www.asktheheadhunter.com | May 8, 2007
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Slimed by a headhunter

So I'm sitting here minding my own business when I get a call from a headhunter. I'm not actively (or passively) looking for a job, but he wants to know more about my background in case a perfect match comes up. I (foolishly) agree to send him my resume for his files. I do this via e-mail and include a note that says he is not to distribute my resume to anyone. We speak again, and he agrees not to distribute it. He says he'll just keep it on file.

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Two days later, I get a call from a company. "Hey! We got your resume from such-and-such a recruiting firm. Looks impressive. Can we talk?"

The headhunter slimed me. Through my conversation with the personnel rep at this company, I find out that the headhunter refused to give my phone number to the company (like they couldn't get it online in a dozen places). It just so happens that I had talked to this company in the distant past so they had my number on file. The personnel person at this company ended up hanging up on the recruiter and called me directly.

My question for you is, do I have any recourse in this matter? I didn't want my resume on the streets for two reasons:

  1. It could get back to my company through various contacts that I'm looking when I'm not, and,
  2. I didn't want this firm to represent me because I was starting to suspect prior to this incident that they might be sleaze-balls.

Although I cannot prove that any harm will come from this incident, is it possible that they could harm my reputation or my ability to negotiate directly with a company? Needless to say, I am not a happy camper. Your advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Nick's Reply
Sure you have recourse; several kinds. At the very least, you should write a letter to the owner of the search firm, recapping the agreement you made with the headhunter and demanding that they return your resume and provide you with a list of the companies they have given it to. You might want to copy the letter to the personnel rep at the company that's considering you. The important thing is that you serve notice that this firm does not represent you and that it is not to submit your resume to anyone for any reason.

At this point, you might want to sic an attorney on the headhunter, sending him scampering up the nearest tree. He deserves a good scare. It may not be worth your time or the cost, but you could also consult an attorney who can send a nasty-gram on your behalf.

If you now intend to pursue a job with the company in question, you need to be aware of how headhunters get paid. In a "contingency deal", the headhunter is paid only when his candidate is actually hired. By convention (and possibly by law, depending on where you are located) the headhunter is credited with the placement if his introduction was the cause of the hire. In this case, the original contact the company had with you was so long ago that the headhunter could argue that his more recent introduction was the cause. Of course, your contention that he had no authority to present you to the company might do him in. This would make an interesting case if he were to argue that he is owed a fee. Generally, companies avoid fee fights like this and just drop the candidate rather than risk a battle. But if we put aside the headhunter's inappropriate distribution of your resume, the company is being slimy, too. It is benefiting from a new introduction to you, but "relying" on an old discarded resume that never would have been reconsidered were it not for the headhunter's action. What the company is doing is wrong.

Headhunters sometimes make mistakes, just like anyone does. But if this headhunter has not apologized profusely, you need to confront him and stop him. In case you haven't already realized it, it's very likely that he has already sent your resume to other companies. That's why, if you're really concerned about this, an attorney might be a good investment.

You're right that having your resume floating around can do you damage. It could wind up in your boss's hands. If people on your team hear that you're looking, it could hurt your ability to work with them effectively. If enough companies suddenly receive your resume and they compare notes, it might seem to them that you are desperately seeking a job. That's why it's important to take action.

Headhunters poison their wells when they do things like this. They also do damage to the headhunting business as a whole. A headhunter's success and his credibility are based on his integrity. Trustworthiness and the ability to keep things confidential define his integrity. There are good headhunters out there; they're the only ones you should work with. The lesson you have hopefully learned is this: don't trust anyone you don't know with your resume. Check a headhunter out before you work with him.

And now I'll rap you gently on the knuckles. You gave this headhunter your resume even though you already suspected he's a sleaze-ball. You helped create your own problem. It's up to you to learn How To Judge A Headhunter. Another article, intended for budding headhunters, may provide you with more insight on the business: So, You Want to Be A Headhunter?

Nick Corcodilos
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