In the April 4, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like what some consulting firms serve up. What happens when we stir the pot?


consulting firmsMy old consulting firm offered me the chance to interview for a full-time position in a smaller city over three hours away from where I am right now. My last contract ended a month ago, and just today I started a part-time job to slow the bleeding from my savings account.

The employer — the consulting firm’s client — refuses to do a phone screen, and insists that I drive over three hours, do a group interview, then drive home. Let’s see: mileage, wear and tear on my car, and losing an entire day where I have a lot of important things to do locally, all to interview for a job that (a) I don’t know if I would want, and (b) I don’t know if they would want me.

All that could be resolved (or at least mitigated to some degree) with a simple 30-minute phone conversation that they refuse to have. All right then, Company X, you decided for me — it’s not worth it! If you’re not going to respect this candidate, who not only has to spend an entire uncompensated day to interview, but also has to relocate if I did manage to get the position, then I’m walking away with my head held high. And no, even paying me mileage to get me to interview wouldn’t help. It’s more than the mileage. It’s the respect.

Am I being unreasonable?

Nick’s Reply

“Consulting” jobs seem to have changed the calculus of the job market — but not always for the better, and especially not when middlemen are involved. When you deal with an actual employer (your Company X) at arm’s length via a consulting or contracting firm, well, you call up the old saw about trying to wash your hands with rubber gloves on. You’re just not feeling it — and you’re at an enormous disadvantage.

The first question to ask is, who’s the jerk?

Is the consulting firm a jerk?

The “gig economy” recruiting practices of consulting firms create new problems — not just for workers like you, but for the employers that use them. Company X relinquishes its reputation to the intermediary consulting firm and its recruiters. Company X has no idea what that recruiter is saying to you or how it’s portraying Company X. This employer may be losing out on great candidates because the consulting firm is doing a lousy job of engaging with them.

Company X may be a great place to work, and it may treat people respectfully. It may have no idea what you’re being told.

A good headhunter or third-party recruiter manages the client company and helps it recruit and hire effectively. No recruiter worth his or her pay would use one-size-fits-all rules to recruit good workers. If the recruiter in this case can’t get the client to see the wisdom of a short phone call to establish mutual interest, then the recruiter and the consulting firm are jerks.

Is the employer a jerk?

The consulting firm and its recruiter, meanwhile, are so beholden to their clients that they’ll do anything clients want  — like making ridiculous, counter-productive demands on candidates they’re recruiting.

Drive six hours round-trip without reasonable due diligence and without pay? (See Why employers should pay job applicants.) If that’s what this employer expects from the talent it’s trying to recruit, imagine what it expects from its employees. We already know what kinds of consulting firms it deploys. What kinds of people do you think it hires?

Should you just say no?

When an employer asks you to invest time to discuss a job, it’s got an obligation to invest in respecting your needs and requirements, too — or it’s not worth working for.

You just said no, and I can’t fault you for that. But you can also strike back — which I recommend you consider. Just because the contracting firm or the employer are behaving like jerks doesn’t mean you should let it slide. Raise your standards, and maybe you’ll raise, theirs, too. If you want to try this, strap on a rubber apron, because it can get a little messy.

Stir the pot

consulting firmsNow that you’ve already said no, you can stir the pot. I love stirring pots. We never know what the result will be, nor does it really matter. What matters is stirring the pot, because that makes both the scum and the good stuff rise to the top so everyone can see what’s really in there. The fun starts if someone skims off the scum and it splatters. A mess like that usually triggers change. No mess, no change.

I don’t know how much you want to stand on principle, but even if both the recruiter and the client (Company X) are acting like jerks, my guess is that Company X’s top management has no idea how you were treated. It’s reasonable to assume the company’s leadership wants to hire good people fast without alienating good candidates.

You can strike back at consulting firms that act like jerks by stirring the pot. If I were you, I’d place a call to Company X’s CEO. Help the CEO see what’s in that pot. Leave a brief message that inspires the CEO to call you back.

How to Say It

“I just had a troubling transaction with your company. If it were my company, I’d want to know about it. My number is… Feel free to call me if you like.”

Avoid leaving any more details, even with the CEO’s assistant, who is likely to channel you to HR if you say any more. Don’t even hint it had to do with a job. Politely insist that your message is for the CEO. If the CEO cares enough to call you back, you may be able to make a difference.

Show the CEO what you found

I’d calmly explain what happened without betraying any anger, frustration or rancor. Pretend the CEO is your best friend and you just want to be helpful. Don’t dwell on how you feel. Keep it factual. Keep it brief. Close by saying you’re sorry the HR department and the consulting firm’s recruiter weren’t willing to save you a six-hour drive by doing a phone call. Explain that you admire the company and would have seriously considered a job there.

Then end the call — don’t let the CEO end it. This puts you in the more powerful spot.

