Lessons from the Ethics Panel at ER Expo

In my time in the recruiting space, I have learned that there is one topic that routinely incites the masses: ethics in recruiting. The recent “Ethics in Recruiting” panel at the ER Expo in San Diego was an enlightening experience that will set the stage for years of discussion and debate in our industry. The Players The first panel on ethics in recruiting at ERE consisted of:

  • David Gebler, a noted and respected ethics expert and president of Working Values.
  • Heather Hamilton, staffing programs manager at Microsoft, and a former staffing firm recruiter. As you may recall, Heather put out a very well-written opinion piece about the topic.
  • Michael Homula, director of talent acquisition at Quicken Loans and a former staffing-firm recruiter who was cited in recent articles on aggressive recruiting tactics — and the only staffing director I know who reports to the CEO.
  • Jeff Hunter, an industry veteran and current director of talent technology at Electronic Arts, who has also published strong and well-articulated opinions on the subject of ethics.
  • …and me, Dave Lefkow, a former staffing-firm recruiter, recruiting manager, industry consultant (the genius who forgot his wallet in Seattle but somehow made it to San Diego with no ID). In the past, I’ve vehemently defended ERE’s right to publish materials on inflammatory ethics-related topics.

Even though it was the last topic on the agenda, the room was packed with roughly 200 people. And despite some opinions to the contrary, I believe we had a diversity of backgrounds — three former staffing-firm recruiters, industry veterans, a current staffing director, a staffing programs manager, and a technology director. Notably missing ó and I’m sure ERE learned from this experience, being the first panel on this topic — was a current third-party recruiter. Audience participation in the discussion was highly encouraged, although I would estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the audience consisted of in-house recruiters. It’s also worth noting that we did not position ourselves as ethics experts, but just participants in the community discussion around this topic.

Launching the Panel

David Gebler opened by discussing what ethics are and are not. Ethics are not to be confused with morals. Instead, they are a set of standards that guide our behavior. To illustrate this point, he gave the example of the mafia as an organization with structured ethics but few morals. In the mafia, there are very clearly defined standards and guidelines for behavior related to stakeholders (although there are few when dealing with people outside of this circle). Simply because they have ethics does not make them moral, however — quite the contrary. David also warned of the danger of not defining where boundaries are, as demonstrated by Enron and WorldCom. Contrary to what you may assume, ethical lapses are not always examples of bad people doing bad things. Very often, environments are created that allow and sometimes encourage good people to behave badly. That’s how small problems can multiply into big ones. The steroids scandal in baseball also shows that not defining or operationalizing ethical guidelines to reduce gray areas can have negative consequences.

The Discussion

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All of the panelists were in agreement that the conversation we are having on ethics in recruiting is long overdue. Publicly, there was very little disagreement among all of the participants in the discussion (audience or panel). There seemed to be universal agreement that lying to get information was not ethical, potentially illegal in some cases, and not behavior that was encouraged ó although there were participants that admitted doing this in the past. In retrospect, I realize that not everyone really agrees on these topics, in principle or in practice. For various reasons, I don’t think that anyone in the audience or on the panel felt comfortable publicly admitting to things like ruse tactics. It’s quite possible that some of their private opinions and activities might tell a different story. After the panel, one attendee said he was emailing his team during the discussion ó and they responded that employing some of the disputed tactics were what they did every day. So here’s a possible suggestion for the next panel to broaden the discussion: Invite an individual or two to the panel who will go on record advocating controversial tactics, or have people anonymously and privately record their feelings to discuss with the panel. While David Gebler was responsible for moderating the panel, there was very active audience discussion. Some of the highlights from the discussion:

  • Heather Hamilton and Michael Homula agreeing on something!
  • Michael Homula defending his record but admitting mistakes.
  • Steve Fogarty at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide on a third-party recruiter working for a competing PR firm, who told the receptionist that he needed to speak with the biopharma PR team about a potential RFP, and when connected, immediately discussed job opportunities. We didn’t hear the end of that story; hopefully, Steve can comment at the end of this article on the actions taken by the employees and the net result for that recruiter.
  • Where ethics stop and bad taste begins.
  • Whether an industry-wide set of ethical guidelines would help or hurt the industry.
  • Recruiting from partners, or even just asking them if they know people.
  • Nancy Gray-Starkebaum of NGS Talent brought up a very interesting point: Is it disingenuous for us to slap non-competes on our own employees, but recruit directly from competitors who don’t have non-competes?
  • CEOs who call third-party recruiters or name-gatherers to “do their dirty work” ó the work that they see as unethical for their own recruiters to do.
  • Much talk about the effect of deceptive tactics on a company’s employer brand and a recruiter’s reputation.

I sincerely hope that we on the panel gave people different and interesting perspectives on these important issues. I could give you the actual opinions we had on each of the topics above, but I won’t for a simple reason: I don’t think it should be up to others to tell you the difference between right and wrong or good and bad behavior in your recruiting efforts or your organization. As David Gebler aptly pointed out, ethics involve making value decisions between positive and negative outcomes as they relate to your unique situation.

My Final Takeaways

As we speed towards an innovation-driven economy where attracting and maximizing the return on human capital is a business imperative, recruiting is assuming a much more visible and important position in most organizations. As such, this is an ideal time to rethink the core values that guide our recruiting teams’ behaviors. I applaud ERE for bringing the ethics issue to the fore, and hope that more people begin the exercise of defining their boundaries as a result. As a point of reference, I asked how many people in the 200-person audience had defined a clear set of ethical guidelines for their recruiting staff: I counted three people who raised their hands. The conversation on ethics in recruiting has clearly just begun.

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


31 Comments on “Lessons from the Ethics Panel at ER Expo

  1. Mary,
    that is truly a great response – re trading resumes – as a TPR I do work with trading partners, but do prefer to have permission from the Candidate before hand before submitting to these individuals.

    Have I slipped up on this, yes on occassion I have in the Past. But I truly make it a habit that when I speak to candidates, I do make it known to them who I am working with, and who they will be submitted to and do I have their permission.

    I think your views explain the reason well enough.

  2. Dave,

    Question about your article—

    You listed as one of the discussion topics:

    ‘Whether an industry-wide set of ethical guidelines would help or hurt the industry.’

    Then, later:

    ‘I could give you the actual opinions we had on each of the topics above, but I won’t for a simple reason: I don’t think it should be up to others to tell you the difference between right and wrong or good and bad behavior in your recruiting efforts or your organization.’

    Is it then correct that I take your stance to be that ethical guidelines are not helpful to the industry, or are you merely not reporting the opinions because they are strictly preliminary?

    Regardless, I suspect others would also be interested in hearing what the talking points were, to get a sense of what types of arguments people are presenting.

    Your opening line is definitely valid:

    ‘In my time in the recruiting space, I have learned that there is one topic that routinely incites the masses: ethics in recruiting.’

    Interested in hearing your reply,

  3. Many months ago I spoke with Jim Dalton about engaging a particular recruiting leader in a discussion about just the topic brought up by Nancy Gray-Starkebaum: enforcing a non-compete on an employee (and claiming tortous interference) while at the same time engaging executive search consultants to recruit executives from other companies.

    The company employing this recruiting leader was involved in a well-known case some years back (s/he was not with this company back then) that revolved around ‘predatory hiring’ from the company while the company was also hiring executives from other competitors via search consultants. I just figured that s/he would have some insight into the relationship back then and how it framed the way in which the company conducts recruiting these days.

    S/he felt the issue was old and not important enough to discuss in an ERE-like Forum.

    [The case was settled amicably and believe it or not, the company and the search firm continued to do business with each other]

    You know what? I suspect that many of the public proclamations of being ethical are done for the camera; behind closed doors, on the phone, in a crunch with an open req sheet of 52 positions per recruiter and I’ll wager many of these same recruiters sing another tune.

    Another angle…just where did this moniker of being unethical come from? Consider what we do for a living – we tell people, ‘No, we’re not going to hire you’ (yes, we say ‘No’ far more than we say ‘Yes’). Our ‘No’s’ become magnified by the sheer number of times our profession rejects people seeking a job – and eventually, we’re branded ‘headhunters’ (not meant in it’s original form as a flattering tag) and even worse. Pretty soon what’s forgotten is our original purpose – to source and recruit people who will give an some type of advantage to another company.

    In any transaction in the free-market system, someone always wins and someone always loses. Somewhere along the lines, someone also decided to blame the messenger (the recruiter) instead of improving the product (the organization, the job, the manager).

    Incidentally, kudos to Lefkow for calling a range of people before the panel to solicit their views; hopefully, the product was better off for it.

  4. Brian –

    You may have missed some of the back and forth in the blogosphere – we as panelists are not positioning ourselves as the experts in the field of ethics (David Gebler excluded). Our goal was to begin the discussion on ethics, not dictate our personal ethics to everyone else.

