Ten Ethical Standards Every Recruiter Should Abide By

There are a number of courses that recruiters can attend to increase their prowess in finding candidates, establishing new clients, closing candidates, or managing their time. But unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of training available in the area of ethics.Before you jump to the assumption that recruiters will do what is best for their clients or that an education in ethics is unnecessary, consider the following questions asked by some recruiters unsure of the proper steps to take to remain ethical:

  • “Does ‘will not recruit from’ include client candidates that contact us directly in response to an advertisement or client candidates who are actively looking to leave?”
  • “Is the researcher job ethical? Is it right to impersonate staff and lie to get information? Is it legal?”
  • “Does anyone know of a recruiter who has had a ‘sub rosa’ request from a client to recruit one of its own employees? How should they handle such a request?”
  • “What’s the deal when clients contact the ‘reference person,’ then interview and hire them without telling me? Is that still covered in my contract? Is that my candidate (although I never even knew that he was looking)?”

When reading the above questions posed by inquisitive recruiters, one should keep in mind that these individuals are seeking out the right direction. They are questioning the steps to take, as they are unsure. Their motivation is to do what is right.Now think about those individuals who would not stop to question their actions. They simply plow ahead at full steam leaving a body count behind them. These are the individuals that worry me most.Ethics, unfortunately, are not standardized for our industry. A set of rules or a statement of purpose for all recruiters to follow does not exist. I think it should!So here are my top ten standards or ethics to which I wish and hope all recruiters would adhere.1. If the actions you contemplate taking are those you would feel embarrassed about if known, don’t take them!We’re often tempted to cut corners or act in an unethical manner when no one is watching. Sometimes our temptations can fall into the area of little white lies. “They won’t hurt anybody, so why not?”Why not? Because it opens the door for larger and larger “little white lies,” until they’re no longer little and no longer white.So how do we act when these temptations arise? We act as we have told ourselves previously. We shouldn’t wait until we are in the heat of the battle to make a decision. Making a decision during the heat of the battle is likely to result in a wrong decision. The decision to act ethically should be made when things are calm. Many of you probably don’t have children, but I think you will understand this analogy. If you asked your sixteen-year-old daughter what she would do if on her date her boyfriend started to get a little too fresh, how many of you would be satisfied with this answer? “Oh, I don’t know, I guess I’ll just deal with that issue when it happens.”Decisions about how one should and will act should be made before the heat of the battle. Making the conscience decision to act ethically and committing to it when there is no temptation will prepare us to deal with temptation when it arises.2. We should all swear to some form of the “Recruiters Hippocratic Oath,” with the main emphasis focused on “doing no harm.” (I’ve included a link to the Hippocratic Oath for those with inquiring minds: classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/hippooath.html)All too often I have witnessed recruiters act in a way that would negatively affect someone they feel has wronged them. Many times this has been done with malice aforethought. Acting in a way that would harm someone is never justified, regardless of what they have done. We have the right to refuse to assist their efforts, but we do not have the right to sabotage those efforts.I know, I know, there are some people who have gone behind our backs once told the identity of our client, others who have told employers that we promised them X number of dollars more than what has been offered; some have lied, cheated, mislead, omitted, and committed any number of offences with malice aforethought adversely affecting our businesses. They may indeed deserve a just payment, but it is not our responsibility to mete it out.We can vent in chat rooms or on the forum, but we should never treat anyone adversely. We should remain objective and professional regardless of the actions of others.3. Treat your managers or hiring authorities with respect, and over-communicate to them without them you would be out of a job.Hiring authorities, whether you are an internal corporate recruiter or an external agency recruiter, want to be kept informed. Managers and hiring authorities want to know where they stand, when they can expect relief, and how your search is going. This is a fine line to walk. We all like to deliver good news, but delivering bad news correctly can do you more good than trying to stall their expectations.There are many reasons that hiring authorities want to know where a search stands. They may have deadlines they are trying to meet; they may be relying on the information we provide when they are making or correcting these deadlines.Providing a hiring authority with accurate information is the best thing you can do. Telling a hiring authority, “I have five in the pipeline that I will talk to tonight,” will do little to further your career. Talking about potential candidates and their likelihood of their being a fit is best left to Clio and her entourage of psychics.State simply and concisely where you stand, without apology. If you have candidates (individuals you have spoken with and who are qualified) then accurately state your assessment of each. If you have performed your search and have come up short, state it unapologetically and without cowering. You have done nothing from which to cower. All of us, at one time or another have performed to the best of our ability and not met someone’s expectations.4. Treat candidates with respect and over-communicate to them without them you would also be out of a job.