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I am presently looking for IT contracting roles, and since I am in the UK, this means I am obliged to make use of a recruiter. I am not particularly price-sensitive when it comes to a daily rate, and tend to value location (commutability) and industry (cultural fit) relatively highly.

This means that I am keen to find out who the client is, and where their offices are located, at the soonest possible opportunity. I am aware that recruiters are worried that I will use this information to cut them out of the deal, though I have no plans to do so.

Today a recruiter asked me to send him an email agreeing that I would let his firm "exclusively represent me in connection with the role", and I did so, with the proviso that I agreed in connection with this round of hiring only:

As per your request, I am happy to put in writing that your firm can exclusively represent me in connection with this round of hiring for the [title] role.

I used this wording ("with this round of hiring") so that if I encounter the role naturally through another recruiter in a few months time, I shall have no legal or moral problems using the new recruiter. (Broadly speaking, I do not care who represents me).

Was I correct to acquiesce to this demand? Do experienced contractors refuse to make these sorts of legalistic promises, and have I been naive in agreeing to it?

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As recruiters, we're instructed to seek exclusivity in all things. Be it recruiting contractors for a client or sending candidates to a position. The idea is, we don't want candidates getting placed at a company by anybody but us.

There shouldn't be any harm in this to you as long as you can get in writing that they will submit you for a role. Some recruiters will tell you they need exclusivity to submit you, then not submit you and submit 3 candidates they feel are a better fit. This is essentially to increase their chances of getting a placement. You can protect yourself by getting written confirmation of submission, which especially in the UK will give you grounds for action if you discover you weren't submitted.

In regards to markup, yes, the agency will be making a percentage on top of your salary. This is charged to the company and shouldn't be coming out of your rate. Give the recruiter exclusivity and then if another agent calls you for the same position, inquire as to the sort of rate you can expect for the position. Tell them you'll think on it, then go to your original recruiter and inform them you've been contacted by another agency and have been offered a better rate. The original recruiter will likely be willing to sacrifice some of the markup in order to retain a good candidate (or prevent you, at least, from ending up on another agency's P/L).

I don't recommend giving full exclusivity (you'll look at all roles through one recruiter) as no agency, especially in the UK, has access to every single vacancy. Role to role, loyalty to an agency will pay dividends, as I can attest firsthand the pressure management puts on recruiters to place "key" contractors. You may get to the point where operations managers or regional directors are placing calls to presidents/VPs to get you placement.

  • Thanks for this. Apologies, I don't think I received a notification last year when you kindly posted this. Agree with what you say about total exclusivity - that sounds very risky! – halfer May 5 '16 at 20:08
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I'm a little confused about exactly what you're signing. Are you saying you won't perform that job for that company except through this recruiter?

I have done contract software training, where a company pursues a large training project, and if they get the project they fill it with sub-contractors. They have finished competing with other training companies and won the project by the time they hire sub-contractors, so their concern is not whether or not we sub-contractors represent other training companies, but that they don't want us to go to work directly for the end client - as in "Pssst! Mr. Manager, you could hire me directly for 75% of what you're paying the company that sent me, and I'll be making more."

So it is standard in that line of work to sign a contract that you won't do business directly for that client, usually for a period of 2 years after any work they sent you there to do is complete.

But it would not be normal to say you won't represent other recruiting companies. If they aren't keeping you busy full time, how can they ask that of you?

It is normal for the recruiter to charge a lot more for you than they are paying you. The "value" they bring to you is landing the business (they are your sales team) and the "value" they bring to the end client is being able to staff large projects and having access to several reliable people so they can fill a position at anytime, whereas the individual contractor is only available when he has no other work.

When I did this type of work I was disgusted to learn they were charging 3x what they paid me. But since I've seen a lot of the recruiting companies go out of business and I'm still here, maybe it was not so excessive. I may not have understood their overhead.

  • You make some fair points here, and quite correctly detect my implied concern about exploitation (I've raised a question more explicitly about recruiter skimming elsewhere). My intention is not to cut recruiters out entirely, but that if I find a recruiter doesn't represent me very well, or I think they're dishonest, I can be represented by someone else for the same client if I discover that role organically. – halfer Aug 28 '15 at 12:51
  • It sounds like it is standard, but it bothers me too. I can see signing that you will not go to work directly for the company the recruiter sent you to. But how they can ask you not to work for other recruiters unless they are guaranteeing you full time employment? Having another recruiter send you to the same company is a gray area I've not dealt with. Wouldn't this recruiter already have won the contract with the other company before they staff it with you? It sounds standard per Roman. But maybe people only agree out of fear of not getting the job. – Emily Aug 28 '15 at 17:56
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I think it's almost standard in every recruiter's contracts to have an exclusivity clause. This insulates them from competition with other recruiters for the same role, where a candidate could bid each recruiter against each other, and lower their profit margin.

  • Thanks for your thoughts. I think this is part of the answer I'm after - everyone agrees to exclusivity clauses so I should just do the same. Furthermore, I suppose if I am not comfortable with agreeing to them, then recruiters may choose not to deal with me, and I may not get any work. However, as you state, the reason may be to protect recruiters from competitive effects that may harm their cut and increase the contractor's salary. That would imply that contractors should be wary about signing them, right? – halfer Aug 20 '15 at 12:24
  • I have signed that agreement many times. At the beginning of most recruiters calls they ask you have you ever applied to company ABC. To make sure they are not competing with someone else's clause – Roman Aug 21 '15 at 16:54

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