recruiters gone wild: 3 stories of recruiters behaving badly

Three letters on similar topics…

1. Recruiter is asking me to “fight for her” with a company that’s interviewing me

I applied to Company A in Location A early this year and received a rejection email. Not wanting to give up, I asked my recruitment agent to approach them again, but in Location B, 6 months later. Company A replied to my agent, saying that my resume was under consideration by Company A in Location A. They dealt with her and she pitched for me, resulting in Company A calling me for interview (which will take place tomorrow). Company A told my agent that since I applied directly to them earlier this year, they will go direct to me and not through my agent. Naturally, my agent got really mad because it was her pitching that landed me the interview and plus, they only told her at the last minute that they are going direct.

While I should not be involve in the decision of Company A, my agent has asked that I back her up and fight for her rights to represent me. She even told Company A that I am willing to speak on her behalf. Company A has not talked to me about this. I don’t know what I should do. Company A is my dream company and I am interviewing for my dream job. My agent is my trusted agent and she helped me landed my previous job which brought me to where I am today. I worry that if I fight for her, it will cost me my potential job offer as it may not be favorable to how Company A views me.  If I don’t, I feel that I am not being fair to my agent.

This is between your recruiter and the company and should be governed by whatever arrangement they have with each other. It’s not your place to get involved with this, and by asking you to “fight for her,” she’s asking you to jeopardize your chances of employment with the company.  Tell her, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel it’s my place to tell them how to handle this. I love working with you, but I don’t feel comfortable pushing an employer on this.”

2. Rude recruiter keeps missing our scheduled phone calls

I’m currently employed in a position that I’m trying to leave. Last month, I started a job search, and early last week, I got an email from a company I applied to. One of the company’s recruiters (not the hiring manager) asked if I had some time for a phone call, presumably to see if the company would want to interview me. As this was my first hit, I was understandably excited.

We set the call for a designated time on Thursday. Half an hour after the recruiter was supposed to call me, I called him and left a polite, professional query as to the next step. I sent an email about half an hour later as a follow-up where I said I hoped everything was all right while reiterating my interest in the position. I also gave another set of times for the next day during which I’d be available. He responded that he wasn’t available on that day, and he asked about my availability for Monday. No apology, no acknowledgement that anything had gone wrong, no indication that my time had been wasted. After I said a few expletives aloud, I set another time for Monday.

Well, Monday’s gone and still no phone call. I plan on sending another polite, professional follow-up email to set up another call because I really do want this job, but it’s pretty infuriating at this point.

You’ve had several posts decrying what the recruiter is doing, but what are my options? Is there a way to let this recruiter know that this is a pretty big inconvenience for me without killing my shot at the position? Is there a point where I notify this person’s manager? Conversely, are my own expectations too high? Is this all just a sign of a 20-something’s inexperience in the workforce? I want the job, so I plan to just suck it up and keep the process going, but I’m getting to the point where I want to tear my hair out.

Yep, it infuriatingly common — and not just among recruiters, but among pretty much all roles involved in hiring. It’s incredibly rude and inconsiderate.

As for what you can do, though, don’t notify the person’s manager. If you do that, the chances are too high of you simply being blacklisted at the company. It might seem ridiculous that that’s the case, but they don’t know you and they do know the recruiter, so you risk being seen as “the unreasonable prima donna who doesn’t understand that people are busy and escalates things inappropriately.” (There are some managers who would want to know their recruiters are acting like this — I’m one of them — but the majority of the time, this isn’t going to go over well.)

You can, however, say something like this to the recruiter when setting your next appointment: “I’ll be planning other appointments around our call, so would you please let me know as soon as you can if you end up needing to move it?” It won’t guarantee you courtesy, but it’ll at least prompt him to realize that you have your own schedule to keep.

And, of course, you can decide at any point that you’re not interested in being treated this way and bow out if you prefer.

3. Did this recruiter reject me because I contacted the company directly when he wouldn’t respond?

I am wondering how I should have handled a recruiter who was flaky. I applied for a position at a nonprofit and part of the process involved being initially vetted through a third party firm. Within two hours of submitting my resume and cover letter, I got an email request for a phone interview. Great. I had the interview that week, and all went very well. At the end of the call, the recruiter advised that he was going to send my info along to the foundation and get back to me “either way, within one to two weeks.”

Two weeks went by without a word, so I sent a polite inquiry to the recruiter. No response. Another week went by, so I sent another polite email and left a phone message the day after. No response. Another week went by (4 weeks now), and he finally got back to me, stating he was going to speak to the foundation the next day and contact me that afternoon. Nothing.

Yet another week went by and I sent a polite email and left a message. No desperation … I just really wanted this particular position. No response. Week six, I went ahead and submitted my information directly to the foundation with a short note that I was very interested in this position and had interviewed, but the recruiter appears to be busy. I was nice. I swear!

Within 24 hours, I got an email from the recruiter stating that the foundation was impressed by my experience and skill set, but didn’t feel this was a perfect fit at this time. And then they reposted the job. Did I make a huge mistake and piss off the recruiter? Any thoughts? Is this common? What should I have done? It is frustrating to me to be unsure if I didn’t get the job because he was flaky and/or annoyed I applied directly, or if they legitimately did not want to hire me.

My guess is that they really didn’t think you were the right fit. The recruiter you were dealing with is probably one of the many people who don’t bother sending rejections, even when candidates are following up and asking for a status update. But once you emailed the employer directly, they told him to get back to you with their answer, and at that point he did. (Or once you emailed the employer directly, the recruiter realized that he really did need to relay the answer to you.)

Now, there are other possibilities too: Maybe there hadn’t been any decision to reject you,  and when the employer received your email, they just forwarded your email to the recruiter, because he’s the one handling this stage of screening … and the recruiter, annoyed that you were going around him, put an end to the whole thing by rejecting you solely for that reason. Or maybe he had already rejected you in his head earlier, for legitimate reasons of fit, but wasn’t motivated to actually tell you that until he realized that you weren’t going away.

I’m betting, though, that it’s simply that you’d already been rejected earlier in the process and no one was courteous enough to tell you. After all, the recruiter has a job to do and wants to keep his client happy. If you were a strong candidate, he would have passed you along. The fact that he didn’t points to someone — either him or the employer — deciding you weren’t the right fit.

Either way, the recruiter is rude, but there’s not much you can do about it. Unfortunately, you can’t force people to give you an answer, and there’s a point at which being too persistent about it does start to reflect on you too (although that doesn’t excuse their rudeness in not replying).

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Aaron*

    Re #1: the simple answer here is Allison’s answer. You keep calling the recruiter your “agent,” but if she were your agent you’d be paying her, not the company. She works for the company, and is having a dispute with the company–ideally, not your problem.

    Realistically, though, if the company really doesn’t want to pay, and thinks the recruiter is likely to make a big stink, there’s some chance they’ll pass on your candidacy. So I’d tell your recruiter that you’d like her to get paid (since it sounds like you do), and will at least raise the issue after you get an offer, but that first you need to get an offer.

    And make sure to remind your recruiter you’re really interested in this job, and ask her not to jeopardize your offer in the meantime.

    1. Josh S*

      Yeah, exactly. The time to raise this is either A) Never, or B) After you’ve received a written offer. Keep in mind too that since the company often pays the recruiter a percentage of your negotiated salary, that you may be hurting your own take-home pay. If they are willing to pay you $50k and they have $50k budgeted for the position, they aren’t going to want to pay you $50k AND be on the hook for the recruiter’s commission.

      IMO, your best bet is to stay out of the relationship between the recruiter and the hiring company.

      And if the recruiter misrepresents that you’ve agreed to “fight for her,” you should say something like, “While I really appreciate Recruiter and think she’s done a great job for me both currently and in the past, I never agreed to ‘fight for her’ or otherwise represent her services to you. That seems to be a professional matter between Company and her, and it would seem best for you to resolve it directly.”

      1. Liya*

        Josh, this is the case for contract or temporary position, but not for permanent placements. If this is a permanent position, the fee does not come out of the candidate’s salary. This is often coming out of a separate recruitment budget.

