Bad Recruiters, Identity Theft, and What To Do About It

Job hunters throughout the United States have cited that their biggest sore point in the job hunt is dealing with inept recruiters. Who can blame them? Recruiters typically repost the job ads that the hiring companies post on their corporate sites then only do the bare minimum to screen and prepare candidates. It has been my personal experience in recent

years that, if a recruiter does more than give you a vague description of the job and ask you to tailor your resume to include certain buzzwords, you have yourself a keeper. The general approach seems to be this: collect as many close fits as possible, herd them together, sell the hype, and hope that the candidates can do the rest of the work for you.

The reality is that recruiters are suffering along with job seekers. Job market saturation is arguably the byproduct of overseas outsourcing, widespread “right-sizing”, 1990’s dot-com collapses, and, of course, 9/11. Our economy has taken a hard hit and, as more and more fresh college graduates enter the workforce, it is not getting any easier, even for the most seasoned veterans in their fields. Recruiters are dealing with easily three or four times the workload that was expected in the “golden age” of the mid-90’s. There is also far more competition from other staffing and recruiting firms. The Recruiting Animal blog cites that the typical recruiter handles anywhere from 26-30 projects at a time on average, which is definitely more than recruiters experienced even 5 years ago. It’s no wonder recruiters are spending less time preparing and qualifying their candidates!


The word headhunter has developed a worse connotation than ever. When recruiters collect candidates that are not necessarily matches for their projects, they try to force the fit. On the other side, job seekers tend to embellish as well. It’s hard to tell where the actual cause is and whom is more effected but the truth remains that this reality is very much a double-edged sword. Headhunters, to me, are those that blindly send in massive amounts of candidates to the same clients, effectively frustrating the interviewers and passing on the ugliness to the poor, unsuspecting job hunters.

Now, many clients and friends alike have asked me the same question: how can one make working with recruiters easier? Well, the idealistic answer is this: do not work with them and go straight to the employers. If only it were that simple. The grim reality is that companies like recruiters for one reason, if nothing else: they can pass off the headaches of the hiring process to them and provide themselves another layer of protection from “job seeker spam” such as incessant phone calls and multi-page resume blasts.

If you really look at it, recruiters these days rarely have field experience in their industries of focus (at least that has been my experience) so all they really can do is play the buzzword/keyword game and hope that their loose concept of what a position requires is enough to be a good judge of character. I find that, especially in IT work, technical skills and paper certifications are focused on too much yet those are the easiest skills to obtain. Surely, measuring soft skills is no easy feat but any seasoned recruiter should be able to judge character well while enabling candidates to excel in the areas they are good at. Again, this is just a pipedream as what seems like common sense really is not to the rest of the world.

I have to play devil’s advocate so I will let you in on a little secret which I have used many times before: copy and paste part of a job requirement into a search engine (I recommend Google or Dogpile) and – VIOLA – you should be able to unmask the direct employer. As per CDTV’s “Online Job Hunting” article, Wall Street Journal admits what a select few of us have known since hte dawn of time: if you know the right people, you will have the competitive edge. It’s simple really. The old adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” will always hold true. Recruiters are pesky middle men that offer little or no value, for the most part. In fact, going direct with employers means you can get more money and still save the hiring company money on your overall employment package. It’s a win-win situation yet some employers insist that they do not be contacted directly for certain positions so be very careful trying to trace the vague job posts back to the original posters.

I personally recommend doing this sort of homework on the most attractive jobs simply because you want to make sure that it’s not a previous employer playing “dress up.” I see it all the time. Clever employers use headlines such as “not your average position” or “looking for a better life” to draw you in then, when you follow up, you realize you’ve wasted your time and it is already too late. I believe that the most trusthworthy companies are those that post their contact information, encourage follow-up, and show their metaphorical warts rather than try to cover them up with hype, empty promises, and total bunk.

As job seekers, you are all in a brave new world so arm yourself with knowledge. Do not let the desperation of finding a new job force you into the wrong job. Do your homework and make sure the corporate culture, overall benefits, work environment, growth potential, challenge, and other details align with your personal goals, driving principles, and ethics. It’s easy to let recruiters bully you into feeling insufficient. They’ll have you think that it’s all about what their client want and your needs are merely optional. That is exactly why the ideal situation is to work with recruiters that you can have as retainers. These are the people that will help you understand their client’s expectations, prepare for the interviews, and know what skills to brush up on.

