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I was looking for a job in software development and I was pleased when in one day I had three potential phone interviews with the promise of emails containing job spec, company spec etc from the recruiters. The jobs and companies sounded similar but different enough that I was not suspicious.


When I started to receive these emails I discovered that all 3 were for the same job for the same company. I was not sure how to deal with this as each of the three recruiters had a form to sign that stated that only they would represent me to this company.

I decided on the recruiter who had been most helpful and I liked most, and then proceeded to tell the other recruiters the situation and to request that they remove my CV from consideration.

Both recruiters gave me a huge loss of commission inspired lecture about my unprofessionalism in attempting to play recruiters off each other and how they would now black list me from their books.

Furthermore one also demanded to know who the company I had chosen to work with was which I refused to tell them as I did not feel it was their business.

I then politely told both recruiters that I had made my decision, I would take their comments into consideration and to metaphorically and politely bite me.

I was really REALLY annoyed at this point as no recruiter I have ever worked with has given the name of the company outright, and the descriptions given to me did not make it obvious that the jobs were the same.

My question is, what should I have done? did I do correctly? what were the other options you might suggest?

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The only 'unprofessionalism' in this story is on their side, not yours. They are clearly not able to unemotionally handle a coincidence like this. Everything you needed to say was said, leave it at that. The blacklisting threat is another sign of unprofessionality, because it's probably untrue (can you imagine them maintaining blacklists?), and it reduces their pool of potential candidates by 1. – Jan Doggen Mar 20 '14 at 15:07
Look at it this way: now you have some recruiters to put on your "blacklist". – Eric Wilson Mar 20 '14 at 15:10
You acted perfectly correctly. I am in no way sticking up for them but their frustration and behaviour toward you will be coming purely from a loss of commission. When the next suitable role comes up, it will all be forgotten and they will speak to you as if this incident never happened. You are purely a commission cheque to them (as we all are) – Mike Mar 20 '14 at 15:25
One minor suggestion is that I would not have been so honest with the "losing" recruiters. A simple "Thanks, I'm not interested, please remove my CV" would be sufficient especially from a cold call. Oh, and don't believe that they will blacklist you. Recruiters that would pull these shenanigans would try to place Hitler if they thought they could make a buck off him. [Sorry to invoke Godwin's Law] – Ed Griebel Mar 20 '14 at 18:02
It would be funny if the three recruiters turned out to be the same person with three different aliases. – Lie Ryan Mar 21 '14 at 2:23
up vote 35 down vote accepted

My question is, what should I have done? did I do correctly? what were the other options you might suggest?

You did exactly what I have done many times in the past, except that I've never signed an "exclusive" without first having a relationship with the recruiter. (I have an agency that I've used for a long time. When job hunting, I am willing to be exclusive to them for while, since I know them well, and they know me well. That's not something I do with just any agency).

You could also tell the spurned recruiters - "Next time, tell me the name of the company when you first contact me. I promise to immediately let you know if I'm already a candidate for that company through another recruiter. That way, we can both avoid wasting our time." Recruiters don't like to have their time wasted - neither do I.

Another trick I've used in the past when I don't know the hiring company is to do a Google search using phrases from the job description I was given. In every single case, significant portions of the job description I was given and/or company description matched exactly something on the company's site. In every case, I could easily determine who was doing the actual hiring.

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So do recruiters regularly use the same job description when advertising jobs? I shall try engooglifying (my word) such adverts in the future and see what I come up with. – Steven Wood Mar 20 '14 at 15:14
@StevenWood - I have known of recruitment companies who have seen another recruiters advert, worked out who the client is and then created an advert of their own with a view to contacting the client with a "ready made list of candidates" as a means to getting in with that client. I used to think it was employers using many recruiters to spread the net wide but this was a real eye-opener to the ways of the murky world – Mike Mar 20 '14 at 15:27
I am marking your answer as correct as The tips I think will be be the most useful to me. The other answers all had good merit however and I have voted up where appropriate – Steven Wood Mar 20 '14 at 15:29
Some companies have their own standard descriptions they use for job titles rather than the needs of the company. Since these usually roughly match up. Then sometimes find out that the specific requirements are not a match because of this... but they brought in new candidates for their roladex so it is a net benefit. – Chad Mar 20 '14 at 16:29
Great advise and what's worked for me is to tell the others that the preferred one was the first to name the client, there is usually an honour system where first is the winner. Also the googling works both ways, I've also successfully identified candidates when the agency has tried to obfuscate the CVs (esp when they're cold calling). – The Wandering Dev Manager Mar 21 '14 at 15:44

