Dear Developers, a "Free" Headhunter Will Cost You >$10k

Have you ever felt like a headhunter was stealing from you? Not literally taking money out of your wallet, but something just rubbed you the wrong way?

Well, it could be that your headhunter is doing sleazy things or it could be that they actually are costing you money. Here's how.

Headhunters who recruit software engineers get paid when they place a candidate that gets hired. Companies pay recruiters 20-30% of what the candidate will make in their first year at the company. For an experienced software engineer making $100k per year, a recruiter's fee would be $20k-$30k depending on their agreement with the hiring company.

What does this mean for you, the software developer who just received an offer?

As businesses grow, recruiting costs become a fact of life whether they come in the form of job posts, headhunters, or time spent networking. Over the past few months, I've talked to a lot of companies that are hiring developers (with and without headhunters). Of the companies that use headhunters that I've spoken to, about half of them are willing to pass along a portion of the anticipated recruiting budget to a new hire if that person comes to them without a recruiter. This willingness likely stems from the huge demand for software engineers right now, so your mileage may vary in different market conditions.

Next time you're doing a job search, approach companies directly through your network, through a job post, or through a company's website. When you receive an offer, you'll be in a position to ask for a larger salary or sign-on bonus if you know the company has a habit of using headhunters.


You receive an offer at a job where you will be specializing in Hadoop. (Almost every company I know of that uses Hadoop uses recruitment agencies). If you know that the company has a habit of using recruiters, try to determine who has the most visibility into the recruiting budget. This person will be your best bet for negotiating more money for approaching the company directly. At larger companies, this will be the HR representative who gave you the offer. At smaller companies, this is more likely a hiring manager or CTO.

Go to this person and tell them you approached their company directly because of how much you like the culture, people, technical challenges, etc (this part has to come from you). Then tell them that you understand how much recruiting costs can be for developers, and that you're happy to be saving them money. Then ask, "Would you be willing to take recruiting costs into account with my offer?"

Using this strategy, I've heard of one developer getting a $15k sign-on bonus, and another developer getting a 5% salary bump. With software engineers in such high demand, there's no reason why companies shouldn't pass along some of the money they save recruiting you if you go directly to them.

About Hirelite

Hirelite helps software engineers talk directly to companies by facilitating web-based "speed interviewing" events where developers video-chat with a series of companies for 5 minutes each. Our next event is this Monday, November 1st at 7pm EST. The companies attending are all NYC based, but we're accepting job seekers from around the US who would be willing to relocate.