In the November 16, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks why she’s being chased by wild dogs after she posted her resume online:

Dogs of RecruitingI’ve suddenly been contacted by four different “recruiters” from different recruiting companies. On Thursday, one recruiter cold called me and said he saw my resume on Monster, asked me a few background questions, and then the next morning informed me he submitted me for the job we discussed to his client. On Monday, another recruiter e-mailed me, then she called to further discuss the position, and it was exactly the same job as the one I had talked to the other recruiter about. I provided her the information, and she e-mailed to say she had submitted me to her client.

I started reading a lot about this practice, and how being submitted for the same job by two different recruiters means your resume will go into the trash bin. So I feel totally screwed and wonder what I did wrong, since these folks called me. Should I trust cold-calling recruiters? What are my ethical obligations in dealing with these people? Do I have an obligation to tell the second recruiter I had already been submitted for the job by a different recruiter? Should I even be wasting my time with these folks at all? I obviously have very little experience dealing with them, and I don’t know what the “rules” are, if any. Can you shed some light on this phenomenon?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

“So I feel totally screwed and wonder what I did wrong, since these folks called me.”

No, you called them. You did that when you posted your resume on Monster. That opens you up to the dogs of recruiting. And you’re right—when multiple recruiters submit you for the same job, employers often trash it, because they don’t want to get into a fee fight between recruiters who will claim the placement.

Don’t take this personally, because I don’t know you, but, Gimme a break. You post your resume information online for anyone and everyone to snap at, and you think only intelligent, serious, thoughtful, legitimate employers are gonna respond to you? Your resume is a piece of raw meat tossed into a street full of starving dogs who don’t even care that you’re human. All that matters is the chance to earn another fee.

Putting your resume online is what starts this whole process. If you want to know about recruiters, it’s all here: How to Work with Headhunters. (I’m asked the questions you posed so often that I finally put everything I know about this subject into a book. It covers almost everything you ask about, including how some of these characters online operate, and how to know the good ones from the lousy ones.) If you’re going to work with headhunters, you need to formulate your own rules.

Now let’s address some of the specific issues you’ve listed.

  • Find good headhunters to work with, before the lousy ones find you.
  • If you don’t sign a contract with them (like they sign with their client companies), then you have no obligations to them.
  • Agree to work only with a recruiter who shows you proof that he has a contract with a given employer.
  • You don’t need recruiters or headhunters to find a job. Talk to companies directly.

Most people who call themselves “recruiters” or “headhunters” are little more than wild dogs chasing the same candidates and jobs. Avoid the feeding frenzy. The odds you’ll get bitten severely are pretty high.

Are all those “online recruiters” for real? Why do several of them call you about the same job? What obligations do you have to them? (Do they have any to you?) Can you get screwed working with more than one of them? Can you avoid the dogs of recruiting?



  1. Nick you say ‘All that matters is the chance to earn another fee.’ Can’t say I agree here. I do agree that ALL business must generate profit to exist and that ALL businesses set targets but to suggest that recruiters only care about a fee is nuts. The fact is that the candidate should have instantly raised the fact that they had been submitted to this job previously. The recruiters are only doing their job. Once again, a job seeker is working in a totally inappropriate way for their needs. Don’t want recruiters to call you? Then don’t put your CV on Monster. What exactly do people think is going to happen? I think the very fact that your article is titled ‘The dogs of recruiting’ shows a real lack of credible journalism and you have shown your bias from the outset. Strange though, coming from an industry headhunter?

  2. Even good recruiters are busy, and the lotto effect still holds. My hopes went up after securing a position through a recruiter (that didn’t work out), but after realizing that it really was “the luck of the draw”, i.e., that my resume hit his desk at the moment the position opened, I don’t get my hopes up any more.

    There is also the “leper phenomenon”, in which a recruiter seems to be ignoring you because said position didn’t work out.

    I interviewed for a position, wasn’t selected, and now that particular recruiter won’t return my calls.

