Not all recruiters (and recruiting agencies) are created equal. Generally you want to work with more experienced recruiters specialized in working with technical candidates.
There are advantages to working with a recruiter. The chief one is that you can get a lot of extra information about a job before you even apply to go into an interview. You should ask specific questions to maximize this advantage.
Another thing to understand (and read between the lines on) is that you are the product when working with a recruiter and the client is actually the hiring manager at the company. The recruiter is more concerned about their relationship with the hiring manager because they are the one writing the checks.
Here are a few questions you can a recruiter before you engage with them about a job.
1. How many candidates have you placed at this employer?
This will help you understand if the recruiter / agency has had success working with this company before. If they haven’t, you might want to dig into more exactly who the employer is looking for before you spend time trying to set up an interview.
Recruiters don’t always understand who the employer is looking for right away and employers are often indecisive and picky.
2. When they reject people why do they reject them?
This is a good question you can ask a recruiter which can give you a huge leg up on other candidates. Often times hiring managers have pet-peeves or dealbreakers that a recruiter might know about.
Here is an example: the position is for a “fullstack developer” and the hiring manager seems to reject people that have a lot of front-end experience. Downplay that and talk about you backend experience in the interview instead.
You can tailor your resume here BEFORE you send it to the recruiter, because ultimatley they will be passing it to the hiring manager, and the hiring manager decides if they want to bring you in for an interview or not.
3. What are the things the hiring manager is most looking for?
Again, this a special advantage you get from working with a recruiter. A good recruiter should really be able to dig in with a hiring manager and understand who they are looking for and will actually extend and offer to.
If the recrutier doesn’t have any insight on this, see question #1. Maybe they don’t know?
4. What do your other placements say about this employer?
Another special advantage you get from working with a recruiter is that they might have feedback from their previous hires.
Now, keep in mind a recruiter is ultimately trying to sell you on a job and sell you to their client (the hiring manager), so they may not be truthful with you. It’s up to you to ask probing questions and read between the lines.
5. How many openings with this employer are you filling right now?
This is a good indicator of how willing a company is to extend offers.
Are they hiring for a single senior-level position? This could end up being a hard interview and even if you are a great candidate they may pass because they can afford to be picky.
On the other hand if a company is rapidly expanding and has 20 engineer opens all over the map in terms of experience then you probably have a good chance of getting hired even if you are not the strongest candidate. This is a good thing to understand before you go into an interview.