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Recruitment’s Salary Survey Conspiracy

By October 31, 201312 Comments

Why is that we recruiters do so much work for free?  Or should I say, how is it that we are always expected to do so much for nothing?  Is it because of the seemingly large fees we charge when a placement does eventually come off?

It’s kind of funny how we in the recruitment industry have gotten ourselves so bent and twisted off the course of sensible commercial pricing models that it has become almost expected we will do something for nothing.  This is not a blog post about contingent versus retained recruitment though.  Rather it’s an observation formed from an email I received earlier this week.  An email that I have been informed, in no uncertain terms, must be replied to by close of business today:

Good morning Jonathan,

We are currently completing our annual Remuneration Benchmarking exercise. 

Your organisation has been identified as a specialist provider of recruiters in your market and thus best positioned to assist us market testing our remuneration model for 360 Recruitment Consultants. 

In support of this, can you please complete the table below and return via email to me, by COB Friday 1st November 2013. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

The email then outlines a fairly comprehensive table to be filled in, including average salaries, highs, lows and different commission structures… And in case you wondered, the bold text was not embellished by me, that’s how it was written.  What’s more, whilst I have indeed made a couple of placements with this client over the past few years, and actually enjoy recruiting for them, I’ve never spoken to the person who sent me this email before.

Part of me wonders whether I’m being a bit precious about how I spend my time here.  But then I think back to another client who, a couple of months ago, asked me to produce a similar one-pager on average recruiter salaries at the more senior end, to be taken into a board meeting the following week.  Their insistence that I send them an invoice for $500 for the couple of hours work was greatly appreciated and obviously leaves a totally different impression to the one generated by the above email.  Interesting how they actually do more work on a retained basis than the ones who emailed this week too.

I guess that if you value your own time as a recruiter more, it changes your expectations around the value of your suppliers’ times too, even if that supplier happens to also be a recruitment firm like me.  So, will I get it done today?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I’ll see how my day goes.

It does also raise the value of salary surveys produced by recruiters though.  This particular firm want the market intel for their own internal purposes.  This is a useful benchmarking exercise although I’m not sure how accurate their feedback will be.  But what about the recruitment firms out there still producing the same tired old salary surveys, compiled by pressurised recruiters forced into coughing up salary ranges, and bound up in snazzy marketing material and glossy brochures to use as levers to prise open new client visits.  Does this still happen?  Surely they’re nothing more than collections of recruiters licking the fingers and holding them aloft to the wind of undulating salaries.

I’ve seen a couple of different types of salary surveys in the market that would seem to be far more compelling than these.  I remember Greg Savage talking last year about Firebrand Talent getting candidates themselves to contribute to an on-going salary survey, inputting their current role and salary online, to generate what would surely be more useful and interesting data.  Over here absoluteIT do the same thing with now over 30,000 contributions.

Are you an agency still producing salary surveys to use for PR or marketing material?  And all you corporate recruiters out there, what’s your impression of these pieces of literature when proffered by sweaty-palmed recruiters on their first client visits?


Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Omar Little says:

    Our company doesn’t, but at a previous large American recruitment firm I worked for they treated the arrival of the new salary survey with all the reverence and tight security as if they were publishing the a Harry Potter book.

    Were clients interested. No.

    Does a senior partner from PWC want to be told by agency what they should pay. No.

    Salary Surveys are very early noughties recruitment.

  • The Sorceress says:

    I used to work for a very large UK Based Recruitment firm (Worldwide presence, blue logo) and the collation of data for their annual salary survey was farcical. Aside from the handful of Institutionalized Recruiters that had been there for a few years and were now “Managers” the rest of us had only been there a year or less and were pretty much told to just put in the $$ that we thought were paid in the corresponding boxes.

    The manual, I mean survey that was produced as a result was hardly worth the very expensively produced paper it was printed on, but still they breakfast out on it every year and get a few press releases so it clearly works for them.

    Unless things have changed of course and they now have real data and good staff retention rates to go on……

    • Omar Little says:

      Re : The Sorceress

      Completely right. Salary Surveys are made up on the hoof between cold calling clients and there value is purely for the consultant who will use it for more cold calling.

      These days though I honestly struggle to see the value in booking the Four Seasons for 100+ people and paying for breakfast and ‘launching’ your Salary Survey?

  • Kevin Chappell says:

    Jonathan, I think the lawn needs mowing this afternoon, doesn’t it?

