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If you've been in the white-collar job market for very long, you have likely come across recruiters who exhibit questionable ethics. The most common way I've seen this manifested is when the recruiter oversells you as a candidate, exaggerating your credentials. Then it can be extremely uncomfortable if you are asked about a particular skill that you don't have or at least not to the extent that the recruiter claimed.

The worst instance I've seen is a recruiter that called my office to try and headhunt me. I was out of the office so they used the company directory to find someone else. Then they lied to that person, saying that I was moonlighting for them on a programming project, and asked if there were any other programmers they could be transferred to that could also help them with the "project" I was supposedly doing for them on the side. At first I had no idea what was going on, and it took a while to convince HR and my boss that I wasn't moonlighting against company policy and this was just a recruiter fishing for more programmers to entice out of the company.

Ultimately, karma bit them in the butt when I was promoted to a manager position and became a potential customer for them. I told the exact story above each time their sales people called me looking to place candidates and told them I would never ever work with their company and advised fellow managers against using their firm also.

Luckily I was in a situation to make them regret their unethical behavior, but I'm sure I am in the minority. Does an average job seeker have any recourse when they encounter an unethical recruiter? For example, is there a professional association for recruiters that they can be reported to? Does it do any good to contact the recruiter's company and report them directly?

  • 3
    Is this question about how to deal with them in the matters that have to do with you, or how to pay them back for their bad behavior? I'm not sure I understand why it would matter to you to report them -- I'm guessing you already know that there is no widespread rating system that helps potential candidates know who to avoid. – Nicole Apr 11 '12 at 3:30
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    Mostly whether there is a way to report them to discourage bad behavior. However, I also think it would be constructive to get advice on what to do when you show up for an interview and are asked about your fluency in Italian and Nobel Prize in particle physics that you were previously unaware of. – JohnFx Apr 11 '12 at 3:33
  • "is there a professional association for recruiters that they can be reported to?" - even if so, it is highly likely to be country/state specific – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 11 '18 at 13:11
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As a hiring manager, I have contacted a recruiter's company on two occasions to report behavior that I felt to be unethical or otherwise unacceptable. The first case resulted in the termination of the recruiter and the second resulted in improved training and process.

As a candidate, I've never had an issue working with a recruiter, however, I would contact the company if I did. Further, I only work with firms that have a process in place for me to sign off on all submissions and all resume modifications.

Recruiting firms live and die by their contracts and their contacts. If either one of those can be impacted by the negative or inappropriate behavior of a recruiter, then you should absolutely give them a call and let them know.

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    +1. I worked for a recruiter for a little while. Recruiters need feedback on their employees just like any other type of company. – hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 3:49
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    +1 for "resulted in the termination of the recruiter". Death seems a bit harsh, but it does solve the problem :) – Amadiere Jun 27 '12 at 12:54
  • "As a candidate, I've never had an issue working with a recruiter" ... that you know of! – Grimm The Opiner May 31 '17 at 10:28
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As a candidate, there is not much that you can do other than apologise for the behaviour of the recruiter. As you suggest, what goes around, comes around. The more stupid tricks recruiters pull, the less likely they are to be trusted and the less likely they are to get business in the future.

Anyone who finds themselves in this situation should find that people will be generally understanding if it is explained that there appears to have been some misunderstanding. If you identify that a recruiter has over-sold you, then you just have to explain, apologise for their behaviour and possibly cut the interview short to avoid wasting any more of anyone's time.

As a hiring manager, avoid these recruiters like the plague. They are wasting your time and the time of potential candidates. As Tangurena suggests, a company wide black-list is too good for them.

Whatever your position in this situation, if you really feel strongly about a recruiter, make sure that the recruitment firm knows about the behaviour of it's employees, as Jacob G recommends.

  • As a candidate, I would still worry. Being oversold (or even undersold) by a recruiter leads me to have to spent time going to useless and uncomfortable interviews, time I could spend job hunting for better offers. Or relaxing. Or writing annoyed emails to recruiting firms. I also don't have time to be wasted, even if I am not a manager. – skymningen Feb 10 '17 at 14:02
  • Thanks for the comment @skymningen, I have updated my answer to address some of your points. – Mark Booth Feb 10 '17 at 15:20
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I've never heard of recruiters going to this length, but there's always http://shame.heroku.com/ - it takes anonymously forwarded recruiter spam emails (or other undesirables), and puts them on the shame list.

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Many companies have a "preferred vendor" list. If yours does, then getting them removed from that list means that they can't "sell" your company candidates.

protected by mcknz Sep 11 '18 at 18:13

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