It’s almost a rite of passage for a banker to fall foul of a recruiter. I’d even go so far as to say that you haven’t really cut your teeth in the City if this hasn’t happened to you yet.
Sure, there are a few exemplary recruiters out there who genuinely care about their candidates, but most are fairly cut-throat. It’s a classic example of Pareto’s Rule: 80% of the good work done by recruiters is performed by the top 20% of them. My experience suggests they rest are not just pretty awful at their jobs but have a tendency to play fast and loose with ethical standards.
Instead of writing yet another critical article about headhunters, I’ve decided to share my advice on how to protect yourself against the bad ones. If you’re one of the good guys, pat yourself on the back, and jog on. If not, be warned. Your candidates are about to strike back.
Here are four examples of bad behaviour, based on my own experiences, and what has happened to friends of mine, and how to deal with it if it happens to you:
Annoying Habit #1: Trying to find out about people in your team
What happens: You get a call from Ronny the recruiter claiming to have been impressed by your Linkedin profile. He proceeds to pump you for information about your colleagues’ performance and rankings, last years’ bonuses and whether they’re looking to leave.
Solution: Whilst it’s strangely satisfying to hang up, there’s another option. Just give them false information. For example, try. the na
me of someone who was fired in the past for gross misconduct or who had a notorious reputation.
Annoying Habit #2: Fishing for info on other roles you're interviewing for
What happens: Recruiter claims they have a juicy job but that they need to know all about the other roles you're already interviewing for. Finding out about other mandates is gold dust for them, so they pretend not to want to send you to a firm you’re already meeting in order to dredge up potential new commissions. Of course, protecting the confidentiality of their clients, Data Protection Act (blah, blah, blah) means that they can’t just tell you straight out about the opportunity they are apparently considering you for.
Solution: Just ask them to name the role. After all, if they hold the golden client relationship or are mandated to place the right candidate in the role, they're bullet proof - you can't go behind their backs and therefore they won't endanger their fee.
Annoying Habit #3: They try to punt you around opportunistic job opportunities
What happens: We all know what our ideal role is, and how much flexibility we are willing to show. And then there are the roles which you don’t have a snowflake’s hope in hell of getting. Increasingly though, candidates are prepared to try anything out of desperation (jobs outside one’s field, based abroad etc).
Solution: Don't interview for them - it's a waste of everybody's time, except for the recruiter, who has the most limited downside in this trade: "oh well, we tried" he’ll tell both you and the hiring manager.
Annoying Habit #4: Doing your boss’ dirty work
What happens: You get a call offering you the chance to interview for a “once in a life-time job”. The more you talk it through, the more it becomes clear that the real purpose of the call is to find out if you're interviewing elsewhere. After all, if you’re desperate to find out more about this job, it probably indicates that you’re looking to move jobs. This will then get passed on to your boss with a verbal agreement that the same recruiter will get the mandate replacing you.
Solution: Just keep tight-lipped. Tell them “I’m open-minded. It would be pretty unwise of me not to be aware of market conditions”. In the unlikely event that the role is genuine, sounding too desperate won't help your negotiating position later on. On the other hand, it sounds naive to tell them you're definitely not interested - your bosses will expect you to be in the market, looking, and will respect you less (and under-pay you) if you're not.
The author is a London-based banker who snapped after one too many recruiting cold-calls