In the February 5, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know who comes first: The employer, or the headhunter?

I have a thorny problem. A recruiter just called me with a great job opportunity. I said, of course, submit me! Then, minutes later, I got an e-mail directly from the same company saying they’d seen my resume on a job board, and would like to talk to me about an open position.

Do I let the hiring company know that they should talk to the recruiter, or should I call the recruiter and say, don’t submit me, they contacted me directly? Which way is better overall? Does the headhunter own my interviews just because he found my resume online?

Nick’s Reply

resume-for-saleAh, your online resume bit you unexpectedly. And now you’re in a bad spot. For all you know, the recruiter found your resume the same place the company did.

First, you can’t tell the company to contact the recruiter, because it already found you itself. It’s not going to want to pay a recruiter.

(Of course, it’s possible the employer is trying to stiff the recruiter. You’ll never know.)

Second, you can’t tell the recruiter to forget it. You already told him to go ahead. When he calls the company, they’re going to tell him they’ve already talked to you. If he argues that he’s “representing” you, then the company may drop you like a hot potato. You lose. This is the sort of thing that can kill a candidate’s credibility.

The way that’s “better overall” is to stop posting your resume on the Net. The situation you’re in is why. For all you know, 20 recruiters have already plucked your resume and have forwarded it to hundreds of companies on their own letterhead. That’s one of the many risks you take when you publish your resume online — whether it’s on a job board or on LinkedIn. It can result in what’s referred to as a “fee fight.” If you’re hired without a recruiter’s direct involvement, the recruiter can still claim he’s owed a fee because he submitted your resume (even if it’s without your permission). The company might argue. The recruiter might sue.

But companies don’t like being put in this spot. More likely, they just decline to talk to (or hire) the candidate to avoid litigation. Like I said, you lose.

The generally accepted rule in such situations is this: Whoever introduced the candidate to the company first gets credit for the placement, and earns a fee. But that doesn’t preclude a fee fight.

What if some headhunter submits your resume to a company without your approval, and claims a fee when you don’t want him involved? Lotsa luck. How can you prove you didn’t approve the referral through the headhunter? Is the company really going to spend time gathering evidence to battle over you?

Heads up: This is how lots of “headhunters” operate. (I discuss how to distinguish the slime balls from the legit headhunters in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. The book includes an entire section titled How to find a good headhunter.) Not understanding how the good headhunters and the lousy headhunters operate can cost you a new job — and a whole lot of money.

So, what’s your best bet in this situation? Since the company controls the job and the fee — and also decides whether to interview you — I’d accept the interview from the employer promptly, and notify the headhunter that the employer has contacted you directly as a result of its own efforts. He cannot guarantee you a job interview. It’s not his to offer.

Unless the headhunter has a written contract with the employer, and can show he has prior claim to an interview that he scheduled between you and the company, he’s out of luck. This is how many “headhunters” (I hesitate to even call them that) get themselves into trouble: They don’t cultivate relationships with candidates and their clients. They find resumes online and they play the match game too fast and loose. In the end, this controversy is between the employer and the headhunter, because you’ve got no contract with the headhunter. Heck, he’ll be lucky if he has a contract with the employer. The only claim he can make is on the company — he can make no claim on you.

Nonetheless, I wish you the best. You’re going to need it. Posting your resume online might seem a great way to increase your odds of success, but it also increases the chances that your resume becomes a commodity out of your control. The headhunter doesn’t own or control your interviews — the employer does. The only thing the headhunter controls is the copy of your resume she plucked off the Net. Good luck getting control back.

Have your job hunting efforts ever run head-first into a headhunter’s? What happened? Has your online resume caused you problems like this? Help us sort out this mess.

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  1. The problem with “The way that’s “better overall” is to stop posting your resume on the Net.” Is they will never discover you in the first place. My method is posting anonymous option with a spartan resume that wets their interest and no phone number so they have to respond by email through the job board for me to see if they are a worthwhile organization to do business with.

    But why in the first place would a hiring firm deal with multiple agencies knowing they will have to deal with a fee fight?

  2. “This is how many ‘headhunters’ (I hesitate to even call them that) get themselves into trouble: They don’t cultivate relationships with candidates and their clients.”

    And this is one of the biggest problems I have experienced.

  3. @Eddie: Back up a bit. Why do you assume a good headhunter will find you via your resume on the Net? No good headhunter I know culls candidates from random resumes posted on the Net. All that this practice does is invite quacks who are scraping the Net for random resumes that “sound good.” Dave gets it…

    He says, “And this is one of the biggest problems I have experienced.”

    How can anyone cultivate relationships by posting resumes online? The mass posting of resumes enabled by the Net dumbs down the recruiting process and invites spamming and dumpster diving… it’s why you can’t find a job.

  4. Eddie: As Nick points out – it a good HH/Recruiter actually has a more formal agreement to fill a position and doesn’t really need to go dumpster diving to find people.

    It is amazing at how many times I get contacted where one or more of these things are true:

    1. The “recruiter/HH” doesn’t have exclusive rights to the job. They find a random job at a random company and then try to “represent” you.

    2. The “recruiter/HH” does not even read your LinkedIn/Resume/Personal Profile/Website/Blog/Whatever. For example,
    a. I’ve had “recruiters” look at my
    LinkedIn and contact me about 6-month
    contract jobs, even though I’ve
    been employed at the same place for
    almost a decade. Yeah, I’d like that
    job, but it’s a 6 mo contract so there
    would be no training, benefits, etc.
    b. Ask for a Word document of my resume,
    when it is on my website in every
    conceivable format.

    3. “Recruiter/HH” waits YEARS to contact me, after I reach out to them. Some don’t even vet what they are putting into their database until years after you contact them. I’ve had recruiters/HH’s use old contact info years after I moved on and stopped using that info. If your lucky, you may get a phone call to “see what you’re up too these days.”

    4. Random spam about jobs that I either may or may not have interest in from somebody I never met before.

    5. “HH/Recruiter” posts job to mailing list of computer club (or development list). Never seen the person at any of our meetings and you only ever post when you have a job. How about showing up once in awhile to a meeting or asking an on-topic question?

    6. “HH/Recruiter” has never written a line of code or configured a server in any type of setting (educational or professional). Or looks at your code on github. Yet, I am “not qualified.”

  5. I’ve found that one of the quickest ways to root out bad/lousy headhunters is to, ironically, go to the job boards.

    If you get a call, ask the headhunter a few questions about the job, but be non-committal. Don’t give the recruiter permission to send your resume (not that he/she will listen). After the call, look up that job on the major boards. Sometimes it’s easy because the recruiter will read the job description, a big sign he/she just pulled it from somewhere.

    When I do this, I can usually find the job with only a few minutes of searching. That tells me it’s usually not worth pursuing with this recruiter as I’d be lumped in with everyone else. (Plus, if something should pan out, I’ve got a record of a public posting of a job. No recruiter can claim a fee on me*.)

    * Note: I’m not saying you should do this to intentionally deny a recruiter a fee for placement. But if the recruiter is just trolling and using public posted jobs, really, what value is the recruiter bringing to the table?

  6. Hi Nick,

    Great post about the potential conflict between companies and headhunters about who got the resume in there first.

    When I was a hiring manager, I remember one recruiting firm trying to drag me into such an argument. In this case two recruiting firms submitted the same resume.
    One of the headhunters got pretty nasty with me. I remember thinking I did not have time for this kind of crap. I brought in HR and they temporarily blacklisted that recruiting firm.
    As for the candidate, it did cause me to consider dropping him. It also made him look bad for having two recruiting firms submitting his resume to the same hiring manager.

  7. @Chris – I hate when the recruiter basically cut and pastes the job description from the companies web site into an email to you/job board. Where is the value add?

  8. @Chris, Dave: I started responding to the great question behind your comments – What value does the headhunter add? Then I realized it was a short column. Thanks for asking a great question.

  9. I cannot tell you how many times a recruiter submits a candidate, on the recruiter’s letterhead and I’ve already seen the resume and/or interviewed the candidate.
    If there’s a question, I search my email folders and tell the recruiter the date and time I saw the resume. They have NEVER been the intial contact.

  10. If you shouldn’t be posting your resume online (including on LinkedIn) because it could be harvested by an unscrupulous recruiter, what do you recommend that people have on their LinkedIn public profile instead?

