5 tricks used by unscrupulous recruiters on a global basis

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Is that a CV up your sleeve

Is that a CV up your sleeve? (Photo credit: stevendepolo)

It’s not just financial services recruiters in the UK who are suffering, it’s happening everywhere – even in Asia.

Once the promised land, Asia no longer offers much respite to recruiters fleeing the weary West. Over the past two years Singapore and Hong Kong have become saturated by an influx of start-up firms, typically led by British and Australia managers. “A majority of them don’t have any track record, brand or experienced people, so they are struggling for revenue,” says Gary Lai, managing director, South East Asia, Charterhouse Partnership.

It doesn’t help that many of these start-up recruitment firms in Asia – and probably elsewhere – are rumoured to be hiring cheaper inexperienced consultants who are more aggressive in trying to place candidates and win a fee.

In the circumstances, incidences of recruiter unscrupulousness appear to be rising. Based on feedback from editors of eFinancialCareers sites around the world, this is how some recruitment firms are seeking to plug the revenue gap. As ever, we would like to stress that this behaviour is not ubiquitous – most recruiters know that it makes sense to play nicely.

1. Posing as candidates

We’ve heard reports of this before. Back in 2011, it emerged that some recruitment firms were posting strangely immaculate CVs on CV databases such as that run by eFinancialCareers, and waiting for fellow recruiters to get in touch.  In this way, they were able to ask valuable questions, such as ‘Which bank is advertising this job,” and then pitch for the business themselves.

This still seems to be happening. It may even have evolved into something worse. One recruiter in London says he’s heard of recruiters attend networking events pretending to be candidates. “But it’s a brave person who does that,” he says.

Kyle Blockley, director, KS Consulting, Singapore. A headhunter in the competitive Singaporean private banking market adds that his competitors sometimes call him pretending to be job seekers. “The ‘journeymen’ recruiters, who tout themselves as ‘we’ll do anything’ generalists, are most guilty of this. But I don’t tell them the name of the bank over the phone. I suggest meeting for coffee and a chat, at which point they end the conversation rather quickly.”

2. Posting fake jobs

It’s long been a problem across the industry, but it's possibly becoming more widespread. “I know of recruiters who will post fake jobs to build their internal database,” confesses a US recruiter. Many in the UK would agree that they know of such recruiters too. Another, related trick, is to post illusory jobs with gigantic (illusory) compensation packages attached.

3. Desperately seeking hidden candidates

As we noted last week, the Holy Grail for recruiters remains the discovery of an excellent candidate who hasn’t placed his/her CV anywhere where an in-house banking recruiter may have discovered it already.  This means recruiters can sometimes be found snooping the guest lists of financial services conferences. “There was one recruiter who actually took pictures of the name tags on the check-in table of a client event,” says a US recruiter sanctimoniously.

4. Prising market information from existing candidates

Again, there have been issues with this in the UK in the past. Back in 2010, one recruitment firm began asking candidates to provide two upfront references merely to register on their system. Candidates saw this as an attempt to elicit the names of current colleagues.

A candidate in Singapore says similar practices are now common in Asia. “Before they end the call, they usually ask me the all-important question that I presume is their main purpose: have I gone for any interviews recently and who were they with?”

5. Pitching candidates for the role you’re leaving

This is more opportunistic than unscrupulous. One Sydney-based candidate says the headhunter who was moving her on called to ask if she’d like to see the resumes of candidates who could fill the vacancy she was creating at her current employer..

Additional reporting by Fred Yager and Beecher Tuttle in New York, Paul Clarke in London, and Tessa Bedford in Sydney.

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