    I’m also not saying that I believe that an industry-wide set of ethics couldn’t be beneficial. It may be worth investigating further, but not without taking into account that having a code of ethics doesn’t stop unethical behavior completely and expanding the pros/cons arguments beyond this small forum of panelists and participants.

    As I concluded in the article, we’re still at a very early stage in this discussion.


  5. Dave – Thanks so much on your great summary to the panel discussion on ethics!

    Several very good points were raised and I, too, am pleased that this discussion took place.

    Brian ? per my memory (take it for what it is) the main points raised were in reference to: lying to get past the front line, contacting competitors’ employees; recruiting/hiring key personnel which may cause harm to the competitor?s business; and simply contacting someone at work on work time vs personal time.

    From the management perspective, we need to ensure that our employees are thriving in their job at their workplace. As Jeff Hunter from EA pointed out, ‘we should be recruiting our own employees every day’. Of course the best hires will come from our own industry and most likely from our competitors. And of course, that works for our competitors, too. This is America for goodness sake, and we should be ‘free to move about the country’ as we choose.

    I appreciated hearing that the lying and sneaking in to an organization was considered unethical. Let’s be straight about who we are and what we are doing. Heck, networking is all about reaching out to make contact with others, and one does not need to breach any ?ethical? behavior when the information is given voluntarily. We are going to find the names and contacts of people one way or another: let’s just be honest about how we do it.

    My question for the group that was not discussed is: What is our opinion on trading or selling contacts and more pointedly resumes?

    Although it happens between recruiters and there is even a site dedicated to this practice, to me, that’s where I draw the line. I almost always opt out of that option when it’s presented on sales activites. If I want to be contacted, I’ll give you my info. However, I do not necessarily want my contact info (personally or professionally) traded or sold. Even more so, I would be offended to know that although I submitted my resume to one company or recruiter for a specific job that my resume has been sold for external use. I treat my applicants the same way. But that’s just me.

    To all of you – What do you think about trading or selling contacts and resumes??


    (the microphone delegator)

  6. Ethics in Recruiting? What a joke! Recruitment is a ‘zero sum’ game i.e. if you win, I lose. There is no happy ‘win-win’ situation. If you want to hire the best people for the role then you do whatever it takes to get those people. Your management and stakehlders expect no less. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because if everyone else is acting in this manner you must as well to level the playing field, and so the race to the bottom begins!
    The answer is not an ethical code for recruiters because all it takes is one to act outside the code and the whole thing falls.

    For example take a 3rd party recruiter who relys on placing people to pay the mortgage. Their only goal is to get people placed in whatever job they can. That’s what the management expect and that’s what they must deliver to the exclusion of all ethics, any sense of corporate social responsibility and any concern for the people they place or the clients they work with. That’s the reality. You can dress up the public perception in all the ethical PR you want but if you don’t make the placements you don’t keep your job.

    I’m not sure what the answer is but I believe it starts with a far more fundamental look at corporate social responsibility and the lassez faire capitalist model that encourages this behaviour. When profit is King, it makes the rules and sets the ethics. How much profit is enough?

  7. There?s a saying, ?that which is never examined or discussed can not be understood.?

    Jon Huntsman sets the stage for a practical discussion of ethics in his recently acclaimed book, ?Winners Never Cheat? defining what it means to be ethical, with his comment, ?We are not always required by law to do what is right and proper. Decency and generosity, for instance, carry no legal mandate?Most ethical dilemmas boil down to the color gray.? But he cautions, ?Shades of gray are almost always outside the bounds of propriety.?

    I agree with Gebler that ethics are not the same as morals; but there is an association between them; which is why many people probably confuse the two as one-in-the-same.

    Behaving ethically is associated with having courage. It?s my feeling, in more than just a rhetorical sense, that ?Moral Courage? is becoming harder to find these days. Empirically, I think it?s somehow tied to the disquieting trend, where more-and-more, people appear to be ambivalent about following?or simply ignore their ?Moral Compass?. But why? Iain Benson, Executive Director for the ?Centre for Cultural Renewal? in his paper ?Are ‘Values’ the Same as Virtues??, wrote, ?What has not yet been sufficiently noted is that this ‘values’ language has gradually overtaken the place previously occupied by the more robust framework of virtue and character education.? He explained further that the tendency to ?reduce the moral order to a question of merely personal preference?, making ?values? interchangeable with ?virtues?, has had serious consequences.

    Jon Huntsman feels the same saying that ?a leader?s integrity and an organization?s values and patterns of behavior toward either internal or external stakeholders of any enterprise, regardless of size, have enormous consequence.?

    There?s a reason that ?ethics in recruiting?, or any other field, incites the masses. Ethics are context sensitive. Ethics issues are grounded in personal character and organizational standards. But they aren?t entirely absolute either as political, business, education, cultural, social, economic, class structure, sciences, legal, government, and military affairs of a civilization all influence the norms of the time. Moreover, few people take the time to examine or to understand ethics. Simply put the masses respond to ethical issues and questions on the basis of raw emotion, interpreted through individual prisms of morality, rather than upon the defined standards of an industry or profession. In short most discussions are little more than argumentative brawls of hyperbole based on personal opinion and the general standard of the Golden Rule; which offers a good foundation but is no substitute for context.

    If you take a look at most Large Complex Enterprises (LCE) in the public or private sector, they have well-documented codes of ethics including standards for business practices, professional conduct, and statements of social responsibility. Those that don?t are rapidly developing them.

    There has, however, been precious little research or scrutiny on the ways that the smaller entrepreneurial organizations, typical of the staffing industry, develop and maintain responsible strategies, guidelines, policies and commitment for communicating relevant standards of ethical conduct and for regulating compliance in business practices and professional conduct for either internal or external stakeholders.

    When it comes to Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), industry and professional trade associations have been the answer to filling this void by creating codes of ethics, business practices and professional standards of conduct?model guidelines that members of a trade or profession agree to uphold as a condition of membership.

    Even so, the reality is that most association Codes evolve with little structure and are developed, not for some higher purpose, but out of some economic self-interest, or under the threat of regulatory pressure as a defense against government intrusion. Moreover, associations rarely update their Code of Ethics, or ?Standards of Business Practices and Professional Conduct. In fact they rarely discuss them except as philosophical exercise. Worse still, some association guidelines are little more than a mission statement defining the purpose that the organization exists.

    Other issues that create challenges are the voluntary nature, the loose affiliation of association members . Limited funding, especially in down economic-times causes problems, and creates obstacles to protecting stakeholders. In the absence of funding, meaningful leverage that a policy should provide for enforcement is jeopardized. As with money concerns, legal concerns often deter robust development, enhancement and ultimately enforcement of Codes. Linkage of purpose and continuity of standards are splintered where multiple associations, aligned by various niche affiliations, form separate industry, business, trade, or professional groups.

    Organizations that have developed fairly comprehensive codes frequently neglect their fiduciary responsibility to update and link all stakeholders to a common purpose and reciprocal standards.

    Finally, having policies that dictate ethics and standards to guide business and professional behavior that apply to all is critical to the ongoing success of any organization, profession, or industry. Codes are important in helping to create awareness of stakeholder interaction, for recognizing mutual interdependence, acknowledging the influence of various stakeholders, regulating linkages between influential relationships and in establishing enforcement guidelines to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, employee commitment, and stakeholder confidence. And finally, keeping all stakeholders engaged in an on going dialog is essential if standards are to be meaningful and be understood.

    As Gebler apparently suggested, its absolutely essential to operationalize ethical boundaries that define both business practices and professional conduct. Some organizations have well defined standards, and others are half-baked to or worse, have none. When every organization makes the commitment to clearly define the ethical standards, business practices and professional conduct expectations for every stakeholder; and every stakeholder is required to understand, and uphold the unique ethical obligations of their organization, as a condition of either membership or participation, the dialog on ethical issues will be much more enlightening.

    A great resource to start with is the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), (http://www.ethics.org/whycode.html), that defines a Code of Conduct as an important open disclosure of principles regarding the way an organization operates reflecting its commitment to employees, business partners and the community. It?s a well-written and thoughtful behavioral reference and central guide for communicating a clear linkage between an organizations mission and values, with standards of professional conduct. It?s a complement to relevant standards, policies and rules not a substitute. It?s a tool to encourage discussions of ethical dilemmas and improve member relationships. Finally, it?s an ?invaluable opportunity for responsible organizations to create a positive public identity for themselves which can lead to a more supportive political and regulatory environment and an increased level of public confidence and trust among important constituencies and stakeholders.?

    As a final note, there?s no question that a conversation on ethics in recruiting, or even in a more general way about making value decisions between positive and negative outcomes is long overdue. Arguments on principles and/or practices in terms of right and wrong, or good and bad will turn to constructive dialog when the dialog is formed around existing standards.

  8. Brandon,
    great post, and I mean awesome – but I will like to say what I think is wrong with all of this –

    What about the responsibilty to the Candidates? I mean Really – where are we messing up here?

