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Fight Dirty Hiring Tactics

May 13, 2001
Related Topics: Internet, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
With unemployment holding steady at about 4.2 percent, many recruitersscrambling to fill open positions have moved beyond the gung-ho, to the flat-outdirty. Lying, intimidation, stealing, and bribery are par for the course.Recruiters are flocking to pricey Internet courses that teach a kind of"legal" hacking, using sophisticated, little-known search techniques.

    But there are ways of protecting yourself by closely controlling how companyinformation is given out, and by whom. Procedures for verifying a caller'sidentity should be developed, and private corporate information on the Internetshould be kept securely behind a firewall, a locked cyber door that can't beopened simply by using the right search terms.

    In the roiling sea of contemporary recruiting, one of the first ethicalstandards to go is honesty. Phone misrepresentations are commonplace. KevinWheeler, president of Global Learning

    Resources, Inc., in Fremont, California, says he knows recruiters so adept atcreating a false identity that they can delve four or five levels into a companyto obtain information.

    "I know a recruiter who has called companies saying he's with the LarryKing Show. He says, 'We'd like your CFO to be on our show; can you spell hisname?' It's amazing, but he gets all the information he needs. And the CFO'ssecretary would probably send you her boss's fourth-grade report card if shethinks you're from Larry King."

    In highly competitive fields like information technology, science, andengineering, some recruiters are willing to do almost anything for the personalprofits that come with reeling in great job candidates.

    John Doffing, founder of StartUpAgent, Inc. in San Francisco, has beeninterviewing recruiters for six months, as possible additions to his firm, amanagement team developer for Internet startups.

    One recruiter interviewing for a job told Doffing she was working with"a number of great candidates." When he asked if she had met with anyof them she admitted she hadn't, although she had called a few. Their résuméswere found through online job boards. "She kept referring to these peopleas her clients," he says, "yet most of them didn't even know they werecandidates."

    Doffing says some of the recruiters he's spoken with take great pride inbeing able to scam a mailroom clerk or receptionist into giving out personnelinformation.

    The best way for companies to protect themselves from such intrusions is toestablish practices that are communicated to all employees and recruiters, KevinWheeler says. "The bottom line is to think, respond slowly, and verify allcalls and attempted contacts."

    All employees should be trained neverto give out information about employeereporting relationships or their contact information unless they are 100%certain of who the caller is and the reason the information is needed.

    "Refer all calls of this nature to a single contact person within theorganization," Wheeler says. "That person should be a senior levelrecruiter with experience questioning the caller as to intent andidentity."

    Dirty tactics aren't limited to deception. Several recruiters interviewed forthis story said it isn't uncommon to pay employees thousands of dollars forcopies of their companies' phone directories, or to offer a "bounty"to new hires if they bring along others from their former jobs.

    An officer at a marketing company, who asked not to be identified, says thatwhile working with another marketing company to service one account, thatcompany recruited -- and got -- the number two person in her organization. She saysthey convinced him to break his contract with monetary incentives. "As faras recruiting goes, this was the most unethical thing I've seen in over 20years." It's also illegal. "They pulled the rug right out from underme."

    At Mindbridge, a software company in Worcester, Pennsylvania, internalrecruiters are encouraged to target competitors' employees. Scott Testa, vicepresident of sales and marketing at the company, says, "We've sent ourpeople out to companies that we knew were in trouble to stand outside thebuilding at lunch time and offer to take groups of people to lunch. If yourcompany was in trouble and a recruiter was standing there asking to buy youlunch, are you going to say no?"

    Although Testa says Mindbridge's HR department is very aggressive when itcomes to recruiting, he insists that they are ethical.

    Kevin Wheeler disagrees. "I think a lot of these tactics are unethical.And I see the greatest abuse among freelance recruiters." Independentrecruiters are paid per placement for finding scarce people quickly. There is agold-rush mentality among them. "You can make a lot of money if you place a$200,000-a-year engineer and get a 30 percent commission, so recruiters often dowhatever it takes."

    Laura Hartman, an associate professor of business ethics at DePaul Universityin Chicago, says ethical standards tend to plummet when other pressures rise."When you're really desperate to get candidates because the market is socompetitive, you tend to lower those standards," says Hartman, also a boardmember of the DePaul Institute for Business and Professional Ethics. "Ifyou need this placement commission to pay the mortgage, your ethical line movescloser to the center."

    Doing whatever it takes often involves some skilled searching on theInternet. Some of the most controversial search techniques used to find passivecandidates-- known as flipping, X-ray, domain searches, or peelback -- raise stickyquestions about ethics and privacy.

    Advanced Internet Recruitment Strategies teaches these techniques torecruiters and HR professionals. Depending on the tool they use, recruiters canfind employee home pages, staff directories, and bios hidden inside corporateWeb sites. They also can access lists of passive candidates, customer lists, ande-mail addresses. AIRS advertises that its seminars will enable you "todrive your bus right through your source company's Web site -- loading upcandidates as you go."

    Laura Jean Whitcomb, a spokesperson for the company, says much of thisinformation isn't linked to the company's home page or other pages that can beseen by casual visitors. "Search engines index all pages regardless ofwhere they are linked, and that means with our X-Ray command, you can find pagesyou wouldn't otherwise see links to -- or find -- if you went in through the 'frontdoor.' "

    Tracey Claybrooke-Friend, vice president of hiring solutions at Peopleclickin Tampa, Florida, leads seminars that teach recruiters how to"flip" -- a technique identical to AIRS's trademarked "FlipSearch."

    Flipping is used to find employee contact information and resumes on theInternet, by using links to corporate Web sites. Sometimes flipping allowsrecruiters to break into a company's private intranet -- a part of the public Website that can only be accessed from within the company -- which often holdsorganizational charts and contacts.

    Claybrooke-Friend found herself in that position not long ago, when sheaccidentally got into the Computer Sciences Corp.'s intranet. "There was abroken link on a Web site that gave someone direct access to CSC'sintranet," she says. "We contacted CSC about the link and it wasfixed. This kind of thing does happen. If there is a broken link or an error inthe public information, you can obtain more data that is private to acompany."

    But should you?

    Glenn Gutmacher, president of, an Internet recruitingtechniques training firm, says companies blame the recruiter when its ranks areraided, but it is the company's fault for putting too much information on theWeb without proper protection. "If you want to protect data, put it behinda firewall," he says.

    A firewall is built using a combination of software and hardware to create asecure intranet. For smaller businesses, Gutmacher suggests buying personalfirewall software at a computer retailer. "It's also a good idea to keepcontact information on the public Web site to a generic e-mail. For example, ifyou want to contact someone in sales, the e-mail address for everyone in thedepartment could be Always avoid publishing direct phoneextensions."

    Deborah Keys, chair of the National Association of Executive Recruiters, saysshe and other recruiters in her association don't condone hacking into acompany's Intranet. But, she asks, if others in the industry have the know-howand use it, "does that mean they are less ethical than we are? Or is it thecompany's responsibility to keep their information secure?"

    Ethicist Laura Hartman says that when a recruiter goes through that hole inthe wall or finds the "back door," the right thing to do is to turnaround and walk out, first leaving a note that says, "Next time, lockup." Hartman says if you stumble upon information that was clearly intendedfor use only within a corporation, it's unethical to use it. "If I go outand forget to lock the door to my house, that doesn't mean you have the right togo in and steal everything." Although she acknowledges that the currentlabor market is forcing recruiters to be more creative in locating candidates,she says it's "not a license to break the law or refuse to follow a code ofethics."

Workforce, May 2001, pp. 30-34-- Subscribe Now!

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