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Recruiter A contacted me about a job on LinkedIn. I said I was interested, and we set up a day for Recruiter A to call me to talk about the job. Recruiter A never called, never replied to LinkedIn messages, nor a voicemail. I assumed the position was probably not available anymore and moved on.

One month later, Recruiter B from the same recruiting company contacted me on LinkedIn about the same job. I replied, summarizing the interaction I already had with Recruiter A, and said I was still interested if the job was still available.

Recruiter B called me immediately, then set up a video call the following day, a Teams meeting entitled "MyName and Recruiter B - Connect". I was under the impression it was a call to further discuss the role. During the call, I was asked some general technical questions. I was caught off guard, not realizing it was a technical screen. I gave true answers, but not particularly good ones, and I stumbled a lot.

The following day, I got a rejection email from Recruiter B.

I’m reaching out to let you know that we are not going to be moving forward to the next step in the interview process at this time for the position. While I was hoping we would be able to get final steps scheduled, there was a very competitive pool of candidates in the mix and our team decided to move in a different direction.

I am pretty sure they did not get feedback from the client that fast, and that they declined to submit me, based on the poor technical screen. I still think the job is a reasonably good fit (as did two different recruiters), and it has clearly been open for at least a month. Is it ethical to apply directly at this point, since the recruiting company has declined to submit me?


Update: Just to finish the story, I did apply directly and the outcome was... nothing. Never heard back from the company. Even though two more recruiters from different recruiting companies contacted me about it afterwards, the company itself was clearly not interested. But nothing bad happened, either.

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    Just a small comment: The following day is not really "too fast". I do interviews, I know wether or not we're going to proceed in the first 5min after the meeting. And the technical interview (with small code test) takes me about 30mins to review.
    – Martijn
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 11:10
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    @Martijn I'm not saying it takes longer to make a decision after an interview, I'm saying I don't think it's likely they submitted me to the client, and the client came back with a rejection within one day Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 14:34
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    How, exactly, might that not be ethical? Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 23:49
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    @TheWorkingMan "I'm saying I don't think it's likely they submitted me to the client" What would be the purpose of hiring a recruiter if they are going to ask you to decide for yourself if you want to hire every single applicant to the vacancy? The entire purpose of hiring a recruiter is to entrust them to filter out applicants that aren't a good fit. You may disagree about your fit and you may argue that the recruiter's process is flawed, but the fact of the matter is that the recruiter did nothing wrong. At worst, they're guilty of an imperfect interview process.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 2:08
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    It's totally normal and commonplace to do so; it's a non-issue.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 13:50

8 Answers 8

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Why wouldn't it be ethical? You have no legally or morally binding agreement or contract with the recruiting company or the client company.

If you want to reach out to the client company directly then do so. You have nothing to lose and everything (the job) to gain.

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    @MarkMorganLloyd - I've always taught recruiters that they need to back-check the employees they've submitted by calling the company x months later and asking for a few random names. It's not uncommon for a company to hire someone from the recruiter and not tell them, either by accident or on purpose
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 11:12
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    But if they've not even submitted them, then they (the recruiter) doesn't have a legal leg to stand on
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 11:13
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    And all of which is not OP's problem. There is no indication he signed anything that would prevent him from applying directly.
    – Fildor
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 12:36
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    I've seen application forms asking if I've been in contact with a recruiter about this position within the last six months. Presumably, a positive answer would mean the company owns money to the recruiter. Not OP's problem either.
    – svavil
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 13:20
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    What @svavil refers to would be an agreement between the contractor and the company. OP might not have obligations with RecruitingCompany but Company might. Pesumably, OP wouldn't have known about the role otherwise. So if you learn about the role and go to the company directly then that cuts the recruiter out of the cut (finders fee, hourly rates for contracting, etc). OP shouldn't hold back from contacting... but don't be surprised if the question is asked.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 15:37
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TL;DR: Ethics don't come in to it. You have no contract or agreement with the recruiter, and nothing to lose by making a direct application. They made their choice when they passed on you.

As an employer of people I have to be honest and say I don't especially care for recruitment agencies, for me they don't add anything of particular value to the process and my last few recruitments have turned out very well by only accepting direct applicants. Other managers experience may differ, and I accept that. Someone must find recruitment agents useful, or they wouldn't still be in business.

With all that in mind, I've never had a feeling that I am beholden in any way to a recruitment agent, therefore ethics have never really crossed my mind. Your situation however could not be more clear cut for me. They refused to put you forward, so they have no interest in doing you any favours. Why should you accept that? If the company involved is accepting direct applications then for me there is nothing stopping you.

There is also something in your favour here - recruiters charge for their services, sometimes that's quite a lot of money to the hiring company. It may be that your application becomes more attractive to the hiring company because they don't have to pay the recruiters fees. This gives you an inherent advantage over anyone the recruiter puts forward.

Example: Before I was a manager, I was a website developer. I wasn't a rockstar developer or anything, but I was perfectly competent enough. I was approached by a recruiter for a role at a company I was excited to work for, so I agreed they could put me forward. I never heard a thing from them, despite me making follow-up calls. A little while later I checked the company's website and found the role the recruiter contacted me about was still listed, so I made a direct application. A week later I was in their office having an interview and programming test. I ended up working there for nearly 5 years.