“They called me in at a moments notice, I interviewed with them, and I haven’t heard from them in weeks!” “They never gave me any feedback after my interview.” “I’ve called at least five times and they haven’t called me back!”Sound familiar? We have all been guilty of letting a candidate slip through the cracks at one time or another when things get extremely busy. But that doesn’t mean that we should. Whether corporate or agency, individuals who utilize our services in finding their next employment opportunity deserve respect. They deserve to be treated as we would wish to be treated.I find that the majority of the time the miscommunication occurs at the initial meeting. If we as recruiters take a few extra minutes to inform our candidates of what they can and cannot expect from us, these types of complaints greatly diminish. Don’t be afraid to tell a candidate that you are a headhunter. Tell them that you work exclusively for your clients and that you are not a placement counselor. If they are a fit for this position you will call them; if not you will hold their resume in confidence until the next opportunity arises. Be direct! They will respect your giving them the ground rules and will abide by them.5. Follow through! Do what you say, and say what you will do.Recently I contracted to a client where vendor management was one of my responsibilities. I sent out explicit instructions for submitting candidates to those agencies that inquired. The requirements I posed were not burdensome; they were simple in nature and easy to fulfill. These requirements were meant to expedite the hiring process.I received inquiries from well over 20 different agencies. Of the 20 that inquired, only two agencies followed the instructions. This resulted in my having to make numerous unnecessary calls to facilitate assisting the agencies. These agencies soon fell by the wayside. With only two left fulfilling the requirements, we soon found our candidate. I wondered, “Why did these other agencies go through all of the hassle of finding candidates only to lose the chance of placing them because they didn’t follow the simplest of instructions?”More frustration arises from the things you say you will do, but don’t, then any other thing I can think of.6. Corporations and corporate recruiters should play fair!If a candidate is brought to the table by an agency or an independent recruiter, and your interviewing and hiring that candidate is a direct result of the agency recruiter’s efforts, you owe a fee! The fact that the candidate may have applied to your company at some time in the past and is sitting in your database means someone internally dropped the ball. You hired the individual due to the efforts of the agency or independent recruiter. Quit splitting hairs!7. Agency and independent recruiters should earn their fees.If your client has a subscription to one of the major boards, don’t spend all your time looking for candidates from them. The client is paying you to supply them with a candidate that they would most likely not find.Here’s an idea: actually source and recruit! If all you do is continually forward the resumes of candidates from the same boards your client subscribes to, please explain to me the service you provide, because I don’t see it! Most likely, neither will your client.If you think that your clients won’t catch on, you have underestimated the in-house staff. While on the corporate side of the recruiting industry, I was contacted on a number of occasions by agency recruiters selling their abilities to find and provide untapped talent, only to see the candidates they presented on the major boards. It was clear: all they did was search the same boards I had access to. I quit using these agencies.8. When working with recruiters in a split scenario, don’t begrudge the split. it affords you a placement. Pay it on time and with a smile!Ever notice how many recruiters get suspicious when they work on a split arrangement? I think this is because too many times recruiters begrudge paying the split when payday arrives. They rationalize, “I worked my tail off establishing that client. All this recruiter did was pull a candidate resume from his database. I did all the work! They don’t deserve their half of the fee.”Once again, this is the wrong attitude. Without that candidate the placement would not have happened! If after you make a split placement you feel you did all the work, ask yourself why. Most likely it is a matter of not laying the groundwork for how the relationship should have worked.Lay it out! If you want them to check references, tell them. Whatever you need to facilitate the placement, let them know. Likewise, if you are the agency submitting the candidate, be prepared. There are certain things you know the submitting agency will need: salary expectations, reason for leaving, availability, etc. Don’t wait until they ask for it. Have it before it is needed. Anticipate the next step and prepare for it. You will find that when payday comes you will receive it with an open hand and a smile of appreciation.9. A guarantee period is just that: a period of time that you “guarantee” some action. Don’t try to back out or take advantage of a technicality when things go awry. You agreed to a set of circumstances. Follow through and do so cheerfully!I have witnessed a number of occasions when a recruiter has tried to back out of a guarantee at the expense of a long-term relationship. Not wanting to lose a fee is understandable. But it should not be the driving motivation for your actions. “Fees” should be the driving motivation for your actions, not a fee!”Fees” are acquired from long-term relationships with clients. One fee will matter little over the period of five years especially if that fee was attained at a client where you made only one placement. Fees should be the goal. Fees keep the motor of an agency running. Spending all of your time developing relationships with clients where you will make only one placement will not result in a growing, robust company or client base. Consistently performing and producing for a few continual clients would always be preferred.Therefore, honor your guarantees. If you offer a 90-day full refund guarantee, then refund the full amount as you said you would, and do so with a smile even for the one-off placement clients!10. Develop a consistent work ethic.Work hard for your employer, whether you work for a corporation, an agency, or as an independent. Develop a solid work ethic and perform your responsibilities to the best of your abilities.Above all else, maintain integrity. I’ve said it before but it is worth mentioning again. All you take with you from employer to employer is your ability to perform and your reputation. As recruiters, we do not sell a product; we provide a service.If you sacrifice your service and integrity in the pursuit of a quick dollar you may indeed win the battle but you will lose the war!

