In-house Recruiters – behaviours and ethics, improvements needed

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Whenever in-house recruiting practitioners come together online or in person you can bet your house the conversation will soon turn to the use of recruitment agencies and soon thereafter to how bad or unethical they usually are.  Some of the more entertaining discussions in the online communities I am a member of are full of anecdotes of bad practice, lack of integrity, stupidity…..well the list goes on. Sadly the comments are all too true, frequent and similar in nature, so it is hardly surprising that all agencies good or bad tend to get grouped together as bad.


However on a number of occasions recently I have been party to some discussions and comments from the other perspective; those made by recruitment agencies about the issues they have with HR, in-house recruiters or hiring managers.  Some of them are the expected moans about an inability to sell, usually coming from a blatant lack of understanding for their customers and not worth the consideration, others however deserve much more.


Whilst the in-house recruiters might enjoy “agency bashing” as a frequent activity, the agency sales people do have some genuine reasons to “bash” back.    I give you a mashup of a couple of incidents from earlier this year, as an example of one of really poor behaviour.  Sadly the in-house recruiters involved are members of The FIRM and yes they still are, in the hope that they will learn from others.  Discussions have been had.


An agency is briefed on a role by an employer about a specific vacancy, asked to find suitable applicants and submit CVs accordingly.  The agency supplies CVs to the inhouse Recruitment Manager as requested, in accordance with procedures.  The Recruitment Manager contacts the candidates directly and attempts to bypass the agency. 


Because this is a mashup of incidents, much of the detail from each is omitted, including the names of all parties, but you get the gist.


Let’s be clear on this, if the agency has been asked to provide CVs for a particular role and responds accordingly I cannot think of any justification why this kind of behaviour is acceptable. You should be ashamed. 


I’d be interested to hear if anyone can try to justify it.  This is also I am sure, just one of many moans or genuine complaints that could be aimed at in-house recruiters.


Many in-house practitioners generally take the high moral ground when it comes to ethics and professionalism and become quite partisan in either promoting or defending that position, myself included, yet I am all too aware that there is merit in what the agencies say and based on the above I am sure few would disagree.   A couple of years ago I presented to an audience of over 100 inhouse recruiters and used the words “you are not as good as you think you are”.  I had learned that at the time as a result of my own, then recent, job hunting experiences. As a result of the growth of the in-house recruiting function in the last two years I believe this to still be the case today, more than ever. 


To be able to do our jobs properly we have to act with integrity. This is true when dealing with everyone in the candidate supply chain, no matter how they are sourced.  To behave any other way is not only a mistake, but so damaging to your recruitment brand and to your own personal reputation.  Even if you don’t have your own personal code of conduct, your company should without doubt. 


I am not saying you have to deal with recruitment agencies, however I am saying that if you chose to, then doing so with the highest levels of professionalism and honesty can only be a good thing.  I would hope that members of The FIRM think and behave the same way. 


I welcome all comments and thoughts on this one

    • Anon Recruiter
    • September 8th, 2012

    Nice blog post Gary.

    In-house recruiters directly contacting applicants aside I recently had a CV rejected for a very hard to fill role due to the in-house recruiter having sent them a LinkedIn request 6 months ago.

    Apparently this mean’t the applicant was “known” to them despite the candidate never having contact with the company.

    Surprise, surprise the candidate recieves an email half an hour later…

    Obviously the candidate wasn’t stupid and instantly understood what the company was trying to do.

    The result, he felt the company to be unprofessional and underhand. He hasn’t replied to them.

    • Jacob Sten Madsen
    • September 8th, 2012

    As majority of in-house people come from agency background themselves, they of all people ought to know the game and have if not sympathy then at least an understanding of both sides. As such it ought not to be that difficult to ‘handle’ whatever situation in a professional and ethical manner ensuring both parties gain or at least go about this from a perspective of mutual understanding and respects. As with so much else the skill lie in how things are done, and myself being of agency background I hope I have by now learned how to deal with any agency contact (whether on PSL or those that throw out email en masse hoping for someone biting their bait) in a manner that fall under the categories of being ethical and professional. Fact is this is neither difficult, time consuming nor requiring much effort. It is about procedure, about knowing what you want and what criteria you set and then expressing these in a clear manner so that an agency understand and accept without being treated like 3rd rate citizens.
    It is about showing decency and understanding and playing by best practice rules, and that is if the will is there not difficult.