I don’t see the job market changing for the better any time soon so that means that we, as professionals, must adapt. The most successful people in the world take weaknesses and turn them into strengths. They also see dire situations and find optimistic hope and opportunity therein. We have to remember that many of our competitors have probably thrown in the towel or slowed down their efforts due to discouraging experiences. Job seekers and business owners alike have to be ready to take on the chaos and make sense of it all because, really, no one else is going to do it for you. I take great pride in extending the TGAP service offerings because I see that there is a real need out there for people to have advisors that take a real interest in their success; sadly, recruiters are not the go-to people anymore, not for career builders, at least.

All things considered, most of the working world still has to deal with recruiters in some form or other so let’s at least try to understand them better. The root cause of poor recruiting practice often starts at the top. I am sympathetic to those that have micromanaging bosses that force recruiters to meet quotas rather than focus on customer satisfaction on both sides of the recruiting funnel. I won’t make an excuse for them because, really, we are masters of our own destiny but it’s understandable that a major portion of the recruiters out there are fresh out of college, have little or no marketability themselves, and/or come from a very strong sales background.

I’d like to delve into the psychology of recruiters a bit more so that you can avoid some of the headaches I have gone through in the past, when I was a naive, insanely-optimistic “computer guy.” I would say that these are the driving forces for recruiters today, in order of importance:

  1. Meet their quotas (dials, interviews, placements, etc.) and keep their jobs.
  2. Get candidates placed and get paid.
  3. Ensure that candidates tailor their resumes using the buzzwords provided on job requirements.
  4. Keep conversations short, talk to as many people as possible, and go home on-time (for once).
  5. Check in with placed candidates a few times until the probationary period is over and bonus money is paid.
  6. Submit the “really good” candidates to the clients before competing recruiters can do so.
  7. Maintain client relations to get “first dibs” on new job openings.
  8. Bombard job boards and forward any positions that do not stipulate that third parties are not allowed.
  9. Keep up with the latest industry trends, including the hotest buzzwords and mass marketing/recruiting tools.
  10. Help candidates prepare for interviews, if time allows it.

As you can see, recruiters live a life of necessity so many look at common courtesies and extra work as “babying” their candidates. These priorities may shift around a lot and there are others, I am sure, but the point here is simple: they don’t have time for the individual candidate. You’re on your own.

One of my favorite reads regarding the diminishing value of recruiters was on a more obscure site, idunno.org. The article seems to be one of two spots focusing on the under-handed ways recruiters use their candidates:

Add to that the “hungry” recruiters that ask “Where have you interviewed? Can I have the company name?”, or need your references up front. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to hand you leads. If you are so concerned about not wanting to put me forward to companies who already have my CV, then tell me who the companies are before you push my CV out to them, I’m not going to let anyone know who they are.

The operative word in that text is “hungry” – recruiters are just too hungry these days. It’s that desperation that leads to poor business practice. It’s the very thing that makes people dislike the typical salesperson or network marketer: a lack of sincerity. People do not like to be lied to, especially when you pretend to be helping them but only seek to turn a profit. I will reiterate once again that recruiters, more times than not, use the same tools that job seekers are using so they bring very little to the table for their clients and prospects alike. This is not always the case but, really, I have found it to be true 95% of the time.

As the quote from idunno.org indicates, there is a very real risk working with recruiters these days. They will farm your natural market and spam potential employers with your resume, which is quite the disturbing realization, especially if you are one of those good-hearted, trusting folks like I once was many moons ago. I am not saying that one should look to avoid working with recruiters completely but you definitely need to be wary of their scare tactics, scams, and other tricks. Take what they say with a grain of salt.

If you want real career advice, work with a career consultant or someone on the field that can afford the time to show you the ropes. I could use this as an opportunity to plug the services that my own company, TGAP, offers but I’ll let you see what else is out there – just keep us in mind! In all seriousness, arming yourself with knowledge will make the job search easier for all seekers. Recruiters are more concerned with their perks and numbers; they are, after all, salespeople at heart.

If you read the “Recruiters Suck, Reloaded” article on idunno.org, you see that there are still some good recruiters out there. If you find one, do all that you can to keep the relationship going and build trust. When you can speak openly with each other, the recruiter-candidate relationship really works; otherwise, it’s just a bunch of lies going back and forth. I think the main reason job seekers load their resumes with keywords these days is not to oversell themselves but to bring recruiters to them. Their gamble is a risky one: they hope that maybe, just maybe, the recruiters will take the time out to dig deeper and see what they are really all about, rather than just go on some quick assumptions.

Due to many questions I have received about this, I will clear up this matter: you are NOT required to disclose any information beyond salary history, job titles, employment dates, and references. Such data is what recruiters are allowed to verify with past employers and provided references. If you are asked for any other documents, you have the right to say no. Be polite about it but stand your ground because identity theft strikes in many ways, not just by way of online shopping, as many people incorrectly assume. As the idunno.org articles indicate, some recruiters are just trying to milk you for leads and may not ever follow up with you after you give them the information they really needed. Don’t allow yourself to be used by these monkey-grade recruiters.

I have been particularly anal when it comes to sharing confidential data when I am dealing with recruiters that are cryptic in everything they do. If all I get is a very general job requirement, I am going to give you a very general skill overview. I understand that sometimes our clients do not provide that much detail so we can only relay what we are given but things such as target industry, general duties, and overall client expectations should be part of the first-data script when a recruiter calls, in my humble opinion. If a recruiter does not have such data, I can only assume that they are a scammer or are job board miners that simply dig up what anyone that has ever used a search engine can find for themselves. I’ve had my identity stolen and people still try to scam me; believe me, I know the signs! Really, if it smells funny, it’s probably BS – trust your gut!

SIDEBAR: There are countless tell-tale signs of a bad recruiter and I can easily write another article on that alone (I think I just might), but the best advice that can probably offered there is what I said: trust your gut. Do not succumb to strong-arm selling tactics just because you need a job; worst-case scenario, there is unemployment, freelancing, manual labor, and other things that at least will not compromise your privacy and, possibly, your identity. I had one gentleman not too long ago offer me a part-time writing gig. He provided company, full name, location, address, and phone number. I was still suspicious. From the moment we spoke, he wanted a copy of my Social Security Card and W2. He had a terrible Indian accent and could only answer my questions with “yesh” which was frustrating in itself. Then he was pushy, calling me many times before I finally was able to take his call. This smelled of scam all over so I only gave him very basic information and told him about my experiences with identity theft. He was only able to pull up a simple job requirement, something an eight-year-old could have written, and disappeared when he realized he was not going to get any other information from me until he gave me something to work with.

Was he a scammer or just a bad recruiter? Who knows, he definitely was not someone I wanted to work with! The lesson here is that recruiters are getting more and more ballsy while the communication barriers, cryptic rhetoric, and lack of professionalism continue to increase. Good luck asking a recruiter something beyond what the job requirement provides. It’s a scary world so be ready for a real ride – job hunting is no easy task!

In the end, you are your best advocate but preparation along with some extra “fishing lines” never hurt. I would never rely on a recruiter to do their job right unless they really proved to me that they care about my career. A better way to invest your job-seeking hours is to join professional networking sites, affiliations, and events to meet key company contacts, people on the inside. Once you have a nice little Rolodex of fresh business contacts, you’ll find that it is much easier to get your resume to the top of the heap and have an extra fighting chance. Generally speaking, the bigger the company, the more resumes they receive for an opportunity. That means you must be that much more proactive in your efforts because, quite often, it’s simply “first come, first serve” for most large corporation recruiting efforts. Focus your time with the right people and the right opportunities and don’t try to force the fit. As competitive as the job market is, there is something out there for everyone. Don’t let recruiters smash your dreams or steal your steam – they’re definitely good at that!

Honestly, I wish that recruiters were more like this…

Related Links:
* Silly Things Recruiters Ask For
* idunno.org says “recruiters suck”
* Give Yourself A Fighting Chance With TGAP Success Coaching!
* WSJ’s Obvious Online Job Hunting Tips

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8 thoughts on “Bad Recruiters, Identity Theft, and What To Do About It

  1. Pingback: Identity Theft Blog » Blog Archive » Bad Recruiters, <b>Identity Theft</b>, and What To Do About It

  2. My cousin has had some horrifying experiences with recruiters. Which is why I agree that helping candidates with interviews is at the bottom of their priority list. Also, what amazes me is that they send candidates out on jobs that they know in advance the individual is not skilled for just to appear like they have a wealth of applicants to pool from. This is very similar to the Acting industry, in that some agents will send out 20s actors to gigs calling for middle aged actors.

  3. The truth is I think, that the system is much more complex than portayed here, mainly because of the need to compete against other firms for immediacy and because of the fact that almost all tools at the recruiter’s disposal are digital in one way or another.

    I think a lot of the conditions you describe as they would apply to contract recruiting are driven by the competing systems employed by many companies to solicit candidates from multiple third parties (managed staffing). For example, candidate profiles cannot even be input into many systems without an SSN or at least the last 4 digits.

    Overall, managed staffing firms create very good benefits however I think for their corporate clients by being able to more objectively sort through the pile of “third world” resumes that would otherwise be landing on the hiring manager’s desk, and thusly hand pick the best ones to forward along. It provides a massive pool of candidates and objectivity that no stand-alone consulting house could be expected to realistically provide. In this sense, it is really good.

