Recruiting Fees *Can* Hurt Your Chances. Sometimes.

By Adam Karpiak

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No, working with a recruiter doesn't lower the salary you can get (due to the fee).  It's not like you would get the fee amount, in addition to your salary. BUT the fee CAN hurt your chances of getting the job. Sometimes. Last week I had 3 similar conversations with candidates who wanted me to submit their resumes for roles they were not qualified for. My response to them was that my recruiting fee would be prohibitive to their candidacy. And they were completely baffled.  Let me explain...

Ok, let's get something out of the way. External recruiters aren't outsourced or "extra" HR. We aren't here to merely funnel any and all resumes to clients so they can collect a greater number of applicants. We aren't here to stretch the boundaries of the requirements in job descriptions.

So, why DO companies pay recruiting fees? To put it plainly, they are paying for the recruiter to go out and find a specific skill set to either complement an existing function, or to upgrade/add skill to a certain position. That is why it has been called headhunting. Recruiters are told by clients "we need skills X, Y, & Z. Go find us candidates X, Y, & Z." Recruiters are proactive, rather than reactive. Companies post ads, and when the candidates they need/want don't apply, they turn to recruiters to go and find those candidates.

Part of the way recruiters earn their fee is qualifying the potential/interested candidates. To be more than a job description or an ad. To actually take the time to explain the role, the company, the culture, how the role fits into the strategic growth of the company, etc.. The company is paying the recruiter to be the first impression of the company. The company is paying the recruiter to answer any and all questions the candidate may have, and then make the determination if the candidate is a fit for what the company is looking for.

To look at the situation another way, the company is NOT paying the recruiter a fee to stretch the requirements of the role. The company is NOT paying the recruiter a fee for candidates looking to switch focuses or industries, or to as I hear it so often "try something new," or "I have always been interested in X."

Often as a recruiter, while conducting a search, I come across candidates who are not qualified but are still interested in the role. I am asked, "Can't you run the resume/my experience past them and let THEM decide, not you?" Or "What does it hurt to try?" The truth is it does hurt...a lot. It hurts me as a recruiter and it hurts the candidate as well. The company is paying the recruiter to make those initial decisions...not to pass along a resume with a shrug and say "Here." Part of earning the recruiting fee is not wasting the client with candidates that do not match the qualifications. This also leads to the client questioning whether or not the recruiter actually understands the job opening and doubting the recruiters actual skill. The last thing a recruiter ever wants to hear from the client after submitting a resume is "You're joking, right?" If a client loses confidence in the recruiter's ability, that's it. There aren't many opportunities for recruiters to earn back trust from clients.

So...we have established why a company pays a recruiting fee. This is where my concept of recruiting fees being "prohibitive" comes into play. In the above scenarios, where we have candidates that are not specific fits for a role (due to requirements, etc.), this is why I will not "see what the client thinks anyway." As I mentioned, this would be bad for the candidate as well. Please understand - I am not saying that people can't follow their dreams, expand their skill sets, and take is too short to be stuck in jobs that do not challenge, motivate, and reward. I want to see everyone happy at their jobs. Which is why I explain to candidates this: If you are not 100% qualified for a job I am working on if I were to submit your resume, my recruiting fee would be prohibitive to your candidacy.

For example, say in public accounting I come across a Sr. Auditor w zero tax prep experience, and they really want to switch to a tax compliance role. Some recruiters might just be happy/excited to have a public resume and blast this audit resume everywhere with a short blurb how this is a great candidate who wants a tax role. Almost every single client that I know, will say no to this candidate. Firms do not want to, and will generally not, pay a recruiting fee to train someone in a new discipline. They are paying for a specific skill set.

And, in this scenario, due to recruiting contracts, if the client were to hire the candidate for ANY role in the next 365 days, they would owe the recruiter a fee. *NOTE* This is why some recruiters will gladly submit a resume they know will be almost an automatic rejection...because for the next year that candidate is tied to that recruiter and hey, "you never know."

BUT, if this same Sr. Auditor were to network with another firm's Partner, or perhaps submit his/her resume directly to another firm for a tax role, the chances of success would be much higher...unless a recruiter has already submitted your resume. Let's say our Sr. Auditor is at a networking function and strikes up a great conversation with a Tax Partner, who says to send over their resume. The Tax Partner gets the resume and emails it over to HR to start the process and gets an email back from HR stating that a recruiter sent the resume already 8 months ago. This will, in most cases, unfortunately, ruin the opportunity for our Sr. Auditor. Firms regularly hire quality, talented professionals looking to expand their skill-sets and experience professional growth and development. They just typically do not pay recruiting fees to hire such individuals. I personally would much rather the candidate have a chance to get the job they want, as opposed to hold onto a slim chance at a fee down the line.

And this is why I regularly tell candidates that I think it is great they know what kind of role they are looking for, and I fully support them in finding such a role, and why I tell them that if I were to try on their behalf, not only would it be a rejection, but it would disqualify them from applying directly on their own to the firm for the next year. Good recruiters would be happy to give advice to candidates such as this...we know what firms are open to the types of changes you are looking to make, and we know what kind of environments someone like you would thrive in (and we know which firms have those environments too!)



I am a recruiter that unapologetically loves the recruiting industry. I spend my days (and nights) talking to people about their careers. I’ve been in recruiting for more than 15 years and my firm believes in developing relationships; high trust working partnerships with both clients and prospects. For more about me/my firm, please visit or

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