    Look, I Finally opened up my blog W/O Daniel Parillo due to 2 specific posts on the Linked In Power Forum on Yahoo Groups – See we have People complaining about the lack of integrity and ethics over there –

    I responded- since then the e-mails I received off line was amazing (the responses wer positive online as well) – Wow, from Recruiters and Just regular Alike – so Yes, I put it out on the Blog
    One is entitled Candidate Rights During the Recruiting Process

    To see The posts and what people think of us It started with a post Called Rude recruiter Tricks (started Mar.14) -the next post was Need a Mentor – now it is evolving into Ethics – taking a stand on Ethics – Yes the interest Is out there as well – Our Public is asking and Yes our public is paying attention

    one has to be a member but here is the group

    My responses can be found here (don’t want to take up space on ERE)- they are controversial, they will upset some.. But maybe it REALLY IS time we discuss this subject?

    http://opinions.ahirexpectation.com/2006/03/21/have-we-lost-focus.aspx – Have we lost focus

    http://opinions.ahirexpectation.com/2006/03/21/candidate-rights-in-the-recruiting-process.aspx – Candidate Rights in the Recruiting Process

  9. Brandon, you?re a hard act to follow. I agree absolutely that most of the discussions on the subject have devolved into ?argumentative brawls of hyperbole based on personal opinion? here on the boards and rarely has someone spoken as elegantly on the subject as you just did. It?s a most noble endeavor you have taken up ? good luck in quieting the shrill crowds. If we all would try to match your cogent delivery of our thoughts on the subject we might just get somewhere!

    ‘If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.’ ~ Kurt Lewin

  10. I didn’t even know the practice existed, except within preferred client lists of major job boards.

    Mary,it is the source of the resume which would be the determining factor as to whether it is proper to let a resume out of your control.

    If the resume was the product of internet research and found for ‘free’ ie. candidate’s own web page, or a truly ‘free’ resume posting board, I don’t think there would be a problem with selling your labor(gathering the list) to someone else.

    However, if the resume is from a board with a fee, then you are reselling someone’s else’s efforts; same thing if you forwarded resumes from recruiters, (in the latter instance, you would still be liable for the placement fee under many contracts.)

    If a candidate sent the resume to your company directly, then I believe you have an ethical imperative to maintain confidentiality and only forward the resume with the candidate’s expressed permission. Within my office, we send their resume only after the candidate has requested the action and is interested in pursuing a specific job or organization.

    Resumes contain a person’s professional life history and should not be treated as trading cards, unless the candidate wishes them to be.

    You might ask yourself: ‘If I prominently posted notice of our intentions to sell or trade submitted resumes at the company’s discretion, how would it affect the amount of resumes I receive ?’ If you don’t think it would hurt, then do just that; make it an Expressed Policy of which everyone is aware up front. Put that way, it probably doesn’t sound so good….

    Happy Hunting!

  11. I?m responding to Dave?s comment on the scenario I presented during the panel. After the third party recruiter called our employee she was immediately turned off by the fact that the recruiter lied. She sent a note to her manager which intern was sent to our talent acquisition team. Whenever we are notified by an employee who has been contacted by a third party recruiter we typically do a quick huddle to determine if any defensive action should be taken. In this case we felt it was appropriate to take action given the nature of how this recruiter approached us. We took a four tiered approach on this one:

    1. The first action was to notify the agency leadership team. Our agency?s leaders are very responsive to market fluctuations and will consider actions to help improve retention or reinforce staffing efforts. If they know our employees are being heavily targeted their attention/support for staffing efforts typically increases. We also wanted them to be aware of the actions we were taking so there were no surprises at the end of the day.

    2. We decided to contact the third party recruiting firm and the agency that hired them to explain that this recruiter lied to get through the front door. We have made several attempts to call the third party firm and they have not called us back (go figure). We have not reached out to the agency yet but this will most likely happen this week.

    3. We decided to present this scenario (without naming names) to one of our leading industry publications. We have a contact there who often writes about HR/Staffing issues in the PR industry. Instead of taking a passive approach we are attempting to bring this discussion to the forefront and raise the bar for the industry. Just like the ERE panel we felt the discussion needs to happen so agencies can make good decisions on what?s right and wrong. The writer isn?t going to post an article immediately but she did say she will consider for future stories.

    4. We are going to target strong candidates from the competing agency (in an ethical way). We compiled research on strong candidates from the agency and will start targeted cold calls into the organization.

    We don?t handle every situation this way but felt this was the appropriate solution for this particular scenario. In the past when we received calls from strong third party recruiters (who approach us in an ethical way) we have turned around and hired them. We would never hire a recruiter that uses lying as a tactic to get into the organization. I would look at this no differently than a professional athlete who is disqualified from the Olympics. They may be a great athlete but if they cheat they don?t deserve to be in the game. Last?more power to all those great recruiters out there that can achieve the same end result in an ethical way. These are the gold medalists in the recruiting space if you ask me!

  12. Should we Not give responsibility to the Employee as Well. Did the Employee Not sign a Contract?- Did they not go into the contract knowing what they were signing? did they have a gun to their head when they were signing it? do they not also owe a loyalty to the employer due to that contract they Signed. Won’t you also have them sign one at Your company?

    We keep speaking about how unfair it it is – Wow – tell me, don’t you have a contract yourself that either YOU signed, or had someone else sign? Why Did you do it? To protect yourself? Your company? Your work performed? The money you invest?

    Contracts are put in place to protect a company, but also an individual as well.

    They protect ideas and thoughts, the monies invested, and the knowledge within.

    Some say companies don’t own people, but how then can they own the thoughts of individuals? intellectual property

    Don’t you think that maybe it is unfair to employees that everytime a company get’s raided that the company now has to instrument an even tougher employment contract for their employees to sign.

    Who does that hurt as well – the employees – are we not then assisting to hurt them in the process of helping them as well?

    Or is this just all talk about the Rights of People?

    Or is it more about the rights of companies, Your company, and making sure You make those metrics – Meet those numbers, hit your quota no matter how You do it..

    And by the way – when did People become Metrics – when did people become numbers – numbers and Ratios.

    To all of those who don’t want to talk about ethics I often wonder why? why not? Is it too scary of a subject? Would it mean we have to try something different? Make changes?

    Oh wow, those are scary words. Different, change.

    Kill the messenger is what I see here – Like I told Maureen, I didn’t invent this stuff.. This goes back to before I was even born, but then why is the person who is giving the message then shut down.

    It isn’t the message, it is the topic that scares people. Some can’t even go beyond the Title without going Arghhh!!!

    That too is interesting. I have been accused of being brittle, and caustic, so be it.. I am, and I admit it. It has been suggested that I should calm down, be Nicer – Heck No!

    This subject is long overdue – and it has been going on for over a Year now! And frankly I am Angry as Heck! this is a Large industry, and We affect more than just ourselves – we deal with the General Public EVERY DAY of our lives in the most important aspect of their lives -+ Their Careers – Companies as well depend on our work, and our actions play a detrimental role as well.. We do Need to talk about the responsibility that we hold in our hands, and what we do and how we do affect others.

    So if individuals have to turn to the Softer and Friendlier way to have it be heard, then I say Great – But at least this conversation is being discussed, one way or the other. Finally!

    Be angry at me – Fine, Be pissed about the subject, Fine, but one thing is Clear – this is an important subject,
    Call it ethics, call it law, call it morals, call it values, but call it something.. and yes we should be talking about it. For sure.

  13. One of the things that disappointed me about the panel at the conference was the fact that it was basically an opportunity to rehash Sullivan’s and then Adler’s articles on ethics in relation to poaching, now called sourcing. There was an extremely small deviation from that subject. In that sense, the panel was somewhat a waste of time. There are more issues that exist and need to be discussed in order to have a meaningful dialogue about ethics.

    One of the things we as an industry need to do is determine under which laws we are governed. That will color the ‘shoulds’, ‘ought tos’, ‘need to modify’, ‘need to throw out’, statements. Then we will move into interpretation and application.

    The other thing we need to focus on is industry language, terms of art, and educate our new recruiters so that they are just as conversant abot those terms when used as the veterans are. Everyone will be talking and reading from the same Bible.

    As I said in my conference coverage, and ‘Ethics on My Mind,’ we keep taking a sourcing perspective on the ethics issue and completely ignore the candidate. All acts have consequences and rippling effects on other situations.

    What type of culture is being encouraged in our offices? What are the things we say compared with the reality of our acts. As I sat in on the panel discussion, I saw a lot of hypocrisy.

    But afterward, I noted there were people who were open to hearing another voice and a willingness to change, if necessary.

    It was very nice to talk some more about poaching. And David, it was very nice of you to write this summary about the importance of the conversation that was a continuation of poaching. I’m absolutely certain there’s more to recruiting’s life than poaching — okay, sourcing.

