On Recruiters

Image from Freepik

Note: This post is a draft; work-in-progress.

If you have ever been in the job market looking for the next move on your career, you cannot have failed to notice that job advertisements on various job boards fall in two distinctly different categories: those that disclose the identity of the employer, and those that do not.

As a rule, a job advertisement will not fail to state exactly who the employer is when the employer is doing their own hiring, either direcrly or via an exclusive partnership with a hiring agency. On the other hand, when the job advertisement keeps the identity of the employer a secret, referring to them as "my client", or utilizing subterfuges such as "a well-established company", "a leader in the field", etc., this means that it has been posted by an independently acting recruiter (henceforth simply "recruiter") who does not have an exclusive agreement with the employer. (And the term "my client" is almost always a lie.)

The reason for the secrecy is not understood by most candidates; a common misconception is that some employers wish to remain unidentified when hiring. This is true in such an exceedingly small percentage of cases that it is almost mythological. The true reasons for secrecy in job advertisement are the following:
  • To prevent candidates from bypassing the recruiter and directly contacting the employer.
  • To prevent other recruiters from finding out about the job and creating their own competing job advertisements for it.
  • To post advertisements about jobs that do not actually exist. (You might say, huh? -- I will explain, keep reading.)

Secrecy towards candidates is only half of the story; recruiters also utilize secrecy towards employers. Before submitting the CV of a candidate to an employer, any information that would identify the candidate is redacted, and the employer is only told who the candidate is once the recruiter's fee has been paid. This bizarre policy of secrecy gives recruiters a terrific advantage over all parties that they interact with: they are free to lie, trick and deceive everyone so as to maximize their own gain.

Recruitment is a field which is largely unregulated. This means that if you choose to interact with a recruiter, there is nothing to protect you from being lied to, being manipulated, being treated without any courtesy or decency. In the UK there is some "Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate" which exists purely for the appearances, and does not really have any practical effect. Most other countries do not even pretend to have a regulatory authority. Thus, the job market is like the far west: anything goes, no holds barred, dog eat dog, fastest gun wins.

At the same time, recruitment is a job that can be done by anyone. Of course those with many years of experience know how to do it much better than the newbies, but the fact remains that you do not need any studies to start doing this job, no degree or certification is required. All it takes is the ability to talk to people, use a phone, and maybe a computer. As a result, the job of the recruiter attracts those who do not have any particular skills to speak of, could not accomplish anything useful with their lives, and are looking for a way to make quick and easy money. When asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" no child ever answered "a recruiter". Usually, people doing this job are doing it after having tried other things and failed.

Furthermore, the particular subset of people skills needed for this job is not exactly the most virtuous set of skills imaginable: what counts mostly is the ability to cold-read people, to quickly build fake trust with them, to keep your cards hidden while persuading them to reveal theirs, etc.; in short, to manipulate people. As such, it is not a wonder that the job of the recruiter attracts individuals of questionable character: if only they had passing grades, they would have become lawyers.

So, think about it: this is a profession that anyone can take a stab at without any qualifications; it is unregulated; it systematically and unpretentiously involves secrecy towards all parties involved; and its daily routine involves manipulating people.

Why would anyone ever want to have anything to do with this profession?

Before the time of the Internet, recruiters were somewhat useful because the process of finding candidates involved a lot of work. Nowadays, with all these job boards a few mouse clicks away, one would think that the job of the recruiter should be dead, and everyone should be doing their own hiring; and yet, if you go to a job board, what you see is mostly advertisements by recruiters. The reason why this is happening is because technology has also made the recruiter's job a lot easier: candidates are at any moment just a few clicks away. At the same time, their customary commission of one salary of the candidate they place has not changed.

Since most jobs are posted by recruiters, most people see no option but to interact with recruiters. Once your CV has fallen in the hands of recruiters, it may and may not be used for the job you applied for, but one thing is certain: it will be reused for other jobs without you even knowing it. Not only they spam any company that does any hiring with unsolicited CVs, they also often do this without the knowledge or consent of the candidates.

