Ask The Headhunter: Avoid Employment Scams, Ruses and Rackets


People who market themselves as “headhunters” may not always have their clients’ best interests at heart. Photo courtesy of David McNew/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered more than 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: My friends and I are successful technology types and receive calls about positions from headhunters often. We are all experiencing the following:

  1. The initial salary range presented is higher than the job actually pays and thus everyone’s time is wasted. The recruiter then weasels out of the lie.
  2. The headhunter calls with a “hot” opportunity, gives us the details, finds out if we’re interested and then tells us that interviews will be conducted very soon. We never hear about it again. Our calls go unanswered until another opportunity comes up and the process starts all over again.
  3. The headhunter asks if we will interview, but he doesn’t know any specifics about the job, like what the company specializes in or what technologies they use.

Are these really legitimate positions? Why don’t headhunters take the time to research the position in order to convince the candidate to pursue the opportunity? Why don’t they return our calls or explain what happened to the “hot” position? Do they really think we will recommend other candidates when they are so unreliable and inconsistent with their stories?

What’s going on? We don’t have time to waste talking about positions that don’t exist, or to interview for positions not in our specified salary range. Many thanks for your input!

Nick Corcodilos: Good headhunters do all the proper things you describe. The rest are charlatans and their behaviors are ruses. This is just one kind of career racket in today’s difficult employment market. Most “headhunters” are no better than most personnel jockeys: They are ignorant of their own business, they don’t understand the jobs they’re trying to fill, their strategy is to “dial for dollars” and they lose their credibility quickly.

You must understand two things. First, the cost of entry into the headhunting business is so low that anyone — and I mean anyone — can give it a shot. All it takes is a cell phone and access to some databases. Although there are some good headhunters out there, the business attracts the kinds of scammers you and your friends have encountered.

Second, turnover in most headhunting firms is very high because the level of training is so low. Many new headhunters — I shiver to even call them that — simply don’t know how to do their jobs. The experiences you’ve had are the result. You have hit the nail on the head. Refuse to have your time wasted.

One way to avoid problems is to grill all headhunters. Play hardball. Ask for references, such as clients and candidates they have matched. Tell the headhunter that if she doesn’t call you back when she says she will, her name will be mud among your associates. Insist on details about the job, or do not provide details about yourself. A legitimate headhunter will smile and cooperate. The rest aren’t worth worrying about.

Don’t worry that you are missing out on opportunities. Fast-buck artists who talk a good line, make little sense and don’t keep promises aren’t headhunters. They’re in business only to make a buck and most of them don’t know the first thing about dealing with the professional community in which they recruit. Heck, most don’t even recruit — they copy and paste resumes. So, make them earn their money!

(To any “headhunters” out there, if this describes you, don’t send me your complaints. You get no sympathy from me for treating candidates like this.)

Good headhunters will treat you with respect and they will do what they say they’re going to do. It really is that simple. One of my favorite articles on this topic is by Joe Borer: “How to Judge a Headhunter.”

The purpose of Ask The Headhunter is to teach people how to be their own headhunters — even when they’re not actively seeking a job — and to cut out the middle man when necessary. But when you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it. He’s worth your patience and your attention because he’ll treat you with respect and help you negotiate a deal like you never could on your own.

Headhunters that behave poorly are just the tip of an iceberg in the employment industry. While there are some good career coaches and counselors, recruiters and employment agencies that you will find through their satisfied clients, there are far more unscrupulous practitioners that will waste your time and money.

Perhaps the worst scam is the “career marketing firm” that wants thousands of dollars up front to find you a job. I recently published a new PDF book titled “Fearless Job Hunting: Avoid Employment Scams, Ruses & Rackets.” To download a chapter about how to protect yourself, click here: “Career Help: Don’t Get Suckered.” There is no cost and you will not be asked to provide any personal information.

Be careful out there: Desperate job hunters easily fall prey to scams they would otherwise walk away from. Expect respect and keep your standards high.

If you’ve encountered questionable employment practices, I’d like to hear about them. Please post in the comments section below.

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions