Here's a situation: a recruiter introduces a candidate to a company, and the company is very interested in hiring the candidate.

However, if the process at some point breaks down, how long after this process would it be considered ethical for either the company or the candidate to take up the conversation again without the recruiter?

Edit: Several answers mention the contract between company and recruiter, but things can also go wrong before any contract was signed.

  • "Several answers mention the contract between company and recruiter" - they're probably referring to the contract that was signed for the company to employ the services of the recruiter before you ever got involved. Or perhaps an agreement is undertaken in the process of the recruiter introducing the candidate to the employer. It's completely distinct from the contract between employer and employee. – Bernhard Barker Oct 10 '17 at 19:39

If this is still for the same vacancy, then this should still go through the same recruiter, no question. If this is for a different vacancy with the same company, then there is a different answer for the two sides of the conversation.

Candidate side

For the candidate, they have no signed contract with the recruiter (certainly not in the markets I know of) and so there would be no problem with a direct approach from their side.

Company side

However, from the company side, there may be cool off periods in the agreement they have with the recruiter which they will have to honour. If there is such a period, and the candidate contacts the company directly, then the company should redirect the enquiry to the recruiter.

As a matter of courtesy, I'd be tempted as a candidate to try and initiate contact through the recruiter anyway. If they've got you to a reasonable point in the previous process, and the break off there was not their fault, then why not stick with them and have them do some of the legwork for you?

  • 1
    I'd add the "it depends" on here - I've seen some wacky stuff from external recruiters. As a candidate, if you believe the communication issues within the recruitment firm are irreconcilable - then you may want to work directly with the company, with the knowledge that they may still be obligated to pay the recruiter for the initial contact. Just be low key - offer your contact info as a backup for the company in case they aren't getting what they need and then leave it at that. – bethlakshmi Aug 31 '12 at 13:45
  • "I've seen some wacky stuff from external recruiters." Tech recruiters are often the worst; browse the posts at HackerNews for stories some time. – William B Swift Aug 31 '12 at 16:09
  • For the sake of balance, not necessarily disagreeing with William, but I also know some really fantastic tech recruiters, who I've had dealings with from both sides of the hiring process... – David M Aug 31 '12 at 16:13
  • no question; what if the post was open for a year? Or more? I don't think it's quite that black and white. – RJFalconer Mar 14 '14 at 11:22

It entirely depends on the relationship between the recruiter and company, the contracts they have and whatever contract/agreement you have in place with the recruiter (if any).

Normally the "cool off" period is 6 month to a year after last contact. YMMV.


Most agreements I've seen between recruiters and hiring companies stipulate a "lock in" period (like has been mentioned, typically 6-12 months). If the company chooses to hire a candidate originally presented by the recruiter within that time from the initial contact, then the recruiter is entitled to the originally stipulated fee, regardless of how the actual hiring is done.

In that perspective, it don't find it at all unethical for the company to go and hire the person directly, as long as they still pay the fee to the recruiter. Doing it without paying the fee would be not only unethical but also in breach of contract.

If you are the person looking to be hired, I would advise you to be up-front with the company that you have previously been on offer through the recruitment agency and that they need to settle this with the agency before hiring you. Not disclosing this would be unethical and dishonest as you would be opening up the company for potential action from the recruitment agency.


If the company approaches you

If you are still working with the contracting/recruiting firm you should advise the company no matter how long it has been. You most likely received the contact because of the introduction of the firm. It is unethical to cut them out now especially if you have a business relationship with them. It may be a legal obligation and you may not have an obligation or restriction to the company but ethically this is the equivalent of stealing if you accept a position where the firm would have been due some payment.

If you no longer have a business arrangement with the company because you terminated it PRIOR to the contact I would look at what your arrangement with the recruiting company was. Follow the legal obligations of this agreement. If you are in question I would contact the company and ask them what they believe the obligation and expectation is and why. You may have agreed not to work with a company you were introduced to for a certain amount of time. If this time exceeds 6 months I would contact a lawyer to make sure that the obligation is legal. Many states limit this period.

You want to approach the company

You should make sure that you have not had a business relationship with the company for the time required by the company. If you are unsure what that period is contact the company. At this point ethically you should follow these expectations, even if they are beyond the legally enforceable period. It is possible that the company has an agreement with the recruiter that would prevent them from employing you anyway.


If you are being looked at strongly for a job, and the headhunter that is trying to get you in drops the ball, if that is your question, then the answer is clear to some extent.

By this time the company should be known to you, if not then you are SOL, but if you do know the name of the company, you can do three things.

Step 1

Spend time and talk to the agency that is representing you, find out what happened to the rep that was representing you. If the rep doesn't get back to you in an adequate amount of time (a few hours, give or take time for lunch) then call back and ask if someone else can represent you.

If they are unwilling or know nothing about you or the job in question, then ask them to take your name out of contention and go to step two.

Step 2

Call another agency up, and say that you were looked at for a job, but the agency that was representing you is no longer because they dropped the ball, and would like to have them represent you. Say what your financial compensation was, and go from there.

If they are any form of agency they will take a lead and run with it, especially with a candidate that was already vetted and was almost ready to be proposed to in the first place.

If they don't want to go to step three.

Step 3

Snail Mail the company, send two certified letters, one to the HR, and another to the department you were attempting to get the job at. Explain your situation, and say that you are willing to talk to them directly as long as their policy allows such a thing. For some companies will not talk to people directly unless they are through an authorized representative company.

If you can't or don't want to do these things the best of luck to you, I've gotten jobs through this way before, I know it works. It may seem odd, but sometimes perseverance will get you a job...

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