    I assuming there’s no problem having resume-like detail on your LinkedIn private profile that only your contacts can see, right?

  11. @Alan: That is the question. I don’t know what the answer is. Being able to have credible employers find you, and being able to protect your information from drivey-by opportunists who will splatter you all over kingdom come… I wonder why none of the job boards or LinkedIn have figured this out. It’s what they get paid for. As it stands, our info on LinkedIn is freely available. Maybe most members want it that way. But why isn’t there a method for vetting who sees it? Letting in just “friends” or “linked people” limits access to people you know. But what makes anyone else legit? I suppose that’s the 64 billion dollar question for the Net today.

    The U.S. Post Office is considering offering secure e-mail addresses. That’s a start.

    Anybody got an idea?

  12. Nick-

    Wise approach. Many employers do not want to deal with headhunters who are just commodity brokers. I recently applied to a job through CareerBuilder directly with the company. Then a recruiter called about it. It turns out they also had the job listed on their website. I was confused. I wished I had known because I thought it would have given me an edge to go through the recruiter. As it turned out, they didn’t even seem to have an agreement with the company to represent the job. The company called me for an interview, and I got the feeling that it was an advantage that I had not gone through the recruiter, but had applied directly. They didn’t seem to want to deal with the recruiter at all. I didn’t get the job, but clearly got through better representing myself than having the recruiter do it. I have seen a number of companies now in NE who say they won’t accept resumes from recruiters or ones submitted internally.

  13. Nick: Perhaps the key question is what items of info transform a LinkedIn public proflile into a stealable & reusable resume? Or to look at it from another direction, how close can you get your LinkedIn public profile to being a full resume without it becoming fodder for an unethical recruiter?

    If your LinkedIn profile doesn’t have your phone number or email address in the text, is that enough? Or do you need to leave off detailed accomplishments, skills, education, etc.?

  14. @Alan: This is kind of like deciding whether that dimly lit alley is worth walking into, eh? ;-)

  15. When I communicate with my anyone I work with I do so by email. I also make sure that I blind copy my personal email account. This is because you never know when you may need a document or if you will have access to an email account that the employer owns. This has paid off for me at least twice, where my directors thought they could lie about me and get away with it. All the work that I do and ideas that I come up with I place into my personal evaluation box at my home for print documents. I keep the original and the job gets the copy.

    Where I presently work the atmosphere is so hostile that everyday I keep a work diary using my personal email account. I make note of unusual incidents including the who, what, when, why, and where. The subject of the email is the current date and I list events by time. The subject line may contain a title of a specific event occurred. For instance, one day I saw an employee walk over and go through another employee’s desk. I noted the action and talked with the employee that had been violated. However, since it was not my work area I did not take any action. In the subject line I list the names of the employees and the action; Person A goes through Person B’s desk.

    I keep copies of evaluations, emails of thanks, and any other document that is a praise of my work. I have decided they may be able to say what they want about me, but a glowing document with a signature will contradict the negative report.

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  18. I post my resume online then I got a call from a headhunter. The headhunter sent my resume to the hiring company and I got an interview. A few days after the interview, the headhunter called the hiring manager about my interview. Apparently, the hiring company received a copy of my resume online the same time that the headhunter called me and set me up for an interview. I called/emailed the headhunter but never got any answer.

    My question is what should I do? Should I call the hiring company directly or does the headhunter have the right on my interview?

    thank you.

  19. @Vani: You did the right thing. You reached out to the headhunter. He did not respond. I’d send him an e-mail now, stating that since he has not responded to your efforts to contact him, you consider the matter of that one company between you ended, and that you do not want him sending your resume anywhere else. Then I’d contact the employer directly to see if you can establish your own contact. But this is risky. The employer, having interviewed you through the headhunter, may have an obligation to pay him a fee if it hires you. If it doesn’t want to pay a fee, it may not want to risk hiring you. Too often, people get involved with headhunters without realizing how this works, and what problems they can encounter with headhunters who do not operate above board. I suggest you read my PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters. The problem here is that this matter of the fee, and whether the company will talk to you again, depends on what’s going on between the headhunter and the employer. I’d ask the employer very candidly where things stand. Good luck.