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How Honest Can Recruiters Afford To Be?

By June 25, 20154 Comments

The notion of “no publicity is bad publicity” was severely put to the test by Annette Sleep of O’Neil’s Personnel last weekend.  Telling a candidate for one of her vacancies that she couldn’t represent her to their client because she had children in daycare, and would probably end up taking off too much time in sick leave, unless she developed a back-up plan for when the (potentially) sick child might need to be collected early, she made the front page of the weekend Herald by telling a journalist:

“I thought, ‘Oh dear, this particular employer would not be happy if I considered your application based on [this]’. What I am saying is that kids, no problem, but you better have a plan B because every mother knows that daycare is a hotbed of disease and infection.

“I didn’t turn her away. What I said was, ‘Come back to me when you have sorted out a plan B for the kids and I am more than happy to move this forward’.”

This seems fairly logical, although extremely assumptive, and was followed up with some more pearls of wisdom brutal transparency:

“It’s risk management and clients don’t pay us a handsome fee to send them risky candidates. The candidates don’t pay us a brass razoo. In business you work for the people who pay you.”

Now there’s a few things going on there.  Firstly, the fact that every single recruiter reading this has found themselves in similar situations.  For some of you it will have happened several times already this week.  The trick is how the scenarios are handled and how, as a recruitment industry, it can be handled in a more humane and positive way that doesn’t make us such easy pickings for the anti-recruiter brigades out there.

So.  Hands up those of you who have been briefed on a vacancy by a client who has, with varying degrees of subtlety, made it clear that they want to discriminate against certain candidates and not consider them based on race, gender, schooling or any number of other criteria?  All of you, right?

And hands up those of you who pushed back on the client, or turned down the job brief based on this attempted discrimination?  I can picture a lot of hands being lowered.

The thing is us recruiters only make money by referring the candidates that we think our clients will want to hire.  We talk about wanting to partner with clients, to be truly consultative, and to be experts on the employment market.  But what most of us really are is sycophantic yes men and women pandering to the ill-judged whims of our clients who will only pay us our “handsome fees” if we conspire in their hiring requirements, as misguided as they may be.

But you do have a choice.  In this age of flexible working, technology and diversity awareness, there is unlimited ammunition to help steer clients towards a more enlightened way of thinking.  I’m not saying we should ignore clients’ hiring wishes.  With our contingent recruitment models that will be a path to bankruptcy for sure.  But there is certainly way more scope for us recruiters to help clients realise that, in these times of candidate shortage, there remains access to top talent by thinking outside the box slightly.

Whilst a recruitment agency might not be liable for discrimination because they’re not the actual employer, we surely have a duty of care, in our position, to not assume things of candidates based on their life position.  If a candidate has the skills and experience to do a job well, they should be considered, and leave the “how” they will fulfill their employment contract obligations up to them.

The whole concept of Candidate Experience is a hot topic in the recruitment world right now and we happened to have a presentation around this at our very own #RicePowWow networking event last night… Thanks to everyone that made it along, it was a top night, as ever, and it’s great to see so many people in recruitment seeking ways to improve the way they handle their candidates.

Happy Friday everyone.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • EC says:

    A recruitment can and will be liable for unlawful discrimination in the same way as an employer – see s22 of the Human Rights Act [… it shall be unlawful for an employer, or any person acting or purporting to act on behalf of an employer …].

  • Kirsty Hunt says:

    Did Annette Sleep crawl out from under a rock! I take massive offense to someone who considers a mother not to be capable of managing her work and family life to create a successful career path or business! Of all the times in my career I have never been so time efficient, dedicated and determined in both my business and personal life. Working mothers kick butt!

    Annette crawl back under you rock!