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Why Headhunters are Never on Your Side

Last week, I received e-mails from well over 20 people hoping I would be able to

help them to find a new role. I do my best to give advice where I can. But I have to

explain to most of them that, as an Executive Search firm, Godliman does not help

candidates to find jobs. I explain this in more detail here.

But what I don’t necessarily explain each time is that no recruitment firm is really on

the job seeker’s side.

In an ideal world, job seekers could engage an Agent who would actively represent

them in the marketplace, securing them the best roles, negotiating their

remuneration, cutting deals on their behalf, proactively curating their career moves,

etc. If you wanted to find a new job, all you would have to do is interview a few

agents, decide which one you trust the most, sign up, set them to work, and sit back

and wait for the opportunities to roll in.

But, sadly, outside of the sports and entertainment world, no such thing exists: it’s

illegal in the UK for recruiter to engage in Agency agreements with candidates.

The UK Employment Agencies Act 1973 states that employment agencies “shall not

demand or directly or indirectly receive from any person any fee for finding him [sic]

employment or for seeking to find him employment“.

Why? Because, for some reason the UK government decided that professional

businesspeople might get taken advantage of by headhunters – whereas

sportspeople and actors have the brains to look after themselves. Go figure?!..

Hence, the only exceptions are for actors, models and professional sportsmen. They

may sign exclusive agreements with agents who charge a set percentage of their

wages. In this case, the actors, models and sportspeople are clearly the agent’s

client. I think it’s a historical precedent thing: they can do it because they’ve always

done it. But I cannot – which is a shame, as I would love to represent people in this


This means, in recruitment, it is always the hiring company that pays the fees. On the

basis that “he who pays the piper calls the tunes”, this also means that the recruiter is

always on the hiring company’s side as they are always the client – not the


Clearly, there is an alignment of interests between the job seeker and the client. In

Godliman’s case, we want to ensure that our candidates land well and thrive in their

roles. In fact, 83% of the candidates we have placed over the last 10 years are still in

position, as we go to great lengths to make sure they understand our Client’s culture,

and that the role will satisfy their motivations and suit their personalities. But we are

only indirectly on their side: this is a by-product of ensuring that our client – the hiring

company – is happy.

So, even when a recruitment firm appears to be on your side – for example, when

Agency recruiters give this impression by actively marketing you to their client base –

it’s important to understand that they are really working for the people who pay the


This means two things:

First: it’s crucial to always do your own research. I’m always amazed that Analysts

and Portfolio Managers who spend their whole working lives doing deep due

diligence on the companies they are about to invest in, do almost no independent

research when making the most important investment of their careers – ie: which

company to work for.

Secondly, you should not rely on headhunters to find your next job. By all means

contact them to see if they have any live engagements which might be suitable.

But don’t rely on them systematically to represent you and find your next job, as both

the law – and economics – says they cannot.


Author: Rupert Reed Last edited 31st March 2021


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