Should I let them get their 25,000?
November 30, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Is it unethical to bypass the technical recruiter and go straight to the recruiting company?

I was recently contacted by a technical recruiter about an interesting job opportunity. However, they want me to travel across town to interview with them first, and it happens to be a fairly long commute. Plus, having been on the other side of recruiters, I know that oftentimes the finder's fee can be considerable and comes indirectly or directly from the employee's starting salary.

They want me to formally submit my resume to them, and I'm guessing that they also want to get me to sign something when I go into interview. I know who their client is, and I can see the job listed on their web site. Is it unethical for me to just contact the client and apply directly?

What are the ethics of working with technical recruiters? Maybe I'm just justifying my behavior, but the job market here for my field is hot, so it's not like I need them to find me a job.
posted by TheOtherSide to Work & Money (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The target company may only work through that recruiter, in which case going directly to the company would not be a good thing. Or they may not.
posted by dfriedman at 3:35 PM on November 30, 2010

No, it is not unethical. Sometimes companies do actually engage recruiters rather than hire direct, but the rest of the time it is literally hundreds of recruiting companies scouring the want ads and trying to make a fee off you - and once they get you to sign that exclusivity agreement, the employer is stuck with them if they really want you.

It's pretty scammy and horrible (and annoying; I've not spoken to a recruiter in 10 years who had any sort of expertise in my field or technology in general, they're just livestock brokers often working entirely on commission); don't encourage it, go straight to the source.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2010

If you found out about the job via the recruiter, I'd say that ethically you should proceed through them. If you knew about the job beforehand, then the decision would be more about whether you think working with the recruiter would up your odds of getting the job - but it doesn't sound like that's the case.
posted by polymath at 3:38 PM on November 30, 2010

If you go directly to the client company, the recruiter may find out and demand a finder's fee anyway, particularly if they have an exclusive agreement. You could be perceived as devious for trying to go around the client's business partner (who they have, after all, decided to work with).

Of course, if this is more of a parasitic recruiter like Lyn Never describes, the "client" (i.e., victim) company might be overjoyed you saved them the hassle.

If you do choose to go around the recruiter, I would tell the client company up front how you found out about the opportunity. See how they react, and if you get the sense that you should proceed through the recruiter, finder's fee be damned, then do that. If they act like it's no big deal and hire you anyway, then there you go. But if you come off as trying to cover it up, that could look real bad.
posted by rkent at 3:44 PM on November 30, 2010

At this point, I don't think you have any ethical obligation to the recruiter. If a better candidate walked in the door in ten minutes, they surely wouldn't wait to submit them until after you had a shot at the job.
posted by snofoam at 3:58 PM on November 30, 2010

I know who their client is, and I can see the job listed on their web site. Is it unethical for me to just contact the client and apply directly?

Given these facts, I'd say going direct is OK. For me, the ethics in a situation like this are wrapped up in my relationship with whoever the middleman is. If you don't know the recruiter and it wasn't much effort to find the direct job ad, no problems.

(If the business has a job listing on their own site, they're obviously not exclusive with the recruiter or they're being very shoddy in their own relationship.)
posted by wackybrit at 4:02 PM on November 30, 2010

This is kind of hazy ethically- I am no great fan of recruiters but they did tell you about the job.

I think they key question is- is the company advertising the job elsewhere? Is it on their website? On craigslist?

If not, then I would go with the recruiter, just for practical reasons. A lot of companies prefer to hire through recruiters. It doesn't necessarily make sense, but they do. And if the job hasn't been advertised anywhere, then you face the rather awkward question of "well how did you hear about it?" Also, some recruiters really do have "in"s. I got my first software job I think mostly because the recruiter's sister worked in the company's HR.

As for losing salary, I don't see that as an issue for a permanent job. The fee that goes to the recruiter is usually a flat 20% or so of one year's salary. I don't think the company would reduce an annual salary to offset that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:03 PM on November 30, 2010

I can see the job listed on their web site

Sorry missed that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2010

You have absolutely no ethical obligation to the recruiter.
posted by Nelson at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2010

if the recruiter is the one who told you about the job, then I'd say you do have an ethical obligation (you didn't see the ad before they told you about it, after all), but it's not a legal obligation, obviously.