    Must run. I have an appointment in 45 minutes and just enough time to get there.


  14. I firmly believe that our profession would be well served by having a Code of Ethics.

    I also believe we would greatly improve our professional standing if we had a national organization much like other professions: American Medical Association, National Association of Realtors, SEC/NASD, etc.

    We could then have a truly recognized certification (think CPA, etc.).

    As to the arguments that some folks simply won’t follow the rules – does that mean we should abandon our laws since some choose to ignore them? People commit murder, so let’s do away with calling it a crime.

    Some Doctors and Lawyers conduct themselves unethically, let’s do away with their accreditations.

    Why not have a set of standards by which clients and candidates can use as a baseline in evaluating the professionalism of the recruiter?

    I say Yes to a standardized Code of Ethics; Yes to a standardized certification specific to recruiting.

  15. This is a paraphrase of a blog post I did when Dr. Sullivan first discussed Homula’s attacking style:

    The old myth of the ?immaculate businessperson? raises its head again. This boils down to advice to tell the truth and be aboveboard at all times, and everything will come right for you in the end, and if it does not, it was not worth it anyway.

    Yet there is a fundamental problem with this position: Often business profits are made, even predicated, on asymmetric information available at ?X? or ?Y? cost to various parties in transactions. Caveat Emptor has long been the counter-answer in our culture, and that may be the actual ethical consensus worldwide.

    In recruiting, is full and complete disclosure desirable? Of course not- no sane salesperson would give equal time and focus to the faults of their wares and the virtues of others. Skilled salespeople will give the appearance of objective advisors, but of course they are not, and expecting them to be is not only foolhardy, its kind of anti-american and anti-capitalism if you ask me. What fun is business if you don?t have to squeeze the 411 out of people? The most skilled salespeople I know don’t even talk about products or services 85% of the time that they are ‘selling’.

    To me, any sales ethics discussion that starts from the premise that 100% honesty is the only course may as well stop right there. Lots of good things may be said, but the discussion remains academic, because real world selling does require some degree of information asymmetry.

    Self-control of market participants is essential to establish the ethical framework of mutual expectations and performances. In good markets, that control is encouraged and boundry seeking or crossing is discouraged. In bad markets, strong external controls are needed.

    Many salespeople have the ability to crank deals at will and will automatically self-adjust themselves to situations, finding a ?natural? balance for themselves, their customers, and employers- a balance often distorted by compensation plans and all kinds of personal considerations of the moment, but still a balance that lets them go home satisfied that they are not parasites, but rather valuable contributors to society.

    Asking about ?natural? profit level (like a ‘normal’ ethics situation) is like talking about ?fair? interest rates. Most people that I?ve asked (totally non-scientific anecdotal research is my favorite kind) say 33% to 100% profits and 5% to 15% rates, and they almost always say under ?normal? circumstances, which translates to things being as they are today in our current economy- with no unusual pressure or benefits among buyers or sellers. That rules out the desert-island and last man/ woman on Earth stipulations so beloved by the world?s aggrieved spouses.

    The implication is that too much profit or too high a rate is somehow not fair, or right, or as fair or right as it should/could be. In recruiting that translates to mild ruses being one thing, and outright scamming being something else.

    In practical reality, only market participants in a given market can make these ethical decisions, and only for unique markets and transactions, and only within the range allowed by the external forces that create and sustain markets.

    So there is NEVER one right level of risk/gain/reward for any transaction, nor is there EVER a transaction where all participants have perfect knowledge, and so the ethical calculas will always vary.

    Even the fairly obvious idea that recruiters should not consume the resources of target companies is not quite so clear-cut. After all, if you are talking to a candidate at their job, even for a moment, you are using company time, on a company phone, etc. etc. Are we ready to say that all recruiting must be done only on private candidate time?

    Beyond the basic information asymmetry inherent in capitalism, regarding Homula?s M.O. and some of the more dicey methods Dr. Sullivan identified; I don?t think many of them are intended whatsoever to actually be effective at recruiting.

    They are in fact a brand of Psy-ops meant to both demoralize the competition and pump-up his own troops-serving hotdogs outside of a rival bank may not land top-flight talent, but its going to give notice to the other guys that they better be ready to party. I?m not against that as a war tactic if the situation says it?s a good one. That?s up to the general on the ground- and those fighting her. It?s brassy, and sometimes that?s a winner and sometimes it?s not.
    Any group of people can race to the bottom- there is nothing special about staffing or recruiting that is any different from stockbrokers, real-estate agents, or funeral directors- all people who work with the big things in life.

    In those areas, there are greater and lesser degrees of legal regulation that have arisen over time to deal with people who have surpassed the consensus boundaries of what is reasonable.

    The discussion should be about to conduct business in a way to avoid the kinds of situations that would lead to increased legal regulation of the industry; the fact that there is not a complex set of legal requirements is kind of evidence in itself that recruiters are not a particularly unethical set or that the profession is inherently unethical.

    There are no ethics in recruiting; only in recruiters, and only within each individual recruiter, in his or her own situations.

    As Mark Twain famously noted, we have in America no native criminal class; Congress, of course, excepted, and that includes Recruiters.

  16. Todd,

    As Worldwide Development Recruiting Leader with a firm as prominent as Pfizer, you must be aware of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and be familiar with its code of ethics, one of the best examples of setting standards in any industry; primarily because SHRM engaged the assistance of the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) to design its code; which can be found at: http://www.shrm.org/ethics/.

    And, just in case you were referring to a need for standards in third party recruiting, those exist as well, for both contingency and retained [if you believe there?s a qualified difference in the essential job duties]. Take a look at the code for both.

    For the retained perspective, take a look at the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC): http://www.aesc.org/aesc.php?view=article&page=codeofethics

    And for the contingency perspective, take a look at the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS): http://www.recruitinglife.com/aboutUs/SEP.cfm

    Taken together you?ll have a reference in business and professional standards that approach the highest and best practices of the third party recruiting professional.

    Now [as a general statement–not picking on Todd] to those corporate recruiters [or purchasing departments, if they’re involved] that continuously find fault with the service and/or ethics of [headhunters], I?d suggest that next time you engage one that you insist that they be a member of and certified by one these associations, as they have standing ethics committees that can and will respond to and evaluate the merits of any complaint against one of its members.

    Again, to engage in the practice of applied ethics you need to look at established standards, not wallow in the hype of the moralizing crowd.

    Hope this helps.

  17. Martin You go! And Brandon – You as well – Well Done!
    Brandon by the way NAPS – the oldest – also implements Staffing, Permanent (all disciplines) and Inside Recruiters as well..

    We can complain, we can say we don’t want to hear this, and we can bury our head in the sand and whine about I wish this would just Go Away –

    Martin you are right on this, We can acknowledge this, accept this, and deal with this head on, or GUESS What – Congress will take the decision away from us.

    Here is something to remember when 4 Years Ago, I mentioned the issues in ‘what an internet Candidate was, and the problems that can arise from internet recruiting’ and mentioned that The EEOC was going to change their rules – Yeah, I was booed then – wasn’t I??

    So, do I want a cookie? A Pat on the Back? No! I want us to see what we are doing to ourselves, the candidates and the Clients.

    This is more than just about Poaching, ruse calling and lying to get candidates. This is about Lying to candidates, to companies to fill that Req.

    This is about how we submit candidates w/o talking to them, about reference checks w/o permission. About mass e-mailing a copywritten document w/o permission – Yes a resume is a copywritten document – published on the internet.

    It is about not respecting privacy or confidentiality of the clients, employees, and candidates.

    About putting candidates in jobs they don’t fit to fill YOUR Metrics. .

    Here are some great articles outlining our ERODING ETHICS http://www.recruiter.com/magazineonline/062002_feature_perm_2.cfm




  18. Ethics have Context only in Relationship to Standards

    Dave, there?s another reason you don?t need to offer ?an industry-wide set of ethical guidelines??they exist for every industry and profession. To see those that apply to recruiters see the following:

    For the retained perspective, take a look at the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC): http://www.aesc.org/aesc.php?view=article&page=codeofethics

    And for the contingency perspective, take a look at the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS): http://www.recruitinglife.com/aboutUs/SEP.cfm

    Many of the discussion about ?ethics in recruiting? or the ?ethics of the recruiter? [depending on your perspective] seem to focus on moral objections to strategies and tactics such as a ruse, or as suggested ?lying to get past the front line?, rather than business practices regulated by associations almost exclusively in terms of issues between a recruiter, the client, the candidate, and other search firms. Ethics are about business practices and professional conduct that include representations made, disclosures, referral issues, etc.

    Those who really want to know and understand the rules need only read the standards set by trade and professional associations, as noted above for recruiting; and/or to engage a reputable industry trainer for a course in basic recruiting.

