I recently got a call from a recruiter who said that he was trying to find a good fit for a company's open position. The recruiter asked me some questions about what I am looking for but said that the company wants to remain confidential until they decide if they want to interview me. Is this normal or could the recruiter simply be fishing for something? I feel as though I shouldn't even bother spending the time talking to this guy if I have no idea what kind of position he is trying to fill, especially if he might be trying to get my resume to pass around without my consent.
Some companies don't want it to be publicly known they are hiring. Perhaps they haven't advertised it even to their own employees.
Perhaps 'ol jim' who they are going to replace doesn't know it yet and they dont want him mistakenly finding out they are interviewing for his position.
Perhaps they don't want their competitors knowing what sort of skillset they are looking for.
Perhaps they don't want their stock prices to drop when the public realises 'Favourite X joe with the brilliant ideas' is retiring to be replaced.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons why they might want to be confidential
Plus this might be a case of the recruiter not wanting to mention it to you in case you go and apply for a job there but not through them, so they lose their signing bonus
Edit: As pointed out by Bethlakshmi in the comments, a recruiter who is hesitant to tell you anything about the company, might be lying and saying the company is confidential just to keep you applying through them.
RhysW's answer does a great job explaining the company perspective but from the perspective of the recruiter:
- If you apply directly to the company, they lose their commission. While some companies will only work with a recruiter any company doing both means the recruiter could very easily lose
- It also prevents you from directly contacting the company with questions/etc and bothering them - which results in the company interacting with the recruiter exclusively
- As Chad says they could easily open up the ability for others to compete with them
- It gives them a sense of control over the process
- It lets the recruiter do the matching on "will you fit this company?" in a way which doesn't cause hurt feelings. If you hear that Company A didn't want to interview you, you may be less inclined to want to interview there in the future for different positions, which limits the recruiters options some
- It forces a level of trust for you towards the recruiter, providing a future basis for future trust on other issues which might be difficult (salary, negotiation, etc) for the recruiter to "seal the deal" over
- It lets them build a portfolio of potential employees without necessarily having to have specific positions available
Note: the overall professionalism/ethicality of some of these can very easily be debated.
Other answers have covered much of this territory, but I'll mention something I've not see in the other answers. Some "spook" agencies in the government (defense and espionage) may not want job candidates to know who they are until they are reasonably sure the candidate can be hired. I was once contacted by a company that was interested in hiring me to do work they couldn't tell me about for an organization they couldn't identify until I had obtained a high level security clearance.
Recruiters and HR also will do this to test the waters -- they do it to see what quality of people will respond and what kind of salaries they are making. Essentially, it's a way to test the market -- especially useful in a market that's changing (for example, the San Francisco Bay Area which is exploding right now...) so they can find out the LOWEST amount they can offer for that position. Sadly, you can spend an hour or two applying online for a job that doesn't even exist.
Is the recruiter working for the company or independently? Frequently with independent recruiters, they don't want the company and the person talking without going through them until they have established a claim to the recruit. Otherwise, the recruit could simply bypass the recruiter and go straight to the company.
Additionally, it may be that the company simply doesn't want people to know they are hiring or there could be security concerns with the hiring process as well (though this is a rarer case).