    But as I said above, managed staffing may also be driving the need for recruiters to solicit SSN numbers. It is also one driving force I think behind the “buzzword” culture in recruiting that you described. If the candidate doesn’t have the skills stated plainly in their resume, the resume will never see the “light of day” (read hiring manager’s inbox). I might think you’re the best person in the world, but I’ll be damned if I am going to submit you just to see your resume fail since it doesn’t have the mandated skills. Number one as you said, I need to keep my job.

    Because managed staffing deals with large volumes of candidates and recruitment firms, they cannot possibly communicate every nuance of the job or team culture to the firms. This is why recruiters will only have very brief job descritions, and know little else. Also, depending on the managed staffing service (there are many vendors for such services), you may not be able to get any further information from the manager. It may be completely against the code of conduct to do so.

    Add to that that those who manage the flow of resumes at managed staffing services are overburdened with tons of emails from the hundreds of resume vendors and the manager’s other job duties; and it significantly reduces the quantity and frequency of information that that individual will pass along to recruiters, and consequently job seekers.

    As recruiter, I must call you quick and take care of business, because if the job is good it might “close out” really quickly. I need to beat the competition too.

    I might not call you again for another job for a while because your resume doesn’t reflect the desired keywords, not because I don’t like you. It is because you won’t get the job and I need to keep mine (force #1).

    I personally think that finding good candidates on the boards is a good thing — at least better than underpaying and overbilling a huge workforce of internally controlled and trained consultants like at many large recruitment/consultancies.

    Overall, managed staffing provides an objective intermediary that actually prevents unscrupulous recruiters from pushing unqualified candidates through and protects managers from unethical advances and general wastes of time. It has drawbacks in that the system is driven by speed and keywords, true, but it is the only way as of yet to manage the large volume of resumes.

    Recruiters lastly, should be asking you before they submit your resume to any job; and unless they have to (per user account creation as mentioned above) should not ask for any information as personal as that until you have the job offer and a confirmatory letter. If a company has your SSN, they can accept a job offer on your behalf without your permission (maybe you really didn’t want that spot you interviewed for) — if you decline, it might destroy your reputation with the hiring company, while you are blamed by the recruitment firm and they save face.

    My tip:

    KNOW YOUR BILL RATE , not just your pay rate. It is the work you are doing that will pay a profit to the recruitment firm. You have a right to know how much. This also gives you a good guage for the integrity and honesty of the recruiter. I always lay it out there and consultants love it. Some will say it is confidential – I think it should be your right to know.

    …too much writing… though I hope for any job seeker reading this that it clarified a bit about how we recruiters are more products of a system you’re just going to have to deal with (if you want a big company job – *most managed staffing will not let you sub your res directly even if you wanted to. You need a recruitment firm with the requisite insurance to do so!*). I do agree with a lot of your points though. I think being honest about pay and available info is the best you can expect from any contract recruiter at least.

  4. Oh and also, you should refuse to sign non-compete agreements. If they want you bad enough recruiters will still sell you the job. Insist you get this non-compete in writing. If they will not, find a firm that will.

  5. Thanks for providing those valuable details, Siegfried. As I said, there are two sides to every story. I have worked on the recruiting/hiring side and I have friends in the business so I can appreciate the challenges people are met with; however, I still feel that candidates now run more risks than before. The quality of recruiters has diminished as they focus more on the sales side of things and the warmth goes out the window. Not too long ago, recruiters took the extra time to do the little things. Sure, it is arguable that they are doing extra volume but what about the non-contingency recruiters?

    My advice to job seekers is simple: try to find direct applications, do as much legwork on your own as possible, and do not expect recruiters to represent you properly. Any time you go to a forum where people discuss recruiters, most of the comments are negative, like here:

    http://www.indeed.com/forum/cmp/TEKsystems/05390c183c137e1e737941

    Some of the complaints are not justified and you are right: it’s not as simple as some people would want to paint things. My point is that job seekers need to be ready to find their own leads, especially considering that these recruiters usually don’t offer real value other than helping you find work that may already be out there in open territory. Quite often, I’ve spoken with company owners that tell me that they detest working with recruiters.

    I feel that, in this competitive landscape, recruiters only help people get placed into positions where only companies with volume can make bids (or, as you said, the insurance is substantial). In such a case, sub-contracting or placement via a staffing firm is the only option because a direct application will not even be looked at unless you meet the baseline figures (quarterly earnings, types of clients served, insurance coverage, etc).

