Is the Grass Greener? A Look at What Agency Recruiters Earn

Bullhorn comp survey 2014Before you decide the grass is greener in agency recruiting, consult the Money Talks survey from Bullhorn. Released this morning, it shows agency recruiters on average earned $74,000 last year.

Some earned much more. Those who work primarily in contingent recruiting averaged $96,000. There’s no doubt that’s a goodly sum. Just keep in mind that a contingent recruiter earns zero unless the candidate they submit is hired, accepts the job, and keeps it usually for at least 90 days.

The biggest money in agency recruiting is earned by the leaders. CEOs, owners, and partners averaged between $149,000 and $215,000, depending on the size of the firm. Those who headed executive search firms where the work is primarily on retainer did the best, averaging $230,000 last year.

This is just a small part of the compensation data in the Bullhorn survey. The technology provider, whose clients are mostly temp, search, and hybrid agencies, conducts an annual survey on industry performance. A few months ago, Bullhorn released its annual Staffing and Recruiting Trends report that included some detail on agency compensation. Today’s release is a deeper dive into the details. Here’s just a sampler:

  • Compensation grew for a majority of respondents in all but one industry sector last year. Only those in Packaging/Transport/Warehouse/Cargo had a tough year, with 57 percent reporting no increase or a decrease (21%).
  • The bigger the firm, the lower the recruiter earnings. Those at firms with 75 or more employees averaged $62,000; at firms with 10 or fewer, the average was $78,000.
  • Owners, CEOs, or partners at small firms averaged $149,000 in comp. At the largest firms, the average was $200,000. But those at firms with 11-25 employees were the best earners, averaging $215,000.

Comp by industry bullhorn 2014The report includes a variety of breakdowns, including a compensation comparison by primary recruiting type. For instance, temp recruiters averaged $53,000 last year. However, owners, CEOs, or partners of firms that did more than half their business in temp averaged $159,000 last year. Only the leaders or owners of retained search firms did better, averaging $230,000.

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One not surprising finding: Most everyone in agency recruiting (on average) expects their comp will increase this year. Regardless of firm size, at least 81 percent of Bullhorn’s 1,300+ respondents expect an increase. Only 2 percent expect less money this year.

Actual earnings fell short. Over the years, slightly better than 6 in 10 respondents saw more money. The rest either earned the same or saw a decrease.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


14 Comments on “Is the Grass Greener? A Look at What Agency Recruiters Earn

  1. @ John,

    “As part of our research and analysis for the 2014 North American Staffing and Recruiting Trends Report, “A Numbers Game,” we surveyed 1,337 recruiting agency professionals to determine benchmarks for key metrics such as hit rate, fill rate, total number of placements, and more. However,
    the most popular benchmark request from our customers and peers in the industry was undoubtedly for salary information. We compiled our expanded research (most of which was not included in the Trends Report issued earlier this year) to create “Money Talks: The 2014 Compensation Report.” In this
    analysis we examine total compensation (defined as annual salary plus bonus)
    across firm sizes, roles, industries, and other variables.”

    Looks like it’s all-in, base and commission/bonus.

    Funny how they found “the most popular benchmark request from our customers and peers in the industry was undoubtedly for salary information,” when thought leaders are constantly trying to convince people salary doesn’t matter, or isn’t people’s primary concern.

  2. Thanks, John. Can’t really judge by the average- put one $730k/yr person and 9 folks @ $30k/yr and you get a $100k average. The median is more instructive: the median here would be $30k.


  3. John: I have to wonder who responded to this survey? I find these numbers to be low based on my experience, but maybe this is the norm. At the firm I spent my first 9 years with the partners made more than any execs mentioned above and the recruiters were all making in excess of 150k and usually 200ish plus. And this was giving away 50% of the fee to the house. The reason so many of us left there and went out on our own.

  4. As Keith said, the average can only tell you so much. There’s no median given, and no standard deviation given, so we can’t tell how variable the salaries are across each group. Plus total comp can mask differences in business practices, say a high base low commission place that higher volume vs a high commission low base pay one that concentrates on higher level fills. At best we can say there are different comp models that would complicate taking much from these scores except for a general idea of what you should be ending up with at the end of the year.

  5. As an interesting aside, I just came across an old spreadsheet I had from my previous position where I had run a few simple statistical tests. It had positions that were unfilled, filled, and the fill time for each, and salary info. Simple stuff.

    There was a 94% correlation between positions with salaries that were 25th percentile or below the median in and them being unfilled. There was an over 80% correlation between positions having a salary at or below 25th percentile and a fill time over 60 days. This was from back when I was trying to convince my old boss that having salaries perpetually at or below the 25th percentile was affecting hiring and retention.

    As well all know though, salary is just one factor among many for why people take jobs…

  6. This is a cool article and something that I don’t normally hear about. So it’s great to be able to “take the best and leave the rest”. What I would love to learn, is how well the “independent” agency recruiters do on average. I would also like to know what turnover in the agency world is like. I grew up in HR and Organizational Development, then moved into being a headhunter with no agency experience. Because my head is down, this site is extremely educational for me. Thanks so much for posting this!

  7. @ Carol,

    At least. When I was on the corporate side I was constantly being contacted by new recruiters at agencies that had been used in the past. Sometimes the far past, as in years ago. Then they would call me and claim they had “been working closely” with someone at the company and wanted to “keep the relationship going.” Of course they were working with no one, much less closely. But that’s how almost every attempt to “build a relationship” started: with a lie. Which is likely related to why there’s such high turnover at such agencies.

    A lot of them go full commission too. When I was looking out here, there were many who were doing that. Or a base of something like 20K or 30K. Which would be doable, but then you look at the commission structure they offer and even with a lot of placements you’re barely breaking 50K or 60K for the year.

  8. I am a bit surprised how low Agency recruiter income is. I have been in the Agency business since 1985 and have been self-employed for about 17 years now. When I first started recruiting, turnover was running 90% the first year, mostly due to poor training. Today 50% is more common. My first year in the business back in ’85 I earned 45K, when the engineers I was placing were making about 28K on average. But I was lucky to have received good training for that era.

    Today a rookie might get a 30K base against commission and make about 40% on his total billings the first year. So assuming 6 placements per year with average 20K fee, typical rookie earnings of those who make it thru the first year might be 120K billings times 40% = 48K. A good producing rookie should bill about 240K times 40% = 96K.

    An established good, but not spectacular producing recruiter would work higher average salary jobs and make more placements. Assume 15 placements per year with average fee of 28K and maybe a 50% commission rate and he should make about $210K per year.

    Top dogs should double that amount in income.

    Self-employed recruiters either working out of their house or in cheap rented digs should have the same or better billings and a 90% profit margin until the tax man cometh. So a solid, hard working but not spectacular self-employed recruiter should make about 300 to 400K per year. But sometimes self-employed recruiters get lazy or watch too much TV during the workday or just don’t want to work a full week because they don’t have to…so those folks make less money.

    Superstars can bill a million bucks a year or more, but they are uncommon. I’ve never done it.

  9. My personal record for placements in a month is 4, which I have done just 4 times in my 29 year career. So being a million dollar biller per year is tough to do. I don’t know how those guys do it year in and year out.

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