    Other recruiters remind me to “rattle their cage” on a regular basis. Obviously, my silly idea of a concientious human staying alert to find a good job fit for me is just that-rather silly.

    I’m employed in a “survial job” at the moment, secured by the rather old-fashioned way of answering an ad in the Sunday paper. When a rather talented worker appeared by my side, I asked how she got in. She walked in and applied. I asked how she found out about the place. A friend had applied there. The friend didn’t get hired.

    The luck of the draw.

  3. I guess this thread may be useful in this discussion:

  4. I was contacted by a recruiter for a position. I figured what the heck, it’s worth checking out. After being screened by the recruiter and submitting a resume….the client decided not to call me for an interview.

    I can see why Nick pushes the idea of being your own headhunter. In this experience, I never met anyone in the target company. I did not make any new contacts. I never found out exactly what the company was looking for, so never got the chance to show them what I could do. The recruiter could not provide any feedback as to why the client was not interested.

    Heed the advice to spend your time on methods according to the likelihood that that method will bear fruit. If I were actively looking for a new position, I’d give cold-calling recruiters about 5% of my time.

  5. @Gillies: I don’t think it’s strange at all that a headhunter criticizes the practices of “headhunters” and “recruiters” who are really neither. I chided the reader for posting her resume online and not expecting to get mauled. But I also criticize anyone who recruits so mindlessly.

    “Don’t want recruiters to call you? Then don’t put your CV on Monster.”

    You’re suggesting that Monster is where recruiters find candidates. I find that absurd and irresponsible. It’s where hacks find names and resumes alone. What should such a “recruiter” expect, except a fee fight? When you fish in polluted waters, what you eat from them won’t stay down.

  6. Of course recruiters criticize the practice of recruiting, just as doctors, lawyers etc criticize their professions, that’s how professional practices improve.
    To add to the discussion, I ask candidates if they’ve been submitted to the job as well as if their paper is in that company, ie. been previously submitted. It saves everyone time and credibility. If you’re a job hunter and you want to be treated ethically, that door swings two ways, be ethical.
    To the best of their ability, e.g. keeping a record, a job hunter should manage their exposoure, know where their paper is. You need to understand when you stick your resume into the Monster type abyss, it’s accessible to every breed of recruiter from pristine to dirty. And dirty ones have been know to submit resumes without your knowledge. You take that risk with job boards.

  7. @Gilles: “Recruiters are only doing their job”, you write. I left traditional search after 16 great years and I can tell you that a recruiter’s job is not to look for low hanging fruit and send it to an employer without permission from the candidate. Executive “Search” is about searching out the best candidate for your client’s needs, not hoping it shows up on some spam resume site like Monster or any of the others. Posting a resume online is an invitation for the low life recruiters to do just what Nick has described.

    @jl: I think you just got unlucky enough to have a crappy recruiter (and I believe most are worthless)who couldn’t get you in the door, or you weren’t really what they were looking for so the recruiter (like so many) was slinging spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, or maybe he really didn’t have a relationship with the company. You’ll probably never know. You should have gone directly to the hiring manager and submitted yourself.

    @Don: You are doing the right thing by asking your candidates if they’ve been submitted to the job, but they should tell you once you’ve presented the opportunity to them.

    PS: Don’t EVER let anyone submit your resume to a company without them disclosing who that company is…

  8. Nick,

    Your response to the writer in Dogs of Recruiting was bang on. Looking for a job when employed or in transition is serious business and should involve as much preparation, planning and goal setting as other important life events. Not that marketing yourself is like selling a car, but a seller wouldn’t leave their car on the street with the keys inside and a sign reading “Take a ride and call me if you are interested”.

    Job search should have a strategy rich with multiple methods and approaches. Targeting companies, networking to find key current and former employees of those companies and joining professional organizations are just a few ways to get started. I’ve found that circling back to contacts made months ago can be very productive – renew conversations, share ideas and express interest.

