Is the job market picking up? If headhunter activity is any measure (and I’m not sure it is), then maybe hiring activity is on the upswing…

A reader asks:

A recruiter I know (but have never met in person) called me about a position. I told him I was interested based on the description, reporting chain, location and salary range. After our conversation, he talked to his client about me. Before asking for my resume, the client asked him what my previous salary had been, which was about $30K more than this position’s upper limit.

Without asking me and without having received my permission previously, the recruiter divulged my salary, and the client would not proceed further based on the fact that I was “too expensive.”

Again, I knew the range of the position and had told the recruiter specifically that I was fine with that salary range. As far as I am concerned, the recruiter had no right whatsoever to divulge my salary, which I consider confidential.  I believe this was a breach of ethics.  What do you say?

This is very common. Once a headhunter gets your “permission” (translation: interest) regarding a position, he’s likely to discuss you in detail with his client, and any info you provided is fair game.

Remember that the headhunter’s fiduciary duty is to his client, not to you. That said, headhunters are dopes when they do what this one did. He could easily have told his client that he needed to confirm your salary history and call back with the information — and in the meantime discussed the position with you as well as how to handle your salary history with your permission. But this headhunter seems to be the client’s puppy — eager to please, loathe to take time to be a good advisor to his client. Puppy-dog headhunters are such pushovers that they do a disservice to their clients. You might have been an outstanding hire, but the client will never get a chance to find out. And that costs the headhunter, too.

He should have asked your permission before divulging your salary. But like most HR people, headhunters consider salary info no big deal. Worse, they quickly use it to decide whether a candidate is “a fit.”

And that’s stupid.

Next time, be explicit about what info you want kept confidential when you talk to a headhunter. So, yah, I think it’s an ethical breach, but it’s “industry standard” with too many headhunters.

If you want to know more about the in’s and out’s of dealing with headhunters, check out How to Work with Headhunters.


1 Comment
  1. May be some headhunters are so eager to please their clients that they do not really check out the possible candidates as well?

    On December the 23rd I got an email from a headhunter (starting with “sorry for contacting you out of the blue…”) that had seen my LinkedIn-profile, and was very eager to hear if I was interested in a exploration geologist position, starting in mid January – or if I knew someone who might be. It was very urgent to fill the position

    I replied, politely, that the location was wrong (which was true). Then, in the eventing of the 23rd, she emailed back, asking if she could have my resume for future possibilities, and repating the question if I knew other candidates.

    May be I have read to much of Nicks writings, but there were some factors that made some small alarm bells ring:

    – She contacted med just before the Christmas celebration (we start on the evening of the 23rd in Scandinavia, with main celebartion on the 24th). If not slightly impolite or odd, it does sound a bit desperate.

    – Such an important position has to be either demanding a very specific skill set or lots of experience – and, yes, the same position was advertised on LinkedIn, demanding 10+ years experience. My profile shows clearly that I have only two. Didn’t she read the profile?

    – She wanted a resume for her database. Nice – but everyting is in my profile already.

    – In my country, people usually have a one month (most private sector) or up to three months (public sector, including me) notice before leaving a position. The rules can be deviated from, but it seems a bit naive to think that I can just jump off my job like that. I notified her of that in the first email, in the next she said she was aware of it, but that people who were redundant could probably start earlier. True – but I am not (again, read the profile!), I have lots of work to do, and although I am looking for a new job due to a necessary relocation, I need to finish my present project.