Dear recruiter: I will not help you do your job for free

I literally get 10-15 calls and emails a week from recruiters asking if I can help them to find a data warehouse or business intelligence person for an opening at a client they have.  And another 10-15 emails for positions not even close to my skill-set (many coming from keyword searches via LinkedIn).  90% of these requests are from recruiters I have never heard from before.  Something along the lines of:

“I found your blog online and thought you might be able to help out with a search I’m conducting for my client in SoCal.  This role (attached) probably isn’t for you since it is geared for someone with less than 10 years of experience – however, if you know anyone that might be interested, please put them in touch with me.”

“We have an Oracle / Transact SQL project coming up, in case you have a colleague in the market?”

“I will appreciate if you can forward this email to anyone who might be looking out for a change in same domain.”

I will ask the recruiter what kind of compensation I would receive if I gave them the name of a perfect candidate and they were placed at the client, giving them tens of thousands of dollars in profit.  It ranges from, at most, $1000 after six months, to:

“We don’t do referral fees.  The only recompense you can expect will be the satisfaction of knowing you helped your friend/colleague land a great opportunity.  That – and good Karma – which we could all use more of”.

Well, since I get 10-15 requests like this each week, I need a monetary incentive to help you out over the others, as my time is very valuable.  Good Karma won’t help pay for my kids college.  And everyone says it’s a “great opportunity”, but the reality is you have no idea since you have never worked at that company.  I know sales talk when I hear it.

I like to followup with two questions to the recruiter: If I asked you to help me find clients that need my services, would you do it for free?  Do you get a fee from the client for placing someone, or do you do it strictly for good Karma?

You want me to help you do your job with what is one of the hardest parts – finding a consultant that fits your client’s needs – and I get nothing and you get the entire fee?  If you were a mechanic, would you ask someone to help you with the hardest part of repairing a car and not compensate them?

I have spent many hours building relationships with many individuals who have various skillsets, which is what you should be doing.  And you want to skip that step and have me give you the names of these candidates without compensation for the hours I have put in networking and getting to know these candidates?  So you save all that time and collect all the money?  No, I won’t be doing the actual “recruiting” of the individual, but getting the name of a possible candidate is at least half the battle.  Pass!

Why am I saying all this?  To help you, the recruiter: If you want to find candidates, offer a large referral fee, and I guarantee you that you will get plenty of referrals.  Something along the lines of $5k after 3 months or, even better, $5/hr for each hour the candidate works or a percentage of the hourly rate (this way, both sides have an incentive for the candidate to work at the client for a long time).  At the very least, build a relationship before you ask for a referral.  Don’t make your first contact a request for a referral.

About James Serra

James is a big data and data warehousing solution architect at Microsoft. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence architect and developer. He is a prior SQL Server MVP with over 25 years of IT experience.
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9 Responses to Dear recruiter: I will not help you do your job for free

  1. Rogerio Prudente says:

    I thought those things would only happen on countries like mine or that HR people abroad would be more than spammers or fishermen.

    It is interesting to notice that I was wrong… so it is a worldwide plague!

  2. Jason says:

    I completely agree. I get too many of these emails/phone calls looking for referrals for free. Recruiters need to offer more incentive to get some help.

  3. Most of the times they ask if I’m interested in a position and if not, if I know somebody who does. Instant trash bin.

    However, for the very few occasions where I did knew somebody who could be interested, I asked about the referral fee and they were willing to compensate me (albeit with a bit of reluctance). Sadly it didn’t work out. 🙂

  4. Great article.

    Generally speaking, a referral fee of $5K may be a bit much to expect depending on the specifics of the placement. But everything is sales. If you don’t ask you will certainly never receive. A $500 – $1,000 fee would be more realistic; indeed it should be expected.

    I’ve recruited sales people for 15 years. I have worked under all kinds of comp plans. Like your suggestion of the hourly rate for a referral fee (I’m a big fan of that idea), the one bonus plan I would truly love to work under would be to earn even 1% of the sales each of my sales placements make in a year.

    I’ve had placements that have $150,000 quotas and placements that have $5,000,000 quotas. A 1% bonus could add up to a lot of green. Like you mention, that kind of incentive ensures the best possible placement. Everyone has skin in the game. Sadly, no company is ever open to trying that.

