The Red Herring: The Final Piece to Unethical Recruitment

December 20, 2010

As we wrap up this 5-part series featuring unethical recruiting tactics, I decided to save the worst for last. The red herring is hands down the most immoral technique out there. Thankfully, due to its specific scenario requirements and unspeakable consequences, it’s hardly ever used. This method, which incorporates rusing elements, is also most common at an agency where an unethical recruiter has the option to dial from a blocked number.

In a red herring, the unethical recruiter has been working with a candidate on a particular position for some time. At this point, they know each other well enough to share sensitive information. The recruiter is aware of other opportunities the candidate is pursuing and at which companies. Now the candidate has two offers on the table; one with the recruiter’s client and another with a competitor’s client. The candidate admits to leaning toward the other offer. This is bad news for the recruiter who sees his commission check slipping away. To buy some time, the recruiter asks the candidate to take a few days to think this massive, career-changing decision through. The candidate agrees to do just that.

While the candidate mulls over the two offers, the unethical recruiter grabs his colleague and proposes the red herring. If everything goes to plan, the two recruiters will split the commission check down the middle. Unethical recruiter #2 agrees as it means minimal work for her, paired with a hefty commission potential. All she would have to do is deceive the candidate into “discovering” that the offer about to be accepted is in fact at a failing company. If unethical recruiter #2 succeeds in leading the candidate to believe this, probabilities indicate that the candidate will turn to the second choice offer, meaning the commission check would soon be in the mail. This is how the situation might unravel:

Recruiter: Hi Kim! My name is and I’m calling from . I came across your profile on Linkedin and would love to talk to you about an amazing Financial Analyst position I had in mind.

Candidate: Thanks, Salma, but I’m not interested. I’m actually on the verge of signing an offer letter, so I won’t be entertaining any opportunities for a while.

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

C: Layoffs? What layoffs?

R: 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 are in difficult financial times. You just never know with today’s economy…


R: Well, Kim! Thank you for your time either way. Hopefully we can chat again soon. Good luck with the new opportunity!

In a state of panic at this point, the candidate obviously has no desire to work at a company that will soon be conducting pay cuts, layoffs, etc. In order to protect herself, the candidate does the sensible thing and accepts the second choice offer, for it’s at an ostensibly, more stable company. The unethical duo then collects their commission checks, pop the bubbly, and book their places in hell.

Imagine all the consequences mentioned in previous blog posts. Now combine them together and multiply that by ten. Pandora’s Box has been opened at this point and anything is possible – from the recruiter getting fired to the firm shutting down completely. OK, so the economy is tough – is that an excuse? Choosing to be an ethical recruiter does not mean committing to lower results. Essentially, the present state of unethical recruitment is the outcome of a bad economy met with a lazy, short-cut loving recruiter.

We’ve said before that it’s important to focus on best practices by thinking long term and concentrating on the big picture, especially when your career is at stake. Additionally, why not turn a lackluster economy into a golden opportunity, rather than formulating cliche excuses? When the real estate market crashes, home prices are so low that you can finally buy! When companies lay people off, as a recruiter, you now have a much larger talent pool to work with. Career networking events are taking place 24/7 as well. As far as recruiting tips go, mine are simple: avoid using the economy as a crutch, use new resources, stay true to your moral fiber, and continue to prosper.

Director of Recruiting

Victor Mahillon is the Director of Recruiting at <a href="">Kamcord</a>. Previously he was a Talent manager at OpenView.