Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Insulting Candidates Is Not In The Purview Of A Recruiter

Recently, a senior executive candidate told me about a recruiter who thought he/she was being helpful and, instead, was insulting.  The candidate had had the misfortune of choosing the wrong company several times in a row and had three or four one year jobs; all her companies were well known with good reputations; the candidate had no idea before joining these companies that she was not a “fit”.  The recruiter told her that she had ruined her career, which had otherwise been stellar.  What good can come out of insulting a candidate?  Did the recruiter think she was giving good advice or was the recruiter merely using her position to be a bully?

If a recruiter wants to give positive career advice, that is fine.  But it has to be advice that can be followed and that is actionable.  Telling someone that they have ruined their career is both untrue and unnecessary.

Over the years, I have had candidates tell me about being insulted, bullied and put down by recruiters.  That certainly runs contrary to my philosophy.  If, as a recruiter I don’t like someone, I am polite to thank them for their time.  I tell them I will call when I have something appropriate for them.  They go into my data base with appropriate comments.  Occasionally, I am actually able to place them.  The wonderful thing about LinkedIn is that it allows me to see how people develop and grow. 

Sometimes people who start out poorly end up doing fabulously. 

Years ago, I was flabbergasted when a candidate who had worked for only small companies, told me that a recruiter said to him, “Why should I help you?  You have third world credentials.”  The candidate was about 27 years old at the time.  Today he is an EVP of a major ad agency.  We are all not so lucky as to get jobs at the best places right out of college. There is no point to insulting someone.

Before I grew my beard fully, I had a fairly heavy beard.  By the end of the day, I had “five o’clock shadow”.  A recruiter told me that he would only represent me if I shaved twice a day.  Give me a break!

I once hired a recruiter who at the time I offered her a job, worked for another recruiter who was infamous for insulting candidates.  In an effort to get this candidate to turn me down and stay at her firm, the recruiter showed her colors by saying, “You’re too stupid to work for him”  The candidate joined me and became a very successful recruiter. There is just no need to insult people.

When people are actively looking for a job they are vulnerable. Doing anything other than being a good listener, asking probing questions and being polite is to take advantage of the candidate’s weakness.  Any recruiter who does that to you should be taken off your list.


  1. Great read Paul. I was once unemployed for a year and received a job offer through a recruiter at a company where I knew from interviewing I was not a fit. The recruiter said to me I would be stupid not to take this role as being i have been out so long I am now going to be considered unemployable. Luckily I didn't listen to her advice.

    1. I hear stories like that and it makes my blood boil. Thank you for sharing.

    2. I hear stories like that and it makes my blood boil. Thank you for sharing.

    3. Being that my field is Human Resources me too.

  2. In the course of my almost 40 year career, I’ve met and worked with about 50 recruiters. Some of them to find new talent for my account groups; some to help me when I was “looking”; and others who tried to pull me out of my current position with a potential offer of even better prospects for me. And altogether, I found most of them highly professional, courteous, and thoughtful.

    But when I read this article from “Gumby” about mean and insulting recruiters, one name came immediately to mind. And lest I be sued for libel or slander, let’s just generically call him “Herman” – the worst of the worst (Paul will know to whom I’m referring.)

    That said, everyone – whether candidate or recruiter - should always remember that RESPECT is a two-way street. Not just because today’s Account Executive may be tomorrow’s agency EVP or President, but that today’s agency AE may be tomorrow’s client-side CMO or President. Which is to say, what goes around comes around … because “elephants” never forget.

    1. Anon - yes, I know who it is. And at least one of the items mentioned in this post was about him. So unnecessary. And you are totally right, respect goes both ways. The problem is that many candidates only care about getting jobs, especially if they are unhappy or out of work, so they bypass the recruiter's rudeness.

  3. I was surprised by this column. Guess I've been fortunate in that all the recruiters I've met have been courteous and respectful. But none found me the opportunities that you have, Paul!

  4. Like the person in your example, I've been in roles that at the time were great opportunities, but (for a variety of reasons) unfortunately didn't last as I'd hoped they would.

    I've been told not only by recruiters, but also hiring managers that I'm a "job hopper" and nobody will hire a job hopper.

    I always try to put a positive spin on this, stating how I got to work for several great organizations, during my time there I made significant improvements and enhancements and have been fortunate to learn something from each and every opportunity, no matter how long or short it was.

    What I don't get is that these people are so short sighted that they don't realize that one day I may be the decision maker in which firms to hire as well as what people to hire and believe me, I won't soon forget who helped and who didn't.

    1. Hillary, While I haven't seen your resume, I strongly doubt that you are unemployable. In my 30+ years of recruiting I don't think I've ever said that to a candidate; Kama especially these days where employer mentality is, "rent an employee." If an HR person who has an actual job or controls jobs, says that to you that you are unemployable, it is because they don't know how to sell a candidate to their own people. If a recruiter says that to you, it means that they don't have the right relationships with their clients, where they can say to the client "I'm very comfortable with this candidate; her reasons for changing jobs check out." It probably also just means that they email resumes with no explanation or follow up phone call. To me, that is not recruiting.


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