I'm contacted on a regular basis by recruiters and headhunters.

The job-descriptions they are sending me are often simple copies of the originals made by the companies they are recruiting for. A simple search-and-replace company name with client and they have their anonymous job description.

Is it possible that a recruiter has just found the description on the net, like me, and now fishes in his network and then contacts the company once a candidate has bitten?

If so, are there any disadvantages for me as a possible candidate?

What kind of questions should I ask the headhunter to find out whether he already has a relationship with the company or not?

  • "Can I always assume that a recruiter/headhunter has a contract with his client?". No. They might be trying to get an "in" with a company by showing they have you on their books. "If so, are there any disadvantages for me as a possible candidate?" Yes. You will think you have a applied for a job when in fact you haven't. Commented May 31, 2017 at 10:26

3 Answers 3


Yes, some headhunters simply hunt for jobs and candidates and hope to get a fee from the company when you're hired. And yes, there is a significant drawback to you by allowing one of them to present you to the company.

I've seen how this works on the company side. You post a job notice, and you get some resumes from individual candidates and some from headhunters. The ones from the headhunters you have to pay a fee to hire, so they get put in a separate pile that only gets looked at if you're desparate. That often doesn't happen. It depends on the job market for that specific skill at that time.

This is why many job descriptions will have a line at the bottom that says "principals only". Principal means the candidate himself, not a third party like a headhunter.

There is a exception to this, which is when a company hires or contracts with a recruiter to fill a specific job. In that case, the recuiter gets the fee regardless of who they hire and how the company hears about them. Those recruiters are more like outsourced HR, and you can deal with them the same way. They have no reason to obscure the identity of the company to you, or obscure your identity to the company.

When I get a call from a recruiter, I always ask what their relationship with the company is. I usually tell the first kind I'm not interested in having them represent me.

About the only time the first kind makes any sense is when you are actively looking, and you've already done your homework and compiled a list of open jobs that seem to be a fit. If a third party finds something you wouldn't otherwise know about, then you have nothing to lose. However, that is very rare. Usually the call will be about a job you are already aware of. Tell them that, and they'll go away quickly since they know they won't make any commission off of placing you there. There is no harm telling them your requirements and desires for a job in case they find one you don't, but don't hold your breath.


It can be quite fun sometimes to stick key phrases from a spec into google to see if you can work out the employer, especially when the recruiter won't fill you in.

It is entirely possible it's been found and is being used as an in to the company, but in my experience specs like these usually also have words stating no cold calling by agencies.

As a hiring manager, any approach like this would be met by agreement over rates BEFORE looking at CVs, so if I'm looking at your cv it's not likely an issue. The only disadvantages I can see would be:

  • Trusted agencies: I may be more likely to be convinced by an agency on a prospect if I've used them and had good results before. A new agency may have their promotion taken with a pinch of salt.
  • Multiple submissions: It's possible for your cv to come in on spec from a known agent, then from this other one. That could cause me to rule you out rather than try and get the two to agree.

In terms of finding out, ask them. Also ask about how long they've been dealing with the client, when they last placed someone, for what role, why the role is open etc. You'll be able to judge if it's a real deal or they're sand dancing and judge from there.

If they can't answer, don't go with them, contact the employer, they will be able to confirm if the agency is acting for them.


Is it possible that a recruiter has just found the description on the net, like me, and now fishes in his network and then contacts the company once a candidate has bitten?


I get calls on both ends like this. As a manager I get cold calls from recruiters of "I see you might have an open position... I have these people, want to give them a go?" and then I get calls from recruiters looking to use me to staff positions where they clearly know so little about the position that I'm wondering why they took a job in recruiting for technical people.

If so, are there any disadvantages for me as a possible candidate?

Wasting your time is the big one - working with a recruiter who is just going to cold call the hiring business is not any more useful than submitting your resume yourself. I'd say either one has a low probability of success.

OTOH - working with a recruiter who has an actual connection to the business as a trusted finder-of-good-people - will probaby bump your resume to a better heap, since you have someone who will be working actively with the business on your behalf and theirs.

Causing confusion is the other downside - it's a lower risk, since in a big company, or even a moderate one... the people screening incoming resumes, recruiter contacts, and such may be several different people - none of them the hiring manager. That said, if you were amazing and your resume comes to the hiring manager through a bunch of different channels, some managers will be freaked out and confused and may not follow up if they've got other good options.

What kind of questions should I ask the headhunter to find out whether he already has a relationship with the company or not?

How about: "What's your relationship with the company?" and then some follow ups for details:

  • How many candidates have you placed with them
  • How long have you been working with this company for this position
  • What do the candidates you've placed here say about working in the business
  • What details can you give me about the type of candidate they are looking for that aren't on this sheet? For example, are they looking for a particular type of personality? What's the vibe of the team? What's the management looking for in terms of cultural values? Based on who they've rejected, do you have any sense of what they don't like?

Somewhere in the midst of those details, it'll either come out they they are lying, or this is a cold call to the company.

If they answers are "we've never placed a candidate here.... they've never even interviewed any candidate we've sent..." - then it's time to say "no, really, what's the difference between applying with you and applying to this link?"

In all honesty, I never even have this conversation with most recruiters.

Even when my profiles say "not particularly interested unless the offer is amazing" (or whatever the drop down lets me pick...), I get 1 request a week. When I'm actively looking, every hit on a job board will result in 20 responses from 20 recruiters... so my activities are more on the level of triage:

1 - does this look like a form letter? I may not even keep reading

2 - is the job at all interesting? If no, move on.

3 - what value is the recruiter adding? Is this a recruiter I know? Is this a reputable firm? - then maybe I write back. If the recruiter even responds to me, then I start diagnosing both the nature of the job and the nature of the recruiter, with an eye to "do I want to take time on this?"

  • bethlakshmi - what is your email id or fb or whatever you are active on to communicate with you easily? (sorry for the comment here...)
    – Neocortex
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:50

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