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Ask the Headhunter: Recruited by a contract firm? Here’s how to protect yourself

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

In this special Making Sen$e 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: I just accepted a job through a contracting company. The contract spelling out all the details just arrived in my email and the terms are pretty bad. How can I avoid wasting my time on deals like this?

Nick Corcodilos: When you work with job shops, contract agencies or consulting companies – they go by so many names I can’t keep up – you need to be very careful.

These are companies that hire you, then “rent” you to other companies where you will actually work. There are many reputable, honest contracting firms out there. However, this sort of third-party employer business can also be a racket. Be careful.

A problem with such firms is that they sometimes recruit aggressively but do not disclose terms of employment in advance.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid problems when a contract firm calls to recruit you:

  1. Ask to see their standard agreement before you go on any interviews and certainly before accepting any assignment. Also ask whether there is a special agreement (from the firm’s client) you’d have to sign if you accepted an assignment with the specific third party they’re calling you about.
  2. Get references. Ask to talk with companies at which the firm currently has contractors working, and with employees of the firm who are currently working on-site at the company in question. This may be the single best way to avoid nasty surprises.
  3. Prepare a simple checklist of benefits that are important to you, and discuss them with the recruiter on the phone. Ask explicitly about health, disability, life insurance, workers’ compensation, and 401(k). If what they offer doesn’t satisfy you, end the conversation or negotiate a better deal before you proceed. But beware: Anything they say on the phone may change when you get the offer and the contract. (That’s why references are so important.)

Finally, if you want to work through contract shops or consulting firms, find the best ones before the worst ones find you. Call those companies where you’d like to work (the actual third-party employers) and ask their personnel departments what contract shops they use and like. Introduce yourself to those shops. That’s a good way to get contract work at the companies where you actually want to work.

For a more detailed discussion about how contracting firms operate, and about the challenges job seekers face when trying to work with such intermediaries, please see “Consulting Firms: Strike back & stir the pot.”

Dear Readers: What kinds of experiences have you had with contracting shops? What tips would you offer this reader?


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,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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