    Before any opine about bad or unethical business practices or professional conduct, take a deep breath and a moment to compare the alleged breach to standards established by the industry or professional association in which the practitioner works. It doesn?t matter whether that person belongs to any organization; the standards are what you?re interested in.

    Take ?Integrity? as a standard for example. To my knowledge the word isn?t mentioned in the NAPS code; while it is referred to by AESC, stating that ?members will conduct their business activities with integrity and avoid conduct that is deceptive or misleading.? It?s important to note that the term integrity is used in relationship to ?business activities?; but is mute on recruiting strategies and tactics. Whether they?re the same thing might offer a lively debate.

    The practical implications may or may not be obvious. But let me offer some thoughts.

    Recruiters are often accused of ?steeling? when they?ve successfully contacted and induced the employee of one firm to leave for another. Let?s get real. Slavery was abolished in this country. What would it take to get you to leave your current employer? Brian offered really salient advice that management ?ensure that our employees are thriving in their job at their workplace.? Does it really matter, short of committing a criminal act, how the recruiter and candidate initially made contact? I?ll bet there are plenty of opinions on that. All I ask is that you state you opinions in the context of established standards. Please, find and state a standard to support your views.

    For any who want to continue to moralize, at the expense of setting standards, I?d like to suggest that you assess your firm?s offshore outsourcing policies. If you?re firm is making clothing or trinkets assembled by children you might campaign to bring those jobs back to America. Americans have both standards and laws that protect children from this kind of exploitation.

    For those who are still not convinced, and continue to worry whether ?sneaking in to an organization? or whether ?trading or selling contacts?resumes? is considered unethical, the best place to ?draw the line? is at Americans southern boarder. I offer an open invitation to be the personal guide [if you can pass a background check] to a boarder control operation between America and Mexico; where trafficking in children and adult men and women for the sex trades is a regular affair. This offer is not a joke, it?s a real offer extended to those who want to stop some really bad recruiting practices. Now these are serious opportunities for networking and ?reaching out to make contact? that will make a real difference.

    To Ronan, I disagree that recruiting is a ‘zero sum’ game if in the end, the net result of your efforts have added to the core competencies of a client, enhanced a persons career horizons, and added to your cash flow. I see at least three happy winners in that scenario, not counting a happier spouse, and kid who can now spend more time building relationships at home, and build new work/career/business related relationships.

    To Karen, thanks for the positive feedback. And as for the ?responsibility to the Candidates?? as a third party recruiter, the standards are clear. You can read them on the NAPS web site: http://www.recruitinglife.com/aboutUs/SEP.cfm

    Maureen, what a review! Thanks. If everyone would get it the way you do, all discussions on ethics would, from this point forward, start first with a comparison of an alleged violation to the relevant standards of practice; rather than comparisons to civil or criminal law, or the meaningless moralizing about ?poaching?, and other nonsense.

    Certainly ?Caveat Emptor? offers an important principle, especially in these times of seemingly never ending examples of criminal, civil and ethical breaches in conduct. We all have to do what we can to mitigate the potential for people to take unreasonable advantage.

    Kenneth Johnson (Col. USMC, Ret.) Director of the Ethics and Policy Integration Center (EPIC), insists that those seeking the services of another have a responsibility of conducting their own due diligence [vetting, background, and reference checking]. He considers that to be an ethic exercise in good business and professional conduct and judgment.

    Also, I heartily agree with Marty?s comment, ?Self-control of market participants is essential to establish the ethical framework of mutual expectations and performances?controls are needed.? Again, the controls exist in every trade and professional association; people need only become familiar with, and apply them.

    What both Marty and Johnson point to is the responsibility of every stakeholder to conduct themselves appropriately, in the context of established standards, regardless of industry or professional affiliation.

    Those who join in the ?race to the bottom? will eventually come up against ?the consensus boundaries of what is reasonable?, the standards established for each industry and profession.

  19. Brandon,

    Not only am I aware of SHRM, I am a member (though I don?t play one on TV).

    I am also aware of AESC, NAPS, etc. Which, in fact, is rather my point. There are a variety of societies, associations, and groups which all offer bits and pieces.

    What does not exist is a SINGLE body that represents recruiting professionals as a profession (again, think CPA?s, Realtors, etc.). With SHRM, we are a sub-group, AESC has some peculiar limits as to who can be a member, NAPS is mostly focused on employment agencies, and so on. Your own remark, ?Taken together?? sums it up well. Why must we cobble our professional standards together from so many disparate sources?

    I also agree that CR?s (companies in general) need to be mindful of the firms engaged. At Pfizer we endeavor to work with only those firms that are reputable, reliable and ethical. We have terminated contracts and relationships on the basis of poor ethical conduct of firms.

    Think how much easier it would be for all companies, large or small, to see a certification and know what it stands for. Outside of our own profession, how many business people (procurement, line managers, owners) could tell you what AESC or NAPS is about?

    With respect to your final remark; ?Again, to engage in the practice of applied ethics you need to look at established standards, not wallow in the hype of the moralizing crowd.? it is precisely for this reason that I strongly advocate a unifying, singular, recognized professional certification (dare I say licensing?) for our profession. Let?s establish the standards. It turns a rather bright spotlight on the hype from all sides- both the ?moralizing? AND ?the ends justify the means? crowds.

    I rather suspect that many of those who oppose licensing, standard certification, unifying code of conduct/ethics, are those who prefer not to operate in an above board manner. Fine, they don?t have to participate. No doubt there are companies who prefer that recruiters NOT abide by ethical standards, and perhaps even civil law.

    When you need legal advise, do you contact a licensed attorney or do you simply call anyone who proclaims to know the law? When you need dental work, do you go to a dentist or to anyone who may say they know teeth? When you need tax or accounting advice do you go to a CPA or anyone with a calculator?

    If we want to be respected as professionals and valued for what we bring to the business equation we need to set the standards ? recognized, codified, harmonized standards


  20. Long ago, I pointed out to the 2 people who actually read my posts that, since I started in this industry in 1984, not one client (or boss, for that matter) has asked me what methods I used to develop a candidate.

    Not one.

    Taking my cue from this and other messages the real world has sent me over the years, I’ve decided to care about what my customers care about.

    Which seems to be, in no particular order of importance:

    1) Sign whatever ‘Code of Ethics’, ‘Diversity Pledge’, or other spike strip my HR or Procurement people (you know, the ones who suffer no pain if the job remains open or gets done by an incumbent C-player we?re asking you to secretly replace) toss in front of your tires.

    2) Then go get great people in front of me as fast as you can, starting with the best talent of my most respected competitors. After all, if I can hire these people, I win two ways, don’t I? (And if I have to explain that statement, you need to just go away.)

    2A) Do whatever you must to accomplish 2), above, but don’t tell me a thing about how you did it. Why in the world would I care, as long as you don’t embarrass me or my company?

    2B) If you get in some kind of jam because of 2A), above, you’re on your own. After all, you signed our or your trade group’s ‘Code of Ethics’, didn’t you?

    3) Make sure your candidates want my job before I spend time talking to them. Don’t tell outright lies (because it exposes my company to trouble later, not because it’s ‘unethical’), but otherwise do whatever it takes to get them to the table. If they fail to do their own homework, how is that my problem, or yours?

    4) Charge less than anyone else, then deliver more. And keep upping that value equation. That’s what my customers demand from me, so why should I expect anything else from you?

    And you had it right until your last paragraph. History tells us capitalism, the more unfettered the better, is the salvation of this imperfect planet.

    But that’s another post altogether, isn’t it?

  21. Brandon, Again an excellent post ? Would like to mention Again, NAPS is not only for contingency, it also is responsible for All aspects of Recruiting including inside recruiters. (they push that info at their meetings and conventions)
    Also must mention ? many of the cases that are dealing with this matter usually have a gag order for years. But some can be found at the EEOC and other sites. Unfortunately, by the way I write, I am only familiar with posing Case law ? to stress importance. Maybe I should look at changing this?

    Jennifer ? Yes, recruiting has changed since 1990 ? A lot of it has to do with Deregulation, which allows for easy entry into the industry. Before more entered through the Larger companies which offered Training, education, and more ? now, there are many who enter without a clue ? and anything goes..

    Ted, there is more to this than How YOU get your candidates, and How YOU supply them to your clients. There is MUCH more to this than just Predatory hiring, ruse calling and such like. This is about the Welfare and Privacy issues of the Clients and Companies that WE deal with. But more so, the Welfare of the Candidates.

    Todd, I am onboard with What you are saying ? YES ? there needs to Be ONE Association, One Code of Conduct, One Standard. Today, LESS than 3 percent of this industry are even members of an association. And only about 10 Percent even are aware of the Regulations (including the Laws) that do regulate our actions, both with Clients and Candidates.

    I do agree with your comments on Certification. I also believe that the same holds true for those who are ?tired? of this conversation, those who are ?angry? about the discussion.

