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Can a recruiter help you find work in a tough economy?
Sure they can but it's the same in any economy- if you happen to be a perfect fit for the opening they have. The problem in a tough economy (like now) is there are far less openings, and this isn't just because there is less hiring going on, it's also because many companies stop using recruiters. They think they can do it on their own and they want to save money.
Candidates would benefit from a better understanding of the picture from a recruiters perspective, starting with a definition of what makes a recruiter successful, and then in turn, what gives them as the candidate the best chance for success.
A recruiter's success is far more contingent on having lots of good job orders than having lots of good candidates. This is rarely understood by candidates and leads to frustration for both parties. Job orders are power for recruiters, and once again that power only transfers to candidates in a job search if they are a fit for a particular opening.
So candidates will benefit from taking a more proactive or aggressive approach to helping themselves stand out. This applies for when they are working with a recruiter as well. But the best course for a candidate is to be proactive and build their own marketing campaign. This should include creative ways not only to get in front of the highest level hiring authority they can, but being just as creative in ways to make a huge first impression.