Avoid this Unethical Recruiting Practice

Imagine that you’re a neophyte or struggling recruiter. The economy is bad, fewer companies are hiring, and the competition to find and place top talent is intense. You’ve got to make budget or a name for yourself, so you’re prepared to do just about anything to succeed.

If “anything” refers to hard work, networking, and perfecting your craft, you’re on the right track. If it suggests a willingness to engage in unethical recruiting practices like rusing (and the double ruse), re-directing, and invisible job descriptions, you’re headed down a one-way path to a dead end career.

But as bad as each of those unethical tactics are, none are worse than the penultimate recruiting foul: the red herring. I’ll describe the practice more in depth below, but if your desperation has caused you to consider that technique, it’s probably time to change your name, leave your company, and consider changing industries.

Thankfully, because of its specific scenario requirements and unspeakable consequences, the red herring is hardly ever used. But when it is, it incorporates almost all of recruiting’s deadliest sins.

The red herring uses rusing elements and typically requires dialing from a blocked number. The practice is usually prompted when the unethical recruiter has been working with a candidate on a particular position for a long period of time. At this point, they know each other well enough to share sensitive information and the recruiter is aware of other opportunities the candidate is pursuing with other companies.

Now, let’s say that the candidate has two offers on the table: one with the recruiter’s client and another with a competitor’s client. Because the recruiter and candidate have developed a close relationship, the candidate admits that they’re leaning toward taking the job with the competitor’s client. That’s bad news for the recruiter, obviously, who begins to see their commission check slipping away.

That’s when the red herring comes in to play.

Needing to buy time, the unscrupulous recruiter suggests that the candidate take a few days to think about the decision. The candidate agrees, and as they mull over the two offers, the recruiter  convinces a colleague to join forces to trick the candidate. The colleague — promised a cut of the commission — will call the candidate from a blocked number and pose as a recruiter from another agency. The conversation might go a little something like this:

Recruiter: Hi Kim! My name is John and I’m calling from XYZ Staffing. I came across your profile on LinkedIn and would love to talk to you about an amazing Financial Analyst position.

Kim: Thanks, John, but I’m not interested. I’m actually on the verge of signing an offer letter from (insert competing firm’s client), so I won’t be entertaining any opportunities for a while.

Recruiter: That’s too bad and I can’t blame you. With all of the layoffs about to happen at that company, you definitely want to make sure you’re in a good place.

Kim: Layoffs? What layoffs?

Recruiter: Well, nothing’s been announced yet, but as recruiters we tend to get the “inside scoop” from hiring managers. You’d never expect it, but even top companies like (candidate’s first choice) are in difficult financial times. You just never know with today’s economy…

Kim: (Awkward silence…)

Recruiter: Well, Kim, thank you for your time. Hopefully we can chat again soon. Good luck with the new opportunity!

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 has succeeded, the probability is that the candidate will now 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.

I’m not over-exaggerating. In this situation, the recruiters have opened Pandora’s Box. If caught, the punishment could range from the recruiter being fired to the firm being shut down altogether. Sure, the economy is tough, but is that really an excuse?

I don’t think so and neither does Stan Shimizu of Resourceful HR. He penned an article recently that provided hiring best practices companies can employ in a down economy. Not surprisingly, none of them included the red herring or any other unethical tactics. Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Be Choosier: In a down economy there are more candidates and fewer jobs, but there are also typically higher quality candidates actively seeking a job. Exercise your right to be selective and seek candidates based not only on qualifications, but on culture fit and passion for the organization.
  • Build Candidate Pipelines: Piggybacking on that last point, the volume of high quality candidates allows you to build a much deeper candidate pipeline than during a strong economy. Don’t focus just on candidates actively seeking a job. Keep an eye on ones that might not have considered leaving their company in the past, but will now after surviving a round of layoffs.
  • Leverage Employee Networks: Recruiting top talent is the entire organization’s job, especially during leaner times when companies have scaled back. By leveraging employee networks, hiring managers and recruiters can target and find the exact skill set they’re trying to hire and often save money by doing so.

The bottom line is that choosing to be an ethical recruiter does not mean committing to lower results.

It’s always important to focus on best practices by thinking long term and concentrating on the bigger picture, especially when your career is at stake. Additionally, why not turn a lackluster economy into a golden opportunity, rather than formulating cliche excuses? Unethical tactics are the easy way out. Avoid using the economy as a crutch, use new resources like Twitter or LinkedIn, stay true to your moral fiber, and continue to prosper the right way.

Regardless of where you are or how long you’ve been a recruiter, your name is your brand. Your brand is your career and unless you plan on changing both of those things, your recruiting decisions can impact the rest of your working life.

Victor Mahillon
Victor Mahillon
Director of Recruiting

Victor Mahillon is the Director of Recruiting at Kamcord. Previously he was a Talent manager at OpenView.
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