In the January 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets calls from two different headhunters — who want to “submit” him for what seems to be the same job. How many headhunters should he work with?

A headhunter called yesterday about an interesting position. She is not ready to reveal her client until the client has seen my resume and expressed an interest. Today, another headhunter called about a position that sounds similar. (I can’t figure out who that employer might be). The second headhunter asked if my resume has been submitted to the employer. To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no, but the position from the prior day might be the very same job.

I have been confronted with this situation at least a few times. How should I handle it? How many headhunters should I work with at a time?

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

My Advice

My advice about this is in the PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. Here’s a free preview straight out of the book, from Section 2: Working With Headhunters to Get Ahead. I hope you enjoy it!

Don’t confuse real headhunters with people who solicit your resume blindly. These might include employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters who work within corporations. Many of these “headhunters” may approach you. Giving them your resume indiscriminately is like giving your credit card number to every telemarketer who calls. You won’t like having lots of recruiters working with you, especially if two or more of them give your resume to the same company.

If, somehow, multiple headhunters approach you at the same time, then you need to know just one thing: Do they each represent a different company? If yes, then you’d be looking at different job opportunities and it’s fine to work with all of them at once. There should be no overlap in their assignments and no conflict for you.

If there is an overlap, then one company is unwisely using multiple contingency headhunters to fill the same position. The company is putting its headhunters into competition with one another. That’s like assigning two sales reps to sell to the same prospect — the company reveals poor judgment and sloppy hiring practices. Even so, you can still entertain an opportunity, but you would be wise to let just one headhunter present you to the company. Otherwise, you will likely be rejected out of hand because the company could wind up in the middle of a fee fight.

Who would be due the fee if you were hired? If the company interviews you via two headhunters — even if it’s for two completely different jobs — and then hires you, it could owe the fee twice. Don’t get in the middle of it. Work with only one headhunter at a time with respect to a particular employer.

So the answer to your question has two parts:

First, understand that if a lot of “headhunters” are soliciting you, it’s probably not wise to work with them because they have not carefully selected you. They are merely interested in blasting your resume around, hoping for a hit.

Second, if two or more headhunters contact you about different jobs at different companies… (Sorry, this part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

You should insist that both headhunters disclose who their client is. It’s reasonable to agree that you will not disclose the opportunity to other job hunters — at least for a time. In any case, it’s not prudent or necessary to sign an agreement with any headhunter. If the first headhunter won’t trust you, then you don’t have a good enough reason to work with her.

The above section of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you is followed by these two Q&As:

  • Q: Is there a way to get multiple headhunters to call on me about legitimate job opportunities? (A: Yes…)
  • Q: What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list? (A: Yes…)

How have you handled mulitiple headhunters? — especially if they called you about the same job. Did it pay off, or have you gotten burned?

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  1. This is interesting and timely. I just last week accepted a position that I found by myself, but I was working with multiple recruiters over the last month or so. The way I handled them was to have each of them represent me for one particular company, and only to pursue other opportunities after getting my approval first.

    Honestly, though, I work for a consulting firm (for one more week) who I would have given the bulk of opportunities to go after. The other firms had specific positions at specific companies that interested me, which is why I worked with them. One firm in particular here has a reputation for blasting your resume all over town, so I handled that one especially carefully, making sure they knew I was only interested in one position they were recruiting for.

    It ended up that I accepted a position with a company I had interviewed with months ago, for a different position that I was not a fit for. I got along so well with the interviewer that he advised me they may be posting a position at the end of the year that would be a better fit. When I responded to the later posting, his email reply was, “I was hoping you would apply.” That put a big smile on my face, and I start in early February.

  2. Interestingly, this raises another headhunter conflict encountered by candidates (me included). It is not commonly known that if you apply directly to a company via their website or internal HR/recruiter, outside recruiters become irate if they approach you, send you to the company only to discover later you’ve already applied. Most recruiters never ask, and I’ll be honest, I don’t always remember. When they conceal the employer and are vague about the job description, this is an accident waiting to happen. Job descriptions are typically rewritten, so how are candidates always going to remember where they’ve applied (I suppose you can really micromanage job search details if you are so inclined)?

    I missed out on two really good management opportunities because external recruiters and internal HR folk have this inherent issue should the candidate apply directly first. I actually get read the riot act twice for this.

    How are candidates who are actively looking who see opportunities supposed to know whether a company will be sending an external recruiter later or not? Are we never to apply directly hoping that the company will hire a headhunter and pray they find us? It’s a non sequitur.

  3. @Jim S: Loved that story – you got a job at a company where the job you applied for was not a fit. But I wonder why the manager didn’t call to recruit you when the new job came up. Why did he wait for you to apply. In any case, ain’t it great when a job is wired for you? ;-)

  4. @Dave M: You’re making a huge error here. Those guys calling you about jobs you already applied for – they’re not headhunters. They’re throwing-spaghetti-against-the-wallers hoping something sticks and earns them a fee. Next time one of them reads you the riot act, let him finish. Then unhinge your jaw and ream him for not managing his clients and candidates better.

    “What do you think I’m going to say to the next ten companies I talk to about you? I’m going to ask them all whether you included me without my permission in your mass mailings of resumes to their company, and let them know I have not authorized you.”

    How ’bout them apples? YOU are the reason those clowns earn money. Without you, there is no spaghetti. And make sure they know that.

    Real headhunters – the ones that actually manage their assignments, have contracts with their clients, and respect their candidates – don’t behave this way. They are few and far between, but you’ll know them when you meet them.

  5. @Nick, @Dave M.

    I was thinking along the same lines… I’ve had recruiters/head hunters pitted against internal HR staff.

  6. I find this very timely. Currently as I search for a new position I am asked to send my resume,with the offer that they will find a fit.I learned from your site the difference between retained and non retained recruiters/headhunters, so I am very specific as to who gets what and when.
    Another thing I would add is to leave your references off of the table until they are specifically applied to a position. My references have been gracious in giving their consentto use their information, but I prefer for them to be contacted for a position I value to challenge.My question is: do I add references available upon specific request” to my resume? Thanks so much.

  7. This is a very timely subject for me. I received two call from headhunters last week. The first were very professional and open. They disclosed the company, the job discription and the salary range. He found mhy name through Linkedin and some referrals within my company. I spoke to a junior member of the recruiting company twice for about one hour each time. He thought I would be a good fit for the position. He then scheduled me to talk with a VP of his company. When asked my top reason to leave my current position, I replied that I wanted to cut my commute to no more than five miles. I asked him for cost of living data for Alpharetta GA, but decided to look it up myself. I was stunned to find that housing was 2.3 times as expensive as where I live and even more than NJ where I work and consider housing costs to be far too high.
    The next day I spoke to the VP and immdeiately sensed that he was not very enthusiastic about me for this position. Since I already rejected it in my mind due to the high cost of housing close to the employer’s location, I let him talk.
    I quickly sumrised that the employer wanted a “cookie cutter” candidate with 20 years experience that did that exact kind of work before. The funny part was that the kind of work he described is done by recent college graduates in my field before they move on and up. The VP seemed clueless about this discrepancy. However, I wasn’t interested anymore and did not pursue the subject more. He then bemoaned all of the trouble they were having filling this position. In my youger days, I would have told him that he was an idiot, but I’m more mellow now and let these things pass.

  8. I have a requirement that before my name or resume can be submitted to a company that the submittal be cleared by me. This includes revealing the name of the client company so that I can check for double submissions. I keep a log (Word document) of all authorized and website submittals.

    Once upon a time (many years ago) a recruiter submitted my resume without clearing it with me, or even letting me know. I authorized another recruiter to submit and got an interview. At the interview the company noted the duplicate recruiter submissions, asked a few questions and closed the interview. I notified the unauthorized recruiter that I lost the position because of the duplicate submission and that I did not want him to submit without preauthorization. He did it again for a position that I was not a good match and I told him that he was to remove me from his database and not submit to any more clients. I heard from him or his agency a few time over the next few years and reminded him that he was banned from representing me due to unauthorized submittals.

    I have had occasions since then where the recruiter does not want or claims the client does not want their name released to candidates. I tell the recruiter about my policy and that without the client company name, I can not authorize submittal of my resume. I also tell them that this information is kept confidential and should another recruiter call about the same client I will tell them that I have already been submitted. If asked, I will also tell them the name of the agency that submitted. Some try to get a list of clients that I have been submitted to saying that they won’t submit to those that I list. I will ask them if they would want me to release the information about their clients to other recruiters, and they always answer “no”.

    I consider a submittal with no feed back, including email, phone calls, responding to my phone calls or email to be dead after 3 months and reopen the client for submittals.

    In the last few months, I have received over a dozen agency emails about the same 5 position descriptions at a local company. Most of the emails seem to be cut and possibly modified from a boilerplate, and a few were rewritten but still contained the same information. (I had to call two agencies with completely different copy to verify my suspicion that they were recruiting for the same company.) The first couple of emails came from agencies that I had never heard of, and before I had a chance to responded, an agency that I had recently contracted with emailed, so I responded to him. The client is a company that I have done contract work through another local contracting company. Last status indicated that I was on a short list of two from his agency out of ten submittals. However with all of the other agencies that have emailed about this I wonder how this will eventually work out.

    The bottom line: no client name, no submittal.

  9. @Lee Hamiltion

    I completely agree.I want to know the location/company/pay range of company before I authorize submittals.

    I can understand why agencies may be skiddish on releasing names of clients as early as possible. But it’s usually because, in my experience, they don’t have dibs on the position. I can either go to another headhunter who has a better relationship with the client or contact the client directly.

    I found that I was more willing to let head hunters talk more if they told me who the end client is up front.

    I was contacted by a headhunter this summer for a position. He didn’t have dibs on it, and company decided to go with someone else they got via another route. One thing I “learned” is that you need to ask if the head hunter is conducting the search alone or are there other agencies/parites, either internal or extrnal also looking to fill the position. This may not get all of the submissions, but it’s a start.

  10. @Linda K: Please don’t confuse this issue with the dinstinction between retained and non-retained (aka, contingency) headhunters. Contingency headhunters can be just as good – if not better – than the retained variety.

    Neither are in the business of “finding you a fit.” Anyone who offers you that is likely in the employment agency business.

    Your point about references is excellent. Withhold them til you think it’s time. And deliver them only if you trust the headhunter.


  11. @John Z: Even when they sound good, you need to vet them carefully.