    Agree wholeheartedly with your philosophy. Salary surveys are historic and based on what has been, not what is. And we know how that can change in a heartbeat. I like the idea of Greg’s approach because it is really just-in-time and reflects the now (or certainly the most recent past).

    As an example, I have one client who is banging away in a very tight supply area but not moving on remuneration and wondering why nothing’s happening. Reminds me of the old adage “if you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result…” Yet another who says “We’ll pay what we need to to get the right skills” (much easier to work for…). In the end, supply and demand must determine remuneration, no different to any area of the economy that is not “controlled”.

  • Craig says:

    Hi Jon,
    We received the same email from the same company. We replied that we would be happy to complete the details for fee….

  • Craig says:

    Sorry for above I meant we would do it for a fee!!!!

  • Fiona Hill says:

    Hi Jon,

    At OCG we have an online salary checker that candidate’s complete, much like Greg Savage’s commment:


    Cheers, Fiona

  • HRManNZ says:

    I’ve lost count of how many emails I have received this year asking me to complete X company’s new survey on some obscure aspect of HR/recruitment. I think it’s fair to say that HR teams treat these “surveys” with the contempt they deserve. If you want an accurate salary benchmark, you go to a specialist rem company whose surveys are compiled from employer input matched to positions.

    These are up there with recruitment company state of the nation surveys (based on calls to clients that last a minute “will you recruit more, less or the same amount in the next quarter?” and best employer awards). Stick to your core business guys and stop trying to pretend these are anything other than cheap marketing gimmicks.

    • Right on Jonathan. I think RIchards reply is best, “stick to your core business”. Most surveys are BS and the fact that they are used for marketing rather than any particular “value add” is just annoying. We partner with a Reputable Rem firm, why? Because by definition a soundly based quantitative survey uses data that is historical. Clients like the combination of data mixed with our view of what is trending NOW and the expectation of candidates.
      The synergy works and over time we have found our forecasts have been proven as the survey data rolls in ..

      • Nikki Wilkie says:

        Isn’t the saying “perception is reality”? Therefore doesn’t it make sense for businesses to think that a Recruitment Agency would be able to provide salary information?

        My experience has shown me that businesses who have a HR presence also have a robust salary grading / banding systems in place, however businesses who don’t have an HR presence (SME’s) rely on Recruitment Agencies.

        My belief is that SME’s don’t know or have time to find out where the best place is to source salary information when they have a need arise to recruit new talent or its time to review existing talent. Thus their reliance on Recruitment Agencies. (Plug – sorry Jonathan I can’t resist …. SME’s should be seeking this information from )

        Jonathan; I agree with you that an email as you’ve received is far from ideal and I confess, when I have received similar I hit delete (especially as most often the email has come from suppliers we didn’t work with).

        Iain; I agree that agencies should stick to core business and recommend a Remuneration Specialist however at the same time I would expect a Specialist Recruiter to have an understanding of the market they operate in. Which does includes in-depth market knowledge of remuneration expectations and current salaries.

        Q: Are Recruitment Salary Survey’s worth the time, effort and paper they printed on?


        One’s we’ve used are to confirm if we have graded a role at the correct level and I have never used an agency who has provided this information (My Mantra – Google it, can find it all online).

        Complete Turn Off – A Recruitment Agency cold calling me offering me a salary survey, coffee and mints. They don’t even get a sweaty-palmed first visit.

        Q: Should a Recruitment Consultant be able to provide salary information?


        Businesses go to them to fill a vacancy with the right person, at the right time, at the right price (salary).

        When I’ve request this information without use of an agency it has only even been via a PSA Partner and forms part of their service offering; otherwise I would expect to pay for it.

  • Adrian says:

    Most recruiters have the word “consultant” in their job title and possibly on their business card, therefore can expect clients, candidates and suppliers to seek consulting advice or information from time to time. You could use the lawyer or accountants method of charging out this time in six minute blocks, or for a minimum fee, or even just a stab in the dark. Like anything, you have assess whether doing it for free is a good use of your time – in economic terms this is called “Opportunity Cost”.

    The email you received was poorly written. It is OK to set a deadline if one existed, but to highlight it makes it sound like a demand. We undertake a salary survey for the FMCG sector, but it is only made available to the people who actually complete it.

    I worked for Hudson, and their 1/4ly survey is a joke – the clients quite often groaned when you contacted them, and a lot of consultants just made them up as they had a quota to fill. It got the CEO on the radio or TV, which was the point, but for the client marketing perspective it was all just a waste of time and energy. Does someone in admin really know what their business hiring expectations are for the next six months?