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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Haven't Complained About Recruiters Lately

Here is my situation.... I applied for a position, and was interviewed only to never be contacted again after the standard thank you notes were sent.

I've found out that the company I interviewed with is e-mailing people who worked with applicants, but who weren't listed as references. You see, they sent an email to my current company in regards to another applicant. They sent it to someone who replaced this person, asking about his work, and why he left. I was asked about it, and not knowing anything (but secretly noting the email and the context in which it was sent), suggested it be forwarded to HR. We're a small company (less than 50 people), so everyone knew about it.

My worry is that I left my previous position due to problems stemming from my supervisor passing me over for projects, and giving them to others in the group (I was the sole female in a group of 8). I left my position suddenly when finding another position, and giving no notice. I am concerned that this may have been related to the company if they contacted my previous employer, as they did for the fellow whose email I saw.

I know you don't like the "is this legal" question, but I was wondering what I can do to minimize the impact from their contact if I ever have this happen again. I seriously doubt that I want to work for a company that doesn't ask for permission to do this, as I question what other information they obtain without disclosure. I'm considering the previous position a lost cause, even though they are still searching for someone to fill it (I interviewed 2 months ago).

There are numerous things to talk about here. Let's start with the part where we pick on recruiters. NOTIFY YOUR CANDIDATES ABOUT THE STATUS OF THE JOB THEY INTERVIEWED FOR.

Okay. Now I feel better. In today's day of e-mail and voicemail, there is no reason why a recruiter can't take 30 seconds to send a form e-mail or leave a voicemail saying, "Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with us. We will keep your resume on file for one year and will contact you if we have a position we feel potentially matches your skill set." It's cold, it's impersonal, but at least it tells the candidate that they aren't still being considered. And for heaven's sake, if the candidate is still being considered but the bureaucracy is holding things up, tell the person. I'm sure someone else has a better canned e-mail. I'm not a recruiter, after all.

Now, let's talk about contacting people not listed as references. As a candidate, I would hate that. As someone who has seen the unpleasant results of bad hiring, I stand behind it 100%.

In my experience (not true of everyone's experiences, I know), reference checks are a huge waste of time. Why? Because a candidate that is at all competent is not going to give you the name of someone that despises him. He's going to list people who like him. If I don't personally know the reference, how can I judge the accuracy of what is being said? "Bob is a fantastic worker! I wish I had 3 people like Bob working for me." Great. But that tells me squat, other than you like Bob enough to say that.

Conversely, if a recruiter requires a former manager to be listed, what proof do I have that you really were Bob's manager. "Hi, Karen, this is Evil HR Lady. I'm doing a reference check for Bob. When were you his supervisor?" Karen could be a true former boss, or she could be a next door neighbor who is pretending to be a former boss. You really don't know.

But, to contact the company directly--ahh, that removes some of problems. You know you are getting someone that actually worked for Bob's prior company. You don't know if the person you are contacting is rational or not, however. (Of course, you don't ever know this on a reference check unless the person is known to you or is so incredibly crazy that they start screeching into the phone.) The recuiter may actually be able to find out something interesting. "Oh, Bob. Yeah, he was fired right after I got here." Or, "Man, I took Bob's job and I'm never going to be able to live up to his reputation. Everyone still talks about Bob this, and Bob that."

Now, for the record, I think any recruiter that does this at the candidates current company is pond scum. Bob may well be conducting his job search in secret and it is unfair to him and to your company's reputation to pull stunts like that. But a former company seems to me to be fair game.

(And I note that some industries are so close knit that by calling a former company you may as well call the candidates current boss because word spreads like wild fire. But, Bob would know that.)

You want to avoid this going in. You may not be able to. One thing you can do is ask that they contact you before they contact any references, stated or not. You can also ask if they intend to contact people not listed. Of course, this makes it sound like you have something to hide.

The moral of the story is that you never burn bridges (if you can help it--sometimes the bridge is already on fire, and there's not much you can do about it.) People talk and even though you never thought you'd need a reference from some former boss, he may be asked about you anyway.


Alison said...

Yeah, I agree. It's not uncommon for companies to contact people you didn't list as references, for the reasons EHRL states. I'd go so far as to say it's almost standard practice among companies that take references seriously (and don't you want to work for one that does?). It's bad form to do it at your current company since they likely don't know about your job search, and you can do as EHRL suggests and ask they they alert you before the reference check begins (presumably so you can alert your listed references), but you'd send up a big red flag by asking that they only check your listed references since they'd assume it was because you were hiding something.