How to Say It

“I didn’t call you to resurrect a job opportunity or get a phone interview. I called you because if it were my company, I’d want to know someone who works for me is squandering good job candidates in the middle of a talent shortage. If this helps you in any way, I’ll be glad. I wish you and your company luck.”

It’s up to the CEO what to do next.

Strike back for higher standards

This kind of call accomplishes a few things.

  • First, it demonstrates you’re a responsible business person and you care about your professional community — for the talent and for companies that need talent. This will come across to a good CEO if you keep the emotion out of your call.
  • Second, it can help the CEO. A smart CEO will go clean up the company’s own HR practices or the contracting firm’s behavior. The CEO won’t let the company keep getting splattered. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)
  • Third, you might just make an incredibly good contact that you’d otherwise never make. Handle this right, and you’ve got a new CEO friend.

Of course, you might wind up splattered, too — if the CEO doesn’t care about what you’ve revealed. Wipe yourself off and move on.

My compliments for keeping your standards high. Anybody who won’t take half an hour to talk with you to save you a six hour drive isn’t worth thinking about. If the CEO cares, you’ve just helped improve Company X.

Reconsider the consulting game

The other issue here is your “consulting firm.” I think I’d give them the heave-ho. While there are some good contracting firms out there that respect both their client companies and people they recruit, I think there are far more questionable practitioners of this corporate pimping game. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

Many people rely on contracting jobs and contracting firms to make a living, but I encourage you to re-think how you get your work. Find some good companies that will employ you directly. Take off the rubber gloves and make real contact. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.)

The more I observe the mechanics of washing hands with rubber gloves on, the less I like it. Too many players in the consulting industry are acting too much like the second oldest profession in the world. Pimping workers and skimming cash out of the economy — while treating those workers disrespectfully and disdainfully — without adding any real value is a questionable business model at best. (See What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters.) The talent starts to behave — and feel — an awful lot like the oldest profession in the world.

It’s not hard to recognize the good consulting firms. You know them from their reputations and from their behavior. But the talent seems to have become so accustomed to poor treatment that the bad players thrive. It’s up to you to know the difference.

Some will chide me for saying this, because the analogy might not seem fair. Maybe there’s something good in hiring a firm to hire your employees. But there seems to be an awful lot of scum floating in this pot. So pardon me if I stir harder — because I think we need to see what floats to the top.

Do you work for consulting firms? Do you prefer gig work, or do you take assignments because you feel you have no choice? What’s the good stuff about contracting? And what’s scummy about it? How do the recruiters treat you?

: :


  1. I’m curious about whether the employer gave a reason for refusing to do a phone screen. Phone screens don’t just save the candidate time, they save the company time also.
    If I were paranoid I’d wonder if this was a cover for discriminatory hiring, since seeing a person they don’t like and saying there is no match is easier to justify than being positive over the phone and they doing a U-turn. But no company would do that, would they?

    • I thought the same thing about needing to ‘see’ the candidate. Though it may not be intentional, bias is 100% expected when seen in person (weight, age, looks, hair style, whatever). A successful conversation over the phone would absolutely make it hard for them to weigh biases heavily once an in-person meeting took place.
      Or, the client is old-school and is shy to feel the value in technology. That raises another yellow flag: is the company set in their ways? Would this hinder career growth, flexibility, and innovation? Do we want to be a robotic employee? Unless you’re a factory worker, flexibility and innovation are key to success.

    • @Scott: Could be what you’re suggesting. I think it’s just policy. The real problem is that the consulting firm is wasting its own time asking good candidates to travel 6 hours. Seriously — the recruiter should be beating up the employer. “WTF are you talking about? Just talk to this candidate on the phone first. Or I’m not wasting my time trying to talk people into day trips.”

      • I’m sure it is policy, but that doesn’t explain the why of the policy. Interviews in Europe seem to be done only on Skype these days, so some advanced companies are going in the other direction. I can see more of this happening for national recruiting to save on airfare and hotels. I hired all my interns based on phone calls only.
        As for the recruiter, maybe he or she doesn’t want to challenge the client? No matter how stupid the client is?

      • Bingo.

        Time, time, time.

        Anyone who can’t even respect your time will likely never respect YOU.

        I still come across front line retail CSRs that are more attentive (recognize me verbally) when I have to wait in line for just a few minutes than the recruiter/consulting companies concern for a candidate’s time.

        Stir the pot!

  2. I gave up on consulting firms way before Y2K,largely because most ended up being low-quality recruiters for short term gigs. Add to that the inability to pay for me to sit on the bench while wanting me to be at their beck and call to cover their critical engagement that just came in a week ago.

    Seriously, hire me as a FTE, or not. I’m good either way.

  3. After getting burned on a contract to hire opportunity where the recruiting firm *knew* the employer had a history of not making full time offers, I’ve given up on such arrangements. When a recruiter calls me, one of my first questions is if the position is a FTE or contract. If contract, I polite say that I consider no such offers.

    Furthermore, companies that seem to use this a lot get put into my “only if I needed to avoid eviction” list of companies I’d consider. How any company can use arrangements for what should be FTE is beyond me. It’s one thing to use hired guns for a specific project requiring highly specific skills and knowledge. When they’re trying to fill what should be a “normal” FTE position (which is most positions) with a contract….well, that tells me they consider their “greatest assets” to be nothing more than interchangeable spare parts.

    And pimping is the perfect analogy. Do we really think Johns are really concerned about a long term meaningful relationship? Nope. A quick fling and on to the next one.

    • Chris, this is IMHO a 5-Star post.

      Being a crusty old curmudgeon, I intend to borrow “‘greatest assets’ to be nothing more than interchangeable spare parts” and “A quick fling and on to the next one” for the next cold call I receive about and immediate need for a 3-month contract half across the country.

      • I hate it when people are called ‘assets’. Chairs are assets. Tools are assets. ‘Assets’ are accountant jargon for things that are monetized and fungible.

        People are servants, or team members, or partners.

        Words mean things.

    • “”companies that seem to use this a lot get put into my “only if I needed to avoid eviction” list of companies I’d consider.””

      Have you ever heard of the file “only if I needed to avoid AUCTION?”

      That’s when you have already been evicted twice before. Once because of “loss of job.” And then followed by “sale of mother’s home post dad’s death.” Which should be coupled with “failure to find full-time permanent work since the summer of 2012 in your primary skill set.” And before all that, your foreclosed on your new home in 2004 due to later what was determined to be largely — NAFTA. A neighbor down your street was facing “train your replacement and then get laid off in 6 months, or refuse and get fired now!”

      By “auction” I mean lose the rest of your personal belongings in storage due to delinquent payment, due to insufficient income ..

  4. A company that makes unreasonable demands as part of the hiring process is a red flag not matter what the issue is, and demanding an in-person interview without offering mileage, at a minimum, or hotel and per-diem for a longer trip, isn’t worth your time.

    As for the other issues raised by Nick, the “gig economy” has another dimension. It isn’t just happening for Millennials. At age 69 I have had a series of 12 and 24 month contracts in the past seven years. Why? The reason is that no company will hire me as an employee. It is age discrimination pure and simple.

    • Agree, a thousand times. My last five years in the job market have been a constant source of stress, starting with a layoff when economic forces and a management changes cost me a good job.

      There was the time I had a very positive phone interview for a real position with an agency and drove 45 minutes to see them the next day.The recruiter took one look at my grey hair and her expression changed to a scowl. I couldn’t get her to answer my e-mails and calls after that. Not age discrimination? You be the judge.

      Then there was the 14 months I worked as a contractor with no benefits in a soul sucking job. It was supposed to turn permanent after three months. The company used a hush-hush internal transfer to bring in a much younger and totally unqualified person to take over my duties and then expect me to train her from the ground up. After a couple of months of her finding excuses to avoid training, I left for a real position with benefits.

      The real job was in a department run by a foul-mouthed director who would casually stroll through after 6 pm on Friday nights to see who was still working. She expected her staff to be on call 24-7 yet would not authorize the purchase of software needed for my job. Without the software, it was impossible to keep up even though I was working to the point of exhaustion. I slept like a baby the night they let me go.

      So then I got through a lengthy and largely irrelevant interview for a good position in my field. Because the manager was not “100% sure” about me, the offer was made as a contractor for a brief tryout. Because I needed the money, I took it. I found out quickly that 2 or 3 others had also cycled through the position. The problem: the co-worker that was supposed to hand off part of her work to the position did everything she could to sandbag whomever was hired. The manager chooses to remain largely ignorant. I just became the latest person who did not work out.

      Now I have taken my fate into my own hands. These last few year have shown that the kind of work I could get will not add to my retirement savings and will have a negative impact on my health and the quality of my life. I have retired. My financial advisor says that there is more than enough to meet my needs for the long term. I look forward to the next part of my life.

  5. I read this scenario a different way: The company made their requirement known (drive to us for an interview). The job-seeker can choose to meet that requirement or not. What’s the big deal? If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

    • @Tessa: You’re right, of course. But our purpose here is to look at the bigger picture. I get loads of stories like this from readers. The problem isn’t this particular firm’s (and its client’s) demand. The problem is that “consulting” firms have turned recruiting and interviewing into a jump-through-the-hoop joke. Inept recruiting and hiring practices have turned these companies into carny barkers, and they’ve turned the job market into a slave trade.

