Job Seekers Beware!

The big buzz in the staffing industry right now is around the definition of aggressive recruiting and "best practices". Specifically, the debate centers on whether some recruiters go too far by misrepresenting themselves (impersonating competitors employees), strong-arming candidates to get referrals (withholding offers until the candidate provides names and numbers). There's more, I'm just grossed out.

The debate started with some articles written by industry expert, Dr. John Sullivan; someone I know and like but completely disagree with on the topic. I'm sure that many in the industry are watching the spectacle though only a few have commented, either on one side or another. You can read the articles here, here, here (click on the discussions link at the bottom to review the commentary). I'd really like to see some other leaders in our industry take a stand on this. I honestly believe that the reputation of the Staffing function is being maligned by a few (this is nothing new, by the way).

My opinion is best summed up by Nick Corcodilos at He provides advice for the job seeker, which I highly recommend that anyone in the market right now read (or anyone that will ever be in the market...this means you), lest you cross paths with a recruiter utilizing less than *honorable* practices.

My opinion is that lying is never a "best practice". And that even the most *strategic* of recruiting initiatives that produces results can harm an employment brand beyond repair. In my opinion, honest and aggressive are not mutually exclusive.

My blog, my opinion ; ) Honesty is a best practice.

Comments (12)

  1. Lourdes says:

    Wow – This was eye-opening to me. Being on the other side of the fence (the so-called "talent" being "acquired") I was unaware that these types of practices exist. I was particularly disgusted by the example of interviewing a lending assistant to get information about who they really wanted to hire (the commercial lender.) That’s just heinous. I have always thought that the interaction one has with a recruiter is, in many cases, the first interaction a candidate has with the company and set the tone for that relationship going forward. If those are the tactics the recruiters are encouraged to use, I have to wonder about the overall ethical stance of the company, quite frankly, and whether I’d ever want to work at such a place.

  2. Jeanie says:

    That was a disgusting article. I kept returning to the first paragraph, because I was certain I must have misread it and what he was actually describing was a bad example of recruiting practices.

  3. Paul says:

    And we wonder how Enrons happen, and why companies are saddled with section 404 compliance. I can live with aggressive practices, but not dishonest, deceitful and deliberately harmful to others.

    I too found the practice of interviewing assistants to get to their bosses disgusting. They are deliberately wasting people’s time and showing no respect for the assistants. Similarly, the practice of buying something at a store and then returning it to see how the cashier handles it is thievery in my books. It costs the store money to handle both transactions, and wastes the clerk’s time (which the store is also paying for). There is no legitimate reason for the bank’s employees to be in the store if their only purpose is to defraud the business. At the very least, they could keep what they buy. Even if you buy-in to their war metaphor, the department store is not their enemy (I guess with these behaviors, they should be); in fact, they are more likely the bank’s customer!

    The most reprehensible behavior of all is requiring names of other candidates to get your job offer. How disgustingly manipulative. If I was the hiring manager at FirstMerit, I would refuse to hire anyone who agreed to do this, because it definitely shows weakness of character, willingness to toady up to the dishonest management (precisely how Enron and Andersen fell apart) as well as a hint of desperation.

    And, wearing your competitor’s badge to trick attendees at a seminar is not just deceitful, it is trespassing and probably borderline breaking and entering. Hard to believe employees are required to commit felonies to find good people – but then one has to question the quality of the people who are being recruited by these "worst practices". If they can’t distinguish right from wrong, then perhaps FirstMerit is getting exactly what they want.

    Heather: does it scare you that your friend praises such poor ethical standards? It’s one thing to disagree with someone, but these practices so clearly cross the line, it is hard to imagine any honest person who is unable to see that.

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Paul, I totally agree with everything you said (well done). I know Dr. John professionally, not personally, and my interactions with him have been positive. He is extremely knowledgable and I don’t want to dismiss the great things he has said because I don’t agree with him on this (I may be compartmentalizing, but the man has a brain full of good stuff and is a thought leader in our industry). Yes, it does bother me that he endorses this kind of behavior which is why I felt compelled to write about it. You know me…I’m an open book. By not saying something, I felt guilty by association.

  5. Paul says:

    It’s possible the eminent Dr. has drunk the Koolaid of whatever charismatic charlatan he spoke to at FirstMerit, like all those who wanted to believe there was such a thing as a new economy during the dotcom era. I’m glad you aren’t buying it, and I hope many other recruiting professionals also raise their hands to be heard, write letters to the editor and call a spade a spade.

    Like pornography, weak business ethics is a concept that is hard to define precisely, but you sure know it when you see it. Thanks for exposing this nastiness.

  6. A case study of FirstMerit Bank and its world-class recruiting practices

    Warlike tactics. The FirstMerit…

  7. Jerry Taylor says:

    Heather you are absolutely correct in your comments.

    I’ve had interviews with Microsoft in the past and always found the organization to be professional and courteous in the process. But then I had the pleasure of being one of the former Entex employees that used to support Microsoft’s hardware and software in the regional offices in the 90’s.