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    Fundamentally, if the job is listed on the employer's site, then the recruiter doesn't have any kind of exclusivity agreement with the employer. Maybe they'd have to accept a lower fee to get that, or maybe the employer absolutely doesn't want to give them exclusivity. So, why should you give them exclusivity that the employer won't? Personally I think the no-reply by recruiter A was already full justification to go around them. Maybe tell the employer at some point that this is where you heard about the job. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 12:07
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    +1, especially about the recruiting fees. People who are not faced with these processes don't realise how high these fees can be... In my area of work a senior role from a recruiter can host you some 30% of a years salary or more.
    – fgysin
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 7:56
  • The main reasons recruiting companies exist is because they keep the idea alive that you are being more efficient by outsourcing a recruiting effort. The main reason they can't succeed is because the company is aware that they will eventually offer up poor candidates so the company retains its hiring screening process. Thus, you get the costs of recruiters coupled with the costs of still maintaining an independent screening process.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 17:50
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Yes, it's perfectly ethical.

The ethical problem with applying directly to a position you heard about through a recruiter is that if you get the position, you've taken the information they gave you and gone behind their back to use it in a way that deprives them of the income for successfully placing someone.

In this case, for whatever reason, the recruiter decided you're not a good bet to get the job. If you apply directly and get the position, you're not going behind the recruiter's back. They had the opportunity to submit you and they declined to do so. If you get the job and the recruiter doesn't get paid, that's a result of their own misjudgement.

(Of course, if somebody intentionally performed terribly in a screening so the recruiter would pass on them and they could apply independently, that would be a different matter)

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What is sadly common, at least in Australia, is that a company will advertise a job and recruiters will try to supply candidates, even if the company has not engaged their services.

So the reason for the swift we are going in a different direction may not be due to your performance on the technical screen - it may be coincidental timing of the entire recruiting firm being rejected by the client. You may even find that, if you can see the job ad from the company, they explicitly bar recruiting firms.

Another possibility is recruiter B being told they are not allowed to poach a prospect from recruiter A, even if recruiter A has failed to follow through.

So even more reasons to apply directly. If you get into an interview from a direct application, you can ask them if they prefer to hire directly or through recruiters (don't say the recruiting firm contacted you though, as that becomes a more complicated conversation).

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Is it Ethical?

I wouldn't say it's unethical per se.

However - If I was an employer and someone failed a technical screen with my recruiter and got in touch with me - you'd have to have some very good reasons as to why I should give you the time of day.

And I'll be honest - saying that you were caught off guard and that's why your answers weren't good is nowhere near the level of 'Good Reasons'.

In short - can you do it? Sure. Should you do it? You can try.

But in this instance - I'd take it on the chin and move on. Perhaps do a little reflecting on your approach to interviews.

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As long as you aren't the one paying the recruiter for the match (and you damn well shouldn't be*), there's no ethical issue here on your side.

In general, independent recruiters make their money off commissions from the hiring company, not from you. As such, its important to remember that they work for the company, not for you. This also means any ethical considerations as far as offers go are also an issue between them and the company. There's absolutely nothing wrong with you working with multiple different recruiters to find a job, and of course they will put you up for different jobs, or you wouldn't need more than one of them.

I once accepted a job that 2 different recruiters submitted my name for. I guess the company was too busy (or not desperate enough?) to pursue my application the first time around. I think it was almost a year between the two.

When I accepted the offer, I was told that they'd have to give the commission to the first recruiter, as a matter of ethics. Kind of sad for that second recruiter, but that's literally between them, and not really any of my business. You guys do what you feel is right with your money.

(You can see an abuseable situation where if they didn't do this, the second "recruiter" could ask for less commission, and it would be their financial interest to accept all doubled clients from him. Perhaps even pass the second recruiter all their promising resumes from the first recruiter, to make sure this happens)

Not that there aren't any ethical situations that can arise in your relationship with a recruiter, but every one I've ever heard of was bad behavior on the recruiter's part. Stuff like calling the employee's management after they got an offer and telling them all about it, or even lying and telling them their employee is leaving. You can also expect them to pushback on you way harder than on the company if there's a salary disconnect (because again you aren't the one paying them).


* - Things may be different in other countries, but in the USA you as a job-seeker never pay a reputable recruiter. If they ask for so much as a nickle from you, its almost certainly a scam.

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This is not an ethical issue. BUT what you're doing has the potential to create a messy situation for the employer.

When an employer contracts with a recruiting firm to find candidates, it is general practice that if the firm screens a candidate for a position and then the candidate applies directly within a given period of time (6 months, a year, etc.), the company still has to pay the recruiting firm any fees that would have been due if the firm had been used as a middleman. Such terms are written into the recruiting firms' contracts, to protect them. So if you get the job from your direct application and the recruiting firm finds out, then it exposes the company to liability. The same applies if two recruiting firms submit the same candidate for the same position.

In most cases the hiring company will avoid such candidates -- if they're aware of the recruiting firm's involvement -- just to duck these liabilities I've mentioned.

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To give an answer that includes your update. If the recruiting company that you initially worked with was the official contact of the company you wanted to apply to, it is entirely possible that anything you submit directly to the company ended up being passed to the recruiting company. With the number of applications that open technical positions get, it can save quite a bit of time and money to hire a company to pre-screen applicants.

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