Career Burn Notice: Circumventing A Recruiter

Heh, heh, heh...   FIRE! FIRE!  ( Law)

Heh, heh, heh... FIRE! FIRE! ( Law)

How would you like to kill your reputation with every staffing firm in town – in one easy step?

The scenario. You get an unexpected call from a headhunter at a staffing firm. He's pitching a job opportunity in town with a hot technology company that's engaged him to find somebody for the position, and if you're interested, he'd like to present your resume to them. Based upon the conversation, it sounds like the job is a great match for you, and would be an interesting step forward for your career. Once you've made it abundantly clear to the recruiter that you're interested in the job, he tells you the name of the company.

"Sure sounds interesting," you say to the recruiter. "Let me think about it and get back to you."

Then, in a moment of supposed clarity you decide that you've got a better chance of representing yourself to the employer, than you do if you have the staffing firm representing you. So, you go online to the company's website, ascertain which position the recruiter was selling you, and apply. Then you go on LinkedIn and send a note to the company's human resources department.

You've cut the staffing firm out of the equation. Pretty clever, right?

Wrong. You've just earned yourself a burn notice within the staffing world.

In case you're not familiar with the term "burn notice," it's a reference to a television show in which a CIA agent is disavowed and disowned by the agency. In essence, he's been labelled unreliable, and nobody wants anything to do with him.

Here's how this applies to you. Recruiters at staffing firms earn their paycheck by placing job seekers at companies. They get paid a fee - typically in the neighborhood of 25% of the first year's salary - to find a qualified candidate and get them hired. By cutting the staffing firm who presented you the job out of the loop, you've demonstrated that you're a liability. So let's say the job paid $100,000 annually; the staffing firm was due to get a cool $25k out the deal by placing you.

You cost the recruiter 25 big ones. At minimum, you've muddied the waters in terms of how you were made aware of the job and how your resume made it into the employer's hands. At most, you've shown both the staffing agency recruiter and the employer you can't be trusted – they'll talk about your application at length, and it's pretty likely that no matter how qualified you are for the job, both parties will decide that you're a bad player and not worth pursuing. It's the end of the road for your candidacy in this particular job.

And you'll have earned a flag on your application at both the staffing firm and the employer, telling anybody who's considering you for a job to avoid you like the plague.

Think it stops there? Think again. Recruiters can change firms, and trust me - when your name comes up in conversation as a potential candidate, they'll remember how you cost them their payday. You'll be persona non grata with their new firm, too.

I'm not saying that there aren't exceptions to this situation. There are always exceptions; but you are taking a substantial risk to your reputation by circumventing the recruiter. However, if you've already applied for the job with the company, that's another story. Let the recruiter know.

Bottom Line: You may have an "in" at the potential company, or simply feel that your chances are better if you apply on your own. Fight the urge to act outside the process. The recruiter is simply doing his or her job, and by identifying you for the role they've staked their claim on you for the position. Going around them at that point will be perceived as high treason, and may hurt your cause in the short and the long term than any gains you may realize.

  • Want to boost your chances of getting noticed when applying for jobs online? Follow this link!
  • What should you do if your employer finds out you're looking for a new job? Find out here.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at, or via the website,