In the January 28, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter 20 recruiters contact a reader — from just one company.

Question

recruiters20 HR recruiters from one [big-name defense contractor] contacted me via LinkedIn during 2019. One of them contacted me twice in two weeks, with the exact same message: Send me your most recent resume. She clearly didn’t know she had contacted me already. Others used the same message. I never heard from 19 of them again.

With recruiter #20, I blew back and told him [the company’s] recruiters are burning their reputation with me. He called, said he was impressed with my experience, that he’d get back after circulating my resume, and never did. I sent a brief “Hello?” on the LinkedIn message thread he started. I got no response.

Is this HR “ghosting” new? I recognized years back that most employers aren’t sending even automated responses to online applicants, but I never expected they’d drop the ball when they initiate the contact! I’d appreciate any theories you have on why this is occurring.

Nick’s Reply

Ghosting by HR is nothing new. Now, do you want to save 95% of your time that phony recruiters waste?

Recruiting or advertising?

20 different people contacting you from that defense contractor are not recruiting you. They are advertising. They know nothing about the jobs they’re advertising and nothing about the people they are soliciting. Sending out job spam through LinkedIn is not recruiting.

A real recruiter knows all about you before they contact you. They already know that you’re a pretty good fit for the job. They court and pursue you — you’ll be able to tell instantly. A phony recruiter turns the knobs on the LinkedIn machine and sends a bunch of job descriptions to thousands of people and tells you all to apply for them. Welcome to automated, phony recruiting.

HR: High tech, no metrics

As long as Human Resources can maintain an image of being high-tech, the board of directors at companies like this one gratefully relinquishes the icky task of recruiting to HR.

HR shovels billions of dollars into “HR technology” — automated job sites and keyword-based Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes). These are nothing more than keyword crunchers and spam generators that unskilled keyboard punchers can operate. It doesn’t matter that the HR tech doesn’t really work, or that HR is failing miserably at hiring, because there are virtually no meaningful metrics in HR departments. (Check this Harvard Business Review report: Employers are hiring all wrong.)

Likewise, because there are no meaningful metrics, a “recruiter” at this company doesn’t know that 19 others already contacted you.

You ask why this is occurring. Why doesn’t the C-suite or the board of directors take notice?

Recruiters pass the buck

Every top executive reads the same news every day: There’s a “talent shortage” and a “skills shortage!” It’s become impossible to find good people! Never mind that employers have access to every resume, every person on the planet.

This “news” exculpates HR — so HR can plausibly deny accountability. When HR fails to fill jobs, someone and something else are to blame: schools, the labor market, unskilled workers, the economy.

Why, it’s right there in the business media!

This leaves HR free to buy and deploy even more HR technology, to outsource recruiting to boiler-rooms of telemarketers and spammers, to pass the buck, and to wash its hands of frustrated people like you. The board of directors doesn’t bat an eyelash.

What can you do?

What good does my explanation (or my rant) do you? Understanding that most “recruiters” don’t recruit is the first step toward fixing this broken employment system.

You have already wasted hours of time fielding, responding to, and fretting over phony “recruiting” contacts. I get it — you’re concerned that one of them might be a real opportunity (even though you’re 0 for 20). There’s a way to handle automated recruiting advertising and seemingly legit solicitations. Respond with an automated reply of your own.

Ask the recruiter what specific job they think “you would be a great fit” for, the salary, and the name and contact information of the hiring manager. If you’re really being recruited — rather than advertised to — the recruiter will call you (or request your phone number) immediately for fear of losing “a great fit.” Phony recruiters won’t bother.

6 hoops for recruiters

But there’s another way to test any recruiter before you go to the trouble to respond. Ask yourself these six questions about the solicitation and, if you like, ask the “recruiter,” too:

  1. Is this solicitation really addressed to me personally, or is it boilerplate that was mass-mailed to a list?
  2. Am I being recruited for a specific position, or is this an advertisement inviting me to read a bunch of job postings?
  3. Is there any evidence that the “recruiter” knows enough about me to know whether I’m really “a great fit” for this job?
  4. Did the “recruiter” mention the name of someone that recommended me, or am I just one of 14,000 matching profiles turned up by an algorithm?
  5. Does the “recruiter” reveal that they understand what this job is about?
  6. If I’m really the “great fit” they say I am, why isn’t this a request for an in-person job interview?

A good job candidate is worth a lot to a real recruiter, who will take your questions seriously. If you don’t get good answers to those six questions, you’re not being recruited. 95% or more of solicitations are not from real recruiters. They’re from job spammers paid to force feed you job postings. Beware what you swallow.

Make recruiters jump through hoops

The bottom line is, those 20 “recruiters” that contacted you are actually bots deployed by inept personnel jockeys who work for executives and boards of directors that believe what they read online and hear on the radio – that Indeed and ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn have figured it all out.

“HR says we don’t have to waste money on skilled recruiters because LinkedIn does all the hard work! Let’s buy more HR technology!”

You know better. You just need to trust your judgment. If the employer contacts you then drops the ball, don’t pick it up — certainly not 20 times! Don’t get hurt by a broken system. Do something smarter. Learn how to vet those solicitations. 95% of them are not pursuing you. They’re advertising jobs to you. Make recruiters jump through hoops before you give them your valuable time.

Invest your time talking only to real recruiters, real employers and real hiring managers that are ready to talk to you about real jobs. If only HR were to invest those billions in hiring real recruiters.

Which of the six hoops do you rely on to test recruiters? What other hoops do you make recruiters jump through — before you’ll jump through any hoops for them?

: :

Share
71 Comments
  1. Recruiters often contact via LinkedIn to solicit for a Senior Position with a Very Well Respected Operator and a Competitive Compensation Package.

    I always insist to know the name of the company, and that they present a written confirmation that they are on assignment to fill a position, rather than send unsolicited resumes. Some are able to present this, most become evasive.

    Some try another tactic; they give the company name outright, even attach a job description with company logo, which gives the impression that they are on assignment. Often, this description is copy-pasted from the text on open job posts on Finn.no. (I am Norwegian; Finn.no is the Norwegian site for ads for everything from jobs and real estate to used toy trains). So I ask, pretending to be curious, if it is the same job. Some become evasive, some admit that it is.

    Most of these recruiters are British, and they all seem to be a bit confused or embarrassed when I point out that if I wanted to apply, I would use my contact network and that the recruiter is redundant.

    • @Karsten: I think you’ve got it down!

    • I prefer giving the booming staffing industry one small hoop to jump through. I tell the recruiter this:

      “I need work-from-home during the month of January.”

      This request quickly eliminates the dialing-for-dollars recruiters who are trying to throw resumes at the company for their 25 percent.

    • Karsten,

      Are you sure you’re not reading some of this out of my inbox? ;)

      I’ve been contacted by at least 4 phony recruiters based in the UK within the past 6 months. One had dual US and UK citizenship, and I found he was a deadbeat in both countries. The scary part was that he pitched to rep me to an employer and open position I had recently browsed on LinkedIn.

      Second phony was scraping the Data Center Dynamics attendee list and was calling and emailing me at my office phone and email address. They got a rude surprise when they tried to pitch me to an engineering firm who I had previously applied to for a different advertised position. The firm told them to get lost anyway. This one then apparently took my resume and rewrote it into a bogus job description for a position that didn’t exist for a client they didn’t have.

      The third phony rewrote a director’s job description I had previously seen, but apparently slipped when they added in some design responsibilities. Directors of anything in my business don’t design anything. Oops. 90 second web search brought up her cheer leading photos somewhere in the Midwest US (though the company she was pitching was based in the UK).

      The fourth phony was from the same company as phony #2 and appears to be searching for current job market conditions and leads. Don’t think that phonies 2 and 4 know that their colleagues were trying to scam the same lead.

      I’m seriously expecting more contacts from the same UK company from that data center trade show. They’ve already contacted just about every one of my former co-workers, and they’re all blowing them off.

      • @Steve,

        Always funny when two recruiters from the same recruiting firm try to get me for the same job – or for different companies at the same time…

      • The reason so many of these recruiters are British is probably that they focus on the oil industry. The oil industry is big and international, but what they seem to forget is that Norway is a small country, and that many people in the industry here know each other, so that we do not need to go through some redundant foreign resume hub.

        Fun fact: During the previous oil boom, around 2013, at least five different recruiting companies tried to recruit me for Oil Company X. Coincidentally, I now actually work for Oil Company X – got the job by contacting the then COO directly – and none of those recruiters had ever been given any assignment by the company.

        It is probably not a coincidence that in two of three occasions I have been contacted by recruiters that actually were on assignment to fill a position, those were Norwegian, and the positions had not been advertised. The third was a British recruiter working in parallel with the advertised position, and he had the assignment contract to prove it.

        Actually, in one of the “Norwegian” occasions, I had first been contacted by another Norwegian recruiter, whom I allowed to sent my resume because he gave the impression that he knew the company closely – then he got radio silent, while I was contacted by a legit recruiter, to whom I had to explain the mess…

  2. Unless it’s in the description, I always ask what the salary range is. If I get no answer, hand waving, or a request for what I make now, we’re done. That weeds out about 99% of the junk ones right then and there.

    I also use Karsten’s approach above. Since these usually come over email, I paste some of the description into a search engine. If I see it return several results, well, I know they’re just fishing for resumes. One time I did this and it sent me to a company website…..where the company said the *only* way to apply was through their website. I notified the company of said recruiter’s questionable activities.

    One thing I’ve also found that some “recruiters” try to do it is connect me with on LinkedIn because they “want to discuss an opportunity.” I must be unaware of the unbreakable rule that says we must be connected on LinkedIn to discuss a position. I ignore pretty much all of those.

    The only thing that gets straight to me is a phone call. Mention that you know me via some person or company and my ears perk up. I might return your call after listening to your voicemail. (I don’t answer unrecognized numbers on my cell phone.)

    • Chris, I have also experienced that: Recruiters who want to submit to companies that explicitly state that they do not accept resumes through recruiters…

      • I have notified companies of this more than once. I’ve never heard back, not even an automated “thank you for report this” email. You would think companies would be concerned about this as it could damage their reputation. I’ve even reported what are obvious scams by “recruiters” with no response. Yeah, the company isn’t legally responsible, but you’d think they’d be interested in stopping it so it doesn’t damage their reputation.

        • Your outrage is wasted energy.

          As Nick said, above, HR is floating in ‘mishegas’ and hardly has the time or manpower to police rogue ‘recruiters’.

          You are pointing out their dirty laundry and expecting a reply is nonsense.

      • Just so you know…

        Yes, indeed, there are ‘no agency’ companies but point in fact, it is also often true that that note at the end of a posted job description is initiated by HR since they don’t want to be criticized for resorting to the use of external ‘recruiters’.

        In actual fact, at some of those companies, the Hiring Authority is happy enough to pay that recruitment fee out of her/his budget since that hired candidate will pay the recruitment fee back in spades as a result of their productivity.

        So yes, there are many ‘recruiters’ who do what I do….go around HR….and deal directly with the HA. In the past I have gotten more than one virtual dirty look from HR while they are cutting our check.

        It took a competitor of mine -when I started out in the Search business- to make me realize I should not let HR run my business if I have a viable candidate for a posted opportunity. There is nothing worse than discovering a competitor did what I had not done- contacted the HA directly and gotten the Search- while I was busy believing what I had read in the ad.

        Things are not always what they appear to be. Particularly if one is on the outside, looking in.

        • @Paul Forel: Thanks for that important observation.

          It’s such a fact of life in the search biz that I rarely point it out to anyone: HR controls only the HR budget and people that work in HR. They want you to cower under edicts like “no search firms” and “contacting managers is forbidden.”

          But hiring managers have their own agendas, practices, and budgets. If I’d had to work only “through HR” to fill jobs, I’d have lasted about 6 months in the search business!

          I learned the hard way, like you did. It took only one lesson. While my copy of a candidate’s resume was languishing down in HR, my competitor put the same candidate through two interviews with the hiring manager, with the result that “my” candidate had an offer that I had nothing to do with. Naive greenhorn that I was, I went and told my boss that I got cheated and that we needed to go after the employer for our fee.

          She laughed and shook her head at me. “You didn’t get cheated. You got out-foxed. Next time, be the headhunter that goes to the hiring manager!”

          That happened to me only once. However, I got reamed many times by many HR managers for filling positions and getting paid directly out of many managers’ own budgets. I still got paid, and then I did it again. The most important lesson from all this was simple and profound: It’s a good way to sort through hiring managers. The ones most worth working with are the ones that will buck HR! The rest are bureaucrats.

          • Yep, Yep and Yep. Thanks, Nick. It should be emphasized that being represented by a competent recruiter is ten times better than applying online and risk being screened out by a newbie in HR.

          • Nick,

            I hate to toss some water on your campfire, but trying to reach out to the hiring manager doesn’t work for everyone. It’s especially dangerous for any of us who’ve worked for more than one employer, or no longer at an entry level position.

            For example, my former co-workers, former associates, and former customers are now working at almost every engineering and/or consulting firm where I could possibly work in the NYC metro area. That can be a great advantage for me for jobs in progress, where I know my guys are more than capable in their job and project roles. But it’s an entirely different situation if I’m pursuing an open position at those companies.

            Any attempt to network with anyone at a firm where I have no trusted inside contacts could compromise my confidential employment search and expose me to the (virtual) dirt & gossip network. Too many opportunities for someone to shutdown opportunities for me before I can reach the hiring manager.

            This situation obviously doesn’t impact you in your role, but for those of us facing consistent age and sex discrimination, it’s a real deal-killer.

            • @Steve: Points taken. I never said reaching out to a hiring manager, going around HR, or taking any assertive actions is risk-free. While it’s wise to take reasonable precautions, every job search poses a risk of the wrong people finding out.

          • @Nick:
            “It’s such a fact of life in the search biz that I rarely point it out to anyone: HR controls only the HR budget and people that work in HR. They want you to cower under edicts like “no search firms” and “contacting managers is forbidden.”

            While you are referring to a recruiter directly contacting managers, the other side of this is candidates directly contacting the hiring manager (or others in the company he knows) in an effort to bypass HR. My experience in recent years is that HR most definitely dictates what the manager may do. Having the inside connections has proven to be fruitless for me, because the company has a firm policy that managers may only interview candidates who have been approved and forwarded HR, with no recommendations or requests from the manager or others allowed.

            This is presumably a matter of “compliance.” I’ve read opinions on HR websites that HR must maintain firm control in order to ensure “objectivity” and unbiased decisions and squashing “cronyism” and “the old boys network.” Keep in mind that they’ve redefined “the old boy club” (which traditionally has been limited in scope and nature as any such informal network is based on close social ties). They now call it “the old boys network,” and by that they mean something through which all men naturally discriminate in favor of men. Hence, HR must maintain control make the decisions over who the managers may interview.

            • @Bill: I know it’s not easy, and you have to break HR’s rules and the manager must be willing to do the same. But it happens every day, no matter what rules HR lays down. In the end, HR is a company’s third-world bureaucracy. It acts vicious, and it can indeed hurt candidates and managers. But what do they call this in HR circles — “the war for talent.”

              You have to go to war. Best way to do it is through a hiring managers’s trusted contacts. Imagine this: A manager’s buddy tells them you are such a good candidate that they’d better snatch you up before a competitor does.

              That’s the candidate you have to be if you want a hiring manager to break the rules to hire you. It happens every day.

              HR works hard to promote the idea that it’s truly in control. HR creates and promotes all sorts of tropes to keep you in line: “compliance,” “old boys club,” “policy,” “managers aren’t allowed.” It’s nonsense to the manager that needs to fill a job.

            • Nick,

              I imagine by skirting HR and flouting their diktats, any candidate’s going to wind up on HR’s naughty list. How do you handle working there when you’ve got enemies right off the bat?

  3. Some recruiters (or just scammers) seem to use LinkedIn for personal information fishing, by fake profiles. I was once asked to connect by a profile that said he had been an engineer with the company I work for, since 2009.

    The company was founded in 2012 has never employed anyone with that name. Or title.

  4. My (not) favorites are the emails that include an unsubscribe link. Sigh.

    • The worst recruiter inquiries include a right-to-represent attached to the initial e-mail.

      • “The worst recruiter inquiries include a right-to-represent attached to the initial e-mail.”

        Employment agencies use this clause all the time to insure there is a direct line that proves a relationship between an applicant/candidate and the agency. It is for the protection of the agency for when an applicant/candidate gets froggy and has been talked into denying that relationship at the request of an employer who has an interest in hiring that applicant/candidate without paying the agency’s recruitment fee.

        The same more or less applies in the Search business. Even a seasoned executive will stab a headhunter in the back if they see an opportunity with an employer who wants to cut out the search firm -operating on a contingency basis- that referred that recruit. The circumstances are usually that the recruit is anxious and running scared after not having been employed for too long or has fallen in love with the client/opportunity to exclusion of the headhunter who made the referral. These are usually sticky and complicated events but they do occur on rare occasion.

        The mistake, what galls you, is that a ‘recruiter’ you don’t know presumes you will trust him/her and sign that form without that ‘recruiter’ having first earned/gained your trust.

        Such a clause should only be presented after a lengthy conversation where the ‘recruiter’ has shown they have a mature grasp of the employment business and the recruit has grown comfortable with that ‘recruiter’.

        • Paul,

          I’ve never seen any “right-to-represent” text from any recruiter. But I’ve always assumed that they would falsify something with it if they felt they needed it. Then I can ignore it.

          Note I also don’t honor disclaimers or “privacy” or other notices within emails or USPS letters. At best they’re unilateral contracts lacking consideration, 100% unenforceable. Any way you look at it, I’ll ignore it.

      • @Bob: If you think about it, there’s nothing wrong with a right-to-represent agreement — as long as it’s for a named employer and a named job. It’s transactional. It doesn’t grant the headhunter any rights beyond that one job. I’ve never used one of these, but I’ve seen them and I understand why a headhunter would want one. Just as questionable headhunters might abuse candidates, some candidates will try to skirt the headhunter who made the introduction for them. As Paul Forel points out, you have to know the headhunter well enough to trust them.

  5. When recruiters called me, (I never even responded to LinkedIn mails) I first asked them to tell me what my field is. I’m visible enough that a legitimate recruiter would know that. If they gave me a decent answer, I talked to them, or at least saved their contact information. If they had no clue I politely ended the call.

    • One recruiter once called me because he claimed a previous colleague (which he refused to disclose) had recommended me for a position – which only a cursory glance at my LinkedIn profile would show was outside both my expertise and interest. When I pointed that out, he excused himself with “sorry, but I didn’t have time to look at your profile, things go so fast in this business”.

      To which I literally replied, the only time I have used expletives: “If you cannot spend two minutes on my profile, you are f*****g lazy”. And hung up.

  6. As usual Nick, sound advice.

    I’ve gotten two jobs through recruiters. First one called me. Knew what the job was, and knew my background, etc. Great experience, a true professional.

    The second time I targeted a job I wanted and found out they were only hiring through their recruiter. I contacted her. She immediately asked good questions and within 5 minutes realized I was a great candidate. Again, a great professional and good experience. We’re still in touch.

    I can always tell from the first communication or the first 3 minutes of a conversation if it’s real or not. I have no time for spam.

  7. But, lazy recruiters (spammers?) out there aren’t tripping us up, right? We’ve invested true effort and ownership in managing our individual job hunt, right? We’re a step ahead of them, right?

    …RIGHT?

    For what it helps, when I actively look for a job (I’m happily employed), I wear my horse blinders to stay the course on my game plan, which also includes freshening up on previous ATH articles. Granted, I work in HR and can see through B.S. in hiring activities fairly quickly, but I think it’s important to call out these ‘recruiters’ for what they are: call center-based spammers. ‘Recruiter’ is a disguise meant to trick you into providing your email, phone, and address (please remove your home address from your resume…your city/metro area is all that’s needed).

    A part of me wants to thank them for existing because their annoyance brings value to my dedicated job search by showing me what NOT to do when communicating with a potential reward. Sometimes we don’t have to perform the ‘failure’ in order to learn from it, so…Thank you spammers for making me look good!

    I’m not being judgmental against any reader or LW, so allow me to clarify or expand if necessary.

  8. Not to offend anyone but the only thing I have ever found regarding LinkedIn is salesmen trying to sell me something and really nothing else. But that’s just my experience.
    I have stated before and I will say again, if someone contacts me regarding a possible job position, I usually ignore the call or email. My feeling is that a genuine recruiter will always call back.

    • @Tony: A placement is worth $20,000-$50,000 to an independent recruiter. They will always call back if they’re legit and are actually recruiting you. If it’s an in-house HR recruiter and they’re legit, they really need to fill a job and they found you after careful research. They’re not going to let you go so easily. They’ll call back, too.

      That’s how I answer my phone. Your ID doesn’t come up because you’re not in my contacts? If you’re legit, you will leave a voicemail or you’ll call back. 95% of calls don’t do either because they’re spam. Either way, I win.

      • You’re too optimistic regarding in-house recruiters. What I’ve been seeing is this:

        Company has an opening. This opening gets posted & the dialing-for-dollars recruiters start calling. This goes on for 6 to 9 months & fails.

        After the 6 to 9 months, Company issues a “cattle call” to every staffing firm in the region to start calling for candidates. The “cattle call” fails.

        When the cattle call fails, the company assigns an in-house recruiter to start calling around. This fails as well.

        There is an uptick in in-house recruiters calling around. For one job classification here, I have a list of 100 companies in the region looking for the same candidate. Many of the 100 employers have multiple openings for the same job. No amount of in-house calling is going to fix hiring that is this broken.

      • Nick,

        I’m getting some seriously annoying repeat callbacks from one of the phonies, and they’re definitely not legit. But instead of a real commission on a real position, they’re only trying to get back their investment in a mailing list that must be turning into a dud, since most everyone in my industry probably won’t talk to them now.

        • @Steve: That’s what “block caller” is for on your phone :-)

          • “That’s what “block caller” is for on your phone.”

            That is if you can afford it ..
            For those of us on prepaid plans ..
            “block caller” is additional charge ..
            Same for “block” in SMS ..
            Yes, some of us are that broke!

            • @Doug: I didn’t know that any phone plans charge extra for “block caller .” For those of us not in your shoes, we take a lot for granted even when we think “we understand.”

  9. I always ask if the position is with a direct client or a third party. This is especially relevant for contract positions, but also valid for full-time placements. I don’t want to work with someone who is just going to pass me along to some other recruitment firm.

    • The intermediation of hiring has gotten ridiculous. The costs of having 3 or 4 or more players involved has got to be affecting the size of job offers.

      • For a certain group of “recruiters,” I wouldn’t trust with anything involving a “Direct Client.” Most of the time, the direct client is an Indian outsourcing firm.

        The costs of 3+ players being involved in hiring is being placed on the back of the candidate.

  10. I can’t help but wonder if that “big-name defense contractor” is Raytheon. I used to regularly get spammed by recruiters with a “hot opportunity with a major defense contractor in Billerica” (Raytheon). The last time was in 2017. Here’s how the convo went:

    Me: I recognize the client is Raytheon. I’ve wasted far too much of my time in the past chasing fake jobs like this one. No, thanks.

    Him: Yes its Raytheon. It’s a real job and I get you [sic] an interview. Let me know your thoughts. Its our direct client. [Poor fella doesn’t know the difference between its and it’s]

    Me: That’s exactly what the last recruiter said. Again, no, thanks…

    Him: LOL J

    And that was the end of that. Then last year I received an automated email from them regarding a job I foolishly applied for back in 2017 saying “this requisition has been canceled.” I sent a letter to their CEO demanding that they remove my personal information from their servers and tried to explain that their reputation as a “job creator” for me and probably lots of folks is in the toilet due to this kind of nonsense. Didn’t get a reply, of course.

    • @Sighmaster: What an interesting story.

    • I suspect this employer has started resorting to bots. A while back I thought, why not, an online speed dating approach to a recruiting chat, ten minutes with an in-house recruiter in my industry.

      The recruiter asked if I had a degree in Computer Science or Mathematics. I responded, yes, I have a degree in Information Systems. This didn’t match the keywords provided and it became clear that this was a bot failing to recognize the different names of the same major across schools. When I asked about a position listed in a location other than Tucson the bot became terse and gave the C3PO diplomatic version of “this does not compute”.

      Rather than deploying bots, employers should consider providing jobs to irritable seat-warmers who can read scripts.

    • Btw, check out this subreddit if you haven’t already — https://www.reddit.com/r/recruitinghell/

    • ‘Demanding’ a CEO of a Fortune company to do anything is a non-starter.

      If it makes you feel good…..but don’t hold your breath.

      Paul

  11. These “pretend” recruiters remind me of a similar behavior of “pretend” mortgage lenders pre 2008. Same rat hole, different characters.

  12. My favorite is the occasional pitch on LI by a “recruiter” based solely on my most recent position, rather than on anything remotely resembling what I indicate in my profile. The two are worlds apart, and I can thus tell these “recruiters” haven’t so much as glanced at my profile.

    Clearly these clowns lack the “attention to detail” gene.

  13. Why would anyone use recruiters? Stay away from them! How dense can one be?

  14. Lately I’ve been responding to requests to talk on the phone to tell me about exciting opportunities with “Let’s stick to email for right now. What can you tell me about the position?” and they rarely (never?) follow up.

    If their priority was filling that job, then they’d email me. But it’s not, because they never follow up, so they clearly just need the check mark on their daily phone call quota.

  15. LOL, telling someone they are a ‘great fit’ at the outset of a recruiting conversation is like Joe Isuzu asking you to ‘Trust Me!’.

  16. The only recruiter I work with knows me, my requirements in a new job for myself and my requirements in candidates I want to hire so well, that I use him as my personal HR department. Needless to say he is super specialized in recruiting a certain type of person for a certain type of job, and probably knows more than most candidates. He works with a dozen of us in 3 or 4 companies and we are practically on each other’s speed dial.

    • @S: There are indeed such recruiters around. You’ve got a gem.

  17. I have found that the local state unemployment office, Workforce Development, or whatever your local area calls it is a good location for legit job postings of all types. My local office is real good at weeding out the scammers and only accept postings from serious employers. Now that I am retired and only interested in part time to keep my wife sane, this excludes the BS that I refuse to engage in. Plus the office will usually be helpful.
    Although they will sometimes put their friends at the top of the pile, even if the candidate is totaly unqualified, but that happens everywhere.

  18. Reminds me of a recruiter horror story. In 2004, the steel company I worked for filed bankruptcy. Closed the doors, turned off the lights, and that was that. I’d just turned 46, and was encountering all sorts of shenanigans with blatant in your face ageism, interviews for non-existent jobs, job boards, and my local newspaper. Against my better judgment, I answered a blind ad in my local newspaper classifieds for an Outside Sales position for metal fabrication equipment. As I had a strong background in metals/metal fabrication/welding, I submitted my resume. I heard nothing, so business as usual, I assumed my resume had been tossed or passed over, and I continued in my job search. 6 weeks later, I received a call from a recruiter in another city and state some 1,000 miles away. The position was for a new branch that was opening in my area for a distributor of metal fabrication machinery, with 3 other locations in the Midwest. The recruiter told me I’d be receiving a call from the District Sales Manager in 1-2 weeks. Dead silence. 4 weeks later, the recruiter called me and asked if I’d talked to the District Sales Manager. I said “no”. 4 more weeks passed, and I accepted a job with a new employer, be it not my first choice. 6 weeks later, I received a call from the recruiter again. I politely told her I had accepted a new job and was working there, so I was no longer interested. 6 more weeks passed, and I received a call from the District Sales Manager demanding that I talk to him about the position. Like the recruiter, I told him no thanks. For the next week, the guy called, morning and evening, cursing like a dockworker, and demanding I talk to him about the job. I dodged his calls, and even blocked them, but he’d call me on alternate phones. Like some creeper stalker. Then the recruiter started calling me, and was equally demanding. I called both back, told them I had a new job, that I was no longer interested, and if they didn’t cease and desist the calls, that I’d be seeing an attorney. The calls stopped immediately. Needless to say, I won’t give a recruiter the time of day, and they won’t give me the time of day, and I lose no sleep over it!

    • “Hurry up and wait! Hurry up and wait! Now, HURRY UP!!”

      Great story! Not so rare, unfortunately.

    • This reminds me of the “recruiter” and his client (the son of the privately-held company’s founder) who just … could … not … understand … that I was not going to do a telephone screening at my place of employment. (Going out to the car was not an option: the cell phones of the time were bricklike and expensive; and I didn’t have one.)

  19. Looks like this week’s ATH really hit a nerve!

    Here’s my best story (so far) of an encounter with a phony recruiter: While talking to me on the phone, it was quite apparent that she was washing dishes in the background. That’s one way to keep the conversation clean!

    I’d like to point out that recruiting spam, like regular spam, is becoming increasingly sophisticated. After being burned a few times, I now know to regard all attempts to recruit me with deep skepticism.

    I’ve been the recipient of computer-generated recruitment email, made to look as though it was sent from the intended employer, with keywords lifted from my LinkedIn profile or from previous applications to the same company. I’ve even been invited to join online job-fairs from alleged employers offering positions amazingly similar to my LinkedIn profile!

    If you’ve ever fallen for one of these scams, as I did early on, and submitted job-related information to the faux recruiter, I would not be surprised if your information has been bought and sold and will be used against you again. As with solicitations for credit cards, you have been ‘pre-approved’ for a new job.

    This all comes back to what Nick counsels again and again: The only worthwhile way to look for work is to meet people in person.

    • @Steven: This is a good reminder that recruitment advertising is a really good vector for identity theft and scams. In the excitement of getting a great new job, people will disclose personal information that they’d never give to a telemarketer selling timeshares!

      REMINDER, FOLKS! Apply the same standards to recruiting solicitations that you’d apply to any other business transaction!

  20. Number 7 – What is the retained recruiter’s opinion of Ask The Headhunter? Good, bad, or worse, never heard of him. Red flag.
    Number 8 – Seek a candidate reference and/or a client reference from the person representing herself as a retained recruiter. Once in touch, see if you can get a reference from the proffered reference. That’s what pros do when they are vetting you, the candidate.
    Hey, in every economy, pursuing a career is a competitive endeavor. There are no rules printed anywhere. It’s vicious, but not impossible. As Seth Godin says, “You are your resume”. You don’t need a resume to find a higher paying job.

    • “Once in touch, see if you can get a reference from the proffered reference. That’s what pros do when they are vetting you, the candidate.”

      Almost but not quite.

      It would be a major error to be asking for a ‘reference’ from a third party prior to calling a target recruit. Newbie ‘recruiters’ probably do this but this is sloppy stuff and can backfire on the target recruit.

      “Pros” as you call us, delicately make inquiries about a target recruit using a cover that suggests we are seeking to contact that person for doing business with them, for example.

      To blatantly ‘ask for a reference’ or appear to be doing so could trigger that third party into calling the target recruit, bragging about ‘how helpful they were’ to a recruiter ‘who is going to be calling you’ [imagine the confusion when the HH does not call, based on what s/he was told by this loose cannon third party] or worse, blabs to a fourth party who in turn tells someone who in turn, etc. until surprise! the target recruit’s manager finds out a headhunter ‘was sniffing around’ and before you know it, that target recruit is ‘standing tall before the Man’. (All this applies to finding out about a target recruit prior to initial contact. How ‘associates’, et al are approached after initial contact is dependent on a number of variables.)

      All because the initial inquiry was not handled delicately and with finesse.

      And by the way, even using the word ‘reference’ is enough to set off alarms and the caution flag with people (and so they clam up) so instead of using the ‘clip board reference checking techniques’ used by newbie and unsophisticated HR staff, it is by far more useful to have a ‘conversation’ that successfully indirectly points out salient points about someone without ever having to resort to waving a clipboard around.

      It is a lost-to-the-dust-of-time-for-many-recruiters point to remind you the Executive Search business started out as a discrete process, using trust as a platform for execution. ‘Getting a reference’ is a coarse conversation that will inevitably end in failure to extract deeply hidden nuggets that could evolve into precipitate a few months after hire and result in that recruit’s being separated from the hiring company, leaving the affected recruiter owing either a fee or replacement, all because s/he mishandled the upfront inquiries.

      Point in fact, it once took me forty-five minutes of ‘casual conversation’ before I finally extracted from an associate of my recruit that said recruit had a problem with ethanol. Standard techniques for ‘reference checking’ would never have resulted in getting that information.

      So, plainly said, Stephen, unless you yourself have picked up a scalpel….

      • Paul,

        I appreciate your honesty, but I wonder if on some of those assignments you may have gone a bit too far?

        As an example, I used to socialize with a group of people that included a major player in the media business. I didn’t speak with him frequently at all, but over time, events and circumstances unfolded that gave him an odd perspective of my social and business skills. I rarely spoke with this individual of my business practices or issues, so it rarely came up in conversation. Eventually we all went our separate ways.

        If you were to meet this particular person now in an informal environment, and, knowing we both worked in the same industry and knew each other, strike up a conversation and somehow work my name into the conversation, you might get a bizarre view of what you thought was my personal and business standards, and want to run away.

        So then you find one of my former co-workers from a previous place where I worked and (what you don’t know advance about was that he was an under-performer who was not very capable and somewhat jealous of everyone who could do most of the work he couldn’t) you would get a very different opinion of me and want to run away in the opposite direction.

        And then you finally speak with the reference I recommended, someone I’ve worked with in different places over more years I’d like to admit, and you walk away with a radically different opinion, and then you want to hire him instead of me. ;) But I digress.

        If you want to be a detective, be a good detective. Don’t cherry-pick nuggets of information just because you could get it informally. Pass it through the right filters and tests to ensure you’ve got something precise and useful to evaluate your current target.

        • Yep, all good stuff, Steve!

          I’m sure you do what works best for you as we in the Search business do what works best for ourselves.

          Wishing you continued success!

      • @Paul Forel: “delicately and with finesse…have a ‘conversation'”

        We could have an entire discussion thread here about what’s wrong with recruiters’ acumen in regard to having conversations!

        As you so clearly put it, this is exactly what real recruiters/headhunters are very good at. And they don’t teach this in many schools…any more.

        • Correctamundo, Nick!

          It really does seem that too many employment agencies/search firms of nowadays are not giving their new staff formal training and follow up supervision.

          When I started out, in addition to classroom training, I was getting bopped on the head with a pencil by the senior person sitting behind me every time I said something ‘not quite right’. I got to know that pencil pretty good.

  21. “Worked with Companies X, Y, Z” is a red flag as well. Recruiters may admit that they are not on assignment, but give the impression that they have a kind of relationship with the employer in scouting for candidates, “working with” the company. May be true for some, but mostly, it means spamming resumes.

  22. Yet, another horror story of recruiters (as if my previous post wasn’t a doozey).
    A few days before Thanksgiving, 2001, I was laid off in a downsizing after a buyout at a steel company I had been working for. During my job search, I saw a classified ad posted for a Sales/Estimating position. As mentioned previously, I had a strong background in metals/metal fabrication/welding, coupled with some sales experience. I identified the name on the ad as a local recruiter. Reluctantly, I submitted my resume. About a week passed, and one day, I received a call from the recruiter. He gave me his dog and pony show about how the client was the best company on the planet, this was “manna from heaven”, this was the last job I’d ever have, that I’d I could retire from this place, unlimited earning “potential”, my skill set was exactly 100+% what they needed, etc. He wouldn’t give me the client’s name (of course), but he did divulge what they manufactured. After doing some detective work (I should have been a cop), I discovered who the client was, as it was the only manufacturer in my area that produced this exclusive proprietary product. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had an 8:00 AM face-face the following morning with the owner of this company. I decide to drive to the company, assuming it was closed on a Sunday, to get a look at what I was up against. When I arrived, and to my utter shock, I saw what looked like a WWII slave labor camp or Gulag. It was February, late afternoon, the sun was setting, and their was snow on the ground, and temperatures were in the 20s. Outside, in open air, were workers operating press brakes and metal shears! I wondered how OSHA hadn’t shut these guys down. On top of that, the commute from my home, was way too far. I went home, called the recruiter, and informed him that I figured out who the client was, drove up there, told him what I saw, and told him I was withdrawing my name from consideration. Today, these recruiters, like many employers, would have ghosted me, but this guy called up and read me the riot act. I calmly informed him again what I had seen, that he misrepresented this company (they had been running ads in the local classifieds weekly for this position for nearly two years), it was too far of a commute, they had a despicable reputation locally (a friend of mine even had worked for them as a Fabrication Manager, and they unceremoniously fired him at his 90 day mark). I told the recruiter “good day, sir”, and hung up. Like I said before, don’t mess with recruiters!

  23. Hooray for candor from someone like Paul Forel who I would regard as “pro” in the very positive sense.
    Ignore Paul’s expose at your peril.
    He obviously knows how the best in his craft behavies.
    Just not enough Paul Forels in the external recruiting discipline.
    And let’s not go there when it comes to internal “recruiters” IMHO.
    Exception: Those that recruit internally for Hallmark Cards. They have it together last time I checked, albeit some years ago. Just sayin’.
    Thanks Paul for your remarkable insights for those of us who have never “walked in your shoes”. sQs Jan 30 2020 5:03p USET

  24. Apropos this conversation, there are pretty good horror stories on this Twitter thread:

    https://twitter.com/i0sTaila/status/1221778787936997376?s=20

  25. Nick,

    “…You have to go to war. Best way to do it is through a hiring managers’s trusted contacts. Imagine this: A manager’s buddy tells them you are such a good candidate that they’d better snatch you up before a competitor does…”

    You just reminded me of something about which I completely forgot. I got my first regular job exactly as you’ve described and recommended (and we debated ;). Two friends already working at one particular place recommended me for a position and I was selected over other candidates. And I also got an assist from a friend who knew the CEO, when I was hired at my last job. In between those two jobs, I’ve had higher level and higher paying positions, but I had no inside connections to find or reach the hiring managers.

  26. I love the over reliance on “scripts” that others have mentioned.

    My work experience has included:

    A stint at a private sector company for nearly 15 years

    A government job.

    So, it’s a reasonable expectation that if you’re going to pitch me a job, you probably should present full time “permanent” work, not contract work, as there’s a good chance that I’m not going to leave for the 6 month contract jobs that you happen to have.

    But, I still get called and presented these jobs straight away. There’s no up front qualification as to what type of employment I’m looking for or if I’m even employed. For example: Presenting me with contract work isn’t as much of a problem if I’m either unemployed or currently working on contract and need something. However, if you determine that say, I’m working at a government job, why are you presenting contract work? Why not have a “permanent” jobs in your back pocket?

    This sort of thing just makes you look incompetent.

    • Faithful,

      Someone must be following your posts closely, since shortly after you posted here, another recruiting genius sent me a contract PM job description for a dead position (months old) at Citibank in lower Manhattan. I found the same job spec advertised by “The Job Network,” Collabera, RMS Computer, Axelon Services, Rishabh Group TSR Consulting, and others. Did I miss any popular sweatshops?? But this genius added a disclaimer:

      “(My Apologies if this email was sent to you in error i.e. not the right fit or skillsets, already employed etc. )”

      Wouldn’t that make you feel better by being spammed by a great apologist?

      ;)

  27. Things I usually do when working with a recruiter:

    * Insist that anyone contacting me about any role send me a copy of the job description. Many seem to get testy when I ask for that before engaging in any lengthy discussion with them.

    * Ask about the role, who it reports to (I’m not expecting a name but a title would be nice), how many are on the team/in the department/etc. If they don’t know — or have to get back to the account manager — I know this exchange is not going to go well. It’s amazing/sad how often a conversation deteriorates because they don’t know anything about the job they’re trying to fill. At that point, I assume that I’m dealing with someone hunched over a laptop in a crowded conference calling candidates whose name popped up when the telemarketing-inspired software they’re running got a hit on a keyword or two. (Why? I’ve been invited to chat in-person at recruiters that have their staff crammed into this sort of setup. Quite sad and I wonder what their turnover rate is.)

    * Avoid talking about compensation during an initial phone contact. (/Especially/ when I haven’t even seen the darned job description.) This really seems to tick off the callers. Too bad. When I resist, I never hear back. That speaks volumes.

    I’ve added the IP address of some of these poor “recruiters” to my spam filtering process that silently drops their emails on the floor. Particularly, the ones who I’ve informed that I’m not interested in relocating or am not qualified for the jobs they’re contacting me about yet continue to contact me about far-flung, short-term contracts that require experience I don’t have. Life’s too short.

Leave a Reply