    Regarding search partners (head hunters), select them as you would any key service provider. If they are professional and know their market and their companies, they can be an effective part of your search strategy. Good ones have the ear of their clients and their advice is highly regarded.

  9. @Carol: ‘Don’t EVER let anyone submit your resume to a company without them disclosing who that company is…’

    I would add to that: If you get a call from a recruiter make sure you say this in the first call: “I do not authorize you to send my name or resume to anyone without my explicit permission” and ask for their address so you can send it to them in writing. This will eliminate the sleazy recruiters and impress the professional ones.

    @Midwest: While luck certainly affects the process, it’s not the luck of the draw that your colleague got a job after applying at a place she knew had openings because her friend had applied: She’s keeping informed about the market in every way she can and acting on the information she got. That’s planning, not luck. The lesson to be learned here is that getting out and talking to people to find out what’s going on can pay off.

  10. @Gillies Kleboe – I couldn’t agree more. And this blog/newsletter ALWAYS bashes recruiters as if they are all the same, trash (not close to true and a shame that this is constantly spreads here). And the owner of the blog was one. Ha. And he has a blog, that, he then wrote a book “to sell” the members that he “bit”/accumulated over the years that he’ll sell for profit, and “private coaching” sessions to this same “pack” he’s lured in for free, now to make money. Why would someone pay for this “private coaching” when they could do their own homework and talk to friends/peers/seek out hiring managers in their personal networks, to ask about hiring practices? Same as self effort/no recruiter-interviewing, no?
    *The fact and point is, everyone makes their money in one way or another. And it’s terrible for someone to continuously tell the world they don’t need people who specialize in their field. You can sell and buy a house without a realtor. Some do, but most don’t – they simply don’t have the time or knowledge. You can represent yourself in a legal matter. Some do, but most don’t – they don’t have the knowledge or time. Heck, many hiring managers (VP Sales, for instance) could recruit – they typically have built great networks over the years – they don’t have the time. They have their own full time focus – running sales teams and growing revenues. I couldn’t say this for HR, their focus and background is different, yet unfortunately they are often tasked with recruiting for these critical leaders.
    There are many awful, sleezy recruiters out there that only care about throwing mud against the wall and seeing what sticks…to make a buck. But their also are excellent recuiters out there who, yes, do this for a living (and not for free), but really enjoy finding the best candidates for their best clients, both of whom they respect. And they realize they are working with someones career, not a widget or quick buck.
    Resumes will not get thrown in the trash if a client see’s you twice. It is very easy to see/track who submitted you first. That’s the recruiter who gets credit, period. It should not affect the candidate at all. I’m sure there is a rare occurance of this you will share, but it is so rare, not common at all.
    ***But perhaps a more impotant point left out here – and way to avoid this all together is – a candidate has a responsibility here too, to be honest and ethical! Quit throwing recruiters under the bus. It’s real simple, a second recruiter calls and you’ve already talked to the company they are representing? Then fess us and be honest and tell them you’ve already been submitted by another recruiter. Case closed, instead of you misrepresnting and wasting everyone’s time to try to get ahead on everyone else. Quit tring to play all your angles even at the expense of wasting peoples time and not being forthright, then blaming the recruiter. Yes it causes problems and wasted time, but you the candidate are the culprit. Just be honest. If you question whether the original recruiter has actually submitted you, then call them and find out. If they said they did but have not, tell them not to bother and go with the other recruiter if you’d like – since they had their chance and you don’t want someone representing you that makes committements and doesn’t keep them. Then again, I establish personal relationships with my candidates and we are always working together and on the same page, each step of the way, so each knows what the other is doing.
    *I have had instances where my client/hiring company finds out that a candidate acted this way – not disclosing that they had already been submitted, and the client has nixed the candidate. Not becuase of the recruiter conflict, but becauase they don’t want someone in their company who is a liar and a scammer.
    Do your part here candidates, and quit blaming others. I mean, how could you possible accept a call from recruiter #2, knowing its the same job, and not disclose you’re already aware, have had discussion(s) about this opportunity, and been submitted? Then blame the recruiter? Hopefully it’s now apparent where the problem lies here.
    And oh by the way – yes the “client/company” pays the recruiter the fee, but if the recruiter isn’t smart enough to realize that they represent both parties, shame on them. If the argument is that thier allegiance is to the company only, I argue that if I don’t find the best win-win match for my client/hiring company, then he/she loses. So I need to find and represent the best “fit” candidate available for this to happen. And if my candidate doesn’t REALLY want to be at this job – on their own – without getting “Sold”, then again my client has a problem when they leave and have to start over. How would that one-sided approach help my client? Most clients completely understand and agree with them. But again, I don’t throw mud against the wall – I estabish great rapport with my clients, and candidates alike. And I don’t work with candidates that would pull this stunt in subject here.

  11. @Gillies, @Craig:

    This blog/newsletter does NOT always bash recruiters. The only people bashed are those who are unprofessional in this industry.

    But I will agree that it is unwise to publish a resume on a public job site. I’m still getting off-the-wall emails from a resume I posted on Hotjobs over 10 years ago.

  12. I can’t blame anyone who wants a job and grasps all chances for that, particularly if that person has not experienced this phenomena before. Also, not everyone is or should be targeted by headhunters.
    Plus there are a lot of other ways for your resume to somehow end up being circulated without your permission. Being a former headhunter and now in corporate recruitment, you get to know all the tricks.
    Yes, there is a slight chance that your resume ends in trash – but also you might get contacted with opportunities that are not necessarily advertised. You might think you have double chances for your cv to end up in front of the hiring manager (in case one recruiter is not telling you the truth) – but be fair and communicate (if you have the chance) that you were already contacted for the same job.
    And oh yeah, all decent professionals suffer from all the others who trash the industry’s reputation.

  13. @Nick: Congrats on the great headline. While in some ways disrespectful of wild packs of feral dogs that would eat their own young in order to survive (comparing them to the vast number of lousy recruiters out there), it caught my eye in an otherwise busy day.

    @Spencer: “This blog/newsletter does NOT always bash recruiters. The only people bashed are those who are unprofessional in this industry.” This would be 99.44% of them?

    The “recruiters” I am always amazed at are the ones who look at my IT/PM resumes occasionally posted on job boards, and email or call with this great opportunity selling paid-up life insurance policies with AIG to retirees who have had 65 years to assemble as much life insurance as they could ever want or need.

    The longer I am in this field (IT) the more I am convinced that I need an agent rather than a recruiter.

  14. There’s a Duran Duran song from the 80s that describes 90% of the recruiters I’ve ever known: “Hungry Like The Wolf.”

  15. @Carol Schultz: Nice to make your acquaintance.

    @Scott: Your analogy to a parked car is very good. Mind if I use it?

    @Craig: I like good recruiters and I promote the work they do. But I won’t sit by idly and watch hacks herd online resumes around like cattle. There are a lot of hacks. More hacks than legit headhunters.

    @L.T.: Ivory soap.

    @F: There’s nothing wrong with recruiters being hungry. As long as they don’t bite people.

  16. @Spencer: I didn’t say this site continually bashed recruiters. I’m just surprised that Nick chooses to write a biased piece of journalism. I believe to be credible you must accept both sides of any story.

    I do believe there are some pretty shocking recruitment tactics out there but what I won’t accept is the general tarring of all recruiters by the same brush. And, I don’t really think Nick is overall one-sided, it’s just that this article came across in such a biased way I had to write something. Generally, the quality of his advice is very high and you can tell he has significant experience.

    I don’t believe posting on a job board will always give you the results you want as a jobseeker, but there are plenty of success stories from using them certainly at the more junior end of the job market. At the end of the day you just need to be a little more intelligent about your job search and you will get the results you want. As always do your research and try lots of methods, starting with the toughest one – networking.