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

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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.



  1. Donna on May 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Nanci,

    I am astonished that the scenario you described occurred in the first place.
    Unless the recruiter is a complete idiot, a candidate should never be inserted into a process without knowing the following:
    1.Candidate’s current base salary and total compensation package is with proof by w-2,
    2.Review with candidate of the total comp package of company seeking to fill the position
    3.Most importantly, the recruiter is and always should behave as an extension of their client’s HR department. A recruiter should NEVER EVER put for the a candidate whose motivations for change are based on money along. There are so many was to learn about candidates behaviors thru the preliminary screening process. If the recruiter is good, she/he knows how to learn candidate’s motivations.
    4.Lastly, the hiring company MUST take responsibility for taking the time in their first interview with the candidate (generally a phone interview) to qualify the candidate to review the requirements and the comp plan. Once the candidate acknowledges he understands then and only then they move on into the process.
    5.This is more of a comment, but it is a very stupid recruiter who invests time on a search assignment where compensation is not aligned. No placement, no fee.

    In my opinion, it is not a good practice to wait until the end of a series of interviews to discuss or negotiate salary. And yes, there are times when a company may want to sweeten the pie in the final offer. But only in the situation where recruiter, company, and candidate are aware that they are only a few thousand apart in the comp plan. It should never be the case that they want a Chuck of Cash to make the switch.

    If and when this scenario presents itself, it would indicate very sloppy recruiting practices by both candidate and hiring company. The recruiter should be timed out. NO explanation necessary as it should be self evident; they wasted their client’s valuable time.

    Enjoy the week!

  2. John Perkins on May 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Would definitely seem to be the the thing to do. Seems it would at minimum follow the 3 strike rule. Because of their position I would think that Recruiters would be held to a higher standard anyway. Fun read! John

  3. James Bowerbanks on June 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Dear Nanci

    I read your article with a great deal of interest, especially as I have been a victim of this sort of act , In previous applications through recruitment agencies I have learned of a number of what I term professional interviewees, people who have no intention of taking a post that they have applied for, but continue through the recruitment process “to see how far they will get” even to final interview stage before turning down the job, the level of frustration that this causes and the ill will toward potential employees, who’s recruitment process is often interminable, and, as you point out can leave the candidate wondering why they applied for the position, as if this is how your treated during the recruitment stage how will they treat you as an employee, add to that the general lack of feedback through the process and a little embitterment can creep in.

    Ok, so if I may a comment on recruitment from the other side, I give you a candidate, one of your Pièce de résistance aspirants but an honest one, who actually wants the job. He /she has a wealth of experience having risen to a very senior position with a world renown multinational, his/her job then becomes redundant due to a merger. He she re-evaluates their needs and looks at organisations where they would be able to provide a very good if not excellent standard of service with a view to a long term commitment to the organisation.

    The replies they receive, that they are too big for the organisation, they are over qualified for the position, the prospective employer feels that there will not “be enough in the job to maintain the candidate’s interest”.

    I suppose that my comment is, who wins? Mistrust of reasons abound, the potential employer looses out and the candidate sees another opportunity slip away.

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