One sure sign of a recruiting scam? When recruiters ask you, the job seeker, to pay them directly for finding you a job. (iStock/iStock)

Reader: I constantly get calls from recruiters who seem to be acting as subcontractors for other recruiters, offering remote contract positions. If I’m interested, I give them a salary range commensurate with the responsibilities and my experience. We agree on a rate, and they have me sign a right-to-represent agreement so they can submit my paperwork.

Then the recruiter’s supervisor calls back and tells me the rate I agreed to can’t be met and proceeds to try to get me to lower my rate. Now I’m stuck. I’ve signed a right to represent, but they won’t pitch me to the employer because my initial rate is “too high.” It’s happened three or four times in the past month.

Now, whenever I e-sign a right to represent, I’ve started adding “at [my rate] per hour W-2” next to my signature. How do we bring the ethics back to recruiting, or at least let employers know what’s going on?

Karla: According to experienced recruiters I’ve consulted, a recruiter contacting you about a specific job should already know the rate the employer is willing to pay. It seems odd that a recruiter would accept your requested rate, have you sign an agreement, then “discover” that your rate is too high. And usually, a recruiter’s fee is based on a percentage of the candidate’s salary — so the higher the salary, the higher the fee.

However, if these recruiters are themselves subcontracting from one central recruiter, they may be taking a cut from a fixed amount the employer has already agreed to pay. To increase their profit, they have to persuade you to accept a lower rate. But first, they lock you in with an agreement.

That sounds like shady dealings, but there are ways to protect yourself.

Know your worth. If you are asking for a realistic rate based on the job, your skills and the market, “it makes no sense to back down” from that rate, says John Ruffini, vice president of professional development with HealthTrust Workforce Solutions. You can always contact an independent recruiter for a third opinion, says Ruffini.

Know what you’re agreeing to. Jeremy Tolley, an HR executive with Tennessee-based health-care provider CareHere, explains that a right-to-represent agreement protects both you and the recruiter. However, Tolley points out, a typical right to represent is limited to one specific position for one employer: “I would not encourage anyone to sign a right to represent that [covers more than] one job or one company.” Ruffini applauds your tack of including the agreed-on rate with your signature, making it clear exactly what terms you’re agreeing to in case the recruiter tries to change them later.

Know who’s representing you. In 25 years of recruiting, Ruffini says he’s never required a candidate to sign a right to represent; rather, he spends time building long-term relationships and trust with candidates so they don’t want to work with anyone else. If you’re in demand — as the number of recruiters clamoring for your attention indicates — then maybe you can afford to be particular about whom you work with. Discourage bad actors by seeking out and rewarding the good ones with your business.

Pro tip: One sure sign of a recruiting scam: recruiters who ask you, the job seeker, to pay them directly for finding you a job.