Rose said...

I once worked for a company where I was forced to leave because the sales manager assaulted me. Maybe someone out there does have a long list of employers who they're on mutually good terms with, but most people don't. Personally, I list my old coworker's phone number as the contact for that company.

It's a bad place to be because you really don't want to bad-mouth a former company because it makes you look bad. "Please don't contact my former company, the sales manager threw a stapler at my head," while true, is just not going to fly.

There has to be some balance in this. Doesn't it count for anything that you can provide a list of managers that can vouch for you?

At the very least, you can hope that your old company is legally savvy enough to not give a reference beyond employment verification.

Anonymous said...

Proud of being an evil recruiter for years before heading into evil generalist territory. Why is it so wrong for me to use my contacts at other companies to find out how an employee "is really like"? That's like saying you can't get opinions from customers that your contractor hasn't approved. Sounds suspicious, right? The key as EHRL mentioned - these are people I know, trust, and can gauge their feedback, not anonymous people I call/email. An applicant's performance and his/her reputation in an organization isn't private information; I'm not digging up medical histories or financial information. Yeah, blah blah and all the legalese involving references and lawsuits.

Andres said...

With most HR departments trained to only give dates of employment and nothing more, recruiters have no choice but to try and get the real scoop on candidates any and every way they can.

Unknown said...

When I did recruitment, I never took "friend" references and spent a lot of time with candidates speaking to them about their former managers and their perception of their work habits. I would ask for direct supervisor names and when I called them, I would call through the company switchboard if they were still with the organization. I would ask the individual for their name and title prior to beginning the screen.

You can get information, its not impossible and I think whether or not folks think they are a waste of time, they can save you far more time if you just ask the right questions. Sometimes you'll hit roadblocks, but if so, you move on. Its usually not a good sign anyway.

Breanne said...

NEVER BURN A BRIDGE...EVER!!!! That is crucial. I was an external recruiter for a few years and can attest that if the recruiter isn't doing back-door references (and I hate that phrase) then they're not a very thorough recruiter. I was recruiting I.T. professionals in a mid-size metropolitan area, so it was pretty easy for me to get back-door references on any candidate.

In addition, I Google'd every candidate, found their blog comments, MySpace pages, FaceBook accounts, LinkedIn profiles, etc. Nothing is sacred except for the current employer. Note to candidates: remove all weed, stripper, and "getting crunk" icons from our MySpace/FaceBook page before starting a job search!!!

Oh...and if a candidate told me they want me to let them know before I do any reference checks on non-listed acquantances, I dropped that candidate like he was hot!!!!

Anonymous said...

Read all these things and learn, jop-seekers... and remember that those of us LOOKING for jobs can and should be just as clever and selective and self-interested, ourselves, in weaseling out whether a potential boss is the type who will throw staplers at our heads. Or the type that might jeopardize one's current employment.

I would also add that the "Never Burn Bridges!" mantra (memorize it!!) is only part of a larger one, which is "Protect Your References." Much as recruiters etc. may dislike it, this (for me) means no longer giving out ANY references in advance, saying instead I'd be DELIGHTED to provide them should I become a finalist.

Anonymous said...

Wow, these are great comments.

Those who quit without notice should have a stamp put on their forehead, so all future employers can be forewarned.

Rodolphe Mortreuil said...

I fully agree with almostgotit about the references. There is no point in giving your references early: ruthless recruiters (there are out there) might misuse them and it is anyway assumed that when the time comes, you will provide them upon request.

Generally speaking, I also agree they are useless anyway.

Anonymous said...

I have done recruitment for the majority of my HR positions. At my current organization, our application has a specific listing for references however in the employment history section, it asks for each employer listed "May we contact this employer for a reference? If no, why not".

If an applicant lists no former supervisors in their reference section but does authorize contacting previous OR current employers, I will do that first. I find their information much more useful in a reference check than three former co-workers. Even a tone of voice or phrasing if being referred to HR can helpful!

I've never contacted an applicant's current employer without permission. That just seems underhanded.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. I agree that you never volunteer more than you have to as a candidate.

However, the HR folks are starting wear on me a bit with this topic. So often we hear HR complain about and/or ridicule the candidate who makes a minor typo on the resume or cover letter. This candidate is also cut immediately. Now, you a distraught that candidates present a "perfect" list of references. A tad bit contradictory. You expect the best foot forward. Don't complain about getting it.

I think what bugs all of us is any instance of being "sneaky." Whether on the candidates part or the hiring company. If you expect candidates to be forthcoming then your paperwork should state (and be verbally reinforced at interviews) that "We use internet resources, private investigators, credit reports, non-applicant supplied contacts at former employers, ouija boards, (and so on, etc.) to research potential hires." Isn't that fair?

I would think that like mandatory drug screening you would get a significant amount of self screening. I will allow for the off chance that I am wrong. I am, after all, an Engineer. ;)

Breanne said...

The engineer- I wish you were right about self-screening. No matter how many times I would reiterate that certain employers would rule out anyone with a misdemeanor or felony....the candidate would still go through with the background check and act shocked when the paperwork came back.

I am kind of curious why everyone hates recruiters, though. In my short-lived career as a recruiter, I felt that they are CRITICAL to the success of a good selection program. Let's face it, hiring managers are neither good sales people nor good interviewers. Internal Recruiters are key there because they fill in where the hiring manager could care less. External Recruiters are important because those are the people who don't find bodies to fill jobs...they find the ROCKSTARS.

Maybe I have a skewed view because I worked for a top notch IT recruiting firm and we only attracted the best of the best, but the fun part of that job was finding someone that the client raved about for years to come. Also, candidates were willing to deal with the "annoyance" of being recruited because they knew our reputation got them a front seat in any candidate race. When you recruit that level of an employee, you better be doing every possible check on that individual or else you're blindly putting your name/reputation on the line.

If you were going to buy a car, would you ask the dealer/former owner what they think...or ask a friend who you trust for unsolicited advice? It's the same for back door references.

Anonymous said...

An SWE going to have to go with 'the engineer' with this one. I went through the trouble of keeping management references dating back to my first SWE job from 1992, if you need, and before I list them I call and make sure they know to expect a call from you and make sure the time-frame works. Sure,
some are still friends too, but, is that not good enough for you
or do you just not trust me? And if you don't trust me, you'd trust your own back-door guys opinion of me even though you don't know anything about the type of relationship I had with him/her?

My experience with recruiters over the last 8 or so years is - on
the hiring side - they deal with the dead-wood ( remember, its MY experience ;). Exactly 0 people from 3 agencies ultimatly used by one of my companies were ever hired - we had to go direct. The next 2 companies didn't even bother with recruiters, we started out direct. And I'd also have to say that, with respect, you don't know how to interview SWEs and that hiring managers actually do. Now most of my experience is with very small( 8+-15+ ppl ) or start-up companies so the hiring manager was also either a director or vp type person. I've never gotten a job where my first contact through a company has been through HR. Never! If I spoke to the tech guys first and then HR I'm OK - things are different and I won't need to answer "tell me about yourself" types of questions. Also I've never gotten a job through a recruiter. Tried quite a few. Got nothing. Most of the jobs I've had have been gotten through networks. The current one...2 months ago I got a call from the CTO of a company who heard that my current contract ended - not 2 days after it ended. We chatted and I'm tele-working again. This was basically through a trade group membership that I was active in and word and my phone number made it his way. I'd suggest to people that they up themselves to a point where recruiters won't have any affect on their employment. Do their best to side-step them and get known with trade groups, their own online projects, open-source project work, whatever.

Seriously, those questions you guys ask. "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" Well, not at your company. And thank for the time you spend with me, been great!

Again, I'm just noting my experience with recruiters. You guys might be different.

Anonymous said...

Poor recruiters get no respect because everyone thinks they can do the same thing. Sure anyone can give someone a job, but did you get the right person? Bitter candidates always assume recruiters are at fault for not giving them the job.

I've had plenty of my technical hiring managers insist on hiring ppl against the advice of me or other recruiters (because technical skills are the only things that matter, right? Anyone? Anyone?). Their tenures were often short-lived, and yes, not because they didn't have right technical skills. If only technical employees understand what makes a good and successful employee is not technical skills alone! Technical skills are sometimes the easiest thing to get (welcome to training!). I've yet to fire someone just for not having the technical skills. I've fired plenty for lying, stealing, not meeting deadlines, lack of communication skills, not playing nice in the sandbox, etc. If a candidate doesn't understand that, then it's no big loss if s/he walks.

Unknown said...

I think the big issue no one has commented on in the never leave abruptly admonitions is the OP seemed to be a victim of sex discrimination by her supervisor. She states "My worry is that I left my previous position due to problems stemming from my supervisor passing me over for projects, and giving them to others in the group (I was the sole female in a group of 8)"

There is an excellent post over at the HR blog the Black Factor which talks about how the extra contributions of Black workers are often passed over or misinterpreted (you put in overtime for a project - it's because you're incompetent and a procrastinator) while any measure of going above and beyond is often praised and rewarded for White workers (they're go-getters that put in a lot of overtime to projects).

I think this can apply to the female in the male workforce as well (have to stay late - it's your girly brain not being as competent as the guys, that's why we don't make you leads on projects).

In an environment where you are constantly demoralized, misinterpreted, and deemed less competent (this is not overt discrimination which can be easily identified btw) what presents itself as an easiest, and maybe unnecessary, solution is leaving as soon as you can. The number of posts I've read about women and minorities feeling better, having anxiety go away, seeing a better view of themselves because they switched jobs away from a boss who is constantly undermining them (or bullying them) is enormous and the OP may have been in that no-win situation.

Unknown said...

sorry in the above post I meant easiest and necessary solution in the last paragraph

Breanne said...

First off, when did race become an issue in this discussion. No one said you shouldn't leave a job if it isn't right for you or if you find a better fit. All I was saying is don't burn a bridge in the process. She could have just as easily given the 2 weeks notice that is standard and respected. I doubt her new employer forced her to start without giving her former employer notice. This isn't about gender, race, disabilities or any other excuse. This is about being curteous, respectful, and professional. You don't have to...but don't be surprised when it comes back to bite you later.

Unknown said...

You misunderstood Mariaelena's comment. She was bringing up the topic of illegal discrimination generally; while she used a race discrimination blog entry, she analogized to sexual discrimination as well.

You do not deal with such situations with a nonconfrontational two weeks' notice. You do not suck it up and curtsey to the good ol' boys with advance notice in the desperate hope they'll bestow a good reference later on.

If I were the OP, I would be quite blunt in other interviews. Should the recruiter ask, "May I contact this former employer?" then the OP should say, "No, and here's the very good reason why not."

Breanne said...

I totally understand the comment about race, but let's be realistic here.we all know people who believe they are being discriminated against when we, as outsiders to the situation, can see that is not the case. I have no way of knowing what the real situation is here, so I will give the OP the benefit of the doubt. I would encourage you to be honest with your next recruiter and explain the situation that caused your early departure. As a recruiter, I would sympathize with the situation and then ask more, did you notify HR of the illegal discrimination, did you file a claim with the EEOC, did you confront your manager with your perceptions, did you seek out coaching so you would be a candidate for the next opportunity, did you try to move internally? All of these questions help me gauge the degree to which the person sticks up for themself, follows HR protocol, and addresses confllict. Here is my personal take...give 2 weeks unless it was bad enough to warrant a call to the EEOC. Always seek resolution internally before cutting and running. The reason I say this is that as a recruiter, I felt like the people I hired were my own employees, and if something negative happens on the job I will always step up for them and seek a resolution. This candidate may not give me the chance to make things right and would just leave without notice. I want candidates I can trust, and it would take a lot for me to trust someone who did not formally address conflict and never sought help and decided to leave without notice. That's just me.

Anonymous said...

Mind you, once someone has seen the ugliness that results when another co-worker follows the company's official policy, it's sometimes better just to run. Although it looks much better on your resume to have given two weeks notice, at some places it's not worth the pain.

Regrettable, of course, and one hopes that that company's culture is known through 'back door' sources.

Bullies tend to target the talented, decent people which are the ones you are looking for, although you may see them in a somewhat shell-shocked state. They'll be grateful to be treated as valuable and valued employees and show it by their hard work- a definite plus!

Unknown said...

I'm glad you get to live in your little bubble where following official policy never backfires, where employers always engage in obvious discrimination instead of being subtle, and where the EEOC has the time and resources to take on all the cases it should.

Having actually been a legal clerk for the EEOC for two years, I know the real corporate world doesn't work that way and that enforcing one's legal rights is not anywhere close to that easy.

Breanne said...