  5. Some good advice here. This post hit my inbox, almost at the same time as a job offer, that seemed to have been send with a blindfold. The technology was way off, the text filled with misspellings, the total disregard of my status as “not open for new position”, the total lack of judgement in regards to me having started in a new position just last week, and finally, the signature didn’t match the account from which the mail came.
    I think I’ll start of, by sending the recruiter on to my blog, only to have them sweat a reply, and then ask a referral fee. 🙂
    I will make an exception to my rule on LinkedIn: Somewhere in my profile, I have stated what color M&M’s I dont like. If the recruiter doesn’t state that in their initial mail, I am not replying… (The good old Van Halen trick)

  6. James,

    While I disagree with a lot of your blog I also liked a lot of parts of it too. There are a few things that standout.

    1. 10-15 calls and emails a week from recruiters asking if I can help them to find a data warehouse or business intelligence person for an opening at a client they have. And another 10-15 –

    I never asked you to do more then network. For a professional reading the message might be a skill you want to add. Next to cocky and unprofessional.

    2. I am going to take a wild guess you have never lost your job and could not pay your bills. I’d love to see your face knowing a friend of yours has the job you needed to get by, but Jimmy didn’t get anything out of it so screws his buddy on a great opp. Selfish shot sided and shows you have a lot to learn about people.

    3. Last week an old client called needing Java developer with struts…….. He has no budget. I gave him three candidates he can utilize that really need jobs. I was paid, oh nothing, other then the great feeling one got the job. Christmas is now back at his house as the week before I was informed he needed to borrow $20 to get to the interview from a friend.

    4. Almost every firm pays a referral fee you need to keep up with the industry. As a matter of fact. Forbes predicts in 2015 over 25% of hires to come referrals. And another 14% will come from the boom a rang theory.

    5. Not all recruiters are whores. It just seems that way. I do my job because I am presented opportunities that only my company knows about. If your not connected to us your not getting that job. Our clients have us do confidential searches and do not compete against us. So again I go to my point #2.

    6. Last week I called a woman who told me thank you but shes set loves her company, money……. would never leave. Monday she called to talk. Guess who’s company got bought out? That will never be me right Jimbo. lol

    7. Get off of Linkedin I reported you its not a money making site its for networking. Smile.

    Have a wonderful Holiday season you seem like such the giver!!!!!!

    I left some grammar and spelling errors in on purpose. I wanted it to match the message you sent me.



    Have a great holiday season making money off of others and keeping great jobs from those who

    • James Serra says:

      Thanks for your reply “Dave”. My response:

      1. To me, networking and recruiting are the same thing. You will have to enlighten me on how they are different. I’ll let others decide if I my blog is “cocky and unprofessional”. Maybe it is

      2. This blog post is talking about “data warehouse or business intelligence” jobs. There is no one in this category who is not able to pay their bills. I am asked by recruiters to network with my colleagues who already have jobs. If I had a colleague out of work you can bet I would refer all my recruiter contacts to that person. Maybe I do have a lot to learn about people, but at least I am using my real name and email.

      3. It’s great to hear you helped that person for free to get a java developer job with struts (I have no idea what that means). Again, this is not about java developer jobs. I’m not talking about matching clients with no budgets to developers that are out-of-work. This is about highly paid jobs and highly paid consultants.

      4. Sure, many firms pay a referral fee. My experience shows 90% of them pay no more than $500 after 90 days on the job. It’s not worth my time to network with all my colleagues for that amount, especially when the firm will make that much profit in 2-3 days.

      5. I never said all recruiters are whores. I have used many really great recruiters to find jobs. But I am certain that maybe 1 in 10 recruiters are really great. I would say 50% are a complete waste of time

      6. I don’t quit understand where you are going with this. But glad to hear you helped that one person

      7. Again, very confusing comment. LinkedIn is a great site for networking

      A recruiter who uses a fake name and intentionally leaves grammar and spelling errors in a blog post is not someone I would want to help me in finding a job. Just saying.

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  8. Dan says:

    I agree. The norm in the recruiting space is sometimes a recruiter may enlist the help of another recruiter to fill a role. You could say it’s a subcontract, but not exactly. Basically recruiter 2 refer good candidate to recruiter one and they do a split 50/50.

    My spiel back to an agency is similar to yours. I’ve built up a solid network of people I trust, and people I am able to recruit and subcontract for my own projects. I know how the business works, and let’s make a deal.

    I’ve had some recruiters get angry at me and others that are will to sit and talk and work out an arrangement. I always laugh, even when I see $500 or $1,000 referral bonus. No way. Referral should be 50% of the margin. No less. Contract should be in place to protect your side and ensure margins are transparent and agreed upon.