  2. perrik*

    OP #1: Your recruiter needs to chat with her higher-ups. I used to work with a recruiting agency, and our contracts with the clients stated the terms for “ownership” of candidates. With some clients we could not submit a candidate who had applied directly (or through another recruiter) within the last 12 months even if the candidate had not been interviewed by the client. If the resume had been uploaded to their system, tough luck for us. For other clients, this was limited to a shorter time period or to individuals who had been contacted for interviews by the client.

    As Alison said, this is between the recruiter and their client. You are not involved, and cannot “fight” to violate the recruiter-client contract.

    OP #2: The recruiter is rude. Unfortunately you don’t know if that’s indicative of the organizational culture there, or if the recruiter is merely an impolite individual who doesn’t value the time of a mere candidate. I’d try to stay in touch, but there’s no point in going over the recruiter’s head (see letter #3 for one possible outcome). All you can do is grit your teeth and carry on.

    OP #3: The recruiter was rude. The hiring timeline changed and the recruiter somehow didn’t think you needed to be kept updated.

  3. kristinyc*

    #1 – Yeah, there is probably something in the contract between the recruiter and the company stating that they HAVE to go through the recruiter if that’s how the company originally found you. If the company is willing to do that, I’d be concerned about what other rules and promises they’re willing to break

    1. Su*

      I don’t agree. Companies employ people in HR to help save and make money in different areas, with this matter included. They are going direct because they have proof of OP applying directly, which saves them a lot of money.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The issue is what the contract says about this. It will usually define candidates as “theirs” if they had them in their system within the last X months. It would be unusual for this not to be spelled out in a written contract. Regardless, it’s between the recruiter and the employer, not the OP.

  4. ChristineH*

    #3: Argh!! Not getting back to people after saying you’ll let me know “either way” is a huge pet peeve of mine. I think recruiters/interviewers say that automatically without really thinking about what they’re saying; yet, job seekers take that at face value. It’s understandable to want to persist, but it’s possible that the recruiter didn’t take too kindly to the OP going directly to the employer. That’s actually a good question…is it ever appropriate to go directly to an employer when a third-party recruiter fails to keep you updated?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d love to say yes, because employers need to know when their recruiters aren’t doing a good job … but too often, the outcome will be that you’ll simply be seen as a prima donna and rejected. It sucks, because there should be a credible way to inform the company without harming your own chances. (And to be clear, it won’t ALWAYS harm your chances, not when the person you escalate it to is reasonable — but there’s no way for you to know if you’re dealing with one of those or not.) Ideally, companies would “secret shop” their recruiters or make their expectations for candidate treatment very clear.

  5. perrik*

    Wanted to add this…

    Good questions to ask a third-party recruiter:

    – For how long has the Chocolate Teapot Factory been a client of your agency?

    – How many candidates has your agency successfully placed at CTF? How many were permanent and how many were temps? (if this is applicable) Are any of them still there?

    – How many jobs have *you* (personally) worked with the client to fill?

    Basically, you’re looking for some hints on the relationships between the agency and client, the specific recruiter and hiring managers at the client, and the recruiter/agency and their candidates.

    A good long-term relationship between agency and client indicates that your recruiter is likely to get timely updates on the client’s hiring process, and will have a clearer idea of what the client seeks in terms of competencies and cultural fit. I suspect you’re more likely to find this in niche agencies (my last employer was an agency that specialized in two specialized areas of health care).

    I do wish that companies would “secret shop” their external AND internal recruiters. It’s like going to a restaurant where the chef is awesome, the waiters are smoothly professional – but the hostess greets you with a snotty attitude and leaves you waiting for updates on when you might possibly be seated for your reserved table. Unless I’m really hungry, I’m out of there.

  6. Mike C.*

    This reminds me of something I’ve always wondered. Are there “agents” that one can hire to do a job search for you? Say if you aren’t a professional athlete or actor?

    1. Kimberley*

      In Canada at least it is illegal to charge anyone for that type of work. However, you can pay someone to write your resume, to coach you how to interview, to help you “dress for success”, etc.

      1. Mike C.*

        So does that mean famous music artists and sports stars don’t have people representing them? Do they simply have a lawyer that handles negotiations? I’m really curious how it works over there!

        And the reason I ask the question is that I remember during my last job hunt I was currently employed by a place that just drained me, and I would have killed to have a professional coaching me on written materials and finding leads and the like.

        Anyway, just a random thought!

  7. Geo -- OP #2*

    Hi all,

    This is the OP for Question(s) #2, and I just thought I’d give a quick update. I emailed the recruiter before I left for work this morning, and the problem sort of fixed itself in a way. I got an email a few minutes ago from him saying my informational phone call will be with the company’s HR director early next week.

    I’ve quashed the temptation to celebrate (a la “Huzzah, the HR director wants to speak with me!”), and I figure that the recruiter is just pretty swamped at the moment. Obviously, I’m a bit peeved at being blown off twice, but with any luck, this will get the ball rolling again.

    In any case, for the advice, Alison. Going to someone’s manager isn’t something I’d do lightly, but if I had been blown off two or three more times, I might have let spite get the better of me.

    Of course, the HR director could also not call, but I’m hoping that’s not the case.

    Thanks again!

  8. Another Jamie*

    I’d really love to hear from some actual recruiters about what they think about these types of situations. I know it’s a bad market for job seekers, and that probably translates to busy work for recruiters. But how can so many of them get away with doing their job so poorly?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Most recruiters (and many employers) will tell you that this ISN’T doing their job poorly, and that it’s only a problem if they’re treating certain candidates that way — the ones companies want to woo. If a candidate isn’t moving forward in the process anyway, many recruiters (and many employers) don’t feel any obligation to them. They’d argue that their job is to fill positions, not to update candidates who aren’t moving forward in the process anyway.

      Obviously, this is horribly faulty thinking, but I think it’s pretty reflective of their approach.

  9. OP 3*

    OP#3 Here with an update:

    First, thank you for the responses!

    The foundation that posted the position closed their doors about two months after my experience. It was fiscally sound, but the couple who funded it were ready to move on after more than 15 years of foundation work. I do not believe this possibility was known to the recruiter at the time because they did go on to hire someone else. In the end, I am happy I did not get the job only to lose it soon after, but I do feel for the people who lost their positions.

    I understand this is a rough job market and I am happy to compete fairly with others. I appreciate the plethora of talent surrounding my field. I understand it possibly was not a good fit for me. And vice versa. However, I do not think it is polite, kind or reasonable to treat people who are seeking employment like bad first dates in a Lothario market. “Oh yea…I’ll call you” is bad form. It’s rude and uncalled for on multiple levels. It would have taken that recruiter 60 seconds at most to send an email to me explaining I was not chosen.

    Thank you again for including my email and for the responses. I appreciate the input more than I can adequately express.

  10. CareerGoods*

    Question #1 – I’m unclear on whether or not you let the Recruiter know that you had already applied to location A just months before? As a Recruiter myself, this is the first question I ask all of my candidates before presenting them ANYWHERE. I wouldn’t present your resume knowing that you had already applied less than a year ago.

    If you did inform your Recruiter (and I hope you did), she took a huge risk. In my industry, it doesn’t matter what location job seekers apply to, once they apply to one, it’s an application to the organization as a whole. An experienced Recruiter should know that they’re playing with fire. If companies can get away without paying an agency fee, why wouldn’t they? To me, this sounds like a Recruiter who was hoping the organization wouldn’t notice and she lost.

    It’s also not your job to ‘fight for her’. This was her mistake and it’s unprofessional to request that a candidate get involved. You also don’t have the ability or the power to fight for her. If you were to get a job offer, it’s unrealistic to expect you to decline it because of this situation.

    LESSON TO RECRUITERS – Don’t present a candidate who has already applied to a company. It’s a complete waste of your time.

    LESSON TO JOB SEEKERS – Be honest and inform Recruiters that you’ve already sent your resume to a company.

  11. TR*

    Lesson to candidate: Don’t ask a recruiter to submit you to a company where you’ve already submitted your resume. It’s a waste of her time. I’m surprised she did anything with your request. I wouldn’t have. BTW not trying to be snarky but why would a company do anything but consider you on your own if you’ve already applied, location A or B notwithstanding? My opinion, you should not have asked her, and she should have refused. No one is wholly right in this case.

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