Recruiters can be critical contacts in a Career Search, but you need to go about working with them the right way. Just as in any profession, there are a large number of average (or worse) recruiters, and a small percentage of top-notch professionals.
You want to be selective, choosing to work actively only with those who have proven successes in the exact type of job, industry, company, and compensation level you seek. You want to evaluate them just as extensively as they evaluate you as a potential candidate they might present. For more on this, see this.
Here’s a comment I received some time ago on the subject, in response to an article I wrote about seeking to Hit A Home Run in your Career Search:
“One question in passing…I spoke with a Headhunter today, and he encouraged me to consider positions that pay 10-15% greater than my current position, but far less than my “fair market value.”
Without getting too involved in explanation, I moved from a straight salary position (pure engineering) to base plus commission(technical sales) arrangement. The job changed and the commission piece “came off the table.”
I feel like the Headhunter is motivated to close a deal, any deal, and isn’t too concerned about pay commensurate with experience, HOWEVER he argues that trying to hit grand slam..or a least a home run has kept me stuck.
A headhunter is always working for the company, so that will tend to color how they work with you. He doesn’t want to present you for something that he believes the company will not accept, as that will impair his reputation and prospect for future assignments with them. This is why a headhunter typically is reluctant to promote candidates for something that is perceived as a stretch in qualifications, compensation, or related industry experience.
Trying to hit a home run, but being open to triples, or even doubles, is a good approach. You may have to hit the home run on your own, rather than through a headhunter.