Although referrals are a sure way to start a job search, in a competitive and expansive field like IT a professional third-party search professional or “recruiter” can be the sure ticket to the job you want. Although different than your traditional hunt and peck job search, with the right insight you can maximize your engagement with the people who get paid to play IT, matchmaker. Robin Reshwan, contributor for USA Today shares some of her top tips for working with a recruiter.

Understand how recruiters get paid – The revenue model for most staffing or recruiting firms is that the corporate client pays the recruiter a fee to help identify and hire additional staff. Some companies use external recruiters until they build their own internal recruiting team. In general, the recruiting fees are typically treated as a necessary business expense and should have no bearing on the salary for the actual job. In other words, most recruiters are not taking a cut of their placed candidate’s salary in exchange for their work.

Know your niche – It is essential to find firms or recruiters who actively place people in your profession or industry. One way to locate the right headhunters is to ask for referrals from peers in your industry who have changed roles in the past year. The key is to find professionals who work with companies that would be interested in your background. Remember the recruiter is hired to find an ideal candidate from the company’s perspective. If you have no relevant or easily recognized transferable skills for a targeted profession, a third-party recruiter may be helpful to bridge the gap.

Build a relationship – Once you have identified a search firm or individual who seems in the right niche for you, be an active participant in the process. Successful headhunters have powerful networks and know a tremendous amount about their clients and the hiring process. After all, this is what they do all day long. It is ideal to build a relationship before you need to make an immediate move. Skilled search professionals often can work through their contact list (confidentially) to generate interest in your background if they think you are going to represent them well. In a high employment economy (like we have now for many professions), they may be able to line up an interview or two for you before the companies even post the role. No one recruiter or staffing firm will have every job lead that is out there. There is no harm in having relationships with a couple of trusted search professionals – but be careful if you are managing a confidential search. Working with multiple sources, especially if they are less experienced, may get back to your current manager.

Creating a partnership with a competent recruiter can get you the job you have searching for or better. Clear communication regarding your goals and skill level is key to becoming the ideal candidate the recruiter is searching for. The right candidate and the right recruiter can open doors you never knew existed.