Discussion: January 19, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A a reader lost a precious job offer because she let a “headhunter” get involved:

My daughter recently got a job offer from a Fortune 100 company. When her headhunter sent them a bill, the company withdrew the offer. They said their policy excludes headhunters. Something doesn’t sound right. Please advise me.

My answer and advice are in the newsletter. What I’m interested in is your experiences. The career world is flooded with questionable practitioners who claim they’re going to help you find a job. What scams have you encountered? How do you check out headhunters before you let them “present you” to an employer? Has a headhunter’s bad behavior ever cost you a job? Tell us — and help others avoid catastrophe.


  1. Years ago, I signed on with a headhunter where I paid the fee. I was young, naive and desperate. Within 2 days, I got a call from an insurance sales person who told me if I bought insurance, I could get my fee reduced. I wasn’t that naive so I turned them in to the state AG and they were shut down.

  2. Coincidentally with this topic of shady headhunters, this last week I received a call from an unknown number (the Caller ID showed it as “blocked”) and the voice on the other end, in a thick NYC accent and with the sound of others talking on the phone behind him, told me I had been referred by another colleague whose name I recognized. Okay, I thought, I’ll listen, but my suspicion was raised by what clearly sounded like a “boiler shop” call. It reminded me of the Gordon Gekko wannabe penny stock brokers who used to call out of the blue back in the 1990’s. After he described a nice job with an unidentified Fortune 500 company at a $225K salary, I asked him if he was working contingency or retained. He shifted his response to “we’re working on this one exclusively- why, have you heard about the position from someone else?” In the end, he sent me a very vague position description and a link to his web site (www.e-osi.com), which claimed to have 25 years of operating experience, but there was no easy way to check whether these guys are legit. Of course, he asked me for my compensation and for me to send him my resume, as well as refer others. There’s no way I will respond to this person. But it was a sad indication that as Obama’s one-year-and-counting Recession marches forward with no relief in sight, vultures will start circling to take advantage of the unemployed who are increasingly desperate.

  3. ” But it was a sad indication that as Obama’s one-year-and-counting Recession marches forward with no relief in sight, vultures will start circling to take advantage of the unemployed who are increasingly desperate.”

    Ah, let me correct you, this is Bush’s recession, a legacy he left for Obama.

    Best of luck with the HH.

  4. In response to Parakeeta’s entry- “This is Bush’s recession, a legacy he left for Obama.”
    It’s unfortunate that the discussion got sidetracked by politics, the point had everything to do with cautioning our fellow job searchers that these are increasingly desperate times and there are unscrupulous people out there who will take advantage of that.
    However, it should also be pointed out that no one that you work with would be given a pass for a “legacy” problem that was left for them by the previous manager, and left unimproved for one year at that. In today’s business environment, results, and how quickly those results are delivered, count for everything. If someone accepts a position, they accept responsibility and accountability for it and all of the legacy problems they inherited. To do otherwise would be to accept a position with the bad intentions that you don’t expect to tackle the problems. Therefore, it is Obama’s recession now.

  5. James, you are the one who brought politics into this in the first place. Parakeeta was simply correcting you. This is Bush’s recession. It wouldn’t have been stopped on a dime if McSame / Failin’ were elected either. Our country is in serious trouble and frankly, America is done as a Superpower.
    Yes, there are unscrupulous HHs out there who can cost you job offers. It is usually best to do your own homework and be your own HH. That is much of what Nick is trying to teach us, how to think and act like diligent HHs and top execs who run profitable businesses.

  6. Some things to consider:

    “The employer is not the problem. The problem is that your daughter trusted someone to “represent” her without checking the chain of authority. She should have contacted the employer to confirm that the company has a referral agreement with the headhunter”

    Is it possible that it’s the hiring manager’s fault? What if the hiring manager contacted the recruiter under the premise that his company policy is to put a contract in place with the recruiting firm at the time that the company makes an offer to the recruiter’s first placeable candidate? What if after the offer was presented despite a verbal agreement or acknowledgement with the recruiter in regard to the fee tbe hiring manager’s use of a recruiter was vetoed by the manager’s superiors or by HR? This sort of thing happens more often than you’d think. According to the Fordyce Letter, a newsletter to the recruitment and staffing industry the most successful recruiter at MRI, a nation-wide recruiting franchise company doesn’t have written agreements in place with most of his clients and he claims that he’s never been burned for a fee.