There are recruiters and recruiters. Some are genuinely partnered with the company and will be the best "in" you can get (many times the company will be too overwhelmed with responses to go through their inbox, and will rely on a trusted recruiter to present them with three or four excellent candidates.) But there are also parasites pulling resumes off Monster and submitting them to every job on Craigslist, trying to make a buck here or there. Unfortunately, the second kind will always lie and pretend to be the first kind, so it can be hard to know.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:13 PM on November 30, 2010

If you get the job by going direct and end up with lingering feelings of guilt about bypassing the recruiter, just keep sending the recruiter anonymous $20 donations until the feeling goes away.
posted by flabdablet at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2010

You have zero ethical obligation to the recruiter. You aren't tied in to applying for a job only through a third party just because that third party reached out to you.

Now, if the company wants to hire someone through that recruiter, then you have a business reason to stick with the recruiter... but that's the extent of it, and without more information I don't know how likely that is to be the case.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:25 PM on November 30, 2010

Can those who claim that ethics demands the poster go through the recruiter explain why?
posted by grouse at 4:33 PM on November 30, 2010

Eh, I think it can go either way. The question isn't "can you see the job on the company's website", it's "would you know that the company was hiring for that position if not for the recruiter".

Technically, yep, you can go around them. Depending on the type of recruiter the are, (contingency, etc.), and the relationship with the company, you can probably apply directly and there would be no issue. But there might be, IF the recruiter finds out that you applied around them, AND if they have a good relationship with the company, so they ding you. But that's a big IF/AND proposition.
posted by anitanita at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Is it ethical" is a difficult question to answer, but here's my opinion: since the position is publicly advertised, you don't have any reason to go through the recruiter first, and you don't owe them for simply bringing the job opening to your attention. I don't know anything about how the business you're looking at works, so I can't speak to whether or not that could be a problem down the line in terms of what/who they know.

Me, I'd go right to the fastest possible way to get seen.
posted by tzikeh at 4:49 PM on November 30, 2010

If it's on the company's website, then my vote's for having no obligation to the recruiter at all. The company has made the posting publicly available, and you're the public.

Personally, I'd google around and see if I could find the job being advertised somewhere else, just more for curiosity's sake. If I did see it, then any question about obligation is definitely off the table. But if there's any chance whatsoever you could have stumbled upon this posting on your own, recruiter be damned. Unless of course you think the recruiters referral might actually be of help to you. It might depend who the recruiter is - if it's someone local with a good reputation, then it might be worth it to go through them. If it's someone no one's ever heard of, the fly-by-night scumbags, then meh... screw em.

But my personal view of recruiters is highly skewed, and definitely not towards favorable, so your experience might differ. Or not.
posted by cgg at 4:50 PM on November 30, 2010

For me it would depend on whether this recruiter was "working for" me. Did you meet with the recruiter beforehand and come to some agreement that they would start looking for jobs for you, i.e., put someone on your case? Or did you fill out some online form at some point, and they called you when some matchmaker program dredged up your name for a new spot they scraped off of a web site to drum up business? If some recruiter saw my resume on Monster or something and sent me a listing out of the blue, I wouldn't feel obligated to them at all unless the company told me to go through them.

If I had an agreement (even a verbal one) that the recruiter and I were "working together" to find me a job, I would feel obligated to go with them. If they just sent me a posting on spec, I wouldn't. I realize that's more of a continuum than a black-and-white situation sometimes, but that's how I would decide.
posted by ctmf at 4:52 PM on November 30, 2010

Can those who claim that ethics demands the poster go through the recruiter explain why?

He wouldn't have known about the job but for the work the recruiter did. It is small-e unethical, however, presuming that this guy doesn't have a business arrangement with the recruiter. Big-E if he does have an arrangement with the recruiter.
posted by gjc at 7:01 PM on November 30, 2010

