Five Unethical Recruiting Practices That Will Sink Your Career

With any career, you have to start somewhere. Recruiting (my chosen line of work) is no different.

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Whether your first step as a neophyte recruiter begins at a staffing agency, on the corporate level, or as a college recruiter, one thing is absolutely critical: you have to do the job the right way and resist the temptation to take shortcuts. Because contrary to what some unscrupulous recruiters might tell you, ethics, morals, and values do matter in our line of work.

In fact, they mean everything.

After all, your name is your brand and your brand is your career. So unless you plan on changing identities sometime soon, the recruiting decisions you make can affect you for the rest of your working life. If you fail to employ the most effective and moral methods of sourcing candidates, you’ll discover that word spreads quickly about your sleazy tendencies.

Amazingly, I’ve come across plenty of recruiters who are willing to gamble their brand for the easy way out. They deploy deceptive, unethical recruiting practices that you’ll never find in a best practices manual.

Below, I’ll highlight the five most flagrant recruiting sins. Commit them and you’ll put your career, reputation, and livelihood at risk of extinction. What shortcut is really worth that?

1. Rusing

Rusing occurs when a recruiter assumes an alias during a phone call to a potential client or candidate, most often to convince a gatekeeper that their call to a senior corporate leader is personal, confidential, and/or urgent.

In other words, rusing is trickery and impersonation. It’s regularly used as a tool to add names to a recruiter’s contact sheet, generating leads that might not otherwise be easily found through a simple search on LinkedIn.

Although it’s generally frowned upon and forbidden by many organizations, rusing isn’t illegal.  It is, however, deceptive.  Joseph Daniel McCool describes it pretty well in an article for BusinessWeek.

Rusers have been known to assume the identity of lawyers, journalists, or even family members to promote the importance of their call. When they get the corporate executive on the phone, they often ditch their adopted persona to offer their job pitch. But at the end of the day, how many executives do you think will respond positively to that underhanded tactic?

2. Double rusing

As with other business disciplines, there is such a thing as conflict of interest. For example, as a recruiter at an agency, you don’t recruit candidates from clients who pay you to fill other jobs. It’s just common courtesy and common sense.

But there are unethical recruiters who ignore those standards. The double ruse starts when a recruiter calls a prospective candidate that’s currently employed at a client site, introducing themselves as (insert phony name), a “search consultant” from a competing firm. The recruiter feels out that person’s willingness to shop around the job market, obtains their information, and calls back a month later…but this time under no alias.

This way, the recruiter circumvents the potential conflict of interest by claiming to have been referred to the candidate by the imaginary “search consultant.” Some recruiters are clueless enough to blindly poach from their own, skipping the alias and emphatically shooting themselves in both feet. Regardless of their effectiveness, neither is ethical, fair, or smart.

Some companies encourage their employees to let the double ruse drag out so that they can catch the unethical recruiters red-handed. Like a rat walking into a trap, companies can weed out immoral recruiters pretty effectively that way.

3. Redirection

As a recruiter, you’re responsible for acting in the best interests of the candidates applying for a job and the company that may hire them. In the end, you need to earn the trust of both parties and make sure the employee will be a good fit at the company.

But if you practice redirection, you’re failing miserably at both. In a redirect, a recruiter takes feedback they got from a hiring manager after a candidate’s interview and sends it to the candidate. The hope is that the candidate can then covertly address any concerns the potential employer has (for example: relocation, personality fit, etc.) when they send them a thank-you note later for the interview.

If the candidate can comfort the hiring manager’s worries (even if they’re lying to do it), it increases the likelihood that they’ll be chosen for the job and the recruiter will secure their fee. Effective? Maybe. Ethical? Absolutely not. The candidate is misrepresenting themselves and the recruiter is helping them do it.

If indeed the candidate wasn’t a good fit for the role (as the hiring manager originally suspected), they aren’t likely to last long with the company. For startup and expansion stage organizations, unethical recruiting practices like these hurt employee retention metrics, forces them to start their search all over, and unnecessarily eats away at their venture capital investment.

4. Invisible job descriptions

When recruiters aren’t actively sourcing candidates for specific positions, it’s absolutely normal for them to harvest resumes and converse with talented people to grow their pool of prospective candidates for future jobs.

But when recruiters create ghost, invisible, or fake job descriptions to prompt those conversations and acquire those resumes, they’re doing a cartwheel into immoral territory.

As a recruiter, it’s not easy to procure high-quality resumes and engage top-level talent unless you have something real and attractive to offer those candidates in return. So unethical recruiters sometimes use defunct or fake job descriptions that speak to the candidates they want to reach in order to lure them in.

They talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that seems to perfectly match their skill sets and career aspirations. And once they get the people they want to apply for this “dream position,” they claim to submit their resumes to the client. Then, the recruiter follows-up with the candidates a week or two later, only to let them know that, unfortunately, the company decided to fill the position internally.

Little does the candidate know, there never was an open position. And now, the recruiter has their information and resume in hand for when that dream job actually comes around.

Some recruiters, as PCWorld writer Larry Chaffin discusses, will even post fake job descriptions so that they can collect and then sell resumes. So candidates beware: as Connie Mills points out in her 10 tips for dealing with recruiting agencies, if a job description seems too good to be true, it probably is.

5. The red herring

As unethical recruiting practices go, the red herring might be the worst of them all.

It uses elements of the previous four unethical practices and is usually prompted when the unethical recruiter has been working with a candidate on a particular position for a long period of time and discovers that they’re going to accept a different opportunity than the one that would land the recruiter a hefty commission.

In that situation, the recruiter might suggest that the candidate take a few days to consider their options. As the candidate does that, the recruiter convinces a colleague (who’s promised a cut of any commission) to join forces to trick the candidate.

The colleague calls from a blocked number, poses as a recruiter from a new agency, and, when the candidate informs them that they’re planning to accept a position at a different company, they slyly deliver false information intended to dissuade them from taking it (for example: “Oh, with all of the layoffs about to happen at that company, it’s great that you’ve been able to secure a position.”).

And with that, the red herring is planted. The candidate has been deceived by an apparently objective source, “discovering” that the offer they’re about to accept is in fact at a failing company. If the accomplice recruiter succeeds, the probability is that the candidate will turn to their second choice offer. Mission accomplished. The unethical duo collects its commission check, pops the bubbly, and books their places in professional hell.

So there you have it. Those are five things to do if you want to kill your career as a recruiter.

Yes, I know the economy is bad and a recruiter’s job is infinitely more difficult in today’s business climate. Fewer companies are hiring and the competition to find and place top talent is intense.

But that doesn’t excuse unethical practices. Why not try hard work and networking to perfect your craft? There’s no need to resort to shady tactics.

The bottom line is that no one respects unethical business practices, regardless of industry. So if you’ve found yourself attempting any of the five tactics above, then you’re headed down a one-way path to a dead end career.

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Share Your Thoughts

  • http://twitter.com/Jen_HR_Neves Jennifer Neves

    Great piece, but mostly from an agency recruiter perspective.  You should follow up with 5 for corp recruiters.  There is so much grey area on both sides of the business and a secure moral compass, passion for building great teams and dna of character including an almost subconscious level of integrity is key.