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Do I have to pay a headhunter if I apply for a job without them?

THE QUESTION

I received two LinkedIn requests from the same headhunter. One mentioned the city and the other mentioned the name of the company and hiring person. I responded with my number, but I haven't heard back from the headhunter yet. At this point, If I directly contact the company, is there an obligation to pay the headhunter? I have no written agreement with the headhunter.

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Julie Labrie

President, BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

In Canada, job candidates don't pay headhunters. Employers pay headhunters to find the right people for their organizations. So if you contact this company directly, you won't owe the headhunter any funds.

Consider going back and reviewing your correspondence with the headhunter just to make sure you've followed his or her instructions accurately. For example: If a headhunter asks for a detailed answer via e-mail and you reply with a phone number, the headhunter may be delayed in responding as a result of a deviation in their process.

Don't be shy in following up with the headhunter more aggressively, too. It could be that he or she is quite busy and/or has other candidates on the radar. E-mail or voice-mail follow-ups are completely acceptable and they are often appreciated. It shows your interest and diligence.

If you haven't been able to reach the recruiter, you can also contact the company directly. There's no social faux pas in reaching out to a potential employer that way. Just remember that if the company engaged this headhunter to help them recruit, that agent is probably a trusted voice to the employer. It may be in your best interest to have the headhunter "sell" you to the company first – as an already short-listed candidate (versus you submitting a general application). Think of it as a warm lead versus a cold lead.

THE SECOND ANSWER

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Zuleika Sgro

VP Retail, Saje Natural Wellness, Vancouver

Great question – this occurs often, and in my experience on the employer side, my recommendation would be to reach out to the employer directly as an interested applicant for the role, independent from the headhunter.

Be fully transparent, sharing the experience of being contacted by a headhunter on behalf of the company, with no response from them, but nonetheless contacting the employer directly to express your interest in the position.

While you will be in the dark with regard to the agreement the company may have with the headhunter, you have no formal agreement with the headhunter directly, and since they haven't responded to you, you have every right to follow up with the company directly.

In my experience, headhunters who are non-responsive to our potential candidates are ones we wouldn't work with in the future, so this feedback is important to an employer.

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Put your best foot forward if you are interested in the role and share all the reasons as well as your qualifications. It's likely the headhunter did not pass along your information or profile.

I would also suggest you send one final note to the headhunter via LinkedIn, letting them know you have reached out to the company directly since you did not hear back from them. Confirm no obligation of representation on either side, to cover all bases. From here, it will be in the hands of the employer whether to speak with you about the role.

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