The Four Things You Need To Ask

The Four Things You Need To Ask

Before taking your next job in Agency Recruitment

Written by Simon Moss

We spend our lives finding roles for others, counselling them on their career options, selling the relative benefits of one opportunity over another. We delve into the details of roles, picking apart compensation models and company cultures, weighing up the traits of hiring managers.

But it always amazes me how frequently us recruiters fail to do the same for ourselves.  We have a high turnover industry and I believe that this is largely due to our inability to apply the same level of rigor to our own career choices as we do to the career options of our candidates.

I’ve been in the recruitment industry for 20 years and I’ve been managing, mentoring and hiring recruiters for at least 19 of those.  These are the 4 things that I believe recruiters don’t ask enough about before they take a role.


I’m always amazed about how little recruiters ask about commission.  To me, commission IS the compensation for recruitment.  Base salary is a secondary concern.  With that in mind, a perfunctory “What’s your commission structure?” is not enough.  To get a full understanding of a commission structure you need to ask about

  • Thresholds – Do they roll over? How are they calculated? What’s their rationale?Costs - What
  • costs come out of the money allocated to you before you get paid on it? On-costs? Account management charges?
  • Basis - What is commission based on?  Gross profit? Projected value? Monthly board figure?  Exactly how is it calculated?  Run some examples. Can they show you a spreadsheet so you can punch in some scenarios?
  • When - When does commission get paid? On invoice date, on placement date, when the client pays, at the end of the guarantee period?
  • Frequency - Is it monthly, quarterly, annual?
  • Current averages - What is the average monthly commission paid to the current team?  What was the average commission paid to the last person running the desk you are looking at?
  • Promotions - Does commission change if you get promoted?

Before you take a role you need to have a crystal clear understanding of exactly what you would be paid, what its paid on and when you’d be paid it.

If you start a role and face your first commission cheque thinking, “That’s not what I was expecting.” Then the blame lies with you.


I am frequently miffed by the lack of questions we receive about targets.  Not all organisations measure targets the same way.  Not getting a full understanding of what will be expected of you can lead to animosity when you first start.  Key things that you need to understand about targets are:

  • Rollover - Do they have a rollover?  Ie if you miss target one month does the deficit get added to the following month?
  • Basis - How are your sales recorded?  Do you record 100% of a contract placement’s GP value or just a set period of it.
  • When is it recorded - Is target calculated on what you close within a given month or on the trailing revenue from previous months and contactors?
  • House accounts - How do you report placements made on house accounts?
  • Crossovers - What happens if you make a placement on a job someone else has pulled for you?

Knowing exactly what is expected of you right from the start is key to being motivated I a role.  If you don’t fully understand what your new employer expects of you then its going to impact your performance.


We cut so many corners when assessing an organisations cultural fit with ourselves. But cultural alignment is critical for our own happiness and success.  Here are the key things I believe a recruiter needs to ask about:

  • Dress code – ask them to define exactly what they mean.  Their “business casual” may be very different to your “business casual”
  • Transparency – How transparent are they with their team? Does everyone in the company know profit and loss figures? Ask for examples of transparency to assess if their level aligns with what you’d expect
  • KPIs – Not all KPIs are bad and not all are good.  Many organisations will tell you what they think you want to hear. But ask them about what measures they have in place. Delve down into how they are enforced, what happens if they aren’t met, how frequently are they reported on. Make sure the level of oversight is something you are comfortable with. How dogmatic are they in their approach? Can you live with this?
  • Flexibility – More and more recruitment companies are embracing flexible working. But what do they mean by flexible?  Delve down into how it works, what tools do they provide to support it? Is it a perk or part of work practices, do they offer it but make you feel guilty? Do they talk about flexibility as something you earn or something you get?  Gain a full understanding of what they mean by flexibility.
  • Sharing placements / clients – So few consultants ask about this and yet it is one of the major issues that arises once people start. Ask a company about their policy on shared placements.  How does that work with commission, targets etc.  What factors influence the outcome (eg who pulled the role, who found the candidate etc). Who makes the final decision, is there a written policy or is it assessed case by case.
  • Values – Ask about the company values. Are they real or just there for show? Ask them to talk about how they live them. Observe which values they really demonstrate through the recruitment process.  Do these values match your own? 


For me the second most important consideration, after commission, would be the actual area I would be recruiting in.  I would want to know how well they had researched the market. If it was an existing desk then how many candidates were in their system who had been contacted within the last 12 months, how many live roles did they have coming in, how many clients did they have that use that skill set.

I would want to know who it crossed over with (eg the grey areas between technical markets or a perm/contract split). I’d want to know who those people were, what they were like, do they share well, what policies were in place for crossover roles.

If I was working in a perm contact split partnership then what is the policy on fixed term contracts.

If it was a new desk I would want to know exactly what had been done already to warm the desk up and what was in place to give me the best possible chance when I started – delayed targets etc.

How to ask

I would let them know that you had at least half an hour of questions to ask.  Remember, recruitment is a candidate short market so if you’re half decent you’ll get a job like this (picture me clicking my fingers here), so take your time, make the right decision, ask for an additional interview if they don’t have time to answer your questions in the time allocated.

Use behavioural questions to get more honest answers.  Asking “Are you strict with your KPI’s” will almost certainly get you the answer “no, we’re really laid back.”  But, asking, “can you give me an example of a time when someone missed their KPI’s, what did you do?” will get a much more honest answer.  Interview them, be thorough, challenge them.

This is an opportunity to demonstrate to your future employer how good you are as a recruiter. Are you someone who gets a written job description off a client and blindly works it or are you the kind of recruiter who takes a full job order and gets to fully understand the opportunity?  Here’s your chance to show your skills.  All of the top recruiters I have employed have been the ones who challenged most, who asked the best questions, in their interview. 

Those are the top 4 things I’d want to know before taking a new recruitment role, that I believe recruiters don’t ask enough about.   What are yours?

Remember, you are a sought-after commodity, take your time, ask good questions, challenge.  Finding the right fit, a recruitment agency that matches your values, a company where you can stay for a long time, will benefit you, your new employer and your customers.

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