    So some BIG questions remain ?
    1- How do we get all the Associations to Join as 1 ? SHRM, ASA, NAPS, AESC, and the others ? How do we get them to say, hey we need to have One Main Association, with Several Branches below us.

    2- Who will be the Chosen Voices of Ethics and Reason for this industry. Will they Be self Designated Leaders? (believe me I don?t want that title it has been hard to deal with all the rancor and anger regarding this topic for the past 3 Years)
    Will they belong to a Clique, who will designate them as a leader? Voting? How? Who? Where? Will they be certified, belong to the Associations? Will they understand the Laws as well as the Ethics of our industry? Will there be a Consensus of the Industry? Serious Questions ? explain below.

    Personally I don?t want regulation ? But if we were to consider Self Regulation which would be good, and could help Prevent Government Regulation which as Martin stated well Will be Impending if we continue this way-
    ?Changes in this industry Can impact us Considerably ? All of us in a big way ? So we must be careful, VERY careful of what we wish for, and who we choose to be OUR leaders

    So for a leader, any Voice for this industry ? Would We NOT Want someone who is Working a Recruiting Desk, understanding WHAT I and YOU do day in and day out, the stresses we deal with every day in Today?s Recruiting World. There are some who have designated themselves as the Ethics Leaders of this industry ? (Again, I don?t want that title, just Change) ? But it does concern me, They ARE NOT recruiters, do not Run Recruiting Desks, Don?t understand the Process, Are not dealing with Clients and Candidates from the Sourcing to Hiring Process.. and even beyond, especially on a day to day practice.

    They Don?t understand the New laws that we are facing each Day in Today?s society, and the challenges that those laws are creating for us each Day. So I am sorry if my question seems harsh, but out of Fairness and concern to the Welfare of MY Trade ? is it not important that we Must be careful and selective in our choices of leaders to make sure that strict, unfair and Anti Competitive Rules are Not applied.

    We also more than One leader ? with 2 Very strong opposing Views ? for example let?s say if I was the ONLY leader ? well that would bring Chaos to our industry ? I have very strong views, and it could be unfair to this industry. But if we had someone who also had a completely strong opinion, that opposed my views, then between the two different Values and opinions one would find a fair compromise for all and the industry.

    Also would it not be imperative to also have our Clients and Candidates input? To hear what they want, what they wish they could see happen in our industry? Are they Not too an important Voice. AESC recently did an International Survey in our industry along this line, and one would be shocked at the numbers who would Appreciate Regulation in our industry. Wowzie.

    So ? Now what, do we continue to whine, complain and wait for the Government to Do it for Us, or Do we take a Stand? And How? What is the Next Step.

    Karen M

  22. Todd:

    I’m with you, let’s cut to the chase, agree that a standard is a desirable thing; and get on with the business of creating one.
    Which is the next discussion; what is included ?, what is beyond our scope ?.It seems to me that this is a fairly simple exercise in inductive reasoning.

    It should be divided into sections that represent our interactions and relationships. It should embody the applicable concepts of relevant law, without drilling down to the peculiarities of local deviations.

    It should be constructed on the foundation of honesty and fair play but without necessitating that we all run about crying ‘stinking fish!’, or embracing world socialism.

    It should state, probably by omission, that we are not a public service and should also accurately reflect the limits of our roles. We, contrary to the dreams of some, are not prime decision makers or ‘affecters of lives’ in the process.

    Good Hunting

  23. Bill,
    with respect I totally disagree with your comment – there are recruiters who will pull the wool over Candidates Eyes, lie and Cheat to make that placement.

    There are recruiters who will send candidate information all over cyberspace representing Candidates w/o even speaking to them, or respecting their privacy. Look the List Is Huge, and it is intense, and our Actions can hurt people, and YES we Have to take responsibility of those actions… Including respecting the Privacy of Clients as well

    look at these websites and see the Outside View about us to enlighten

    THese article were found in less than a half hour Search, yes there were More, Tons more, but here you go –
    http://world.std.com/~swmcd/steven/crypt/recruiters.html love this one










  24. Todd,

    I didn?t mean to be pejorative, and meant no offense?my questions were intended to be rhetorical. That said, I think you and I are on the same page. I offer a slightly modified version of a commentary I wrote that was published last year in The Fordyce Letter. Here it is?.

    Jon Huntsman, in his book Winners Never Cheat, underscores the essential importance of the relationship between ‘mutual support’ and ?shared success? with the following quote by Thomas Jefferson: ‘In the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.’ This basic doctrine applies to every public or private sector organization. The fact is, none of us are islands that can really stand on our own for long. The lives and fortunes of professionals in any business community are tied to the basic concept of mutuality where those with similar interests are drawn together. The nation state, joint military operations, pioneers in wagon trains that settled the west, and the existence of thousands of associations stand testament to this simple truth. Jefferson?s words could be paraphrased for any business community as: ‘In the support of this Code of Ethics, we mutually pledge to each other our livelihoods, our fortunes and our integrity in the conduct of our business and professional practices.’

    We?ve all heard, and have probably made the statement, ?the only constant is change.? As a practical matter then, simple common sense dictates that an organization?s code of ethics, including business practices and professional standards of behavior must be periodically reexamined and if found wanting adjusted to meet the demands of the times. Professional ethicists all agree on this basic concept of periodic reevaluation too.

    It?s in this sense of mutuality and change that professional, business and industry associations should be clear on what and whom they represent; which is the point of this missive.

    First, mutuality requires clarity of understanding and consistency of purpose. As demonstrated in last months article, and as I?ll demonstrate with another example in this article, the very essence of a professional code along with related business standards and professional practices in most staffing associations are either incomplete or almost entirely missing. They simply don?t reflect an understanding of the needs of the businesses and professionals they represent in this day and age.

    Second, there have been enormous changes over the past fifteen years! So what?s changed in the staffing industry that dictates a review of ethics, business standards and professional practice issues? A lot!

    The very structure of the business has changed. When I entered this business in 1984, I was literally fresh out of the woods. Personal circumstances sent me packing from Northern California, managing timber operations to the big city where I interviewed with both APF organizations, that wanted my money, and with headhunters like Sales Consultants (you know, SCI) that offered me a job and where I earned the designation of being among the Top Ten Rookies nationally. If you?ve been around that long you know that APF, the applicant placement fee arrangement, is nearly extinct in favor of employer paid fees (retained, contingency, temp, contract to name a few). Outplacement services have evolved. PEO?s and the like have emerged to become more sophisticated co-employers assuming responsibility for an entire business function. What do these business services all have in common? They all manage some elements of the human capital equation for other businesses.

    And of course, there are the services that serve our industry needs such as professional trainers, financial services firms, and insurers to name just a few.

    And no reflection on change is complete without of course looking at Technology! In the early 1980?s a staffing firm relied on a receptionist, a phone, a paper planner, snail mail and a few resources like a local phone directory and a Thomas Guide. By the mid 1980?s the fax machine was introduced to speed communication and the by the late 1980?s many firms, large and small, were adopting computers to speed the processing of documents and then it was on to full relational database and enterprise management systems which remained state of the art into the late 1990?s to speed the whole transaction process. Then the introduction of Internet, in direct contradiction to industry expert prognostications, not only changed the way we communicated and did business again, but increased the rate of change almost exponentially. Now ASP?s industry ?portals?, cell phones and PDA?s are commonplace or using the popular Internet boom term are ubiquitous. Soon the use of Intranets will be commonplace for even the smallest of firms.

    What?s the professional associations? role in all of this, or what should it be? Let me just say that I think the discussion should include dialogue on just who an associations represents. We need to define our purpose and our relationships?who?s a full member, an affiliate or and a client, etc. What are our concerns and where are the risks (who do we consider to be predators?business technology providers, government)? Bill O?Reilly had some ideas on how to identify ?Who?s Looking Out For You.? Read his book. In the end, shouldn?t an association represent all stakeholders in one way or another?

    Who does the association look out for, why, and how? Of course an association should set business and professional practice standards to both regulate and enforce behavior for the benefit of its members and their clients. Unfortunately, they by-in-large haven?t done a real good job of it. Those that exist are like a constitution with no amendments. But what about those who claim to serve our community?shouldn?t there be standards that apply to affiliate members? And shouldn?t an association offer some services to which its members can turn when confronted with a common external threat, even if the threat or organization is not a member?

    It?s time for the myriad of staffing industry associations to reexamine their respective internal and external organizational relationships and standards. To underscore that point, I?ve compared staffing industry association ?codes?.

    In summary, SHRM is a good example to model and contrast to NAPS, ASA, AESC and CSP; which, I simply used as representative samples because of my familiarity with the organizations. The list could go on to include the Association of Career Professionals International (ACP), whose standards have a prominent link on their web site, the Association of Career Firms International (ACF), whose code of ethics is buried deep in the organizations by laws, or the National Association of Professional Employer Services (NAPEO), whose web site, as far as I can see, is completely mute on the issues of member ethics, business practices, or professional conduct, etc.

