Question

Just as COVID hit I worked with a headhunter who attempted to place me with a firm in New York. (I live in Boston). Everything was set, then COVID ended the deal. Two months ago, the recruiter called to inform me that he was ready to pick up where we left off. That is when I learned that the salary had decreased, they would not pay my expenses for another NY interview, and they would not pay any moving expenses.

The headhunter has not been forthcoming with me, and he was noticeably irritated with my questions about reimbursement for travel to NY, and uncomfortable about advocating my financial requirements. This morning he informed me that the firm was anxious to hire me and that he would pay me $1,000 in moving expenses if I took the job.

It seems a little shady to me. The way he worded his offer to pay my moving expenses was definitely suspect: “You go down there, accept the position and technically you will be working for them. Then I will pay you the $1,000 in moving expenses.” Is this normal?

Nick’s Reply

headhunterNo, it’s not normal. A headhunter could legitimately “chip in” part of his fee to help you offset your relocation expenses, but this kind of payment can also be construed as a kickback unless it is disclosed to, and approved by, the employer.

Is this a bribe?

Suppose the company finds out the headhunter gave you that $1,000 and accuses you of taking the job because the headhunter bribed you. Suppose that in three months — after the headhunter’s guarantee period to the company ends — you decide the job’s not right for you and you resign. To the company, it might look like you and the headhunter conspired to defraud it of the search fee. For that matter, how would you prove to the company that the headhunter didn’t split his fee with you 50-50? (For the benefit of the uninitiated, it’s worth noting that if this job pays $100,000, the headhunter’s fee could be $25,000-30,000. Half of that is a nice chunk of change.)

Ask the employer about the headhunter

This wouldn’t be the first headhunter who “shared the commission” with the candidate. It’s unethical and it demeans the headhunter, the candidate and the employer. Instead of negotiating a hire, a salary and a fee that’s fair for all parties, these “headhunters” take the low road and make the transaction sleazy. Now, we could assume the best intentions of the headhunter, but if you secretly take money from a headhunter when you accept a job, I agree it’s shady. I wouldn’t do it.

You need not agonize about this. The solution is simple. My advice is to ask the employer about the offer. Be up front and expect the same from the headhunter. If he’s being generous, then the company should know about it and have no problem with it. But it seems you don’t have the whole story. (See Why do headhunters act like this?) Go to the company and tell what you know, then ask them to confirm how this all came to pass. “I just want to be sure I’ve got the story straight before I accept the position. I want this to be on the up-and-up.”

If you have any doubts about this headhunter, talk to the company directly. I wish you the best.

Has a headhunter ever offered you part of the placement fee, or suggested something unethical to you? Maybe you’ve encountered other sleazy practices. Tell us about it.

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10 Comments
  1. First off, $1000 is no kind of moving allowance, unless you are hiring two people to carry your books and desk across the street. It’s certainly not enough to be considered a real bribe for anyone who’s graduated junior high. By offering you such a small amount the headhunter is not only shady but showing real contempt for you.

    Second, other bad things are going on, like salary decreasing. It’s quite likely this position is not what you interviewed for two years ago.

    Nothing about this feels right. I’d break off contact.

    • Indeed. It cost us more than that just to move across town. And for a job that now pays less than before the COVID shutdowns? That makes no sense at all.

  2. Can’t resist commenting: Be Grateful for the journey with this headhunter, who ‘pimped’ your professional skills/talents Pre Covid then offered you bread crumbs (the salary had decreased, they would not pay my expenses for another NY interview, and they would not pay any moving expenses) with the bait of $1,000 moving expenses (his facilitation fee to spur you to kneel in agreement).

    Embrace yourself, Laugh at the Greedy and Unprofessional Code of Ethics of the company and the individual! BTW, there are plenty of these characters roaming to prey.

    Stay Resilient and Preserve Peace of Mind!

    • @Bernadette Ferrer-
      “BTW, there are plenty of these characters roaming to prey”.
      Hopefully your commentary won’t get deleted for speaking the truth on here, and for candidly exposing the majority of these predatory types.

  3. The transparent way for a recruiter to handle this is agree with the Client to offer a $1,000 signing bonus.

    If the Client does not want to do it, offer the money out of their commission.

  4. When employers and headhunters become irritated and dismissive at legitimate questions and monetary concerns, as this inquirer has stated, and the deal has changed for the worse, it’s just another reason to stay away from unethical bottom feeder headhunters and recruiters. Don’t walk, run!
    Offering $1,000, then trusting this guy would actually follow through with it, spells SIMP on the part of this inquirer. This headhunter is clearly shady, and he’s looking to fill a job with someone with a pulse and who can fog a mirror so as to collect his stacks, then walk.
    This inquirer needs to cut his loses and run from this headhunter.

    • “When employers and headhunters become irritated and dismissive at legitimate questions and monetary concerns, as this inquirer has stated, and the deal has changed for the worse, it’s just another reason to stay away from unethical bottom feeder headhunters and recruiters.”

      To quote Darth Vader, “I am altering the deal, pray that I don’t alter it any further.”

  5. Wow. This really stinks. No, no…it REEKS. Run…AND fumigate.

    “”Cause I love that dirty water
    Oh Boston, you’re my home.”
    – The Standells, “Dirty Water” (1965)

  6. God! The candidate got shotgunned with red flags. as @based boomer noted, taking at face value this recruiter would actually fork over the 1K? And in light of the supposedly hot job market the client reduced the pay??? on top of that the recruiter comes off as desperate. and nothing sounds like the recruiter had anything close to a working relationship with the client. When you have a good working relationship & you both believe the candidate is the right hire, there’s a lot of ways to get ethically creative for a win/win/win hire.

  7. Thing about recruiters and headhunters is they typically tout these alleged “manna from heaven” job opportunities, or that they’re “tight” with the alleged client. This when in fact they’re often corporate wash outs, housewives earning some supplemental dime, or recent college grads who’re macking on the same Indeed.com jobs every other Joe Schmo is looking at. Some on here have a bromance with headhunters and recruiters. These people don’t have some mystical connection and “in” with prospective employers like they claim. Absolute BS. I was born at night (literally), but not last night.
    This inquirer is playing a fool’s errand with this Shylock headhunter. Yikes! Again, run!

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