Talent Acquisition

Fee-Splitting: Cardinal Sin or Blessing in Disguise?

Few topics in recruitment divide opinion quite as much as fee-splitting. Some believe it’s bad practice, and only serves to devalue the recruiter-client relationship. However, I personally believe there’s a lot of benefits to splitting fees. Allow me to explain.

Fee-Splitting – The Conventional Opinion

Suggest fee-splitting to some recruiters, and you’re likely to evoke a range of reactions – from a mild look of disbelief, to indignant outrage at the very idea. After all, why would you want to do such a thing? It takes your focus away from placements with full-fee potential, and it doesn’t benefit your relationship with the client either, does it?

Call me controversial, but I’d say the opposite. Turning away the option to fee-split is essentially the same as turning away the opportunity to still make money, and also to exceed your client’s expectations.

Knowing Your Specialisms

I’ve worked as an independent recruiter for many years now. Fortunately, along the way, I’ve built up a great list of fantastic clients who only want to use my services, and mine alone. Very nice!

However, whilst I like to think I’m very good at what I do, I’m realistic enough to know that I don’t specialise in everything. Finding an accountant for a robotics business, for example, would not be my forte. Technical engineer – yes absolutely! Accountant? I wouldn’t know where to start.

So, what’s a recruiter to do in this position? Should I tell the client that I can’t help them, and send them packing? Or, should I let them know that I can fill the role for them, but that I’d enlist the help of a trusted and expert colleague in order to achieve the results they’re looking for, at no extra cost to them.

The Benefits of Splitting Fees

A split-fee program, as far as I can see, is a win-win situation. Your client is happy. They don’t have to go through the bother of trying to find another specialist recruiter to help them, and they trust you to deliver results.

You’re happy too. Okay, so you might not get 100% of the fee, but you’ll still make something, and more importantly, you’ll hold on to your client. They’ll be impressed that you showed initiative, and that you’re willing to go the extra mile to get their position filled.

Of course, this might not be something you can achieve for all roles, and it’s important to be realistic about your limitations. If you try to blag it, you may end up letting your client down, and that’s not a good situation to be in. However, letting your clients down when actually, you might be able to help, isn’t an attractive option either!

A Tool to Add to Your Arsenal

You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re fee-splitting too often as you won’t be focusing on your core area of expertise. Plus if you’re working as a freelance recruiter, you need to make a certain amount each month to pay the bills, and too much fee-splitting can compromise this.

However, if you see it as another tool for your belt, a further service you can offer clients if necessary, then this only serves to strengthen your reputation as a recruiter. After all, you’ll be seen as the guy or gal who not only specialises in X, but can also help out with Y and Z too, if required! This makes you the ‘go-to’ recruiter – the one who works really hard to get results.

Plus, it’s not that revolutionary an idea to work with others. Collaboration in the workplace is as old as the hills, and in the 21st century recruiters often join forces in order to offer a better service to their clients. NPA, for example, is widely recognised across the globe, and they’ve been providing a split-fee program since 1956!

Boost Your Reputation

Are you too busy to take on a split-fee job? If so, then lucky you… you’re obviously doing something right. But secondly, you’re absolutely right to not take on a split-fee job if you’re already working flat out. After all, recruitment is a business, and much as you may want to please your customers, you shouldn’t ever cut off your nose to spite your face.

However, if you do have the time to do a few split-fee jobs, then you might find it helps boost your reputation no end. Do your homework and only work with recruiters whose ethics and business manner match your own high standard. These associations will serve to enhance your personal brand in the marketplace.

As a specialist recruiter you have your own reputation to protect – and ultimately (especially if you’re a solo freelancer) you want the jobs that generate 100% profit for you. However, never knock the power of collaboration. You might not want to actively promote a split-fee arrangement as part of your recruiter USP-list, but in my opinion, it certainly gives you the competitive advantage. In accepting the occasional split-fee, you essentially present yourself as a ‘can-do’ recruiter, and you may find you land more business as a result.

Half the Pay for Less of the Work?

Split-fee arrangements can also be beneficial if you’re strapped for time. If you’ve built up a network of fellow recruiters who are all up to your high standards, then why not pass some of the work on to them? After all, filling vacancies, finding new jobs for clients and delivering a great service is highly time-consuming! If you can work with someone who is happy to take on the bulk of that work, leaving you in a position where you can still pocket a nice sum of money, why wouldn’t you want to do it?

Ultimately, your client is happy, because they know you’ll get the job done. They don’t really mind how you do it, they just want you to find them the right person for the job. Your fellow recruiter is happy, because you’ve given them some work (and money) that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

And as for you? You can still make some money from the job, whilst preserving your great reputation with your client. It’s as the late, great Hot Chocolate sang… everyone’s a winner, baby! Splitting fees does not make you look like a bad recruiter. Only turning your client away and giving them the hard job of finding another specialist recruiter can do that.

By Dave Hume

Dave Hume is a specialist recruiter with over 14 years’ experience in the industry. Having founded his own successful independent recruitment consultancy in 2011, he went on to found Seriously Connected which comprehensively supports experienced recruiters who want to take control of their careers, work for themselves from anywhere, full or part time and enjoy the rewards their skills deserve.