From all the CVs that they see, companies tend to express interest in only a few, so it does not hurt the recruiter to throw an overabundant number of CVs at the company, including CVs of candidates who are unaware of the fact that their CV is being circulated; it just makes the recruiter look big and well-connected, and nobody will ever discover the deceit because the names are redacted. If a company expresses interest in a CV, the recruiter contacts the candidate and asks them if it would be okay to send their CV to that company, omitting to mention that they have already sent it. If the candidate is uninterested because they happen to be happily employed, the recruiter just tells the company that in the last moment the candidate chose to go work for a different customer of theirs. What is wrong with a little white lie, right?

Most people include on their CV their personal e-mail address and telephone number. This is a big mistake. Once your e-mail address and phone number have fallen in the hands of recruiters, you will keep receiving spam e-mail and cold calls forever. You will be pestered at work, you will be pestered at home, you will be pestered while going out with friends. Even if you tell a recruiter to never call you again, your phone number will stay in their records, so each new colleague of theirs will try their luck with you, and they will be calling from different phones, so there is no single number that you can block. Also, recruiters keep moving from agency to agency, often taking large amounts of data with them, so your contact information will keep spreading, even into neighboring countries.

I hold it as a self-evident axiom that the use of secrecy is in and of itself an unscrupulous practice, and I maintain that it alone suffices to render the entire profession of recruiters immoral. One might object that this is the only way this profession could work, but here is the thing: this profession does not have to work; it does not have to exist; the job market can work just fine without them. Even if recruiters were somehow necessary, if the job market cannot work through any means other than through unscrupulous practices, then we might as well throw in the towel, call this the end of the civilized world, and go back to being hunters-gatherers, because this is not civilized either way.

Besides redacting the name of the employer, recruiters will almost always tamper with the job description itself, in order to make the job more appealing and to remove other details through which one might be able to guess the identity of the employer. When they do this, it is called "sexing up the job description".

That is how an embarrasingly junior position might be transformed into a position with high growth potential, how a fledgling startup might be presented as a rapidly growing company, and how Accountancy, Payroll, and HR Systems might be described as an exciting job opportunity. This is also the reason why many job descriptions are nothing but generic filler that does not really give any useful information about what the job actually entails. That's how you get job descriptions about "working together with stakeholders to implement our business objectives and pursue our strategic plans"

Quite often recruiters make drastic changes to the list of required skills and competencies so that a web search for the keywords will not match the original job advertisement at the employer's website. Of course, very few recruiters know enough about the jobs as to do this tampering intelligently; as a result, a job that may have initially appeared suitable to you may prove to be entirely unsuitable on closer examination.

Sometimes recruiters even change certain hard facts about job positions; for example, recruiters will routinely advertise a job as being located in a certain city, while in fact the job is in a nearby city. When I asked a recruiter why he did this, he said that they do this "to throw off the competition".

If falsifying job descriptions was not unscrupulous enough, recruiters quite often post jobs that do not exist at all. This practice serves them very well in a number of ways:

  • It gathers large numbers of CVs which they use in the following months or even years to bid for real jobs that require similar competencies. (When they contact you they never say "hey, we know you sent your CV for that awesome job, but here is this mediocre job"; they just say "here is this job". If years have passed in the mean time, they might add "please send updated CV.")
  • By posting fake jobs they run no risk of hinting their competitors about the real jobs that they know of, if any.
  • It acts as constant advertisement for their firm on the job boards. (Think about it: they do not advertise anywhere else; their postings on the job boards are virtually all of the exposure they receive; so, the more postings, the better.)

These honey-pot job advertisements usually have fantastically good descriptions along with fantastically high salary indications. The word "fantastically" here is used in its literal sense: belonging to the realm of fantasy.

