I Mostly Work For Free

I’m an agency headhunter.  I love this Dilbert comic, it makes me laugh:

Dilbert Headhunter


The reality is, headhunting, recruiting, etc. can be a very lucrative job. Like most sales jobs, yes it’s a sales job, if you’re any good, you can make really good money. If you’re not good, you starve.

The truth about headhunting is I’m usually working for free.   I don’t blame my clients for this.  I completely know the deal going in, and if I ‘decide’ to work for free, I’ve made the conscious decision to do it.

Most people don’t know that about this profession.  That 90% of their time is spent working for free.  It’s why so many people leave agency recruiting to go to corporate recruiting.  The jobs are virtually the same, except on the corporate side you get paid each day.  You don’t get paid as well, but you get paid.  On the agency side, you rarely get paid, but if you’re good, those pay days are big.

Those in the industry will read this and think, “well, Tim, you must not be good at what you do, because I would never work for free!”  They feel like they have clients who would never asked them to do that, or they ‘qualify’ each opening before they do would take on the assignment.  Others will say, “that’s why I only work ‘retained’ search”.

Our reality, agency headhunters, is that everyday we are working on something for free.  My best clients will ask me, beg me, for help on a certain position.  We’ll work our butts off getting them great talent.  Then, we’ll get the call, “Hey, Tim, the resumes are great! We decided to go another direction. Thanks, though, we’ll definitely call the next time we have a need!”

Yep, you just worked for free.

The cool thing about a recovery economy is that the leverage of being able to go out and find more great clients is right there.  Clients who won’t want you to work for free.  Who will value the work you do for free, and not want to take advantage of that.  I feel for my brothers and sisters in the headhunting game.  Working for free never feels good, but you smile, you thank them for the opportunity, and we do what we do.

Hopefully, today, that isn’t working for free.



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