Desperate Times and Unethical Measures

I am not a recruiter or, as am I more apt to refer to the folks in the profession, a headhunter. I’ve always considered hunting for heads a tough job.

In past lives, I have used recruiters – both contingent and retained, and I haven’t always been the best client. I’d get distracted from the search by what I thought were more pressing issues (like anything is more important than finding the right people). I’m certain I’ve frustrated more than a few recruiters. Most reruiters were good people, worked their butts off and did quality work. But like any profession, one bad experience can taint the whole profession.

A couple of months ago, my wife’s administrative assistant received a call from a woman who identified herself to be calling from the office of the CEO of a local Fortune 100 company. The CEO was a member of my wife’s company’s Board of Directors and the Compensation Committee she works with on a regular basis. The woman on the phone stated that this Board member had some questions about their programs and was therefore requesting a list of the names, phone numbers and email addresses of all the people in my wife’s Compensation and Benefits Department.

Thinking this was a strange request; the administrative assistant relayed the request to my wife who was immediately suspicious. Interestingly, a similar call had been placed to my wife’s boss’ administrative assistant.

My wife made a call to the supposedly inquiring CEO’s office and was told that no such request had been made. At that point, the administrative assistant dialed up the original caller and attempted to clarify who she was. She again stated she was calling on behalf of the Board member and he was right there if she needed to talk to him before sending the requested information.

What a scam! Who was this woman? It turned out she was a recruiter and this was her method for identifying potential recruits.

When my wife told me this story, I had a curious reaction. I was fascinated by the brazen approach. On one hand, pretty ballsy. On the other hand, ethically distasteful. I was surprised as well that the perpetrator was female. More than a few morally bankrupt males have used the fake identity ploy as a “recruiting” strategy in search of a date. I actually expect more from the fairer sex. Should I?. I’m guessing the “readily available” fake CEO put her up to it.

We live in difficult economic times. And, as I said, I’m not a recruiting professional. Is this an instance of “desperate times require desperate measures?” With all the “new fangled” social tools available to employers to identify candidates, do recruiters have to kick it up a notch to distinguish themselves?

I’ve been in this work world for over a quarter century. I get the hiring philosophy that the best candidates are employed and often reside within competitors or companies in parallel industries. Getting to them can be difficult. Having an experienced “hunter” to accelerate the process can be invaluable. I dig creativity and unique approaches but this isn’t that. It taints the profession.

Is this incident just an aberration? Has anyone had similar experiences?

Photo credit iStockPhoto

About the Author

Shaun Emerson

Shaun Emerson is a Partner at Tutto Persona. After 12 years with big companies, he has spent the last 11 years indulging his entrepreneurial spirit by starting two companies and running both a venture-backed and privately funded company. Shaun resides in Glen Ellyn, IL with his wife, a woman in HR, and his three kids. He blogs at Tutto Persona and you can connect with Shaun on Twitter as @shaunemerson and on LinkedIn.

8 Comments

Jamie Cummins

Great Article: There has been a couple of times when I will answer the phone, and the person will state what company they work for and ask if I would be interested in a position with them. I figure I am on company time, and the answer is always no. I don’t think it is right to look for another position while working. There have been times when I say no they ask if I can recommend any of my employees. I don’t want to lose my employees so the answer is always no.

Reply
Susan

That is just deplorable. I can imagine how someone can easily fall prey to this, though. Not everyone would automatically think to verify identities and requests.

As for “expecting more from the fairer sex”, it’s probably not wise to assume that men are morally bankrupt and that women are bastions of morality. No matter their sex, people do things because they think they have to or because they think that’s the only way to achieve their goals.

Reply
Susan

That is just deplorable. I can imagine how someone can easily fall prey to this, though. Not everyone would automatically think to verify identities and requests.

As for “expecting more from the fairer sex”, it’s probably not wise to assume that men are morally bankrupt and that women are bastions of morality. No matter their sex, people do things because they think they have to or because they think that’s the only way to achieve their goals.

Reply
BoeshaneHR

That CEO ended up not being able to hire anyone to replace me, his COO wasn’t able to hire people, and they eventually went out of business. What he did after, I’m not sure.

Reply
TNS Employee Insights

I am currently taking a Leadership and Ethics course as part of my graduate training. Your post really got to me. The subject of ethics is hard to talk about because it makes people uncomfortable, but I appreciate you posting about it. Ethics needs to be the topic of discussion more often so that people get used to thinking about it.

Reply
BoeshaneHR

In a former life I had a CEO order me to utilize this method for recruiting. It was nasty business. After a few calls, I told the CEO there were many other options available and I would not pursue that option any further. Luckily, he did not press me to continue the practice after my refusal.

Kudos to your wife and her admin who suspected something and followed through.

Reply
Karen Masullo

I was just discussing this same subject with an HR friend this morning. She was relating a less than ethical move someone had made, and we were both commiserating over the desperate measures we see being used (don’t get me started on LinkedIn ruses).

Less than ethical approaches have always existed, and during a specifically challenging economic environment, expect to see more.

Fortunately, due-diligence is also easier today than in the past. And than goodness for people like your wife with the experience and maturity to spot a scheme.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *