when a recruiter misleads you and wastes your time

A reader writes:

I’ve been fully self-employed as a freelancer for about three and a half years. Over the last year, however, my income has dropped by a good bit (thanks to moving and to the economy). I’m doing fine with what I’m making, but it feels like that could change any time. In a perfect world, my freelance business would be predictable enough that I’d never consider another salary, but it’s a far from perfect world so I do think about returning to the salaried world some times.

When we moved to our new city, I signed up with a couple of creative placement agencies. I’ve never used that kind of agency before because they mostly place people in full-time and on-site temporary jobs and I’m usually able to fill my calendar with higher paying projects that I can do from my home office. I signed up when work was slow and I would have been able to do something on-site and full-time. They call me with various projects from time to time, but I’ve usually passed on the their opportunities because I’m busy enough not to have to take them. They also charge pretty high commissions, so the pay to me ends up being lower than I’m used to even when the client is paying my usual rates.

A few months ago, they called with an opportunity to do some freelance work for a big local company. I could do the work from my home office and it was a dream client that I’d love to work for and had no other access to. I agreed to the interview and was very excited. When I got there, it seemed clear that a) the client wanted someone with a much more extensive science background that I had and b) the “freelance” opportunity was really just an audition project for a full-time position. It was a waste of my time and theirs for me to go there. And, even worse, it made it impossible for me to approach that client about any other business because the placement agency would want a huge chunk of any fees I’d ever earn from them.

I haven’t agreed to meet anyone they’ve wanted to introduce me to since, but they called me yesterday to ask if I’d be willing to talk about something full-time. I said yes, if it was the right fit. They told me about a position that sounded like a good (but not great) match for my skills with a “medium-sized company.” I specifically asked about the client and they said “medium-sized.” They asked for a specific kind of writing sample, which I provided. They schedule a phone interview for me this morning, which I did. The phone interview went well, but it turned out that the “medium-sized company” was actually another recruiter who is trying to find someone to hire for a HUGE local company (Fortune 500 public corporation). The recruiter didn’t even have my resume when we talked, but she did have my writing sample. We talked for about 30 minutes and she asked if I could come meet with her boss for an interview TODAY. I tried to put her off but she pushed hard and I agreed to meet this afternoon.

Then, I thought about the HUGE company, the hour it would take me to get there and back, the client deadlines I need to meet this week, the fact that she didn’t even have my resume, and I started to have big doubts. I think if I put in the time to get over there today, there’s a good chance that a) she’ll be wasting my time because she doesn’t really know enough about me to know if I’m a good candidate and b) this isn’t really the job for me even if she’s right that I’m who they might want–the HUGE company isn’t where I’d been thinking my next move would be.

I called the placement agency and explained what was happening. They pressured me and pressured me, they told me what “great opportunity” this would be (even while saying they didn’t know it was for HUGE company when they told me about it, so I doubt that they have any idea if this is a good opportunity or not). I told them that I’d be willing to meet with this other recruiter tomorrow but that I cannot make the appointment today.

I’m feeling guilty for backing out after I agreed, but I’m also getting really frustrated with these recruiters. I think they’re all pressuring me to spend hours on this interview without having any idea if I’m the right fit for this position. They just want to be able to say they found a candidate, any candidate, and they don’t care if they’re wasting my time or not. And I don’t want to potentially sour a relationship with a huge local company by showing up to interview for something I’m not the right fit for because the recruiters aren’t paying enough attention to me or what I’m telling them.

What responsibility should recruiters have to respecting the time of the candidates they send for interviews? Is this kind of lackadaisical “just do the interview” attitude the best I can expect from these kinds of placement agencies?

Well, like most industries, it depends on who you’re working with. There are terrible, lazy, incompetent recruiters out there. And there are fantastic ones. It sounds like you’ve hooked yourself up with a bad one, and I’d recommend unhooking yourself.

Do keep in mind that recruiters ultimately don’t work for you. They work for the employer, because that’s who pays them. So their goal isn’t so much to work to find you a great fit at a job you’ll love as it is to find the employer someone they’ll love. Now, there’s a lot of overlap between those things — a good recruiter will be open and honest with you about the jobs they talk to you about, because doing that is part of doing a good job for the employer. But when you encounter an incompetent recruiter, they don’t get that. Instead, they see their business as presenting the employer with any reasonably qualified candidate they can find, and if that means fudging the details a bit, they may.

You’ve had enough experience with this agency know to know that you can’t trust them. They’re not competent or ethical. End your relationship with them. If you want to work with a recruiter, ask around to people you know about who they recommend for your field. Get online and see what recruiters are writing good stuff on blogs and Twitter. Ask them for recommendations. There are great recruiters out there, if you look — but you don’t want to work with just anyone. Good luck!

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you for answering my question! I've been holding on to this recruiter because they seem to have so many big companies in their client roster that I can't get access to on my own. But I think you're right that it's time to cut them loose.

    Here's what happened later–

    I agreed to go in for a meeting with the second recruiter in spite of my misgivings (after they pressured me and pressured me). And the job turns out to be an even less good fit for me than I'd expected. They don't know if the HUGE company will even look at my resume if I don't have a certain kind of IT background, which I don't.

    I brought up my concerns with the recruiter who had originally called me about this position and he said, (I'm paraphrasing) that sometimes clients come to recruiters looking for the sun, the moon and the stars and it's not realistic, so they just send any half-way reasonable candidate, figuring that it's just as well for the candidate to get an interview even if nothing works out.

    I said this wastes my time and, as a freelancer who gets paid by how much I work, that time wasting costs me money.

    His only response was to say that he used to freelance and understands, which I took to mean, "tough cookies"!

    Thanks for the advice. I'm thinking I'm gonna to take it!

  2. Retired Recruiter*

    I'm sorry to hear about your experience with that placement agency. In an ideal world you should talk with friends, colleagues etc about agencies that they would recommend but this was not possible given that you are new to the area.
    Recruiters can be persuasive over the telephone so be sure to ask for a job spec to be emailed to you along with details about the company before committing to anything.

  3. Sabrina*

    I could go on at length about how much I hate recruiters. I moved to a new city last year and since I know no one here I hooked up with recruiters. One did send me on a couple of interviews but basically rarely has anything I'm qualified for. Another has brought me in several times under the guise of a new recruiter that just joined the firm and wants to get to know me and has a position I would be just perfect for. When I get there the job isn't going to be quite the fit they thought at first but here's this other job that really sucks and pays less than unemployment. They've done this 3 times now. I'm done with them. Other recruiters in this town aren't much better. Only one I felt actually respected their candidates and unfortunately they are very small and I wonder how they stay in business never having any jobs to fill. So I've exhausted the recruiter supply in this city and am just avoiding them. Which sucks because the type of work I do is filled frequently by staffing firms. Ugh.

  4. Lady No Job*

    Wow! I can't believe this is happening so frequently. Totally happened to me, too. One of the big name recruitment agencies (who has several names) found me and asked me to come in for an interview based on a couple of facts. When I got there, I realized the job had NO relevance to my experience or desires. When I declined, the recruiter tried to convince me what a mistake I was making, etc. He called me 3 times and emailed me over 5 times in less than 3 days. When I finally made myself clear and told him that I wasn't interested, he was very rude. Incredible!

  5. Survive Unemployment*

    And we wonder why the economy is so messed up when we have so many parasites producing no value and sucking up so much time and so many resources.

    Death to the recruiting and staffing industry!

    I have skills to sell. I will sell them directly to the people who need them, thank you very much.

    When recruiters call, I laugh at them.

    What do HR departments do these days, and are managers too stupid to use teh intertubes to post job openings?

  6. Anonymous*

    RE: Death to all recruiters – Be careful letting a few (or even a lot of) bad apples ruin your opinion of the whole bushel…

    That's like saying do away with HR departments because there are some bad ones out there. Extremism in either direction rarely ends well

    I've dealt with both good and bad recruiters – the job I have now I got through a recruiter, specifically because the hiring manager wants the recruiter to be the one to take the time screening candidates.

  7. Anonymous*

    ALL of the recruiters/staffing agencies of lower Fairfield County are a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME!!!!


    When the hell is the U.S. Government going to investigate your PIMPING ways?!? Scum of the Earth.

  8. Anonymous*

    I met a great recruiter once (and only once).

    He was polite, sincere, and offered frank and constant communication.

    Within a year of his placement of me he had left recruiting to start a science research career.

    The moral of this story is: good people DON'T remain recruiters for long.

  9. Arron*

    I just read this article, and read through all of your comments. I can’t believe this is the opinion of the recruiting community at large. I work for a mid sized recruiting firm, been here going on 5 years (recruiting for 8), and a recruiter pulling stunts like those described above wouldn’t last at my firm for more than a week.

    There are PLENTY of good recruiters out there! Like the article reply states, you need to find one that focuses on your discipline. All good recruiters have a niche, and are subject matter experts within whatever vertical they focus on. I focus on placing energy specialists, from high level sales executives to CFO’s, but it’s all in energy.

    You will know if you are working with a good recruiter if they have a specialty, and have been doing it for any length of time. Recruiting is all about word of mouth, and pulling the stunts above will damage your reputation beyond repair. When someone has a focus, a specialty, they have to be honest, ethical, and reliable otherwise they will loose all of their prospective candidates and clients.

  10. Danielle*

    Re: I work for a mid sized recruiting firm, been here going on 5 years…

    So give us the name of the company you work for and we’ll see if you really are the exception to the rule.

    Does anyone have an experience with this guys company they want to share?

  11. anonymous*

    My worst experience with a recruiter was back in 1990 – and I was out of work then. I had traveled, on my own , 1500 miles to take some interviews that I had set up on my own. I went through one interview, which went well. Then I checked in with a recruiter who had a wonderful opportunity, rush back home right away.

    So I cancelled my second interview, and rushed home. I had been told the job paid $X. It would be an ideal opportunity, blah blah blah.

    I go to the interview, and the hiring manager was a great guy — but wondered what I was doing here. “Huh?” “You are vastly OVERqualified for the position. There’s no problem with you doing the job. It’s just that, once you start, you’ll be bored and start looking for another job.”

    Long story short – the unscrupulous headhunter calls me and confesses = “it doesn’t pay $X, it pays $X- (around 30 percent)”. I finally get confrontational and tell her — I cancelled an interview to take this one, you sent me there under false pretenses, etc. etc. and what is your game, lady?” I got upset – picked up the phone, called the hiring manager, told him what transpired and he said “now you know why — the job doesn’t pay that, and it’s largely a clerical function, I’m sorry, your time was wasted (not his fault, it was OK) but I think I’m going to stop having them send ANYONE in here.”

    I have generally avoided headhunters like the plague since that time. In these hard times, employers can be selective, and don’t feel a need to pay a commission to get someone in-house. I have had some good ones, but my last three jobs (over 21 years) were obtained ON MY OWN and through networking. Networking is the best “headhunting” mechanism you can use.

  12. A Recruiter*

    I’m a recruiter, and when I contact people about roles I tell them the name of the company, the location of the job, and send them a job description. Often people will ask for the expected salary and most often I don’t know, because the client (for who we’re a preferred supplier, not just an annoying agency emailing them again) doesn’t tell us.

    I do get a bit annoyed when people pull out of opportunities I put them forward for, but I never pass that annoyance along to the candidate. What they choose to do is their business. Unfortunately you’ll find a lot of recruiters are under pressure from their managers who believe that a candidate rejecting an interview will reflect badly on the agency.

    In fact, if a client makes an offer to one of my candidates and the candidate then turns it down (which is their right), my manager will tell me it’s my fault because I didn’t get them to “follow my process”. In other words, I was supposed to convince them that this job was the best thing that will ever happen to them, and that if they apply through me they have no choice but to be grateful with the (often crappy) offer that comes through. I get reprimanded for a candidate’s choice.

    Unsurprisingly, I’m trying to get out of recruitment right now.

  13. Sharon*

    I just had a bad encounter with them last month supposedly for a short term clinic job. I was called upon for a phone interview and said I had over a year experience for the position. He said it’s for the flu season. To make the long story short, everything that he said did not materialize. Undisclosed “other paperwork” were required and no mention of a drug test was the final requirement. Lack of effective communication, delayed responses, and you could almost tell that they are just rounding up candidates for possible work that may come.

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