    • Oli Urpi
    • September 10th, 2012

    Gary – good post and in my opinion this whole issue about bad practice has little to do with whether a recruiter is working for an agency or in-house.
    There is a real snobbery towards agencies that doesn’t anybody any favours. We should be trying to raise the profile of recruitment across the board and as Jacob points out most of us came from an agency background.

  1. I think one of the problems the entire recruitment industry has suffered from over the past 10 years or so is a decline in the overall standard of recruiters – something that is also now starting to manifest itself in the inhouse sector.

    The ease at which people can now be sourced has contributed to a decline in the effort that is put into actually attracting candidates to jobs – if only because they think that it’s now just a numbers game because there is easier access to candidates with same-sector experience.

    In other words, recruiters across the board have become less effective at sales.

    There is a wealth of real recruitment talent out there that learned their craft pre-internet. Hire more of those and both sides of this recruitment divide would, I think, start to see an upturn in their sales credibility and ethics.

    • Heledd Gwilym
    • September 10th, 2012

    As an in-house recruiter who has come from an agency background, I agree with Jacob above in that we all ought to know better! I have to say that I wouldn’t personally dream of contacting a candidate directly when they have been submitted by an agency and agree with you Gary – there is no justification for this kind of behaviour.
    Let’s be honest here – recruitment agencies do generally have a bad reputation, unfortunately due to a small number of consultants with the morals of an alley cat (and who go on to be a contestant on The Apprentice!). However there are also in-house recruiters with the same morals out there but they seemingly get away with it for whatever reason.
    The problem we all have at the moment however is that it’s all about those little £££ signs and the pressure that brings, be it getting your placement or saving your company some money by recruiting directly. At the risk of sounding ‘fluffy’ we all need to work together with the candidate ultimately in mind. Underhand tactics rarely work out in the long term because let’s face it, the world of recruitment is such a small one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some relationships with agencies that have turned sour over the last few years but I also have a list as long as my arm of agencies and consultants that I have a very good working relationship with. They do a fantastic job and quite frankly, I couldn’t do without them.
    People in glass houses and all that…..!

  2. Thanks for bringing some balance to this age old debate Gary.

    That said, I’m yet to be convinced it’s as straight forward as an agency versus in-house situation. But it IS about the dynamics and operating models of each that influence to a large degree. It would also seem to me, that it is about good people behaving with integrity and those in it for themselves without appreciating that in this recruitment world it’s peoples lives and careers you are dealing with. That in itself should be seen by all as a huge, huge privilege.

    However, it does then in turn boil down to a couple of important elements. Firstly, barriers to entry remain universally low for pretty much any Tom, Dick and Harry to join many a dodgy recruiter and until the self proclaimed industry bodies do something about this then it is likely to continue in it’s uncanny knack of attracting it’s fair share of chancers. In-house HR / Recruitment functions more often than not seem to apply more rigour around who and how they hire their own people and from the outside looking in I sense it is probably seen as a more desirable destination for the more career minded.

    Secondly, I think that too many agencies out there are consistently offering what are frankly s*** salaries (and in some cases no base salary) with a reliance on commission. This is only going to encourage poor practice. Individual commission structures will frequently influence a recruiter in their behaviour and decision making. Agencies should pay decent salaries and rely less on commission structures and then they should begin to see an upturn in quality of people that they can attract to their organisations and begin to at least dilute some of the salesy and macho behaviour I witness out there from time to time.

  3. Great Post Gary- In my opinion this issue of bad practice has little to do with whether a recruiter is working for an agency or in-house, moreover decline in the overall standard of recruiters is also now starting to manifest itself in the inhouse sector.

  4. Gary, respect for a great post and as you say it works both ways. Your line “To be able to do our jobs properly we have to act with integrity” goes both for agency recruiters, in-house, clients, everyone. Clients won’t work with agencies that don’t and we won’t stand for clients or in house teams who don’t either. In fact recently I stopped working with some clients who did not act with integrity; it’s a two way thing.

  1. September 17th, 2012

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