    Keep up the excellent commentary!


  8. sarah sanchez says:


    your words and comments were very true, but please acknowledge that it was not Third Party Recruiters that this article was referring to, it was directed and created predominately for inhouse Corporate Recruiters.

    No, I am not redeeming Headhunters by saying that they are not practicing the same behavior; for sure, many are, as well as the inhouse corporate recruiters.

    In the Same token there was a strong number of individuals who spoke loudly and Clearly from both groups against this article, and the alleged impressive behavior of first merit.

    There are many strong, ethical recruiters who do oppose the conduct that tarnishes this industry. Especially when we work so hard to deserve and uphold the respect from the public.

    Maybe it is a good approach instead of warning against recruiters, is to maybe educate the public as to how to choose well. To learn the Difference of a good recruiter from one that offers less than desired – Finding the right recruiter will be the key to your success and happiness.

    First off realize anyone can be a recruiter, with little or no Training.

    So the first start to protect yourself is to Find a recruiter who is a Member of one of the National or State Associations – the associations do have a strong code of ethics and standards that recruiters must adhere to.

    Recruiters who are members of their associations become members because they are willing to become more educated and staying up to date with their industry. Whether it be about the laws or how to perform their job well and to the benefit for their clients.

    They recognize the value of the privacy and sensitive nature that they are dealing with and are empathetic to those needs.

    They will listen to you; demonstrate true interest to your needs and requests; they help guide you and make sure your expectations are realistic as they will know your industry or trade; you will feel comfortable working with them then and in the future; And Most importantly you know that you can trust them.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Jerry-glad you had a good experience. THanks for the nice words!

    Sarah-I wasn’t warning candidates against all recruiters. They do need to "beware". The linked article was quite clear about who was doing it. It would be couterintuitive for me to tell candidates to avoid recruiters, don’t ya think? I don’t agree about the national or state associations. I don’t belong to either. It sounds like you are saying good recruiters only belong to those organizations. Sorry, I vehemently disagree. There are good and bad recruiters inside and outside organizations and inside and outside corporations and third-party firms. I think the best way to assess the integrity of a recruiter is to witness their work and hear what others have to say about them.

  10. Sarah says:

    Ok, good points. Just wanted to clarify in case it was missed. I think that some of the "bad" recruiters aren’t bad intentionally, some just need more education, and others unfortunately get more motivated or caught up by money, meeting quota, pride rather than service.

    Yeah, you are right, not all good recruiters are members of an Association, but it does help a candidate know for sure that their recruiter is aware of the industry standards. It kind of reduces the risk.

    Your blog is helpful though for candidates to be aware if their rights. Nick also does a great job as well.

    I wonder do you think that they were for real? I mean, could they have been that dumb to put this information on the internet for the world to see if they had really done this behavior? Maybe there is an ulterior motive, like trying to set themselves up for something in the future?

    I am surprised that their company has let them get away with this.. Gee the Bad press must not help.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Sara-thanks for the comments. I guess I have a problem with the association thing bc I don’t think it’s a direct indicator. Many great ethical recruiters are not members of associations like that.

    I agree that education is key for many people. Some should know better. Big difference between some over-zealous new recruiter who does something "stupid" and a recruiting manager that turns it into a "program". Yes, they are actually for real. I thought the same thing about why they made it public. I was talking to someone about thatyesterday. Usually when people do something that others think is shady, they don’t put it out there. So I honesty think that Dr. John and FirstMerit were surprised by how big the negative reaction was. I think the damage to their employment brand would not ever be worth what could be coming. They have been pretty quiet lately so hopefully they have rethought some of their programs. I hope.

    Well, I guess one good thing about all of this is that I got to meet Nick and other people that share the same feelings ; )

  12. amanda says:

    2-years after the last post and I have no idea if this bank is still around, much less using these "tactics", but I’ll tell you what- I was certainly disgusted by what I read in the article.  There is no question as to the ethical violations involved in pretending to be a competitor or "mystery shopping" competitors or other non-competitors.  As somebody mentioned in the feedback from the article, sure businesses use mystery shoppers, but they use them to evaluate themselves not to steal employees from other companies or to gain anything from the competition.  You can steal from yourself all day, but when you violate somebody else, there is a serious problem.  

    A FirstMerit employee commented that they sometimes returned to these businesses and made permanant purchases- so what, you used them and wasted their time and money to begin with, you aren’t going to erase that by purchasing a few sweaters at the mall.  if JCPenney’s or Sears or whatever businesses these were had volunteered to help FirstMerit in their recruiting efforts- sure, no problem, but why would they volunteer up their best employees, right?

    The FirstMerit employee also explained that the practice of blackmailing new recruits for contacts was only an effort to show them that a recruiting effort was part of everyone’s job.  But wait a minute, these were not employees, offers had not yet been extended to them because they hadn’t turned over their contacts. tsk tsk.

    I will never ever ever bank with FirstMerit.  That is a given.  Why would I want to hand my money over to such a blatantly inethical organization?

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