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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