      The consulting business used to be a reputable, honorable trade that added value. It doesn’t take much to see that very, very few of these firms do any kind of “consulting” at all. They’re the employment version of the skin trade. All they do is put people on their payrolls and rent them to other companies. No value is added whatsoever.

      The bigger problem is why real employers hire at arm’s length. It’s merely to avoid the costs associated with having real employees. Real consulting firms consult. They sell and deliver plans and solutions, and putting people on a client’s site is just part of it.

      The pimp companies merely shuttle workers back and forth for a fee. That’s not consulting. That’s what we’re talking about.

    • Tessa, if someone wants to hire the best candidate, why put on stupid interview requirements on? I can think of some other interview requirements that would be stupid and offensive. But I suppose some incompetent and insecure managers want to hire the worst candidates, not the best.

      Nick, I wouldn’t be surprised if some companies trying to hire full time people pull the same stupid trick. But I think you are right on with your comments about the gig economy. I suspect that a lot of this is to avoid paying benefits for positions where under 30 hours a week doesn’t work.

  6. Tessa – the big deal is, to the Company, that talented people will not put up with this behavior.

    The topic this week should be required reading for every young person starting out.

    Well done, Nick and contributors.

    The only value I can add here is to point out that there is no expectation of privacy in the interview process – if the CEO chooses not to address this, I would publish the name of the parties. Find people like me who don’t work for anyone else if you want it released anonymously.

    I had a client at Corning who used foul language with one my reports in a different life – one call to HR and it was handled promptly, professionally, and correctly. It probably cost me business with that person, but it is much easier to find new clients than new employees – and that employee bonded to me for life. Still with me.

    • I love a sales guy who isn’t afraid to fire a customer.

      • …and there are times when declaring “you’re fired” is the BEST move.

        That’s what you do when a client serves up 80% of your grief but only 20% of revenue – and even less % profit margin. In many industries, letting one client reach 25% of your revenue is a BIG risk.

        Gotta love companies that assess the value of each client on a quarterly basis.

  7. How to Say It
    “I just had a troubling transaction with your company. If it were my company, I’d want to know about it. My number is… Feel free to call me if you like.”


    • @VP Sales: I just had one of those road encounters with a guy driving a truck and pulling a trailer for a landscaping firm with the company name emblazoned all over the vehicles. I notified the company at their website of this bad behavior which will likely require a “conversation” with the employee. Poor advertising at a minimum and would you hire this company with that sort of representation? Not I.

      • @Marilyn: Oh, you’re good. You’re as bad as I am.

  8. Hi Nick,
    I just read your latest article “Consulting Firms:Strike back and stir the pot” and I had to respond. I am in complete agreement with everything you said in this article.

    I have been a recruiter with Alliance Life Sciences for 15 years and we treat every candidate with the respect they deserve. For our hourly staffing division I phone interview a candidate, then our VP (who has been with the company for 18 years) has a phone call with them to answer any lingering questions and make sure we have a good fit with the client’s needs. Because he has worked with our premier client for so long he is an excellent resource to the candidates to answer their questions and prepare them for an interview. Only then do we present the candidate to the client and in most cases we arrange a phone interview with the client as a next step. If that goes well the candidate has a final in-person interview.

    There are some good consulting companies out there!

    • @Karen: A recruiter at one company for 15 years. A VP for 18 years, and who actually talks to the candidates and prepares them for their interviews.

      There are other criteria for a good consulting firm, but I like those two as a start.

      Anyone (a job seeker) out there who works through a consulting firm with recruiters who’ve been there for 15 years and who get prepped by the firm for their interviews? Or is this firm an anomaly?

      • I can’t say that it’s not anomalous, but I can say that it’s not unique. I’ve been contracting, interspersed with ill-fated direct positions, for 20 years.

        Two contract houses had on-site managers for their consultants, charged with making sure integration goes starts & continues smoothly. A third house treated me to a monthly sit-down lunch (off-the-clock) to accomplish the same thing. All the rest led to my coining the term “disposable engineer”, and one treated me with great equality, deeming me an “honorary foreign national”. (This last gave me great insight into the lousy conditions H1-B engineers enjoy.)

  9. The author said this was a group interview. What company hires experienced people using group interviews? I thought those were for entry-level and recent grads.

    • In Kindergarten it’s called “lunchtime.”

    • @LindaG: Also referred to as a “cattle call” for a reason.

    • I call them rejection panels…

    • Everyone in HR watched “The Apprentice” for years, and thought that was how it was supposed to be done.

    • Good point. That alone should be enough to disqualify any employer from consideration.

  10. I have dealt with hundreds of consulting firms, and they always vary quite widely in how respectfully and how honestly they deal with candidates, and in the quality of their client companies. Many of them just function as fronts for lousy companies who can’t hold onto employees, and so have to keep hiring and hiring, and testing how much bad treatment prospective employees would take by doing contract to hires. (These companies don’t hire good people, they hire people who will take crap.)

