How to Avoid Unethical Practices

Sep 17, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

When people are stressed and economic pressures rise, both candidates and recruiters are tempted to act in ways that may not be ethical. While I have never met a recruiter who thought of themselves as dishonest or unethical, many candidates feel that they have been told less than the truth and have been disrespected.

We all get so caught up in our own success and survival that we forget to act in the best interests of the candidates, ourselves, and our organization. Almost everyone involved with talent acquisition is squirming under pressure from hiring managers to find qualified candidates and, therefore, are quick to grasp at any solution that offers hope of giving them access to better people. Hence the rapid rise of referral and networking tools and great interest in Internet search, as well as in “poaching” candidates.

Recruiters face pressure to source in ways that may be legal, but not ethical. Discussions about sourcing on ERE, in magazines, and on various blogs over the past months have not been encouraging. I do not believe in or advocate many of the practices that are being suggested. Poaching candidates, stretching the truth, using the Internet in deceitful ways, and “tricking” people to provide information they would otherwise not have given you are unethical. All is NOT fair in war. That is why we have a Geneva Convention and the International War Crimes Tribunal.

While recruiting is far less serious than war, that is no excuse to use patently dishonest and deceitful practices.

Many times it is clear that a practice is illegal or just dishonest, but the real test comes in the “gray” areas. These are where it is possible to make an argument on either side of an issue, and where the best answer is not simple. An example might be discrediting a competitor’s company to make a candidate more likely to accept your offer. Or, it might be in telling a candidate that you have filled a position when you haven’t, to avoid controversy and argument.

Recruiters who use methods they know are deceitful or dishonest do no one a favor. They harm their employer’s reputation and sully their own. Recruiters who are not sure if a practice is wrong or not might do well to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate or the manager on the other side. They might also look at all the options they have and ask which of them does more good than harm. Good ethical practices treat all the parties concerned with dignity and respect and advance the values of the organization. In the long run, it is not important whether you “win” the candidate but whether you have done so with integrity and fairness.

The test of an ethical recruiter comes in part from what candidates say about you and the organization. Do they feel that they were respected, given full information, provided both sides of issues, and their experience was fair? Everyone knows when recruiters are being deceitful or “stealing” employees from competitors by aggressive recruiting methods and high pressure sales. While there may be short-term gains, what are the long-term consequences to your own reputation and that of your organization?

Can you refrain from going after passive candidates with aggressive tactics? Is it possible to avoid using deceit in your conversations with candidates and still be successful? Can you act more as a trusted partner with your candidates and hiring managers?

There are many alternatives to unethical recruiting and to filling talent shortages.

Create a Strong Brand

Rather than go after people with desperation and resort to unethical practices, create a website that is exciting and that compels interest in your organization. No matter what your organization does or how big or small it may be, your organization has unique characteristics that are attractive. The key is to define your target audience very clearly and go after it with messages and promotions that are specific. I see most organizations promoting generic criteria and using generic messages that are not aimed at any particular group. This means that many ignore you, and others (mostly the unqualified) apply in droves. Using tools such as Twitter and the emerging social networking tools encourage transparency as well as relationship-building. Provide information; develop an internal set of practices to guide you and your fellow recruiters and give you ethical guidelines.

Look Inside

Larger organizations have many talented, culturally aligned, and productive employees who would welcome an opportunity to do something different. Leading-edge firms have developed internal systems that allow recruiters to locate people with specific skills within the organization. The systems capture employees’ skills, performance history, education, and interests. These employees are usually passive — not looking for an internal move and not aware of the opportunity. Yet, they are often eager to take a look at that opportunity once they are approached. These systems also allow actively looking employees to add personal information or apply directly for posted positions. When there is a need to fill very highly specialized positions, internal people are frequently the best qualified to do so with the least amount of training.

Short-term Training and Coaching

Many times employees can be given skills more quickly than we think. Cisco, IBM, and countless other organizations have put together short-term, intensive training programs that enabled employees to gain new skills and become productive in a matter of weeks. This is often no longer than it takes to source, screen, interview, and hire a candidate from outside who, after being hired, still needs time to become productive and to learn the new culture.

E-learning, mentoring, and coaching are all ways that employees can be given skills they need quickly while being productive.

Educating Hiring Managers

Times are changing, and with this comes the need for managers to better understand the talent marketplace. It will be harder and harder to find qualified people over the next decade. For some jobs, including certain finance positions, nursing and pharmacy jobs, as well as management position, there will be a crisis. Even aggressive stealing and blatantly unethical practices will probably not meet the needs.

Managers must have a better understanding of these issues and you as a recruiter need to have a sterling reputation for honestly, transparency, and ethical practices. Those qualities will get you far more candidates than deceit and other unethical practices.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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