Recruiters Behaving Badly: Does Somebody Need a Time-Out?

By Nanci Lamborn, SPHR and BrightMove Recruiting Software

When we were somewhere between the ages of 3 and 7 years old, we began to recognize the difference between unintentional sins of omission or negligence and the intentional choice to do whatever we jolly well pleased. What spirited adult doesn’t recall at least a small block of time from a childhood of headstrong precociousness being spent in the dreaded time-out chair? I would venture to say that even the word “time-out” evokes certain images for each of us, whether or not we really meant to paint the cat or make sissy’s ponytail go bye-bye. And anyone who has enjoyed watching Brit Jo Frost as ABC’s The Supernanny can certainly respect the behavior altering power of a well executed time-out period.

So can it alter the habits of badly behaved adults as effectively?

Stories abound of late regarding potential employers behaving poorly towards candidates, and job seekers who are warned to use caution with recruiters But go looking for accounts of professional responses to these sorts of corporate behaviors, and the results are non-existent. So here’s a novel concept. What about a professional time out?

Case in point: A company seeks the services of a recruiter for a hard-to-fill position and provides a job description and a clearly budgeted salary range. A few presented candidates miss the mark slightly until the recruiter presents the Pièce de résistance aspirant, with a pricey catch of course, and the employer agrees to consider the superstar even with the recruiter’s clarification that this hire would command a specified chunk of cash over their top limit. But, per the recruiter, “he’s SO worth it.” Fast forward through stellar interviews to what becomes uncomfortable negotiations for everyone, until the company finally learns that Mr. Pièce was actually earning many more chunks above the base need identified by the recruiter and was never really planning to jump ship. So the company feels played by the candidate and very poorly served by the recruiter, with countless hours wasted by everyone involved. If this story sounds all too familiar to you, hopefully it isn’t because you’ve presented your share of Pièces.

So what’s the company to do? One brilliant manager has an ingenious response. The recruiter should be placed in time out. (Collective eyebrows furrow, then raise, and a smile of understanding begins).

The recruiter does indeed deserve an explanation for the punishment. First and foremost, for the very same reason that adults must explain to their younglings exactly what rules were broken to warrant such a penalty, the recruiter must be told plainly (in case of daftness) where the missteps exactly occurred. (In the example situation, there are several; intentionally failing to honor the client’s specified budgetary boundaries, and failing to adequately vet the candidate before presenting). This is also a time for the angry client to do some well-deserved cooling off, during which the recruiter is instructed not to call or refer any candidates or initiate communication of any kind. None. Zilch. Zero. (That’s why it’s called a time-out).

Another beauty of this process is that a properly handled time-out is more professional and probably more effective than a vengeful act of bad-mouthing or holding a heated shouting match or playing a cagey dodging game. And just like a parent welcomes a hopefully now slightly humbled and more obedient child back into their good graces after a time, this isn’t forever unless the recruiter repeats the offense.

So, Recruiters, would anyone say that you need a time out?

Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, is a freelance writer and a senior generalist with a global investment software firm based in Atlanta, GA.


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