is it better to apply through a recruiter or directly with the employer?

A reader writes:

What do you think of applying for a job through a recruiter versus applying to the company directly? What are the pros and cons? I have been contacted by a recruiter regarding a “confidential” position, but it wasn’t hard to figure out the identity of the company in question. As it turns out, I was already aware of this job posting and was planning to apply when the recruiter contacted me. As an applicant, what is the best route for me?

I’m going to give you a lukewarm, indecisive answer, partly because I’m kind of groggy right now and partly because my stance on this is lukewarm and indecisive.

Because I come to it from the hiring manager side of things, I generally think that you’re better off applying to the company directly and dealing with the employer firsthand, on the assumption that they know their needs best and are less likely to be prone to mistakes about fit (its presence or lack). But on the other hand, recruiters can sometimes give you inside info that an employer might be less likely to give you — about your competition, about the salary range, what they’re really looking for and why, etc.

Of course, there are a lot of bad recruiters out there (just check out the recruiters section of the archives here), but there are also plenty of good ones. But if you go the recruiter route, you want to make sure you’re dealing with a good one.

All of which leads to me to … I don’t really have strong feelings one way or the other. If it were me, I’d apply directly, but I’m sure someone can make an argument on the other side too.

Anyone want to weigh in with a more definite opinion on this than the one I have?

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