    A good consulting firm will have recruiters who are open with you about their clients, but the quality of recruiters within a recruiting firm usually varies widely, too. Many of them think of the client company as God no matter how they behave because that’s where their income comes from, and those are the one to avoid. You have to dig hard to get to the good ones, because there aren’t many of them.

    It’s a great idea to contact the CEO about bad hiring practices. Most of the companies from which these bad practices emanate have CEOs who just don’t get it – the old saw about fish stinking from the head down is very often true. But I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve run into a few top execs who really weren’t aware people were acting so stupidly (even though they certainly should have been).

    Once, I had an interview in which a hiring manager didn’t hire me, and then contacted me a couple of weeks later and tried to get me to sign onto a pyramid scheme. I left that :meeting: immediately, guessing that this creep was using his position at the company to winnow out people he thought were desperate enough to take advantage of. I called the HR manager at his company and described what had happened. Then, I called the company’s main number a month later and asked for the creep. I was told he no longer worked there. So this does work sometimes!

    If enough people did this, companies might actually start to get a clue that if they want good people, they have to be intelligent about how they hire them. If they use outside help, they have to use real professionals and not cookie cutter Web sites and low-end consulting firms. Most people, even most CEOs, just don’t seem intelligent enough to get this as a long-term picture, but if they see immediate consequences, like candidates calling them and letting them know how dumb their hiring practices look from the point of view of the people they want to hire, that could make a difference. But candidates have to strike back, and they have to be smart about it.

    If nothing else, doing what Nick described will let you feel like less of a pawn in what is often a very stupid game.

    • @LDL: “If enough people did this, companies might actually start to get a clue that if they want good people, they have to be intelligent about how they hire them.”

      Yep. It’s called feedback, and any engineer will tell you that a feedback loop makes the system work better.

    • “It’s a great idea to contact the CEO about bad hiring practices.”

      I’ve written numerous letters to CEOs about the bad treatment I received by their hiring departments. Never got a reply save for the few times they dropped my letter in an interoffice envelope addressed to their “talent acquisition” department who would then send me a letter of “apology” so poorly written it made me cry…

      • @SIGHMASTER: A couple of years ago a big company ripped off a copyrighted Ask The Headhunter article. Blatantly. Put someone else’s byline on it. Sold it to their customers. One of them was an ATH subscriber who turned them in. Their HR/Legal (get that? same person.) dept sent me a silly note. No apology. No discussion. Not even an honest acknowledgment of the ripoff. Pure HR-ese.

        Sadly, only bad PR led to a resolution. Several weeks and thousands of dollars worth of reparations later, the CEO “fixed” it.

      • Probably got written off as a “troublemaker” put into the never hire pile.

    • “Many of them think of the client company as God no matter how they behave because that’s where their income comes from, and those are the one to avoid.”

      This is the #1 problem I think people have with the recruitment industry (among others).

      The barrier to entry is really low – I can’t tell you how many examples I can probably bet the recruiter has never written a line of code in their life but has the power to act as gatekeepers.

      • I’ve had recruiters and HR interviewers think I’m not qualified for a job because they didn’t understand the abbreviations I was using….that, you guessed it, one would understand if one was qualified for the job.

        • Reminds me of an interview way back in the early 90s with the opposite outcome.

          This financial services company’s interviewer got big eyes and sat up in her chair when I appropriately let out a few industry buzz words (margin call, in-the-money, etc) in response to a question. Withing minutes she called in what I guessed was the hiring manager who asked me more questions.

          Within the next week they called to offer me a position. Unfortunately, I was already picked up by another firm.

          Chris, sorry to hear your time was wasted. Too bad you couldn’t screen them ahead of time over the phone.

    • “These companies don’t hire good people, they hire people who will take crap.”

      Another golden nugget that many just don’t get.

  11. Nick, what’s your take on contract to hire arrangements? The only time I did it, supposedly 6 months contract to hire they delayed 2x, and I was there 18 months before getting laid off. The company’s finances were crumbling though, so I picked a bad company.

    I think accounting wise it looks better to have a consultant than an employee, easier to hide that expense.

    I recently spoke to s hiring manager about a 3 month contract to hire opportunity and let him know I was contracting elsewhere right now. I told him I’m looking to join a good company where I can stick around for 8 or 9 years like him and climb the ladder.

    Later I was told he thought my skills were good but I didn’t seem to want the job. Maybe that’s code for we’re not looking for people who want to stick around…

    • @Jake: I love it when a manager tells you that you don’t seem to want a job. WTF does that mean? “You don’t seem to want dinner today. Bye.”


      As for contract to hire, I still don’t get it. Either hire or don’t. As you note, it seems to all be about how the expenses of employees are booked. On contract, the company doesn’t have to book employment taxes, etc. There’s no cost to letting someone go. No recruiting cost. No overhead. Of course, these companies pay a hefty premium, or “overage,” to the consulting firm, to cover all those nasty costs. But those costs never hit the actual employer’s books. It’s almost like shadow expenses.

      Contract to hire? Reminds me of an old Randy Newman song — “Love Story”:

      “We’ll have a kid. Or maybe we’ll rent one…”

      Call me a skeptic, but I think contract to hire is a racket. Some workers will say it helps them land permanent jobs because “employers can try me out.” Which in turn reminds me of that 1-800 company that sells mattresses. They deliver. You try it. If you don’t like it, they take it back.

      Hmmm. Wonder where all those used mattresses go. Sorry. I digress. When something doesn’t make sense to all parties involved in the deal, something’s wrong.

      • Contract to hire only makes sense when you’re using a cattle call approach to try-before-you-buy for jobs where you just need a body.

        Call up the contracting firm, have them send over 10 people for the day. Pick the two who seem okay. Keep them on for 90 days until you decide they’re good enough to hire (or boot them and start over). Lather, rinse, repeat.

        In this situation, you don’t have to pay for drug tests, employment screening tests, the paperwork cost to verify I-9s or put them on the payroll, etc., etc. You pay a premium to avoid all these transaction costs and headaches.

        And, really, who can blame such companies?

        Now, notice that I said if you “just need a body.” If you just need someone with a pulse, nominal body temperature, and whatever appendages are needed to do the job, it’s dandy.

        If you want an actual human being who can do the job and, I dunno, maybe learn and grow and help you increase profits, well, good luck using a contracting firm for that.

        • FWIW, I worked for Fidelity for 3.5 years as a contractor thru their own “agency,” Veritude, along with everyone else in our building who wasn’t a vice president or CIO. This included engineers, programmers, analysts, project managers…not exactly the kind of professionals I’d put in the same category of “just a body with a pulse,” I mean these were some very smart talented people. And, even today, anyone hired as a contractor there goes thru a one month onboarding process that includes drug testing and background/credit check…the only major thing you don’t get as a contractor there is health insurance (even in MA where Romneycare had been implemented they somehow got away with offering nothing which I’m pretty sure was in violation of that law).

      • This makes me think about one of the times I interviewed for a temp-to-perm job. Everyone I spoke to was telling me that the position was temp-to-perm — except, of course, for the hiring manager. I let the hiring manager know that I wanted to go perm. It never occurred to me that this would be viewed as a negative.

        Subsequently, when the over-emotional young woman who sent me there was yelling at me over the telephone, she let me know that I did not get the job. According to her, the hiring manager said that I would not stick around for six months because I wanted to go perm.

        I no doubt dodged the proverbial bullet, but it was still a big disappointment.

  12. Stir the pot!

    Back in the 80s a subsidiary of Intel (THE Intel) in New Jersey contacted me for an interview. That went fairly well, though I didn’t get an offer. But what irritated me was their off-hand treatment of me. I showed up from out of state, at my own expense. After the interview was done no one offered to even reimburse the driving costs. This was during an economy when some companies were paying relocation expenses!

    So I decided to stir the pot. At the time, Andy Grove was CEO of Intel, and he “authored” a weekly newspaper column in San Diego (as best I can recall). So I wrote a note to the column, hoping that Andy Grove himself would read it. In the note I expressed my dismay with his company and its approach to candidates. Lo and Behold! I got a personal letter of apology from him, and the interviewing Division sent me expense report forms, too. It didn’t help ME, but maybe it made one Division of Intel a better performer.

    • Exactly why the pot needs a stirin’!

    • I did many interviews during the 80’s and 90’s that required considerable travel at my expense, and rarely got reimbursement. All with tech companies (some rather sizable) that weren’t exactly struggling. I was very dismayed by the cheap, shabby treatment. Curiously, Intel was one of the few that actually paid out. But some other equivalent sized outfits didn’t offer a dime.

  13. Since this was my story, I’ll go ahead and chime in here with some comments about this whole ordeal. I won’t name the company or consulting firm, but I’ll give you my opinions of the players.

    I worked for this consulting firm twice, and to be honest, they actually treated me pretty well. First contract several years ago started as a 6 month contract to hire, I chose not to hire but stayed on as a consultant for 3-1/2 years until I left on my own. Second time was a bit over 2 years, came to an end last December. Both times I got a good salary (not outstanding, but certainly competitive) and full benefits from the consulting firm. So this particular firm isn’t exactly a “bad guy” but they could have handled things with the company much better.