    From a personal perspective, I question the value of having so many associations representing members that mostly serve other businesses (B2B), rather than individuals, in the staffing services sector. I can understand a couple, but the plethora of associations representing staffing industry services seems a bit much. It?s only my opinion, but SHRM makes sense as an independent organization that primarily represents the interests of corporate HR. On the other hand, it?s my personal opinion that NAPS, ASA, AESC, (unless it wishes to maintain the elusion that its members do only retained search and no contingency placement), as well as the host of other state associations like CSP and independent stand alone organizations like NAPEO, ACP, ACF, or local associations would be better served by joining forces. The old phrases ?divide-and-conquer? or ?a house divided cannot stand? comes to mind. Consolidating the membership and resources of these and other like-minded service organizations into one organization supporting specialty practices and regional interest, all with the common cause of representing independent staffing and related services would be a powerful voice in both the public and private sectors.

    This doesn?t have to be a pipe dream, stalking reality?sure it would be tough for individual association managers to give up their power and in some cases livelihoods. But for the sake of argument, what if these organizations developed a long-term succession plan, formed initial alliances with the intent of presenting a more uniform face to private and public sectors alike in terms of their business standards and professional practices. Over time, attrition could absorb redundant management overhead and those resources could be redirected into specialty practice and/or regional areas under one powerful umbrella.

    This is a challenge to encourage current management and directors of the various staffing oriented associations to consider new forward thinking organizational and operational strategies that put member mutual interest and support first. The U.S armed services with it?s Joint Chiefs of Staff is an example worth considering. An association umbrella would offer a more powerful voice to serve the broader interest of the staffing services industry communities. Of course any change needs more than vision, it requires leadership to emerge that can fight the status quo and make things happen.

    Maybe Jon Huntsman said it best, ?a leader?s integrity and an organization?s values and patterns of behavior toward either internal or external stakeholders of any enterprise, regardless of size, have enormous consequence. ?

  25. Has recruiting really changed so much since I was a TPR (1990-2000) that such an issue is even an issue? >>> ‘…do make it known to them who I am working with, and who they will be submitted to and do I have their permission.’

    Doesn’t anybody use ‘blind’ resumes anymore? When I was in the business and had a candidate I wanted to share with someone else (other recruiter or a client) to see if they were a fit for a given job -yet needed to protect the candidate’s privacy- I would simply remove all identifying info on the resume. If the recipient responded in the affirmative, I would then contact the candidate and let them know particulars, giving them the choice for me to share their info or not. (Of course, it also protected me from some unscrupulous people who would like me to believe later that they already knew my candidate prior to my involvement.) It gave me 100% control over my inventory -candidates I spent my valuable time to recruit- and no doubt saved me countless hours in disputes with others over who got there first.

    Just a thought. I know that it made my life much easier, and was a real simple step to take to provide a nearly fullproof security measure for all of my hard work.

    My 2 cents,

  26. Brandon,
    you have made excellent points –

    There indeed should be One Association, with one large Branch, and then other branches under them that moderate the activities of their Various members – Ie Staffing, Internal and TPR.

    Today, NAPS sent me a survey – they have been trying to cover all aspects for some time Internal, External and Staffing. Little Confusing isn’t it?

    Regarding ‘affiliate’ members – they can have their own Associations, let them deal with their own issues. Individuals who are Not Active Practicing Recruiters, H.R, or dealing with the Recruiting and Hiring Practice on a Day to day basis really should not have a say in how we run our desks on a daily basis.

    Just because I go to a Doctor and he explains what is wrong with me doesn’t mean I am a doctor.
    Imagine Me walking into a Medical Association and trying to have them Change their Rules and Standards just because I think they don’t have the patients best interest.

    Convictions From the SideLines is a Luxury!!!!

  27. Clearly, a number of us are quite passionate about this topic. We all agree on the problem. So how can we AFFECT CHANGE in our industry?

    When my clients tell me that my firm is not like most search firms…they mean it as a compliment. It is clear that ‘agencies’ have a bad reputation and are often viewed as a necessary evil for corporate recruiters. Are we a step above car salesmen? How can the GOOD/Ethical search firms stand out from the pack? How can we bring respect to our profession – on our own terms?

    Let’s blue sky for a moment. I have 2 ideas, but would enjoy hearing suggestions on how to get there. Potential ideas:

    1.) At the recruiter Level: Establish a well-known/respected certification for Executive Recruiters. Unless I’m missing something, every other area of HR has certifications, but recruiting. PHR and SPHR certs are too broad for for us. A recruiting certification (possibly different levels) could bring us some credibility & respect. Perhaps testing & some minimum number of training hours could be required.

    2.) At the search firm level, there needs to be one official association we could belong to that will help ethical search firms thrive, and make it difficult for the unethical to retain respectable clients. For example…it would be great if clients could verify that a search firm is a certified member of the association – and secondly – if they could verify that there have been no complaints filed against a search firm.

    Is there interest in forming a group to look into this? We’re resourceful people or we wouldn’t be in this industry. Any suggestions on what actions we can take to make this happen? Does anyone know someone at HRCI? Perhaps SHRM could provide guidance as well.

  28. Loralee,
    this is a big Problem indeed. Maybe it is due to the Confusion of the agencies, Lack of education, or easy entry to this industry. 1st off it may be of interest to know that we Were a regulated Industry.. so

    Education on our industry ?
    As of July 2004 –

    14 States Do still Regulate the Permanent Placement Recruiting World, and More Regulate the staffing Industry.

    23 states impose a placing fee limit with a guarantee provision..
    23 also request that Permanent Placement should submit their fee structures to the state.
    12 states say they require a test for counselors.
    Don’t know if they the states are upholding these rules well.

    Okay, there is Several Certifications and Accreditations for the TPR, and Staffing. The Most Common May be found by NAPS and ASA – some states have a local association which will provide Accreditation or Certification as well. These Certifications / accreditations are older than the hills. Dated to when this industry Was regulated.

    – One of the oldest associations is California Staffing Professionals founded in 1937 (different name at the time)
    – CSP was the first personnel placement organization to develop a certification program in 1959 ? Government Accepted and Acknowledged.
    – In 1962, CSP coordinated with the National Association of Personnel Consultants (NAPC) which is Now NAPS – to develop a national competency exam and establish the recognized national professional designation for our industry-CPC (Certified Personnel Consultant).
    – CSP currently offers training and an exam which focuses on legal compliance in industry practices resulting in CAC accreditation.

    NAPS was formed on a national basis The association was formed to represent our profession in critical legislative arenas in Washington, DC, provide legislative guidance and aid in states where government affairs challenges exist, create a structure of ethical practices for industry self-regulation, increase public and business awareness of the value of personnel services, and to educate members and non-members towards better practices and the maintenance of high professional standards.

    NAPS has been the Noted and Government Accepted staffing industry educator since 1961 and enjoys its reputation as the oldest National industry association

    Their Test is also acknowledged by the EEOC and the Government as professional Certification for this industry. Their Designations –
    – Certified Personnel Consultants (CPC)
    – Certified Temporary-Staffing Specialists (CTS).

    NAPS also has available the first staffing specialty certification designation, the Physician Recruiting Consultant (PRC).

    In 1995, NAPS initiated mandatory continuing education for CPCs and CTSs. You must take part in 50 contact hours of professional development or training experiences in each three (3) year period after certification

    ASA is the Voice for the Staffing Industry ? temp to hire ? they have been around since 1966 ? they too have a Designation for Certification ? also accepted and government acknowledged – the Certified Staffing Professional? and Technical Services Certified? designations – Candidates in California are required to earn the California Accredited Consultant designation administered by California Staffing Professionals

    ASA and NAPS will provide the Tests for Internal Corporate Recruiters as well.

    Here is an interesting link to the time line of our industry http://www.recruitinglife.com/NapsFlash/TimeLine.swf

  29. Mr Fogarty, Could you please expound on the ethical system you intend to use as opposed to the unethical system that was used by the ‘other guy’? How did the other guy lie and how are you going to do this in a totally straightforward and ethical manner ? What exactly was unethical about the other guy’s approach that you will change? Is it ethical to hire the TPR that calls you? Does this not ‘do harm’ to his / her current employer?
    If you have done your research and are going to call in to the other agency,are you going to call in and say,’Hello,my name is Dave and I am calling to hire your people away from you’?
    Now realizing that this sounds like a smart
    alecky posting,let me say that my questions are sincere and are strictly to alleviate this impression that I get from your post that you are indulging in situational ethics.In other words,it’s okay for me to do this but the other guys suck because they did it. Kind of like stealing.Is it okay to steal a candy bar and a soft drink if you’re hungry? How about if you are not hungry?Is it okay to steal a color T.V. if you are watching black and white and everybody else has a big screen? Frankly,I belive that ethics to most people are situational and that the story sometimes gets bent to fit the situation.But that’s just me. Also,since NAPS and SHRM both have a Code of Ethics, I am interested in finding where they went wrong , as everybody seems to be calling for standards now. My fear is that I have missed something and just don’t understand exactly what the crisis in the industry is. As I said,my questions are sincere and I would appreciate it if you could enlighten me on what is ethical and what is ‘over the line’.Is vengence ethical? Since most companies feel that their phone lines are for company business,is it ethical to call their employees to try to ‘steal’ them? Isn’t that poaching? I am truly at a loss and your clarification will be greatly appreciated.

