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Beware of False Headhunter Prophets

Aug 30, 20074 mins
CareersData and Information SecurityIdentity Management Solutions

With the change of control now complete and my fate sealed, finding new employment is of primary importance. I received an email from a head hunting firm requesting a discussion. The timing was perfect. This at first did not raise a red flag. So why not. I responded to the email in kind and we talked setting up a face-to-face meeting at their offices. I proceeded to research the firm. Statements on their website read “…is a specialized placement firm that responds directly to the senior staffing needs of company decision-makers on a cost-effective basis.” Their marketing material also states that they service companies with a cost-effective vehicle for senior-level recruiting while at the same time providing the senior executive with an effective and proactive marketing device. It sounded like a worthwhile hour or two to spend and what the heck, I had the time. 

Upon meeting one of the senior staff, he indicated that they have found my contact information in an online database. I did not pursue this at the time but would wonder later as the conversation progressed. He indicated that most firms recruit by the head, receiving up to 60% of the new employees 1st year salary in compensation for the placement. His firm provided a multi-year contract for up to five searches for a much smaller fee. He made this point very clear.

He was genuinely knowledgeable about interviewing skills as well as resume development. He proceeded to tear mine apart offering biting criticism with solid solutions for improvement. I was impressed. I listened intently and dropped my guard a bit as we spoke.

He moved onto the financial aspects of interviewing providing great insight into the process. We role-played a bit which exposed my interviewing weaknesses. As we moved towards the end of the process, I was surprised at what followed. The discussion came back to the fees they charge employers for their searches. About to drop the hammer, he indicated that they need the candidates to have skin in the game and require fees from the candidate in the range of 15-20% of an agreed upon salary. Agreed upon by myself and the placement firm. Throughout the interview process he spoke of how most candidates take too low an offer; that my latest salary was way too low; that he could get me much, much more. Setting me up for the kill. Pumping up my ego prior to striking. Based upon this stroking, of course I would name a high number and subsequently pay a higher fee with no guarantees of getting a job.  Skin in the game? What does the specter of unemployment mean if not skin in the game?

My jaw did not drop but my guard went up tenfold. Here was a firm that took money from both the employer and the candidate. Conflict of interest to say the least. Ethical issues abound. Who would they represent? Themselves of course.  Here is a firm that stands in the middle and takes money from both sides. I wonder if they inform the employers of this practice? Who is the watchdog for such groups?

As my paranoid mind began to work, I remember he had mentioned that others from my former firm had come through his office and that he was well aware of the situation occurring as part of the acquisition. It led me to believe that they in fact had not gotten my contact info from an online database but in fact had received it from a former co-worker.   How much was his/her cut for providing names?  As I said, the timing was perfect. They had me flopping around the boat but I was able to get back into the water and swim away. I declined a second round which would have required my checkbook. What would you have done?