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Charles Black is the president and principal consultant for SSI Inc., a recruitment and consulting firm that provides recruiter training, business consulting and retained search assistance to agencies and corporations. Charles possesses 15 years of executive, technical, and professional sourcing and recruiting expertise. He has mentored and managed recruiters in the most competitive markets and has been retained for extended engagements with large national consulting firms such as Perot Systems, Price Waterhouse, KPMG Peat Marwick, and Keane Inc.

Charles has traveled both nationally and internationally to facilitate recruiting engagements and has provided consulting and recruiter training services to agencies and Fortune 500 corporations alike.


4 Comments on “Ten Ethical Standards Every Recruiter Should Abide By

  1. In every industry, profession, and trade, there may be multiple associations representing varied interests. There is one thing they all share in common. Each association has a slate of member classes, and each association is served by myriad vendors. Each of these vendors hail from other industry, professional or trade groups having their own respective standards of conduct. The only way to ever truly create a fair and level playing field is in a universal mission statement advocating a goal of reciprocity between all stakeholders; enforcing strict standards of business practices and professional conduct for all participating stakeholders regardless of organization or member status.

    From a practical standpoint, existing policies of most associations neither monitors nor disciplines outside Vendors serving general member interests; leaving association members open to abuse, and associations in general open to criticism, regulatory review or even legal challenges.

    I crafted and proposed the adoption the following statement of Highest & Best Practices to cover not only association members, but those individuals, and entities wishing to participate in the events and activities of the National Association of Personnel Services. The intent was to insure that all who want to participate be, in fact, subject to some standard; whether a member of NAPS, or another association. The statement boils down to the old adages of ‘fair play’ and ‘ignorance is no excuse’. Sadly, after a year of research and presentations, I was unable to convince NAPS governing board of the merits in holding all stakeholders accountable to such a high standard. I throw it out this time to the entire staffing industry for consideration. Here it is:


    The purpose of this section of the (association’s) governing documents is to promote consistent standards, and protect members from the consequences of dealing with unscrupulous or unethical firms and/or individuals. (Association) membership is a privilege, not a right; therefore, any member class must, as a condition of membership and/or participation in (association) 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 is 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 (association) 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 abide by the (association) Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) and/or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process and procedures; conducted by a qualified organization. In all disputes, the decision of the (association) board of directors will be final and binding on all parties. Proven violations may result in loss of membership or exclusion from formal participation in (association) sponsored affairs and/or events.

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