My understanding is that a company might use a recruiter because their in-house talent scouts have had trouble finding good candidates. Because they're using a service, there is an extra cost. However, rather than employers incurring that extra cost, I feel like the recruiters are passing that off to me, by putting me in at a lower rate. And, that seems dishonest.

There are two placement models here. One is for full-time, salaried placements, and the other is for contract, hourly placements. For salary, the salary offered comes directly from the company. For hourly placements, the paycheck comes from the staffing agency. Typically the rate offered through a recruiting company is less than what that person would ask for if they dealt directly with the company.

Is it unprofessional to ask recruiters what their cut is, or what the total cost is that they're submitting me at?

  • But they are not submitting a cost at you. You really think they are agreeing to reduce your salary to cover fee?
    – paparazzo
    Mar 4, 2016 at 20:14
  • Yes, I know that this happens.
    – user70848
    Mar 4, 2016 at 20:42
  • If you think they are cutting your salary then how does knowing their cut help you? If you know they do this then stay away from the recruiters you know are doing it.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 4, 2016 at 21:10
  • I don't which ones or how much their cut is. Also, this is more true for freelance/hourly than for fulltime/salary.
    – user70848
    Mar 4, 2016 at 22:07
  • 2
    It is not a cut - it is a fee - it does not come OUT of your pay. So you don't know their fee? How is that any skin off your teeth? You know your offer take it or leave it. So if good recruiter found you a job for $100K and had made $20K would you rather have a recruiter that found you a job for $90K and only made $10K?
    – paparazzo
    Mar 4, 2016 at 22:17

5 Answers 5


Is it unprofessional to ask recruiters what their cut is, or what the total cost is that they're submitting me at?

Yes, because it's no business of yours. Your belief that recruiters are somehow passing the cost of their services off to you is simply wrong. You also have the wrong idea about how recruiter fees actually work. While there are many models, typically they are paid a one-time signing fee. Your yearly salary doesn't factor into their "cut" except that it usually determines how high their fee is. Often I see the fee represented as "X months of the hired person's salary." I assume that's based off an initially determine salary range and not the final negotiations, but if it is, it's actually in your recruiter's best interest to get you as high of a salary as he can.

Don't ask for this information. You'll come across as unprofessional, out-of-touch with workplace norms and, quite simply, rude. If you even hint at your reason for asking, you'll be considered strangely paranoid.

Besides, even if you got that information, how would that help you to confirm your suspicions? If you really want to know how this works, politely ask this neutral question that doesn't inquire about someone's finances instead:

Could you tell me how your fees typically work?

Any recruiter will be happy to explain the basics to you. I imagine it's a question they get regularly.

  • There was a recruiter answer on worksplace.SE where he was getting a one-time payment based on the % of the salary of the person he signed. The answer detailed why he asked for paystubs and how that could potentially help him get someone a bigger salary offer. Unfortunately, I can't find the answer :( Mar 8, 2016 at 6:44

Well, you can always ask for anything you want. Don't expect an answer on this one, though. I don't think it's particularly unprofessional to ask, though it would demonstrate a level of inexperience on your part - everyone who's been around even a little has a general idea of what recruiters charge or bill at, relative to what their placements make.

For what it's worth, you also have how this works backwards. Recruiters for permanent placement take a percentage cut of the salary their placement makes, and/or get a set placement fee, which is also (usually) based on the placement's salary. For contract work, recruiters generally bill a rate determined on the position, and pay the contractor less than that. It's highly unlikely you're being put in at a lower rate, because that would be money out of the recruiter's pocket, for no good reason.

It's possible you didn't negotiate a high enough rate for yourself with the recruiter, but that's on you, and has nothing to do with the relationship or billing between the recruiter and the client company. There's also usually a pretty standard rate for what you do that doesn't deviate much, though... recruiters generally make their money through volume, rather custom-tailored matches, so they generally don't negotiate a lot with potential placements.

The rate is the rate; take it, or we'll offer it to someone else who will.

  • Where can someone find out what recruiters charge or bill at? Where is this information? Why is showing inexperience such a bad thing?
    – user70848
    Mar 4, 2016 at 20:54
  • "For contract work, recruiters generally bill a rate determined on the position, and pay the contractor less than that." I don't see how this contradicts what I stated in my original post. As I stated, my understanding is that the company is paying extra because they can't find someone. Your sentence states that the company does not pay extra, but instead the freelancer earns less because the recruiter takes a cut.
    – user70848
    Mar 4, 2016 at 21:06
  • This is true in most cases but I have worked with recruiters as a manager and watched them under negotiate for people who could have made more so that they went below some milestone target. Happens all the freaking time. Recruiters are used car salesman that sell people instead of cars. Same exact concept because just like when buying the car you don't know how much they paid for it - but you can and should ask.
    – blankip
    Mar 4, 2016 at 21:52
  • @blankip That is crazy. How does what they paid matter? If dealership A will sell me the car for $40,000 and paid paid $30,000 and dealership B will sell me the same car for $38,000 and paid $36,000 I should spend $2000 more to buy from A because they had less markup?
    – paparazzo
    Mar 4, 2016 at 22:40
  • @Frisbee - a used car salesperson may have a car to sell that lists at 38k. If they sell it for 36k or more they get 2k, if 34-36k they get 1k, and lower maybe 500 or less. I have seen similar recruiters' contracts written like this with tiered targets - albeit the tiers are the inverse of a sales person since you are trying to usually get it for lower. Remember the employee is the car not the person buying the car!
    – blankip
    Mar 4, 2016 at 22:45

Is it unprofessional to ask recruiters what their cut is, or what the total cost is that they're submitting me at?

Not at all.

If you choose to work with a middleman (3rd party recruiter), then you can feel free to ask how much they are charging the company. Since you know how much you'll be getting, it will be simple to to calculate their cut. I've done this myself recently.

In my experience, most recruiters will give you this information if you ask for it. And if they don't, you can decide to walk away from the job if you prefer.

If you feel that the recruiter is getting paid too much for their efforts, or if you feel that you aren't being paid enough (for whatever reason), you can always make a counter-offer, or simply walk away.

Recruiters earn their pay by finding and vetting candidates, so that the company doesn't have to. Many companies feel this is money well spent. And they find jobs for you that you would otherwise not have found on your own. Many potential employees find that going through such a recruiter is worthwhile.

If you would rather avoid the middleman, you can. Simply search for jobs on your own - through your own professional network, internet searches, or by walking around looking for Help Wanted signs. You can charge whatever rate you can get a company to agree to, without the need to pay any 3rd-party recruiter overhead. It may get you more pay, or it may not. It may take you longer to find a job (sometimes a lot longer).

It's your choice.


There is no substitute for knowing your own value.

You're assuming your low-ball salary has something to do with his cut. In all likelihood, he's getting a percentage, and gets more when you get more. Not always, but it's beside the point.

You are being placed in at a low rate because (a) it makes the recruiter look good to the company, because he finds A-level talent a B-level prices, and (b) he's likely to close the deal quickly. He's also probably told the company to expect to pay more than average, so when you come in low, you look like a steal, and you're working asap. This is a sales job. You are a product. If I can get a 10% commission on phones regardless of the price, I'd be selling iPhones for $20. Sure, I make very little per phone, but I'd be selling 100x more phones, and I'd come out way ahead.

There is no substitute for knowing your own value.


Sure you can ask the recruiter whatever you want. They only get paid if you take the job. You have a right to know how a transaction involving you is taking place - this is not the company buying deli meat.

Will the recruiter get upset? Maybe. If you are worried about this, then don't ask.

But you have every right to ask and in my opinion every right to know.

If you find some intel on how the deal went down and they are outside of industry norms you may have more bargaining power. I for one have noticed that people who I interview through a recruiter are much more likely to negotiate their salary more.

The recruiter's equation is he gets a percentage of your salary or a flat rate. If you want too much company may lower percentage or may just not hire you. If you come in under he could make more. How much the recruiter works with you is directly related to their ability to find another person with little/no work.

Also if the recruiter knows how much you are going to make you are privy to the same info. Total nonsense if anyone tells you different.

  • What do you mean, "if the recruiter knows how much you are going to make you are privy to the same info"? I don't understand this sentence...
    – user70848
    Mar 5, 2016 at 1:49
  • @BobRodes - If they are buying and selling you that is a big yes. Not sure that I can go to the supermarket and pick out a person though. Well legally I can't.
    – blankip
    Mar 5, 2016 at 6:23

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