Should I accept money from a headhunter to take a job?

Should I accept money from a headhunter to take a job?


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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Must I “kiss ass” to get a job?

Must I “kiss ass” to get a job?


My husband is a recent college graduate in need of a professional job. He’s had a couple of possibilities, but no offers or anything.

I know what the problem is. He’s going about it the old-fashioned way, by applying for “available” jobs he finds via the Internet. He dutifully fills out applications and sends resumes to places advertising jobs. Obviously he needs to get on the networking ball, but he’s having a difficult time with it, for two reasons.

First, he thinks it’s wrong. He wants to get a job on his merits, not because he “knows somebody.” He wants to feel like he earned the job by being competent, not by being the best ass-kisser or because somebody’s brother’s cousin’s friend has some pull with the company owner’s daughter’s dog groomer. I don’t know what to say to him about this, because I happen to agree. It feels like, at least in the current climate, success in a job search has relatively little to do with your actual ability to do the job.

Second, and this is the part I’d like your help with, it’s really a downright unpleasant thing to have to do. Calling up everyone you know, begging for a job and asking them to beg for you to everyone they know. I think it would be easier to ask people for money, frankly.

How do people do it? Do you reward yourself with a treat every time you make an icky phone call? Imagine your “contact” in nothing but their skivvies? Risk sinking into multiple personality disorder by dissociating yourself from the entire process?

Help, please!

Nick’s Reply

get a jobI understand your husband’s hesitation and his attitude, because I was a new college grad once. However, he is absolutely, positively, completely wrong.

It’s easy to assume that “who you know” is a corrupt way to get a job. The truth is, companies hire people they know because they’re less likely to encounter problems with “people they know.”

Need to get a job? We hire who we know.

A V.P. at a successful company explained it to me many years ago.

“We hire using our company’s ‘people filter’. We hire only people who are referred by our employees and by people we know. This assures us that we’re getting good people, because why would our friends and employees refer turkeys? It assures us that the new hire will work hard, because if she doesn’t it would reflect poorly on the employee who referred her. And, we are assured that the new hire will get lots of help and support — it’s a kind of guaranteed on-the-job-training.”

Know what? That V.P. doesn’t hire people just because they “know someone.” Good companies will still examine a highly-recommended candidate carefully. They will look at your skills and abilities, and hire you only if you’re right for the job. A good company won’t hire a turkey whose only credential is that she “knows someone.” But, that people filter is what gets a candidate in the door, and it’s what seals a relationship if all other criteria are met.

We don’t hire resumes or turkeys

You are worried that “success in a job search has relatively little to do with your actual ability to do the job”. Step back a minute. How is your husband demonstrating his ability to do the job? By sending employers a document with his name and credentials on it? Do you really think that convinces anyone he can do the job?

Contrast this with a candidate who talks to that dog groomer, who in turn introduces the candidate to a friend whose father owns the company. The friend talks with the candidate, satisfies herself that the candidate is talented, then refers the candidate to her dad, who refers them to a manager who is hiring. I’ll take that dog groomer over a scrap of paper any day — and so will most hiring managers.

When you send a company your resume, you’re not demonstrating anything. All you’re saying is, “Here are my credentials, all typed up nicely. Now, you go figure out what the heck to do with me.” Employers are lousy at hiring from resumes. A personal contact is your opportunity to actually show what you can do — it’s your opportunity to demonstrate your value and to suggest how you will help the company. (This won’t work if you’re a turkey!)

We trust our icky contacts

Your husband needs to get over this. (And so do you.) If you don’t follow my logic, consider this. Companies pay headhunters lots of money to deliver the very best candidates for a job. A $100,000 position will yield a $30,000 fee. Do you know why companies pay that kind of money? Because they don’t want to waste time with thousands of resumes of people they don’t know. They want the personal referrals of the headhunter. They’re paying handsomely for those icky contacts.

When you develop relationships that gain you a personal referral, you’re being your own headhunter. You see, companies don’t hire people they know in order to do a favor for someone. They hire people they know because of the trust factor. They’re simply more likely to get a good hire from someone they know.

Trust: Get a job without icky

Developing professional contacts is crucial to success. If you regard it as icky, then you’ve got the wrong idea entirely. Is it dishonest or immoral to make an effort to meet people who do the work you want to do? Is it ass-kissing when you call people in your field to discuss their business and to learn how you can make a contribution to their industry? Is it unpleasant to take a step into your chosen line of work — or is it just uncomfortable because you don’t know how to do it? (Please check Natural Networking: An end to stupid networking.)

If your husband can’t get comfortable talking to people about the work they do (and the work he wants to do), then I can’t help him. He’s going to have to learn the hard way.

Here’s the risk he takes. If he gets hired strictly on the basis of a blind resume submission, the odds that he will have the support and attention he needs to succeed are much smaller than if he gets hired through a personal contact. My friend the V.P. devotes lots of time to help his new hires succeed because he’s beholden to the people who referred the candidate — there’s personal responsibility and trust involved. You see, it works both ways: personal contacts yield good hires for employers, and they yield the best opportunities for job hunters.

Don’t kiss anything to get a job. Networking must not be icky. It should be a natural, satisfying experience of getting to know good people in your field — and helping them get to know you.

I wish you and your husband the best.

What’s your take on networking and using personal referrals to get a job? Maybe more important, why do so many people think networking is “icky?” Is networking a skill, or an attitude?

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Is “the hot job market” a load of crap?

Is “the hot job market” a load of crap?


Here’s another article, this one from MarketWatch, about how The U.S. Jobs Market Is Scorching Hot. So why can’t I get interviews for a good job, much less a job offer? I’m pretty fresh out of school with desirable technical credentials and all I want is a good job at a good company. I’m not greedy about salary. If employers are so hot to trot and good people are so hard to find, why do they do 6 interviews on 6 different days then tell you it doesn’t seem you are really interested in their product line? Doesn’t the ability to learn quickly and work hard count? How long can a company leave a job vacant? I don’t know who’s measuring what, but the news about the hot job market is a load of crap. The job market stinks. Am I the only one that thinks so?

Nick’s Reply

hot job marketI’m inclined to agree with you. You’re not the only frustrated, befuddled job seeker. I get lots of mail like yours. People with solid credentials and experience — at entry and higher levels — are confused and angry.

What talent shortage?

Today there are around 11 million open jobs and 6 million people unemployed. There are far more open jobs than job seekers. Employers call this a talent shortage. “We can’t fill jobs!”

Here’s the rub. In 2016 I was hired to do a webinar for Kelly Worldwide. It was a conference of HR managers. Their #1 complaint? The talent shortage. But in 2016 around 20 million people were looking for jobs. There were around 5 million jobs open. I upbraided my HR audience for calling a 4:1 hiring advantage a “talent shortage.”

What’s changed? Nothing, really. The condition of the economy doesn’t matter. Employers keep making the same recruiting and hiring mistakes today as they did in 2016. They blame job seekers and they cry “talent shortage!” no matter how many people the Department of Labor says are looking for work!

Hot job market or HR failure?

Google’s former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said something back then that still applies today:

“Most companies hire for the position, not the person. So they look for a match on LinkedIn for all of the criteria. They have to have five years of this and 10 years of that — and that’s precisely the wrong way to go about hiring.” (Fortune, 9/4/14)

How could “talent shortage” explain two very different economies and job markets? I think Schmidt says it all. Employers own this problem. They don’t know how to recruit or hire, and they make the same mistakes in any kind of economy. The rest of us suffer for it.

But the question here is, does the job market really stink today?

Hot job market, or stinky load of crap?

I’m not an economist or an oracle. But I think members of this community have information, opinions and insights on today’s inscrutable job market. So this week I’m going to ask readers some questions. I hope the resulting comments will shed some light on what I agree is “a load of crap” about “the hot job market.”

Dear readers:

  1. Is the hot job market really a load of crap?
  2. Are you finding it easier or harder than “normal” (whatever that is!) to get a good job? Please indicate whether you’re just starting out like this reader, or unemployed, or want to make a job move to something better.
  3. What are the main obstacles and challenges that make your job search difficult today? Have they changed?
  4. What should employers do differently to recruit and fill jobs?

Is the reader who submitted this week’s question an anomaly, or is “the hot job market” an illusion? What do you think is going on and what should we do about it? I hope you’ll share your comments on the four questions. Thanks!

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