FEEPHOBIA: Behavioral Modification To get You Paid

Let’s face it … once you’ve made the placement, you’ve lost your leverage. Oh, you’ll think and even talk about pulling your candidate off the job, but there’s less than 1% chance it will happen. So if you want to see any money for you effort, you’ll just have to confront the employer, one-on-one.

But you’ll probably end up reducing the fee or blowing it completely. Very probably. We estimate that 75% of all good fee collection cases go bad due to feephobia after the placement is made. Feephobia is simply a fear of confronting the employer with a direct demand to pay the full fee immediately.

Many recruiters would rather do anything (including walk from the fee) than confront an employer. Like any phobia, feephobia is based upon several minifears.

Let’s look at the four most common ones, and discuss behavioral modification techniques to overcome them:


This is most often rationalized by “I want to keep the company as a client.”

We don’t know of a single case where foregoing a placement fee resulted in better client relations. Free placements don’t generate any more business – only more free placements (if any).

Which reputation do you want: That you can be pushed around by a “client,” or that you’re as excited about getting paid as the employer is about hiring qualified candidates?

Conversations with HR managers indicate that they are frequently amazed at the ease with which recruiters compromise their fees. It’s equally amazing that many of them wouldn’t have pursued the fees at all! Usually in the name of “keeping a valued client.”

Gregory and Patrick Kishel observed how this rationalization backfires in Cashing In On The Consulting Boom:

Don’t assume that by setting your fees at the lowest possible level, you will automatically get business. A price that is too low can be as much of a turn-off to a prospective client as a price that is too high; low fees are often equated with low value or inferior service.

It doesn’t seem possible, but fear of rejection in business situations can invariably be traced to unconscious childhood fears of parent and peer rejection.

As noted by Joan Etzel and Michael Mason in Psycho-Business Skills:

The fear of rejection by superiors may well be modeled on un?conscious childhood fears of parent rejection. The fear of rejection by peers may well be developed from the special importance that acceptance by peers had in adolescence.

Embarrassing, isn’t it? Running around in your training pants, dependent upon others for your care and feeding. Not so any more.

Etzel and Mason offer the following advice:

[R]emind yourself that … your ‘acceptability’ in a work situation is properly based on how well you contribute to the task [placement] … not on your personal charm. If any criteria other than your contribution to that task, is used to judge your accept?ability in a business situation, the fault is with those making the judgment [employer] and not with you.

And they have found, as we have:

[Y]our decision to confront may earn you far more acceptance – in the form of respect and appreciation for your firmness, conviction and professionalism – from those you confront than avoidance of confrontation would.


It’s amazing how freely clients will vent their anger to us about how they’ve been wronged, but the employer never hears it. We hear it louder too, because anger is one of those things that gets worse with age. Then it couples with your anger at yourself for not confronting the employer and continues to be fueled by the knowledge that your candidate is working on the job where you placed him.

Actually, the fear of anger isn’t so irrational … it’s really the fear of an inappropriate reac?tion. Like a jury that has been instructed to disregard unsubstantiated or irrelevant evidence (like hearsay about something a hiring authority said, your assumption that a conspiracy ex?isted, etc.), it’s important to focus your anger on the confrontational issues.

A lawyer can be extremely helpful in this situation, if he’s a lawyer who will confront you if necessary with the reality of winning lawsuits.

As stated by Justice Frank Richardson when he retired from the California Supreme Court:

[T]he lawyer … should try to divine where the target issues are and focus on that. A rifle rather than a shotgun is more effective. To the extent you can, keep it simple.

In Past Due: How To Collect Money, Norman King points out the danger of letting your anger get the best of you:

It is inexcusable to display anger, allow harassing remarks, or indulge in preaching to the debtor [employer] about paying his debts. The line between simple invective and defamation is a thin one.

King advises that you:

a. Make sure all facts are correct. (Otherwise, you’re just educating the employer and candidate at your expense.)

b. Use no malicious or disparaging accusations. (They only antagonize … you won’t get paid that way.)

c. Use no profanity. (This alone can blow your fee.)

d. Address your letter to the person responsible for the fee in a sealed envelope. (His boss’s boss’s boss doesn’t have to know … yet. The implied threat of blowing the whistle is there, and much more effective.)

e. Give the person a loophole to save face by paying. (That’s how you get judges to rule in your favor too.)

Buy yourself one of those coffee mugs that reads:

Article Continues Below


and be for-mi-da-ble.


If you didn’t make the send-out, you wouldn’t have made the placement. And if you don’t confront the employer at this point, you won’t get paid.

Confronting unfairness from a position of powerlessness is downright unfair. It arouses the most frightening of all childhood fears: That the parent is not only indifferent, but actively hostile. Revolutions, riots and recruiting raids are the result. Fee collections aren’t.

The best remedy for fear of a hostile response is to objectify the relationship in your mind. You’re not an employee under the thumb of some monolithic corporation. You’re an outside vendor who contracted on equal footing to perform a specific service and performed it.

If you think a client is your boss, you’re like the lawyer we hope you don’t have.

There are lawyers who have clients, and clients who have lawyers. Make sure your lawyer knows which he is.

There are recruiters who have clients, and clients who have job-order-taker recruiters.

You’d better decide which you’re going to be.


This is played by employers and their attorneys to the hilt.

Lurking inside almost half the recruiters we meet is the feeling that they’re doing some?thing wrong. This feeling creates a predisposition … a receptiveness … to an employer’s blus?tering about reporting them to some state agency, trade association or consumer group.

Most of the time, they merely accuse you of being “unethical” for attempting to enforce your fee when:

a. “All you did” was send an unsolicited resume.

b. The candidate was in the employer’s inactive file.

c. There was no signed contract.

Occasionally, there are also accusations that:

d. Your fees are “exorbitant.”

e. You failed to check out the candidate’s references.

f. You misrepresented the candidate’s qualifications.

Let’s take the most serious charge … misrepresentation. We’ve never seen proof of a mis?representation by a recruiter that went beyond the candidate’s representations. Did it ever happen? Prosecutors live in a world of proof. What actually happened is only academic to them. If it ever happened, they never prosecuted it.

There are possible defenses to a lawsuit enforcing your fee, but true ethical violations (kickbacks, recruiting from clients, placing professional job changers, etc.) are rare. An em?ployer who dares to accuse you of them better be right. Slander, libel, abuse of process and malicious prosecution all ring the punitive and exemplary damages bell. That means unlimited liability if they’re wrong and you’re injured. Even “clients” who have lawyers find this out in a hurry.

Frequently, the result of feephobia is failure. This is because the outcome is an agreement for a reduced fee, an unrealistic guarantee, or a promise to make additional placements. These and other concessions chip away at the amount and waive the right to assert it.

More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at jeff@placementlaw.com.


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