Why Sending Your Resume To a “Headhunter” Can Cost You Dearly

“One of the most dangerous forms of human error
is forgetting what one is trying to achieve.”

– Paul Nitze (1907-2004)

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Mee-Hay, 31, was a Korean-born Agricultural Economist, expert in the businesses of planting, fertilizing, growing, selling and trading food and food-related products, with a sub-specialty in the Asian food markets. When the investment bank she worked for decided to exit the business of commodity trading, she sought, and they provided, assurances that they would find her a new role in the company. Mee-Hay decided that, “just in case,” she should begin looking around elsewhere for possible employment.

In her networking, one graduate school friend suggested Mee-Hay contact an executive recruiter who worked with many economists. In her first phone call with the recruiter, he asked Mee-Hay to send him a copy of her resume for review. Mee-Hay did so. However, she did not hear back from him for several weeks; Mee-Hay simply presumed he was not interested in working with her.

A short time later, a friend who worked for a small investment research firm called Mee-Hay, and asked her to come in for an interview. Lately, the research firm had become more interested in selling research related to the commodity markets, including the Asian commodity markets. Her first two interviews went extremely well. It looked like Mee-Hay might have found a potential new “home.” After a third interview with the firm’s founder, Mee-Hay was told she would be receiving an offer letter. Mee-Hay was excited, but not yet entirely sure she wanted to leave her present job. She clearly had some thinking to do. Then, suddenly, the problems began.

First, her present employer told her they had found out from a different source that she was leaving. The source turned out to be the recruiter. The recruiter had copied Mee-Hay’s resume, stamped “Exclusively Represented by this Firm,” and had widely distributed it. Mee-Hay’s employer was clearly not amused; rather, they were disturbed to discover her plans in this manner. They were polite, but clear: Mee-Hay was “free to leave.”

Then, her prospective employer called: they were upset, as well. They had also received her resume from the recruiter, with the words “Exclusively Represented by this Firm” stamped on it. “Why had she not notified them of that fact?” they wanted to know. The recruiter was demanding an $80,000 “placement” fee. Mee-Hay’s prospective employer had been caught unaware, but felt “caught,” nonetheless. They insisted that, if Mee-Hay wanted to work with the firm, she either hd to pay the fee, or reimburse them over time out of her future earnings. What had seemed to be a casual resume sharing had turned into a poor employment exit, and an $80,000 error.

LESSON TO LEARN: How you approach potential employers can help you or hurt you. Distributing your resume without care can be costly, in more ways than one. To whom it is distributed, how it is distributed, and why it has been distributed, are three potential questions that should be considered with care. A resume is a primary vehicle for marketing your skills and experience. There is no reason your resume cannot be adapted to fulfill varying purposes, one of which is to the prevention of such problems.

The larger lesson may be that recruiters have their own interests, and those interests are not always the same as yours. Though most recruiters are quite honorable, some are not, and the pressures of difficult economic times may result in otherwise honorable people doing dishonorable things.

There are many honorable people who can help you get a new job, but there also some less-than-honorable people in the recruitment business, as well. As in every other aspect of career navigation, insightful, careful and prudent steps are necessary. Though jobs are at a premium right now, so are recruiter’s commissions. Don’t ever be afraid or hesitant to protect yourself, and be the “captain of your own ship.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: To avoid difficulties that might arise from your attempts to get the word out that you are seeking employment, we suggest you consider the following measures:

1. First, don’t send your resume until you’ve done your “Headhunter Due Diligence”: Looking for a recruiter to work with? Found one seemingly interested in you, and compatible with your style? Don’t be hesitant to ask for references from candidates already placed. And don’t be shy about speaking with those candidates yourself. Consider doing some online research on your prospective recruiter. Ask around for others who have worked with him or her. Don’t forget, you are unlikely to be given names of unhappy clients. There’s simply no substitute for “doing your homework, thoroughly.” The quality of your life depends in good measure on the quality of those with whom you associate. Once you’ve sent your resume to a “stranger,” that “stranger” might turn out to be “not a helpful stranger,” or worse.

2. Send only a letter about yourself – NOT your resume – until you trust the Headhunter you are dealing with: Your resume is a marketing device. It’s your personal “sales brochure.” It’s what is sent to others who might employ you. It has a distinct purpose. It is not something you should distribute “willy-nilly,” to anyone, without forethought, directions or limitations. When you are considering dealing with a headhunter who you don’t know, you might substitute a letter describing yourself and the job you seek in place of a resume, until you are certain she or he is a person to trust, and one you want to work with.

Looking for a New Job? We offer a 152-Point Master Checklist of Employment Negotiation Items to help you “remember everything and not forget anything else.” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

3. If you do distribute your resume widely, consider posting at the bottom of your resume “At this time I am not working with a recruitment firm, and no one is authorized to act on my behalf” (or words to that effect.) The widest distribution of your resume is one possible path to a new position. If that is your path, you might consider indicating on your resume that you are your own negotiator, and that, as a result, no placement fee will be earned by an errant headhunter claiming “rights” over you by means of “resume spam.” For certain firms, the absence of a placement fee might even make you more attractive than other candidates.

4. If you send a resume to a headhunter, consider transmitting it accompanied by a clear direction letter: You should take an active stance in whatever steps or measures are being taken on your behalf. If you do not want your present employer, past employers, or certain others contacted with your resume, make that known to any headhunter to whom you send your resume. Consider including “Please do not send my resume to anyone without my prior written authorization.” Be assertive about those or other directions you may want them to honor, such as geographical, compensation or title restrictions.

Prevent problems early; and preferably before they happen. Consider our Model Letter Confirming Terms of Job Offer. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.™” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!  

5. Seek an exclusive relation with one recruiter, if possible: The most productive relations are those built on the confidence that comes only with substantial experience working together, aligned self-interests, mutual respect, and collaborative spirit. Most commonly these are attributes of exclusive business “partnerships,” in the broadest sense of that word. Consider seeking such representation for yourself.

6. Don’t forget: it is your resume, your career, and your life: Keep that in mind. In distributing your resume, you are advertising your availability for employment. You are selling your skills. You are seeking an important relation. Be involved, be assertive, and be no one’s fool.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you be prepared for almost anything, and knowledgeable about the many “rules” that exist in law, society and business that may affect you. And it requires that you be in charge of the process of your own job transitions. Headhunters can be of great help, and they can cause damage, as well. Be prudent, be proactive, and be careful.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

P.S.: One of our most popular “Ultimate Packages” of forms, letters and checklists is entitled “Ultimate New Job Package” consisting of 10 items, including Resume Cover Letter, Thank You After Interview, Memo Confirming Terms Offered, Response to Offer Letter, our Master Checklist of Items to Negotiate, and 50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Departure from Your Last Job. To obtain a complete set, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

© 2008 Alan L. Sklover. All rights reserved. Commercial use prohibited.