Can I get that in writing?

 Would you lend a complete stranger $10,000 on a handshake, without a promissory note or an I.O.U.?
I don't think so.

And yet, recruiters willingly reveal their candidates' names and contact information -- and even arrange face-to-face employment interviews -- without any written agreement that clearly states their fees and guarantees.

We're so happy to play ball with employers, we sometimes forget to cover our bases. Or worse, we tippy-toe our way through negotiations, hoping to avoid any sticking points that might cause stress.

Later, after we've lost our leverage (or our hard-earned dollars), we blame the hiring companies for our predicament. But in fact, all they've done is taken what was handed to them. Fair or not, we only
have ourselves to blame.

To avoid disagreement, confusion or disappointment, I suggest you protect yourself with a simple, yet effective tool that keeps your clients on the straight and narrow.

A Fee Agreement, Not a Fee Schedule
Years ago, I used to think that by quoting from my company's fee schedule, I could lay down the law. Sadly, I learned that a fee schedule is nothing more than a glorified price list.

Just because you show someone your price list
-- or publish it on your Web site -- it doesn't necessarily mean than the other side understands or accepts your terms, or promises to pay you for services rendered.

To protect your investment in time and inventory, always put your fee and guarantee terms in writing. Assuming the client has agreed to the conditions, make sure the agreement is signed by an authorized company representative. A straightforward, one-page fee agreement is one of your most powerful business tools you can use, because it:

Qualifies the employer. If the other side is reluctant -- or refuses -- to sign your fee agreement, it either means they have no interest in working with you, or have no intention of paying you.

Spells out your terms and conditions. By putting it in writing, you avoid confusion, and nothing is lost in translation.

Highlights the sticking points sooner, rather than later. Specific aspects of your fee or guarantee may require some give-and-take. It's best to resolve your differences early on, because you have the most leverage before -- not after -- the company knows your candidate's name and phone number.

Demonstrates your professionalism. Amateurs tend to give away their services, avoid confrontation and fail to establish ground rules. Is that the impression you want to give?

Sets the stage for a better working relationship. As Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." By establishing clear boundaries, fair terms and self-respect, you'll level the playing field, and help make the game more pleasant for everyone. I operate under the assumption that everyone I work with will play by the honor system. But just in case, I require that all clients sign my fee agreement before any candidate contact information is revealed.

While I acknowledge that not all agreements are legally enforceable, I also know that without them, I'm totally defenseless against those whose memory might fail them, or who might try to take unfair advantage. And besides, a written agreement helps me get a better night's sleep.

By Bill Radin
 BlackDog Recruiting Software Inc.
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