I have occasionally used recruiters to fill positions. YMMV and all that, but in my experience, I (the hiring manager) am the client, not you. I'm going the recruiter route because for whatever reason we couldn't fill the position ourselves. We may have tried already and not liked what we got back, or it might be a senior level position and our HR people want to immediately go to the recruiter(s). Your starting salary has nothing to do with what I pay the recruiter (I'm not going to dock you or lowball your salary to "make up" for the cost -- that defeats the whole purpose. If I want a sucky or disgruntled employee, I can certainly do that on my own without a recruiter). I'm using the recruiter because I believe the he/she (a) has access to individuals that I don't, either that specialize in a certain technology, or are quality people who aren't currently looking for a job (but are in the recruiter's rolodex), and (b) can effectively pre-screen candidates he/she sends my way and save me work/time. I am certainly not paying the recruiter to be some kind of gatekeeper on the open position (pssst! Company xyz had a job opening, but no one knows about it but me!). I'm sure there are companies signing exclusive agreements with recruiters, but I've never agreed to an exclusive arrangement nor have I seen one in the wild.

From what you've described, you are not the client here and the only contact you've gotten is a heads-up phone call that a job exists -- a job that is apparently also being publicly advertised on the company website. While your post didn't say so, your "I know who the client is" implies the recruiter never mentioned the name of the company, either. I'm not seeing an ethical dilemma here, not even a small-e dilemma. Having said all that, I don't think that applying directly increases your chances of success or improves your starting salary; it may even decrease them, if, as other posters have theorized, the recruiter has an on-going relationship with the company and is viewed as someone who brings quality candidates.
posted by kovacs at 7:45 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

A good recruiter does more than just put your resume into the system. They will go to bat for you -- actively 'selling' you to the client, encouraging them to interview you, coaching you on what the hiring committee is looking for and acting as your agent in negotiations.

I would say this is somewhat unethical. Someone has done a good thing for you, and you are responding by cutting them out of the loop in a way that may be damaging to them financially. You don't 'owe' them anything but it's not a very nice thing to do IMO.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:08 PM on November 30, 2010

Who is to say that the "Recruiter" isnt just some guy who goes around looking for job postings on websites then just posts them on another source so he can take a cut of the action?
posted by gregjunior at 10:02 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Experienced recruiter responding ...

Absent a lot more information than you've provided, the question of "ethical" is difficult to address. You don't say how it is that you came to know who the employer is and that the position is listed in the employer's website. If it happened after the conversation with the recruiter, score one for the recruiter for at least bringing the opportunity to your attention.

The request that you come to their office may be nothing more than "policy". It could also be because they know the particular idiosyncracies of the hiring authority and are in a better position to a) point out that you won't be a fit, or b) help coach you about putting your best foot forward in an interview situation. Give them the benefit of the doubt and go. Use the opportunity to establish a relationship that might result in your being referred for an even better job.

If the job market for your field is as hot as you say (and assuming that any number of employers would want to talk to you), the recruiter might be in a position to help you separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to good places to work. The recruiter might know the very thing that you wouldn't learn until after you had gone to work there, and wish you had known.

If you work in partnership with the recruiter and don't get the position, no harm no foul. If you do get the position (and your experience with the recruiter turns out to have been less than satisfactory) there will be an opportunity to diplomatically make that point with the employer, later on.

Finally, there's no reason not to engage in a little "tell me about yourself, the kind of positions you recruit for and how long you've been doing it" conversation with the recruiter. I am more than happy to answer those questions from those I speak with.
posted by John Borrowman at 3:38 PM on December 1, 2010

I think that most technical recruiters are terrible and undeserving, but if this one drew your attention to the vacancy, it would be unfair to cut them out of the process whether or not it's technically something you can get away with.

I've been in a situation whereby I got a phone call out of the blue from a recruiter, who submitted my CV to a company, and I never heard anything again. Months later I interviewed at another company, who turned me down, but the interviewer offered to introduce me to a company she had worked for and that she thought would be a great fit for me. The company turned out to be the one that had had the CV from the recruiter, months earlier. According to their processes this obligated them to hire me through that recruiter if they decided to take me on. They didn't, and I suspect that the necessity of paying a recruiter's fee and/or dealing with that recruiter was offputting to them.

Moral: if you don't want the costs of dealing with recruiters, don't take the benefits either. Contact companies directly. Do not take calls from recruiters and send their emails to your spam folder.
posted by tel3path at 3:43 PM on December 1, 2010

...unless the recruiter is John Borrowman, who has the right idea.
posted by tel3path at 3:47 PM on December 1, 2010

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