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So I’m in the middle of a bit of a recruiting mess-up:

I was briefly in contact with company A about two years ago. Their HR person contacted me for a possible opportunity with them. I declined as I was not actively looking at that point. I since forgot about the conversation.

Recruiter #1 approached me about ten days ago through LinkedIn. We had a Skype call. He seemed nice overall, however I noticed a strong interest to know about companies I applied to already (allegedly so he could better tailor the companies he offers to put me in contact with). I politely declined to disclose details about my other application processes. He then suggested company A (see above) and company B. I found both interesting, so I agreed he forward my CV to them.

About a week later, Recruiter #2 contacted me. He suggested company A, C and D to me. I declined company A, citing I was already in touch with them (or so I thought) through another recruiter and agreed he forward my details to company C and D. Keep in mind that I had still not remembered that I had been in touch with company A two years ago.

Yesterday, I received emails from company A’s HR person and Recruiter #2, almost in the same minute:

The HR person just politely reminded me that we had been messaging briefly in 2016 and asked whether my situation had since changed and whether I was interested in a job with them now. I replied, asking whether they received my CV/profile from Recruiter #1. No response thus far.

Recruiter #2 wrote that they inquired at company A about me being in contact through another recruiter. He further claimed that his agency is contracted by company A exclusively to recruit for them and that Recruiter #1 had not even forwarded my CV to company A.

Also, I asked Recruiter #1 whether there has been any news from company A or B. He replied that there were no news, but asked whether he should forward my profile „to a lot of customers that we have“. I declined and said that I would be in touch shortly.

Then, I also emailed company B whether they had received my profile from recruiter #1. Also, no response there.

So it’s obvious that at least one of the recruiters is acting shady. It’s either Recruiter #1 basically soliciting to companies that he wrongfully described to me as his „customers“ or Recruiter #2 isn’t entirely truthful about being the exclusive recruiting partner of company A and tries to smear Recruiter #1. Out of my gut feeling, I tend to believe Recruiter #2, but I don’t have any evidence/word from the companies who is telling the truth here.

So finally my questions: How do I find out which recruiter is telling the truth? I’d like to only continue working with those who are honest. Of course, calling company A and/or B’s HR department might clear things up, but I hesitate to inquire any further as I’m afraid this might impair the application process. Is it a common policy with companies to not respond when a candidate that has been introduced by a recruiter contacts them directly?

Also, I obviously should have asked more questions on how the recruiters work and what their relationship with the companies are. Any killer question that I could have asked in order to find out about the recruiters intentions?

I don’t know whether this is of any significance: The whole story is taking place in a European city. I’m a software engineer.

Edit (8 days later): So meanwhile I've had a phone interview with company A's HR manager. He confirmed they hadn't received anything from recruiter #1. I then confronted recruiter #1 asking for clarification. He came up with some BS that they've not contacted HR, but instead hiring managers directly, bypassing HR. As this sounded even more fishy to me (and I was right in my assumption that they were soliciting my profile), I asked recruiter #1 to delete my details from their database.

  • this is really confusing and boring. just ask someone what's up – bharal Apr 18 '18 at 22:30
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    Sorry to hear my question didn't entertain you. That wasn't the purpose of me posting here, though. Could you elaborate which part you found confusing, so I can edit my question? – user86140 Apr 19 '18 at 9:03
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Talk to HR at Company A.

Since you have already been in communication with Company A, I don't think this should be an issue. You can email, though a phone call might be more effective.

Hi [HR Person], I was hoping you could help me clear up some confusion. I'm currently talking to two recruiters about applying to your company. The first recruiter, Company X, should have submitted my resume to you last week. Have you received that yet?

The second recruiter, Company Y, said that they have an exclusive recruitment contract with your company, though I have told him not to submit anything to you at this time, as I don't want to have multiple applications floating around. Is this true that you have an exclusive agreement with them?