The first thing the recruiter should have done is disclose the name of the client as soon as he determines that you are a legitimate potential applicant. However, if the recruiter doesn't do this, then you should immediately ask him or her (don't you want to know where you would be working?).

Don't be surprised if he/she gives you a quick 1-2 minute basic screen (e.g. if you are a QA engineer - confirm which testing frameworks you have worked in) just to make sure that your resume is accurate. Many firms post fake resumes just to gain insight (confidence trick) into who the client is and then try to "steal" the job from the original recruiter, which is why recruiters are reluctant to share the client name until they have verified that you are a legitimate candidate.

Taking calls just to find out the name of the client can eat up a lot of time and frustration. I've found OnContracting to be a useful resource for finding out which clients use which staffing firms. They are only in Seattle and SF Bay Area though :-(

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One way you could have avoided this is to always get the name of the company before you agree to let yourself be put forward. If you had done this, then you could the second recruiter to get you an interview that you were already talking to that company. It's also a good idea, because there are companies you might not want to work at - or alternatively you might have already applied to that company on your own. I was at a seminar on 'working with recruiters' last week, and it was one of the things they emphasized. Obviously you have to play fair and not apply for the position yourself once the recruiter has found it for you.

Given the situation you found yourself in, I don't actually see much of an alternative strategy. Remind the recruiters that the whole situation would have been avoided if they had told you the company name.

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I have never been able to get the name of the hiring company out of a recruiter. They always make some excuse like "I have to protect the confidentiality of my clients." Of course what they are really protecting is their commission check. – stannius Jun 2 '15 at 15:15
@stannius Have you ever actually got a good job from a recruiter who refused to tell you the company name? I just decline to have my name put forward unless they tell me. There might be a couple of cases, such as a 'stealth mode startup' where I would agree to it. – DJClayworth Jun 2 '15 at 15:20
no, I can't say that I have! – stannius Jun 2 '15 at 15:23

From the sound of it you have been professional and they have not, its always hard to say from hearing about things after the fact though.

You haven't done anything wrong here, but something to consider for the future is how you can phrase things to present the best image.

For example consider:

"Thanks for the phone interview but I'm going with a different recruiter for the job"


"Thanks for the phone interview but I just discovered that what I thought were different jobs are actually the same job through different recruiters. To be fair I'm going with the first recruiter to contact me about it so cannot continue further with you."

The first phrasing is ambiguous. Why are you going with that recruiter? Who put you in touch with that recruiter? Were you stringing along multiple recruiters to increase your chances of being put forwards? etc.

With the second phrasing its a bit longer but its much clearer. You just found out, you didn't do it deliberately, and also it gives a neutral "non blaming" reason for why you picked one recruiter over the others.

In this sort of sensitive situation perception can make a big difference.

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Next time just tell the recruiters you don't wish to use that you don't think you'll be a good fit for the role.

You can pick any reason you like (except, of course, that you've chosen to use another recruiter). Recruiters rarely have any idea of what the technical requirements are for a role, and they're not going to hate you if you tell them you don't want to go forward for some unspecified reason.

They will, of course, try to strong-arm you, because that is their job. So don't give them any reason to.

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Won't this lead to more trouble if the OP actually gets and accepts the job? Then it will look like they google'd the job description and applied directly, going around the recruiter. – stannius Jun 2 '15 at 15:17

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