Recruiting is a unique profession, for a lot of reasons.
- You can’t go to college and earn a degree in recruiting.
- There is virtually no cap on how much recruiters earn. It’s basically a sales position with unlimited commission potential.
- There’s not much in the way of regulation or oversight.
Legal and ethical issues in recruitment and selection
Unfortunately, that third point has resulted in unethical practices in the profession over the years. Notice that I did not say illegal, just unethical. That’s because there’s a line between the two, though it may be thin. However, just because something is not illegal does not mean that it’s also ethical. Sorry, that’s not the way it works.
One of the obvious examples of ethical issues in recruitment is a recruiter who actually recruits from his own client base. Sure, that recruiter places candidates at Company A. But he also recruits employees away from Company A to work at Company B. And there are a couple of different ways that recruiters approach such a situation: the dumb way and the dumber way.
With the dumb way, the recruiter calls an employee of one of their clients, pretending to be a search consultant from either another firm or a fake firm. During the call, the recruiter ascertains whether or not the employee is willing to make a move. Then they call back at a later date “as themselves.” If conflict arises, the recruiter says they were simply referred by another search consultant.
With the dumber way, the recruiter calls an employee of one of their clients “as themselves” right off the bat. Why bother with a ruse? Let’s just let my client know that I like poaching off them, right? Undeniably strange and unfortunately true. It’s a member of the “Ethical Hiring Practices Hall of Shame.”
Examples of ethical issues in recruitment and selection
But that’s just one of many unethical recruiting practices. There are many more! Remember, these aren’t necessarily illegal, but credible, ethical recruiters and search consultants don’t engage in them. So without further adieu, here are eight more examples of ethical issues in recruitment and selection:
1 – Requiring candidates to pay for their services
Reputable recruiters, those who have a proven track record of success, do not need to charge candidates. That’s because they make enough placements with their clients to earn a comfortable living. Not only that, but they recognize that top candidates are a valuable commodity.
You do not attract top candidates by charging them for your services. They’re not going to pay you. So if you’re charging job seekers for your services, then chances are that they’re not top candidates. Which is why you might not be making a lot of placements in the first place.
2 – Altering the job description
Do I mean actually changing the job description? Yes, that’s what I mean. Sure, the job is real. The job order does exist. However, in an attempt to make the position look more inviting, the recruiter may write a job description with strategically deceptive changes. The most obvious way is to inflate the salary and other compensation. Or perhaps make the responsibilities seem more prestigious than they actually are. This is straight-up dishonest.
3 – Advertising non-existing jobs
But wait! Here’s something even MORE dishonest. That would be a recruiter posting, presenting, or advertising a job that does not even exist. Or one that’s already been filled. Why do this? To harvest resumes, of course. Then that same recruiter can contact the candidates later on when they have actual job orders and positions to peddle.
4 – Altering a candidate’s resume
If you thought that altering a job description was bad, this is even worse. Beware the recruiter who asks for your resume in a format in which they can easily alter it. Do they tell the candidate that they’re altering their resume? No, they do not. Their only objective is to get candidates in front of hiring managers for interviews. If a candidate needs a “resume enhancement,” so be it.
5 – Presenting an “expiring offer” to a candidate
A recruiter sends an offer to a candidate. The catch: the candidate has only a limited amount of time to make a decision. If they don’t, the offer will be rescinded. Did the hiring authority mandate the time limit? Nope. The recruiter, in their infinite wisdom, is hoping to pressure the candidate into accepting the offer. A recruiter is more likely to try this if they’ve altered the candidate’s resume by eliminating contact information in an attempt to control the lines of communication. A double-whammy!
6 – Faking a relationship with an employer
Why have a real relationship with a client when you can have a FAKE one instead? In this situation, the recruiter tells candidates that there are premium job opportunities available at prestigious Company C. The candidates, who would love to work at Company C, trip all over themselves to give their resumes to the recruiter.
The recruiter, in turn, tries to use the resumes to market MPCs (Most Placeable Candidates). If Company C tells the recruiter to “go pound salt,” the recruiter then makes something up to tell the candidates. Heck, they’ve been lying their butt off to this point. Why stop? Throw another lie on the fire.
7 – Discrediting a candidate’s current employer
This one strikes close to home for candidates. That’s because the recruiter contacts a candidate and basically tells them something about their employer that is not true. (“I hear they’re going bankrupt.”) Why? To undermine the confidence that the candidate has in their employer and prompt them to look elsewhere. Is what they’re saying true? No, it’s yet another lie. A LIE, I tell you!
8 – The “tag team” approach to closing the deal
Why be deceitful with only one person, when you can involve somebody else? Invite somebody else to the party! Here’s how it works:
A recruiter has been working with a candidate who has decided to take another offer and not their client’s offer. That means NO recruiting fees are collected. Since that is not acceptable, the recruiter enlists the help of a friend (quite possibly another recruiter). That friend calls the candidate and poses as a recruiter from another agency. As you might expect the candidate lets the friend know that they’ll soon be joining Company D.
As you might imagine, the friend undermines the candidate’s confidence in Company D. How, you ask? By, of course, lying. “I’ve heard terrible things about their company culture.” “I know people who swore they would never work there again.” “They just went through a round of layoffs.” Etc. etc. That makes the candidate question their decision so that they go with the “safer choice,” which is the recruiter’s client.
And yes, the friend receives a cut of the recruiter’s commission. Drinks are on them!
These are all ethical issues in recruitment and selection. More precisely, they could be described as unethical issues in recruitment and selection. As unfortunate as it is that they occur, what’s even more unfortunate is that there is probably a recruiter somewhere right now who is engaging in one of these unsavory practices.
Ethical recruitment: rusing?
One recruiting practice that is commonplace is what is known as “rusing.” A recruiter or search consultant typically engages in this activity when they’re attempting to get past the gatekeeper at an organization. That could be the secretary or it could be the Human Resources department. It’s anybody who is keeping the recruiter from speaking with a decision maker.
So in order to get past the gatekeeper, the recruiter basically pretends that they know the decision maker. Or they pretend that they’re somebody else. Or they don’t identify themselves as a recruiter. There are varying degrees of what recruiters can say and do, and it all falls into the category of rusing.
But does it fall into the category of ethical recruitment?
The answer to that question may very well depend upon the level of rusing in which you engage. Let’s say you give the gatekeeper the impression that you know the hiring manager. But you don’t come right out and say that you do. That’s low-level rusing. Is it unethical? In that situation, it might be a toss-up.
On the other hand, let’s say you tell the gatekeeper that you’re a lawyer and the matter is of the utmost importance. Or that you’re from the hospital and one of the hiring manager’s family members has been in a terrible accident. Or that you’re Ed McMahon and the hiring manager has just won $1 million.
Then yes, that degree of rusing could be classified as unethical.
But let’s face facts for just a minute. A recruiter HAS to somehow get on the phone with a decision maker. Even if that recruiter is the very best in the business and has years of experience, that doesn’t do them much good if they can’t speak with a decision maker. That’s how they build relationships. That’s how they get job orders. And ultimately, that’s how they make placements.
How far would a recruiter get if they cold-called an organization and said this to a gatekeeper: “Hello, you nor your boss has ever heard of me, but I’m a recruiter. I’d like to speak with [him or her] about any pressing hiring needs they might have. Please transfer me.”
In many instances, the recruiter has to frame the conversation differently. They have to emphasize the value that they can provide before they even identify who they are. Is that rusing? Some search consultants might say yes, but others might not. What’s more important to the conversation—the fact that you’re a recruiter or the value that you offer.
If a gatekeeper (or decision maker) is going to hang up on you because you identified yourself before verbalizes your value, then you lead with the VALUE. Instead of rusing, you might classify that as prioritization instead.
Trust and ethics in the recruitment and selection process
Regardless, as you can see, there are plenty of “grey areas” in recruiting. Conversely, there are plenty of areas that are NOT so grey. The difference between right and wrong is as stark as the difference between black and white. However, individual recruiters prefer to rationalize their decisions and their actions. They sacrifice quite a bit at the “Altar of Big Billings.”
As stated at the beginning of this blog post, recruiting is a unique profession. And as “grey” as some people like to view ethics in recruitment and selection, doing the right thing does not have to be unique. Or rare. While some search consultants give the profession a bad name, there ARE recruiters who act with integrity on a daily basis.
Top Echelon’s recruitment network is filled with search consultants such as these. Top Echelon employs a four-step screening process for applicants to the Network. In addition, The Four Pillars of the Network are as follows:
- Active Participation
The most important of the Pillars? It’s trust. In a profession that many people from the outside often view with skepticism, trust can be tough to come by. However, it’s the foundation for success within Top Echelon split placement network. If making split placements with other like-minded recruiters appeals to you, then we invite you to apply for Top Echelon Network membership.
Ultimately, engaging in unethical or unfair recruitment practices is a short-sighted strategy. They may not be illegal, but the more you engage in these practices, the less that candidates and clients will want to work with you. And long-term success in the profession requires return business. It requires candidates and clients who trust you.
That won’t happen if you source candidates from your clients to fill their competition’s job orders.