Click HERE to book.

Stacey Back is a globally recognised and certified career coach, speaker and trainer. She helps high-achievers at a career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms. Stacey works virtually with individuals and organisations based across the globe.