    Without a contract between the company and the “headhunter,” your daughter was put at risk. This unsavory character was banking on the company paying him a fee when his unauthorized submission of your daughter’s resume resulted in a job offer. The company wisely called his bluff and rescinded the offer. I’m sorry for your daughter, but she got scammed. The “headhunter” used her as bait to get a contract and a fee from this company.

    Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Why is the risk factor any higher here than if a company spends tens of thousands of dollars and many man hours on developing a proof-of-concept or answering an RFP and ultimately doesn’t win the business? What if the recruiter spent hours with the hiring manager developing an in-depth needs analysis on the position which was forwarded to the candidate and what if the recruiter spent hours preparing the candidate for the position?

    “But your daughter’s problem has only just begun. Now she’s possibly exposed to the same risk at other companies where this headhunter has submitted her resume uninvited. So what should your daughter do?”

    How do we know that the recruiter is presenting the candidate anywhere without the candidate’s prior permission? Isn’t it also a possibility that the candidate knows full well where the recruiter is presenting her?

    Question: Who would you rather have representing you? A recruiting firm with contracts in place with hundreds of Fortune 1000 type companies that receives thousands of positions emailed to them from the HR departments of their clients monthly that after meeting you tells you that they want to send your resume to ten different companies as you’re a ballpark fit for those companies, or a knowledgeable well-respected and connected recruiter that doesn’t have a contract in place but believes in you and is willing to make a case for your candidacy to a specific company to a specific hiring manager that the recruiter is aware of with the intent of structuring a unique, atypical one-off placement that clearly benefits all stakeholders?

  7. Allen raises some very significant points of interest that I know from personal experience are true.

    Not all HHs have contracts in place with every client they serve. Some of the very best HHs work with clients and applicants every day and the only “contract” they have is the highest level of integrity they show and communicate with every phone call and email note they make.

    It is true that in this daughter’s case there is a serious breach of integrity somewhere.

    Hopefully the company and the HH, if they have a conscience, can identify where this happened and correct it before someone else must suffer the consequences.

    And, yes, I have also seen (in my 20+ years in the HH industry)some operators who seriously lacked integrity of any kind and will say/do anything that they think might help them collect a fee. (I could give you specific examples).

    My advice would be that the relationship between the HH and the hiring company should be at least recognized at some point in the interview process. Everyone should be on the same page preferrably during the first interview, but definitely by the second!

  8. @Alan Geller: All good points, from an insider. Thanks for the perspective. But in the end, it’s the headhunter’s obligation to make sure he’s gonna get paid. And it’s the job hunter’s obligation to herself to make sure the intermediary she has chosen to work through is authorized to do the deal. That’s why good contracts have a statement just above the signature section that says something like this: “The signator certifies that he or she is authorized to commit the company to this agreement.” This doesn’t really ensure you’ll get paid – but it does give you recourse against the signator if he or she lied and signed the paper.

    Corny as it is, caveat emptor.

  9. I had a headhunter present me to several employers without my prior approval or notice. Another headhunter sent my information after asking and it wasn’t until I arrived for the interview that I found out that there was a prior submission by another agency. The company quickly closed the interview. I suspect they did not want to get involved in a fee fight.

    Turns out he had already submitted me to another company. I notified the recruiter that he is not authorized to represent me to any employers and to remove my name and resume from his files. I had to get rather forceful in this call because he was not agreeable to this request.

    I now have a notice on my web site, cover letters and job hunting sites that states that any agency submittals of name or resume must be cleared with me to avoid duplicate or inappropriate submissions, and agencies that fail to comply are not authorized to represent me.

    I have turned down a few job submittals when the agency did not want to disclose the employer (or even the location), even after I tell them that I will not disclose their clients to other agencies.