To be clear, I am very interested in working at Company A, but I want to make sure I'm talking to the right people and going through the proper channels.

If you can get your questions answered from Company A, this should tell you which recruiters are being truthful. If neither is being truthful, you can always continue to apply directly to Company A. As for the Companies B, C, and D, I would then feel confident in ending my relationship with the recruiters and applying directly to the other companies as well.

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    Precisely this. The easiest way to find the truth is to get it from the source. – Steve-O Apr 18 '18 at 13:31
  • I actually had an interview with company A's HR manager in which I asked for clarification. See my edit on the question. – user86140 Apr 26 '18 at 12:54
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1. If you’re interested in Company A, resume the conversation from 2016 and do not attempt to involve recruiters.

You have a previous relationship with them, (as an employee nonetheless!) and you’ve already talked about future employment.

2. Stop seeking to clarify whether either recruiter is telling the truth.

If you’re asked who contacted you first, just be open about the truth and don’t hide anything. If Company A wants to hire you, it’s not your responsibility to provide a judgment about this matter.

2 (Part B). Understand that recruiters are not primarily incentivized to do what’s best for you.

Recruiters play a competitive game of “find the best talent and be the first to share their information.” They’re primarily incentivized to get credit for referring talent to their customers. Fortunately, in many scenarios this overlaps with your best interest. But it also makes for some awkward interactions/situations. (Like the one you’re in.)

For example, they might tell you about a company and then say, “But let us contact them for you, you know... to go through the proper channels.” In reality, they mean, “Let us prove that we found you first so we get paid if you get hired.” I think if they’re truly the ones who connected you with the company and made you aware of the position, it’s the right thing to do to play along.

I’m not saying recruiters are bad or enemies. I’m not saying there aren’t kind, ethical, all around good recruiters. But you need to be aware that there’s this “dance” going on in the background. Sometimes they are subtly trying to influence you not to screw things up for them, because you hold a lot of power.

I imagine recruiters’ incentives can sure make it tempting to stretch the truth sometimes. Both of the recruiters might have stretched the truth in this case.

In Summary

Recruiters benefit from you, and you (potentially) benefit from them. To maintain this “symbiotic” relationship, ignore these “shady” actions because they will happen sometimes.

Treat each “to their face” (i.e. in emails) as if you trust them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But do not play a game with the truth. If they’re being deceptive and it puts you in a problematic position, you should be able to fix it by just telling the truth. Any decent company won’t punish you for the potentially shady behavior of your recruiters.

Edit: Since you're confident one recruiter is outright lying, ask the recruiters and HR department and cut ties with the one you don't trust

I understand and relate to the personal "no-tolerance" policy. I would caution you that sometimes things aren't as they seem. That said, if you really don't want to work with the recruiter any more just tell them so. "I sense that you haven't been fully truthful, so I'm no longer comfortable working with you. I was already in talks with Company A before you contacted me, so I'll continue those talks. Thanks, and have a nice day."

If you only want to cut off the lying party and you're not sure which one is lying, simply go right there with them: "I've spoken with this other recruiter who said X. It seems clear that one of you is lying. Can you give me evidence that you're being truthful with me? Because I'm really uncomfortable working with a recruiter who would lie to me."

You can also go to Company A HR to get more evidence about what's true. (Per David K's answer.)

  • Paul, I think you've given a very wise advice to not follow up on finding out who isn't truthful, in favor of a possibly more positive application outcome. However, in my opinion, the recruiters didn't do a dance, nor did they stretch the truth. - They outright lied to me, at least one of them did. And this is something I don't want to tolerate, even if it may be the norm in the recruiting business. I want to let the lying party know that I don't approve of such behavior and I want to stop working with them. – user86140 Apr 18 '18 at 15:40
  • @user86140 Thank you for clarifying that you perceive this is full-on deception. I added to the end of my answer addressing this. – Paul Statezny Apr 18 '18 at 21:35

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