Ouch. No need to be condescending. The simple statement I am trying to make is that giving 2 weeks notice isn't like you are giving up your first born. Do what you want...but be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Anonymous said...

JOB APPLICANTS PLEASE READ !!……I just love the cocky arrogance and bravado of these self-righteous HR Jocks and Recruiters. Especially the ones that talk of how they stick it to the candidate good by using things like “Backdoor References” and other questionable tactics to screw candidates out of jobs. Finding a job is hard now days so why screw someone that may have a family to take care of? To the Candidate …..since these arrogant recruiters love to gloat about sticking it to you, let me tell you how you can turn the tables on them. Most recruiters both Corporate and especially Third Party Recruiters are unaware that they are a “Legal Agent” of the company that hired them and that the company is “Legally Responsible and Liable” for their slimy recruiting tactics.

In “Layman’s Terms” what this means is that if you (the Candidate) get screwed by a slimy recruiter (especially a Third Party Recruiter) be sure to file an EEOC charge against that scumbag and / or the company that they represent. I have included two link for you. The first is some background information on the “Illegal Practices of Recruiters” and the other is a link to were you can file an EEOC complaint.{04626232-1CF7-406B-B4F0-F866DC6C37EF} You should also know that it does not cost you anything to file a complaint and if you are afraid you can legally have a friend file the complaint for you but time is of the essence you only have about 180 days! You will be laughing your butt off when that recruiter gets the screwing that he or she so rightfully deserves. I guarantee you that they will never see it coming!

Imagine the look on the face of the company that hired that sleazy recruiter when the Federal Government calls them up to investigate the tactics of that slimy recruiter. Imagine the look on the face of that Third Party Recruiter when their business goes south because companies won’t hire them anymore. Even if you ultimately do not have a legal case against them you will still succeed in killing that recruiters business because just like recruiters apparently have no problem in relying on “Back Door References” and other “Questionable Sources” to define or maybe even “Stereo Type” who you are as candidate. Companies that hire recruiters have no problem in relying on “Back Door References” and “Questionable Sources” to define who they are as recruiters. So if slimy recruiters have no problem letting you remain in the “Unemployment Line” why not let them gain some experience there themselves.

As one of those slimy recruiters put it in this very blog. Once a company finds out that a recruiter is a potential “Legal Liability” and is causing them to be investigated buy the Federal Government I can assure you that companies across the board will drop that recruiter…Like he was hot!!!!

Breanne said...

slimy count = 5


Anonymous said...

Ask Rosezilla , i am sorry this had to happen to you it happened to me about two years ago too. and i completely agree with you on: "Maybe someone out there does have a long list of employers who they're on mutually good terms with, but most people don't."

SO very true.

Cheers & God bless,

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the recruiter vocation is symptomatic of bigger problems. Parents don't parent, Universities don't teach and the Free Market is utterly corrupt. Our nation is in decline and the worse it gets the more unaccountable, ignorant and expedient people and things become. These traits seem to exemplify not only the soulless recruiter but the candidate alike. Nonetheless, the recruiting industry is a self centered abscess on the corporate body. Bottom line, the people in this industry are motivated by greed, anything else they may claim is pure delusion. They may seem benign but they are the ooze covering a malignant condition, if not outright aiding it. In conclusion we can only hope to rid ourselves of this evil vocation if we first address the underlying causes for it.

Independent Thinker

Andres said...

"...they (recruiters) are the ooze covering a malignant condition... " ROFLMAO!

Anonymous said...

A final afterthought; recruiters can and do keep a large segment of the population from getting work. They're stranglehold on the job market dooms many to chronic unemployment and their actions should be investigated if not indicted. Again the bottom line is they have only their own interests in mind.

Independent Thinker

Breanne said...

Anon- ugh! My Christmas wish is that candidates take responsibility for their own backgrounds, interviewing skills, and lack of marketable skillset. To say recruiters keep people from being hired is absurd. You know they get paid for placing people, right?

Anonymous said...

That's hilarious coming from a person with no skills whatsoever. I could easily replace you and your ilk with a band of trained chimpanzees. Let's face it your only skills are: Red matches Red, Blue matches Blue. The problem is that there are too many of you recruiting turds clogging up access to the job market not to mention lazy HR executives who don't want to earn their salaries. Bottom line, you only look for what's safe and you disregard and suppress the rest. YOU'RE PART OF THE JOB PROBLEM NOT THE SOLUTION!

Independent Thinker