  30. Karen, I agree 100% in your assessment that it would be absurd to judge the practices of one group against the standards of another; for example, the responsibilities of a computer professional against the standards of recruiters [or any other profession or trade]. That?s patently obvious.

    And Larry, you?re absolutely right; there are standards for recruiters of every stripe. However, as for your rhetorical question about whether you ?missed something and just don’t understand exactly what the crisis in the industry is? let me suggest an answer.

    In my mind, ?Professional Crime? truly characterizes the real nature of inappropriate business or professional conduct. The concept also offers one of the best rationales for holding all stakeholder of any enterprise accountable.

    One of the major elements missing from the debate is in relationship to stakeholder accountability and mutual support obligations, across and between, differing industries and professions. The question or concern about ethics isn?t only about the responsibility of a [recruiting] professional to a client; but of the client to the [recruiting] professional, as well as, the mutual responsibilities between vendors and those they serve. To set standards for a narrow class of members, but not other stakeholders who want to play?only invites trouble. Shouldn?t organizations [like associations] establish enforceable guidelines that apply to all stakeholders?

    As I?ve said before, having policies that dictate ethics and standards to guide business and professional behavior that apply to all is critical to the ongoing success of any organization, profession, or industry. Codes are important in helping to create standards for stakeholder interaction. Codes should promote awareness of mutuality and of the responsibilities that mutual interdependence suggests. Codes highlight the enormous influences that various stakeholders have on one another. Codes provide the framework for regulating the linkages between influential relationships and for establishing enforcement guidelines. Codes provide the foundation for improving customer satisfaction and loyalty, employee commitment, and stakeholder confidence. And finally, codes keep all stakeholders engaged in the on going dialog that is essential if standards are to be understood and meaningful.

    Of course every industry and/or professional trade group is unique, and will have its own mission, its own associations and corresponding codes of ethics, statement of business practices, and professional conduct guidelines.

    Obviously, each industry or professional group is best qualified to police itself?after all they?ve established the rules and standards in relationship to their own unique operating environment. What hasn?t been so obvious is the notion that Allied business enterprises [those serving another industry or profession] can and should be held accountable for the delivery of the products they offer to those they serve. Essentially that requires a shift in thinking for most professional and trade association. Associations can easily adopt standards that protect the professionals they serve from predatory practices. In fact, I argue that it is their responsibility to do just that!

    The notion that all stakeholders are important in the ethics equation naturally raises the accountability question in terms of just where vendors fit into the equation of mutuality. What business and professional standards should a host association expect [demand] from professionals of another industry, and how can those standards be enforced? In other words what standards of service should be expected of vendors, and can those standards [expectations] be enforced? The answer is yes, unequivocally yes.

    Associations refer to vendors in many ways. Regardless of the term, whether ‘affiliate’, Allied’, or ‘Supporting’ members [I don?t care what you call a vendor] if you?re a member, then you?re a stakeholder in the affairs of the organization you have a relationship with or serve, such as a software vendor selling an ATS or ASP to a search firm [as I suggested earlier]. Every vendor has a responsibility to uphold the standards of what ever industry or profession their organization belongs to. I?ll go a step further, that a vendor, even if it has no affiliation or membership in a professional organization within an industry has a fiduciary responsibility to deliver the products and services they promise on the terms they promise. Every association code includes a clear statement of this provision. Moreover, not belonging to an organization [association], is no free pass to a vendor for poor or non-performance. Therefore, a recruiter member of NAPS, who engages the services of a vendor [whether that vendor is an ?Allied? member or is simply an exhibitor at a NAPS sponsored conference] should have the expectation that NAPS will hold that vendor responsible for living up to the highest and best standards of the industry that the vendor hails from if that vendor wishes to participate in associations sponsored events.

    Holding all stakeholders responsible and accountable for maintaining the highest and best industry and professional standards can seem a difficult task; but in reality it?s quite simple [as I?ll explain later].
    But first let me suggest a straightforward model, a simple solution that doesn?t require the creation, development, or reinvention of any new standards by any association in governing the behavior of associates from other industries and profession, such as vendors providing myriad of products and services.

    There?s a simple solution.

    Allow me to offer the Geneva Conventions as analogism to how both public and private sector enterprises and businesses could [and I argue should] be organized in order to govern with principled ethical standards, business practices, and professional conduct that can be applied consistently to all stakeholder communities in this completive global economy.

    The Geneva Conventions were established, in the wake of WWII atrocities, because the ?rules of war? predating WWII were found to be inadequate in protecting the rights of prisoners-of-war. The Geneva Conventions establish the rules for how POWs will be treated and for how violators be judged and held accountable by the international community. The excuse of ?I was just following orders? didn?t isolate the guilty from the responsibility of following basic [moral] principles or standards of behavior?violators were tried, and jailed, or executed. I?d like to emphasize that these rules were applied retroactively. Of course these conventions haven?t been strictly adhered to? the Viet Nam conflict comes to mind. Nevertheless, they provide basic guidelines across all cultural boundaries that establish a binding code of conduct, which if not adhered to may result in prosecution and judgment [ignorance is no excuse]. Milosevic was put before an international tribunal for his crimes [died in prison]. And Sadam was held in custody by an international force that subsequently handed him over to his own people for prosecution and his sons where killed. This offers all industries and professions a model upon which to build a framework of consistency for working with one another. Whether retroactive or future oriented when a code is out dated it must be reevaluated and if found wanting, changed.

    As in our industry, there are multiple associations in nearly all industries and professions.

    It?s my intent to use this forum to create the equivalent of the Geneva Conventions for ethical, business and professional standards that apply widely across industry boundaries. I?ve identified roughly thirty ethics organizations in the US, nearly three quarters of which are notable academic institutions, where I intend to submit a paper that outlines my efforts and request assistance to apply these concepts and principles on a much wider scale. I?m hopeful that at least one of these public sector institutions or private sector organizations will find this case study of interest. I look forward to your assistance in demonstrating that our industry ?gets it? and is out in front of the pack [like Levi Strauss] proactively developing, implementing, and applying standards compatible with the 21st century business environment.

    So here?s my proposal for governance that establishes the: Highest and Best Standards of Business Practices and Professional Conduct for ALL STAKEHOLDERS in any environment?The Solution?

    ?The purpose of this section of the [organizations] governing documents is to promote consistent standards, and protect members from the consequences of dealing with unscrupulous or unethical firms and/or individuals. Membership in the [organizations] is a privilege, not a right; therefore, ?Allied? (Vendor) and/or any other member class must, as a condition of membership and/or participation in the [organizations] affairs and/or events voluntarily agree to abide by and adhere to the ?highest and best? ethical standards, business practices and professional conduct that has been established and recognized as such within a respective industry, organization, profession, or group of any kind. In the event of multiple standards, or where conflicts in standards exist, the [organization] reserves the right to determine which standards represent the ?highest and best? standards of conduct of a respective industry, organization, profession, or group. In the event of a dispute members must further agree to voluntarily participate in the [organizations] Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) and/or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) conducted by a qualified organization. In all disputes, the decision of the [organizations] board of directors will be final and binding on all parties. Proven violations may result in loss of membership (expulsion) and/or exclusion from formal participation in the [organization], as well as, its sponsored affairs and/or events. ?

    As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.’

  31. ‘…is it ethical to call their employees to try to ‘steal’ them?’

    This kind of question always intrigues me. Since it is my understanding that slavery ended in this country almost 200 years ago, I can’t help but wonder how a person would go about ‘stealing’ another person? I believe they call that (taking someone away against their will) kidnapping, and there are stiff federal penalties for that. I have never once placed a person in a new job against their will. That would be some fancy feat indeed! 🙂

    I guess the difference is this… I never ‘snuck’ into a company in disguise. If I was looking for a VP of Manufacturing for the largest widget manufacturer in the country, I would simply call the VP’s of Manufacturing of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest widget manufacturers, tell them who I was and about the search assignment I’d been given (keeping all names confidential, of course), and then simply ask them who they knew that could do a job as I had described to them. If it turned out that one (or more) of them expressed an interest, and ultimately was hired for the position, did I steal the guy? Of course not!! If he was 100% satisfied in his current position, he would not have nominated himself for consideration. I simply made him aware of such a position when I asked him who he knew that could do such a job. He did the rest.

    And I rest my case.

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