Ethics and Good Recruiting

It is far too easy to get caught up in our own perspectives, careers, and day-to-day activities that we don’t see alternatives to the problems we face. Instead, we continue to follow traditional approaches, even when they are obviously inadequate.

Almost everyone involved with talent acquisition is squirming under pressure from hiring managers to find more qualified candidates. Recruiters are quick to grasp at any solution that offers hope of giving them access to better people.

Hence, the rapid rise of niche job boards, referral and networking tools, and greatly renewed interest in Internet searching and in “poaching” candidates.

At the same time, recruiters face pressure to source in ways that may be legal but not exactly ethical. Discussions about ethics on ERE and on various blogs over the past year have not been encouraging.

I do not believe in or advocate many of the practices that are being offered. All is NOT fair in war, as the Geneva Convention, the Nuremburg trials, and the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague demonstrate.

It is easy to mark patently dishonest and deceitful practices as unethical; the real test comes in the gray areas. These are where it is not clear if a practice is wrong, such as willfully discrediting a company to make an employee feel that it would be best to move on, that test ethical thinking.

Recruiters who use methods they know are deceitful or dishonest do no one a favor. They harm their employers’ reputations and sully their own. Recruiters who are not sure whether a practice is wrong 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 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.

Assuming you practice ethical recruiting, how can your organization meet its needs for talent? Conventional thinking about careers and a lack of imagination on the part of HR and recruiters is probably contributing to the perception that there is a growing lack of skilled talent available in the workforce. 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 specific messages and promotions.

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.

Use emerging tools such as MySpace to let potential candidates know about you. The U.S. Marine Corps has recently done this and has enjoyed great success. Creating a MySpace profile is simple and brings your organization to hundreds of people through referrals. Sign up for Jobster, a service that makes referrals more effective.

Hire a Recruitment Process Outsourcing Firm

If you are really struggling to attract good people, it may make sense to contract with a recruitment process outsourcing company that can help promote your organization and that has access to a wide community of potential talent.

For smaller organizations, or for those with a highly specialized talent base, using RPO can offer lots of advantages. These firms are staffed with seasoned pros who know their markets and offer service agreements that make it a low-risk proposition. This is better than becoming frustrated to the point that common sense and good ethics get compromised.

Look Inside

Larger organizations have many talented, culturally aligned, and productive employees who would welcome an opportunity to do something different. Leading-edge firms, such as Dell and Schlumberger, have developed internal systems that allow recruiters to locate people with specific skills within the organization.

Article Continues Below

The systems capture employees’ skills, performance history, education, and interests. These employees are usually passive, or 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.

With e-learning, mentoring, and coaching, employees can be given skills they need quickly while being productive.


Sometimes it is a good practice to let people rotate through several jobs so that they acquire at least some skills in many areas. This way they can be moved to fill gaps very quickly and with a minimum of additional education.

Rotations can be done frequently but on a short-term basis so that the impact on the employee’s current position is minimal. It just takes some creative thinking to make this work without much bother. Do this in slower times, when work tends to be less than normal.

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 positions, 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 recruiters need to make the business case for managers approaching talent acquisition from a variety of ways, rather than to simply go outside to meet every need.

Talent acquisition is getting more complicated and requires recruiters who are strategic talent advisors more than just “order takers.” The best recruiters do not need to use unethical practices because they have learned more options and have sold those internally.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at