    When a headhunter asks if I have been submitted anywhere (fishing) I remind them that this is confidential information that will only be shared if they come up with the same position/company that has already been submitted by another agency. If they object, I ask them if they would like me to tell all of the other HH about the positions that they are calling about. They usually get the point.

    Occasionally I get two or three HH that call within 24 hours of each other about the same position and only the 1st one is told to go ahead.

  10. ‘…vultures will start circling to take advantage of the unemployed who are increasingly desperate.’ Start?? I don’t know where you’ve been, James, but the attack of the unscrupulous on job seekers is many, many years old. Most of the Ads By Google that crawl along the edges are at best deceptive and at worst outright scams. see http://www.rileyguide.com/scams.html and http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/ for some eye-opening info.

    Ah, fingerpointing. We have abandoned our politics to those who only care about issues to the extent they can be used to gain leverage against the other side. They’ll say anything, do anything, flip flop, whatever if they think it may grab a few votes in the next election. If they can’t exploit an issue, they ignoe it. Shortly after WWII, Gen. Eisenhower was asked why he was successful as Supreme Allied Commander. His reply was something to the effect of ‘It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit.’ Isn’t that quaint? Our guys today would rather let the ship sink than give credit to a captain of the wrong party. It becomes impossible to throw the bums out when all you have are bums. At least we can take comfort in the fact that ‘Deficits don’t matter.’

    Sorry about that. I feel much better now. It won’t happen again.

  11. @Lee Hamilton: You have a solid policy and I compliment you for sticking to it. Others take note: Manage your relationships with headhunters, or expect surprises you won’t like. A lot of people don’t realize that unsavory practitioners solicit their resumes to use as bait – to get in the door at a particular employer so they can submit other resumes.

  12. While this may be a bit of a naivete, I did run into a problem a few years back that did get a bit out of hand. Just to give some background, I work as a Web Developer in IT and had just moved to Calgary, AB and didn’t know that some firms are applying for the same job. Thus, I ended up with a couple of places applying me for the same job. Needless to say I didn’t even get an interview but I did learn a lesson, know where your resume is going and if a job description looks too similar that could be because it is the same job. Now, in letting the 2 firms know that I had “double-dipped” led to one firm calling the other all in a tizzy over what was really an amateur mistake. Eventually they did straighten things out, but there were some tense moments.

    How many places would tell an applicant that they should know the name of the company and hiring manager for each job they apply? I didn’t have that happen when I was in Seattle, but I guess that is part of the differences in culture maybe.

  13. Nick, could you please remove Erika’s post from the thread? (January 20, 2010 at 7:34 am) I think all of your readers would agree that name calling using childish sound-alike names is completely unprofessional and doesn’t contribute. Frankly, it’s offensive, and she is likely to stay in the job search for a long, long time if she is unable to restrain herself from these type of Tourette’s Syndrome outbursts even in a business discussion.

  14. I support Erika’s thread.

  15. I support Bob’s support of Erika, who supported parakeeta. Truth does matter.

  16. “And it’s the job hunter’s obligation to herself to make sure the intermediary she has chosen to work through is authorized to do the deal. That’s why good contracts have a statement just above the signature section that says something like this: “The signator certifies that he or she is authorized to commit the company to this agreement.” This doesn’t really ensure you’ll get paid – but it does give you recourse against the signator if he or she lied and signed the paper.”

    Nick: In principle this sounds good. In reality the three largest placements that I’ve made over the past three years had no pre-existing contract in place. The firms that hired my candidates agreed to see them based on the value being brought to the table with the understanding that if they pulled the trigger a contract would be generated. It’s no different than making a software sale to a pragmatist buyer. The legal/contract stuff often is the last thing to be finalized not the first. That said the terms of the agreement were discussed and verbally accepted by the client companies however there were no signed agreements in place until furher down the road.

  17. I see nothing wrong with Erika’s post.

  18. @Alan Geller: Long ago I did some placements without first having a written contract with the client company. As you point out, integrity is key. But I’ve also encountered companies – always BIG ones – where a manager wants to see a candidate, but later in the process HR rejects the submission because there is no contract.

    Recently a contractor gave me a price to do some work on my home. He would not give me the written job spec to review overnight – just wanted me to sign and give him a payment. He was afraid I’d use the spec to shop the job around. I walked away. No contract, no job. I’d never do an assignment today without a written agreement. Not because I don’t trust someone, but because it’s poor business practice.

    Like good fences make good neighbors, good contracts make for happy business partners. Work out the nitty gritty in advance so no one has to yell at anyone later. The point of a good contract is to ensure everyone is safe and happy.

    With big companies, the contract is not controlled by the hiring manager but by HR. Good luck. If an HR manager decides to play rough, you’re screwed. Yes, word gets around. But you’re still screwed.

    [***This post originally went up under the name “Jake” — I’m not sure how that happened. I have corrected it and put my name on it.]

  19. RE: Erika’s post and language.

    I very rarely pull a post. Don’t even remember the last time I had to do it. The quality of discourse on every Ask The Headhunter forum I’ve ever run has been incredibly high. (One of my boards had over 50,000 posts on it when I was on The Motley Fool. Probably pulled about 5 posts in all that time.)

    This forum is not a place for naked political expressions, but I see no problem with brief political jokes or expressions made in passing without rancor. Public figures arouse emotion. They get poked at because politics affects business. I’ve got a pretty broad sense of humor and I’m pretty tolerant. That said, I’m sorry if anyone was offended, but I see nothing offensive in anything anyone has said on this thread.

    (PS – I don’t know how my post came up as “Jake” on post dated January 20, 2010 at 6:55 pm. I’ll try to fix it.)

  20. Jake,

    I appreciate what your saying but I currently have an offer on the table from a global division head of a public company. Their M.O. as is the M.O. of some other firms that I”ve made placements with is not to bother themselves with recruiter contracts until either they’re sold on the recruiting firms ability to deliver quality candidates OR the offer stage is reached. Yes, the possibility always exists that without a retainer the search firm could get screwed, but as I mentioned earlier it’s no different than selling enterprise software to a pragmatist buyer and then working with legal as the last step in the process.

    I do agree that HR can kill placements for the rank and file and at times I’ve seen HR trump a CEO’s wish to see a candidate; but once you’re dealing with CEO’s and division heads HR usually suports their desires.

  21. Well, I wrote my first experience with a HH in the comment of this post: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/1288/puppy-dog-headhunters

    So far, I have sent a resume, but no reply. Therefore, I have asked for a confirmation of reception. If I am not satisfied, I think I will have to prohibit them from doing anything with my resume, and demand confirmation. Now, I realize that a HH does not need to contact med unless they consider me for a position, but acknowledging the reception would just be normal politeness…?

  22. I see you objectively didn’t mention it, but in general for now and the rest of her career she should invest time in learning how the recruting industry works, starting with your book “How to work With Recruiters”
    Good advise to see if HR will explain what happened. Obviously there are a # of scenarios. She can at least leave that company with a clearer understanding about her clean hands.
    In the future she can/should
    research the recruiter’s firm
    research the recruiter (google, facebook etc)
    ask him/her for references: satisfied candidates/clients. recruiters are in sales and they should be able to come up with referrals like any other sales person. And I’ve heard the excuse about that being proprietary info etc. baloney, you get permission from the referral like any other reference account
    you’ll either feel good or antsy about the results and if the latter check with HR, though that won’t win points with the recruiter. Also F100 companies usually have approved vendors lists. that offers an opportunity to network with a friendly face in the company to just check the list to see if that recruiter’s company in on the list and/or with HR to find out if they do business with outside agencies.

  23. Headhunter cost me a job with his Bravado. Two companies: one smaller, hip, Google-like; the other large, rock solid and a little stodgy.
    Both interviews the same week. Both companies 10 NYC blocks away from each other.

    Both want me to work for them – the rub is the Headhunter pushes for more money Because “they like you so much”. They decline and go with a guy asking less, costing me solid/stodgy job. I take the back up: the pre-IPO, hipster gig.

    9 Weeks later the crash hits and my new company is gone in 10 days.

    “If you think you are underpaid now, wait until no-one is paying you at all”