What is especially problematic with honey-pot job posts is that they will never land you a job interview when you need it; they might land you a job interview when it suits the recruiter.

Seasoned recruiters know all the tricks in the book, so they may be able to make the honey-pot scam work in real time. Or at least try to. I once responded to a very interesting-looking advertisement about a job with a well-known and reputable employer; I spoke with the recruiter on the phone, we went through all the small talk, everything was fine, then she said that the employer was looking to hire someone within the next two weeks, and asked me for my availability. Of course, I had to tell her that I was not available on a two weeks' notice, to which she responded with "oh, that's a pity," immediately followed by "but here are some other jobs that I have --" at which point I had to interrupt her and end the call. You see, no reputable employer would be looking to hire someone on a two weeks' notice, and also, no reputable employer would want to hire a candidate who claims to be available on a two weeks' notice. That was a fake, honey-pot job advertisement.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent a recruiter who is into the habit of falsifying jobs, from falsifying CVs too. The amount of intelligence they apply in this process is about the same as when falsifying job advertisements, (extremely low,) so they are perfectly capable of introducing into your CV various discrepancies that will disqualify you in the eyes of the employer whereas your original unmodified CV might have been fine. Even if they do not make any glaring mistakes, the mere fact that they changed the original means that there is now a danger of misrepresentation; therefore, in the event that a recruiter arranges a job interview between you and an employer, the first thing you must do upon arriving at the interview is to hand the employer a copy of your unmodified CV and ask them to read it right there, in front of you, while you wait. (Also, a very fun thing to do: ask the employer to hand you a copy of your CV as the recruiter gave it to them; chances are, you will be amused. Also a fun thing to ponder about: you are probably legally entitled to demand that it be handed to you.)

Employers that deal with recruiters are not to be trusted. The fact that they choose to handle their recruitment this way gives an idea of how they view human resources and what kind of treatment you can expect if you end up being hired by them. Here is an incident that actually happened to me: I responded to a job advertisement placed by a recruiter; I spoke with her on the phone; after I passed her filters and what not, she revealed the identity of the employer and asked me if I was interested. I said that I was. A couple of days passed without hearing back, so while waiting I decided to directly e-mail the employer asking one very simple thing: to confirm to me that they were in fact working with that particular recruiter. Instead of responding to my request with a simple "yes" or "no" answer, the employer forwarded my e-mail to the recruiter. Then, the recruiter forwarded to me the forwarded e-mail to show me that it had ended up in her hands, and contacted me with an attitude like "what were you trying to accomplish with this?" So, I found myself in the very awkward position of having to appease her, while defend myself and maintaining that I did nothing wrong. Since money is god, at the end of this very unpleasant interaction she was still willing to move forward with my application, but I disappointed her by telling her that I was not interested anymore. You see, I would not want to work for a company that treats prospective candidates like that. Even if it was just a secretarial mistake, I would not want to work for a company that hires airheads as secretaries.

Recruiters do not care about your best interest, nor about the employer's best interest, they only care about their own interest. You might say that this is how this world runs, everyone looks after their own interest, but here is the thing about recruiters: they quite often lack the basic intelligence nessessary to know that their own interest will only be fulfilled if the other two interests are fulfilled first.

Choosing to interact with recruiters is like knowing very little about poker and choosing to try your luck in a game against those doing it for a living.

What can you do?

  • Never react to any job posting that utilises any kind of secrecy.
  • Never react to any job posting that is vaguely worded.
  • Before reacting to a job posting, visit the employer's web site, go to the careers section, and confirm that the job actually exists.
  • State on your CV that it is your intellectual property and that unauthorized modification and circulation are prohibited.
  • Include a throw-away e-mail address on your CV. As soon as you find a job, throw away the address; next time you find yourself looking for a job, create a new throw-away e-mail address.
  • Do not include your phone number in your CV; if someone wants to contact you they can e-mail you.

Mandatory grumpy cat meme -- "Recruiters - I hate them"

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