Question & Answer
Fairy Dust Gold Rush
February 26, 2013
Is there some reason why, in your article on the plusses and minuses of using recruiters, you did not mention that the recruit who comes directly to a firm might realize as a "signing bonus" a portion of what the headhunter's fee would have been?
In the column you refer to I didn't mention that job seekers who get an offer without a fee attached to their candidacy might get part of what would have been a headhunter's fee in the form of a signing bonus because it never entered my mind to suggest this. And it didn't enter my mind to suggest because I have not found it to be true.
First of all, if firms offer signing bonuses then it doesn't matter if there is a search firm's fee involved in the deal. If hired attorneys normally get a signing bonus, then there will be one whether or not there is a fee attached to the hire.
There are some firms who offer their current attorneys a bonus (usually $5K to $10K) if they introduce someone to the firm and that person eventually is given and accepts an offer of employment. However, even though it would be lovely to receive an extra $10,000 award, this doesn't happen as often as you might think.
Trying to talk your friends into joining your current firm is not necessarily as easy as it might sound. The attorney trying to lure someone in may not want to create a situation of possible competition with a friend. Conversely, your friend may not want to work at the same firm where you are employed for the same reason. And, by the way, if you get that bonus for bringing someone in and that person finds out about it (which he or she definitely will if they join the firm), I suspect you will be asked to split that bonus with the new attorney (only fair, right?).
Now, here's the thing about headhunter's fees: not every firm out there pays those fees and the recruiters know which firms are not going to work with them. But the firms that do pay fees are budgeted for that money. They expect to pay x amount of dollars each year for hires generated by search firms. And there are even times when the firms who supposedly never pay search firm fees find that the only candidate that is worth hiring has come to them through a headhunter. Over the years all of the search firms have made a hire here and there at a firm or corporation that professes to never use headhunters.
Search firms - and I am talking about those who are ethical and hard-working - are now a very accepted part of the hiring process at firms and corporations. Would they prefer to not have to pay a fee? Of course they would and we all understand that preference. However, partners and general counsels (and the recruiting departments) want to fill their hiring needs as soon as possible and also with the best possible candidate, not the best candidate that answers an ad. The top search firms understand their clients and know exactly the right kind of candidates to introduce. The clients know that their preferred search firms will provide a number of choices for each opening and those candidates will be right for the opening and the specific firm.
Generally speaking, the client should only need to see three to five candidates from a search firm before they can make an offer. Without the search firm, they may have to wade through literally hundreds of resumes to find a viable candidate (that's one of the duties the search firms do for them, by the way).
Not every opening is worth a fee. The best use of a recruiter is for those difficult openings that are so time-consuming to fill. And that is why I always say that everyone is employable but not everyone is worth a fee. A viable candidate must be exactly what the client is looking for, and then some. And if a candidate is good enough to cause a fee to be paid to the search firm, then that same candidate is worth a signing award if that is customary for that firm or corporation.
Lastly, there are many cases where a search firm is responsible for the desired candidate to receive a signing bonus if this is what will clench the hire. Trust me, a recruiter's fee does not ever cause an employer to deny a normally given signing bonus or a reduction in salary offer. If that does ever happen then I would strongly urge the candidate to reconsider joining such an employer. I hope that answers the question for you. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel