How to Fix the Crisis in Recruiting Ethics


There’s a crisis in recruiting ethics, and its massive. An incident recently reported by The Daily Mail illustrates a slice of the dilemma facing the industry. One weekday morning while traveling on the London Underground along with lots of other bleary-eyed commuters, a disgruntled man cursed at a man who he believed was standing in his way as he exited the train. Little did he realize that the person who fell victim to his rude behaviour was the recruiter he was on his way to meet about a job opportunity. When the candidate arrived at the appointment, he did not recognise the recruiter from the earlier incident, but the recruiter recognized him. The recruiter probed a bit asking lot of tube related questions until the man made the connection. Next, the recruiter proceeded to tweet the incident with little thought of the ethics of revealing the bad behaviour, even if anonymously, of one of his potential clients. As a result, The Daily Mail came calling for an article. The recruiter granted The Daily Mail an interview with little thought of how talking to the press about an incident with a client was unprofessional.

The Daily Mail is now on a search to uncover the candidate’s identity, which can potentially break the expected confidentiality. It raises questions of potential lawsuits and other negative consequences. The recruiter is oblivious that any of his actions are questionable, unprofessional or jeopardise his reputation with potential clients. The incident highlights a number of problems with recruiters stemming in large part from the short-term nature of the relationship in which the job seeker is viewed as just another number.

For a myriad of reasons, the recruiting process is just plain broken.

For a myriad of reasons, the recruiting process is just plain broken. The first and probably most glaringly obvious reason is due to the fact that recruiters do not have a long-term stake in the talent they place. Recruiters are under pressure to close the deal with little incentive to operate from the perspective of the long-term best interest of all parties concerned. The recruiting process is a mill. Churning out candidate after candidate with little attachment to how the placement impacts the candidate’s career in the long run or the company for that matter. It’s a one shot deal. The recruiting process lacks incentive to care about the long term success of the company and the candidate from a big picture perspective. The bottom line: it’s about closing a deal, often at any cost, to get the commission and move on to the next one. The traditional recruiting business model neither serves the best interests of recruiters, nor the companies and talent that they support.

The recruiting process is a mill. Churning out candidate after candidate with little attachment to how the placement impacts the candidate’s career in the long run or the company for that matter.

Beginning with being a candidate in the 90’s through 20 + years of industry experience, I’ve observed the recruiting process has become a bit like the showroom of the used car salesman who parades the inventory while hiding the blemishes, and then with a wink and a handshake quickly closes the deal before anyone is the wiser. If the candidate or the company is shopping for a Mercedes, but all the recruiter has are BMW’s, he’ll sell the BMW disguised as offering the same value as the Mercedes. Like the used car salesman, the end result creates bad feelings all around with lots of sketchy behaviour taking place. The laundry list of questionable recruiting ethics includes: re-writing resumes to hide red flags, making up positions to source for candidates, falsifying information, misrepresenting a company to a candidate and vice versa, exaggerating the salary, putting pressure on the company and the potential new hire to hurry up and make a decision, submitting resumes of candidates they haven’t personally vetted or been granted permission to share, and much more.

The competitive nature of recruiting fosters shortsighted decision making to achieve the immediate win. But the fact remains that over the long term, the current business model is damaging to everyone including the recruiter. Obsessed with closing the deal to scoop up the commission creates a cutthroat environment that results in a myriad of unethical business practices. The crisis in recruiting ethics is driven by a system that does not reward good behaviour. To correct the lack of ethics, the organisational dynamics need to be changed. It’s human nature to play by the rules of the playground. Change the rules required to win, and the behaviour changes accordingly. Recruiters need to have a long-term stake in the success of the talent they work with as well as the companies.

Recruiters need to have a long-term stake in the success of the talent they work with as well as the companies.

It’s the exact scenario I avoid like the plague. When I created FORWARD, my own painful experience had already taught me that I needed to build a different kind of business model for clients, candidates and the industry at large. I was interested in not just placing talent, but in truly understanding the challenges and opportunities the client faced, and repairing a badly broken system by working with clients end-to-end. Working with candidates from end-to-end is why I call my team Human Capital Developers, not recruiters. We don’t just recruit, we build relationships with both talent and organisations serving them over a span of years, not six months on a job search. I forged ahead to create an ethical transparent recruiting and coaching process that supports the interests of companies and talent over time, not just a cut and run assignment that abandons the client and talent abruptly.

I forged ahead to create an ethical transparent recruiting and coaching process that supports the interests of companies and talent over time, not just a cut and run assignment that abandons the client and talent abruptly.

Coaching is a vital part of my business model end-to-end. Supporting people in becoming the best version of their self is extremely rewarding, and it requires a lot of hard work and time for all parties. When a candidate comes to me, I can see that with a little tweaking, shifting of behaviours and some diligent effort they can move forward further. To me it’s a far more rewarding process to engage in human capital development then just placing talent in a position and waving goodbye. It’s a similar effect when I work with companies. I’m developing human capital, not just placing people in slots or one size fits all boxes.

I’m developing human capital, not just placing people in slots or one size fits all boxes.

Curating the unique talents of the people I work with and supporting them to meet their professional goals is hugely rewarding. My success hinges on ethical behaviour. While I made these decisions consciously because it’s just how I choose to conduct myself, imagine how different the industry would look if everyone’s success hinged on a long-term stake and ethical behaviour. Classes and certificates in recruiting ethics can’t fix the industry. The problem isn’t so much the individuals as it is the organisational dynamics that encourage a lot of problematic behaviour in order to be monetarily successful. The business model has to change to support recruiters in being able to invest in their clients, have the hard conversations, ask the tough questions and support people in becoming their best selves. The system needs to supports practices engaged in human capital development not “job seekers” as anonymous numbers needed to fill in slots x,y and z at Super Acme Tech Company. When these changes happen, then the whole industry will be able to move FORWARD into a business practice that naturally embodies recruiting ethics.

Caroline Stokes is founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions.  FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.

For further information on FORWARD, international talent acquisition + first 90 days coaching, leadership coaching and team coaching go to Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Facebook