    The company (Company X) is in financial services (no specifics), and is located in a town about 1/3 the size of the city I live in and the consulting firm is located in. Both cities in flyover country in the middle of the USA, and neither city is huge by any standards. My old account rep from consulting firm works with Company X and other companies in small city regularly. Consulting firm told me of the opportunity for a direct hire at Company X, so they sent them my updated resume. Company X expressed interest, so we batted it around for a couple of weeks. I was then informed that I’d have to drive 3 hours to small city to meet with Company X in person. I asked why no phone screen? It was much too long a trip that would have to be scheduled around my part-time fill-in job, which would have been an all-day affair with no assurances that I’d even get (or take) a position there. Even local companies who the consulting firm set me up with did a phone screen first, and those were only a short drive across town. It seems Company X never does phone screens. What? A smallish city in the middle of nowhere wants to recruit IT people, a hard enough task in itself, and won’t at least screen people electronically first?

    I declined. It wasn’t worth the gas or my time. I equated it to driving 3 hours to go on a blind date where I knew little to nothing about my date ahead of time. Just so happens that Nick put out a newsletter about companies not respecting the candidate about the time of this incident, so I responded and gave Nick the story. I don’t feel Company X had any respect for this candidate.

    As Paul Harvey used to say, and now you know the rest of the story.

    • @Jim: Thanks for chiming in and filling in more details from your experience.

      For those who are interested, Jim’s original posting appeared as a comment recently on another Ask The Headhunter column:

      It was so good that I wanted to focus more discussion on it.

    • Offhand, I can’t think of an interview I had in the last 20 years that didn’t start with a phone screen. So a remote company insisting on in-person only (especially for tech work) is very odd indeed. Doing this over 20 years ago was enough of a crapshoot. Today I would consider it foolhardy. Not at all surprised you declined.

  14. Sorry, maybe I’m missing the point. I’ve read all the comments and some are very interesting and valuable. Yet, I’m doing contracting at the moment. If I don’t like the job or the client, I don’t do it and move on. Period. Why stir the pot? Especially if you don’t want to do it in the first place. Why the whining?

    • @François: I think the point is that Jim WAS interested, until the intermediary dissed him. Since that wasn’t his prior experience with them, he was puzzled, as I would be. Is it the recruiter who changed, or is the company (the one who outsourced the hiring)?

      I wonder why the recruiter didn’t ask Jim to Skype for the first interview, if the employer really really wanted to get a look at him. Advances in technology mean that you’re not limited to driving a great distance for a first interview. Then, if both parties are really interested, then an in-person interview would be appropriate.

      I like Nick’s approach, and one that I often don’t consider when I’m dissed, be it by employer directly or by the intermediary. I agree that “fish stink from the head down”, and normally I assume that the bad behavior is company culture, because if it wasn’t, the company wouldn’t tolerate it. But if the CEO doesn’t know (how could he NOT know?), then Nick’s advice is sound. A company’s reputation is everything, and if there are bad actors, then it is up to the CEO to fix it. It won’t help you, but may help the next person.

    • @Francois “Why stir the pot?”

      Uh, because speaking up might improve things for everybody, including YOU.

    • @Francois: This is a story about disrespect and bad business — even arrogance. When any company attempts to recruit from a professional community, it reveals its character. And that affects its ability to recruit good people.

      While you may not care which consulting firms behave badly (or how), I think most people do. I also think most people don’t know how to handle such behavior from companies that control who gets a job. So this is worth discussing. “Move on. Period.” is a choice you make. That’s fine. But that choice doesn’t help improve the professional community that these companies and workers are part of.

      While Company X’s refusal to compromise while it was trying to attract talent (Yah — attract. This is how to attract talent?) is the underlying problem, I think the brunt of the responsibility falls on the consulting firm. The moment Company X asked the consulting firm to serve as its interface to the professional community it wants to recruit from, the consulting firm became responsible for the whole enchilada. If the recruiter can’t manage his (or her) client, both parties wind up looking bad. When someone like Jim stands up and insists on higher standards, it’s a good lesson for everyone. It shows there ARE ways to strike back. And stirring the pot is a good thing.

      The consulting firm had the same option Jim did: To fire its client.

      What I like about Jim’s original account (and his subsequent comments) is that they’re devoid of anger and recrimination. There is no whining. He told the story as a lesson in business. He made a choice without rancor. Most important, he reminds everyone that employers and consulting firms that behave badly hurt themselves — and other companies, too. When this kind of discussion happens in a public forum, lots of people handle their next experience with employers and consulting firms a little differently.

      And that’s why I published Jim’s story and my comments, and it’s why we’re talking about it. It’s why we’re stirring the pot.

      • All of this while Company X (and others like them) scream, “talent shortage!”

        It’s more like there is a shortage of people willing to put up with this sort of crap.

        • Exactly.

          See my (Chris S) April 8th post on the “crap” incompetent “professionals” pull that usually costs them BIG in the end.

          Common sense is certainly not so common. Oh the maddness! LOL.

    • Hey Francois, ever here the one about the frog sitting all comfy-cozy in pot that kept getting hotter and hotter?

      Ya, didn’t think so.

      Nothing’s your problem until, well, it is.

  15. I suggest the middleman, your consulting firm agent, should pick up the tab, for a day of your work for this interview. After all, they’ll be skimming off every hour you work if you get the job.

  16. “Am I being unreasonable?”


    People who don’t respect the value of time are NOT going to waste mine. It seems you respect time too, which is reasonable.

    Like Nick said, “Stir the pot” since “No mess, no change.”

    Also, it’s possible “Company X’s top management has no idea how you were treated.” This may be the case. Dealing with intermediaries can be painful and seems to occur in many areas of life over and over again. “Take off the rubber gloves and make real contact” Nick stated. Many times I begin contact without ever using gloves. “Go for the gold” right off the bat as they say.

    Many years ago I researched to determine who the top dog was concerning a poor service issue at a bar. While I would have initially been satisfied with a comp drink for the issue their blundering incompetence and arrogant handling of the situation compelled me to pursue an alternate remedy.

    I ultimately received a free overnight (on Valentines Day no less) room at another casino owned by the parent company. Besides persistence, I think the key for this comp was the fact I cc’d each contact a higher-up’s email address. A parent company VP finally gave approval for this comp. That VP most likely did NOT appreciate those below him on the corporate pecking order wasting his time on an issue that NEVER should have occurred.

    So, the on-site manager’s complete lack of concern for wasting my time esscalted from a simple comp drink to a much more expensive hotel room comp – on a holiday.

    Stir the pot, “force” them to skim the scum, and hopefully get what you want.

  17. Absolutely idiotic of the consulting firm and I hope, very unusual. I would never have them as a client and agree with letting senior management aware of what happened.

  18. I’m so discouraged after reading this. I was laid off at the end of February this year. My former company gave me one month’s worth of career counseling to help with getting the resume and linkedin profile updated, prepare for interviewing, networking, etc.

    I’m afraid no one will hire me, even though I have two degrees, am working on a masters, and have an industry-respected certification (PMP). I’ve worked on small projects and want to move up and work on larger projects. I’ve applied for a couple of jobs that seem to fit but no luck.

    I think I may have to do the contract or gig route to survive. I certainly don’t have enough money saved to retire and I have 15 years left in the workforce before I can retire.

    • @DLMS – I feel you. This is a lousy, depressing job market. If it’s any help, you might find that working contracts beats working full time. I did this for decades because working FT for companies was making me crazy. It was my experience that companies for which I worked FT thought they owned me, and subsequently treated me like a slave.

      When I started working gig to gig with consulting firms, I found there were a few negatives. You have to be very picky about consulting firms and pick through a lot of bad ones to get to the good ones, and then try to work as much with the good ones as possible. You have to save money while you’re working in order to survive gaps between assignments, and the more you can save, the more you can be selective about what you take. Stuff like that. But those things are do-able.

      What I liked was that because consulting firms are basically a bunch of sales people who are taking a cut from the work of people who are able to do work they don’t really understand very well in most cases, when the good ones find people they can place, who their clients like, they tend to treat them pretty well. You can generally get pretty good health insurance from a good consulting firm, at least while you’re working. You make a lot more money most of the time, so much so that I came to think of FT employment as paying a premium for the illusion of thinking you have permanent work, even though it often doesn’t turn out to be permanent. And most of all, what I liked was that when I got stuck with a bad company, and there are tons of them out there, it wasn’t for good. It was generally for a few months, and then I knew to avoid that place and I could move forward to something that was hopefully better. Plus, you can improve your resume by leaps and bounds by being selective about the kinds of assignments you take and the companies where you work them.

      In a hiring environment as dis-spiriting as this one, it helps to know that whatever hellhole you’re stuck in, you’ll be moving on. If you’re the kind of person who can deal with change and who learns quickly, and who has the social skills to fit in (or become somewhat invisible) in most workplaces, you might find consulting is a better deal than being some uncaring company’s FT lackey.

      Start by looking at Glassdoor and blog sites to find out which consulting firms to avoid – there are a lot of them. Then start targeting the others and sort through the ones you like best, with the recruiters you like best (dislike the least!). As you get into it, you might find you’re feeling better about this crappy job market if you look at it as a client instead of as a master.

      Hope that helps…

    • @DLMS: Not all consulting firms suck. Do your due diligence, and be careful about terms and compensation that don’t make sense. Many people rationalize taking a bad deal, figuring they’ll climb out of a comp hole later — but it can be difficult. Choose carefully. But don’t give up on a regular job, either.

  19. The way to get the CEO’s attention is to buy at least $2k of company stock and hold it for at least 1 year then file a shareholder’s resolution. The board of directors will most likely quiz the CEO about the issue