    I continue to get nothing but horror stories from my readers which is why I started a little series on job seeker survival. There’s a lot of stuff that the recruiters don’t do now and don’t tell you now. Maybe me and millions of others were spoiled before but I definitely find hat the quality of recruites overall has gone down the hole. Whereas, before, it used to be people that worked in the industry and went on to focus on the business side of things, now recruiters are sales people that just want to get a cut of the inflated salaries floating about or just milk a fresh college graduate or H1B contractor.

    Surely, like anything else, there are good things and bad things. As you pointed out, there are reasons things are the way they are. Some recruiting systems are very archaic. I feel that using SSN numbers as a first-contact qualifier is bad news, especially since recruiters handling heavy workloads (multiple project, hundreds or thousands of candidates at a time) are more likely to misplace stuff. I’ve seen offices where recruiters just throw personal data in the trash without at least crumbling it up. That information just CALLS to be grabbed. I think there is no justification for such lack of professionalism and I’d love to say this is the exception but I know I have seen this personally along with many of my supporters and readers out there. These *ARE* grim times for the job seeker that is not well-prepared.

    You’re right: bill rates should be disclosed but a lot of these so-called recruiters now say it is confidential. That’s bad business. I say that, for ever recruiter that does his job in an honest, fair way, like you or I would do, there are at least ten or twenty more that will perform their work in a very self-serving, dishonest manner. On the flip side, there is a lack of honesty on behalf of candidates but is this a cause or effect? That can be argued either way. I see the recruiter-candidate as a mutually-beneficial relationship if the rules of integrity are abided by. That being said, it is more helpful to the recruiter these days than the candidate because of the increasingly-aggressive quotas and other sales metrics that come into play.

    VERY good point on NC agreements. Be sure to read NC and NDA agreements carefully before even thinking about signing them. Everything should definitely be in writing and that’s where the truly professional recruiters shine: they keep a paper trail on everything. Oral agreements are legally-binding but they are hard to defend in court so get it in writing, no questions asked. Anyone that pushes you to sign papers and refuses to give you things in writing is probably trying to throw you a bad deal.

    Thanks for the great feedback Siegfried. Hopefully, more recruiters will adopt your work ethic. Stay tuned for more job seeker tips in the future. Seems that this sort of stuff is all the buzz right now!

  6. Great summary. To me the signs of recruiters feeling it in a job downturn are an indication that the industry needs to change! We have all this technology/social networks at our fingertips and most companies still rely in an often unqualified middleman to do the job. Bringing a 3rd party with an ulterior into the mix does not make sense to me!

  7. Great comments there, Tim, and I agree 100% with you! I read your blog and it seems that we come from a rare school of thought. We notice how broken the hiring and education systems in general are. What’s interesting is that the trends are right before our eyes yet people are not effectively employing the systems that, really, will make these types of people all but obsolete.

    The way I see it, recruiters tend to make candidates feel that they should be thankful for their time. In reality, good candidates are commodities that recruiters should spend extra time with and treat accordingly. Sadly, the convenience of using a recruiter seems to be enough for most companies, even when cost effectiveness and overall efficiency go out the window.

    With the rising trends we now see in job industry and online alike, automation, social media, and systems for “compressing time frames” will certainly be the future. There will still be those stuck in old ways, as always, but I just don’t see what value the average recruiter brings to the table. One thing is for sure: candidates will make much less going through a recruiter and, whenever possible, recruiters will hide and omit information regarding your actual bill-out and the benefits you are entitled to. I have seen a rising number of jobs paying 40-60% less than what they did just a few years ago. Quite sad. This is a problem plaguing IT, sales, marketing, and many other industries alike. It just seems to hit IT especially are since there are those that feel the job of a “computer guy” is quite easy.

    I think it all goes back to the notion of perceived value that I like to discuss every now and then. This affects the hiring process on many different levels. Certainly, Seth Godin’s beliefs regarding marketing and Internet automation are things that recruiters should really internalize in this competitive landscape; after all, if you are using the same tools as everyone else and, for the most part, seek to fill in public-domain positions, what is to stop the candidates from going direct? What value-added services does the recruiter bring in?

    BTW, your break-down on the cost of hiring internally versus using a recruiter is on-the-money. If not for any othere reason, hiring internally is ideal because it gives you room for negotation of salary/hourly rate and benefits. With a recruiter in the picture, you’re typically looking at losing 20-40% of your hiring budget right off the bat unless you’re one of the rare people that has a staffing firm or head shop on retainer for a pre-established period or on a really cheap per-diem rate. Those situations only make sense in very specific circumstances, however.

    Naturally, this is a topic that raises many other questions and brings other things to light. As your HireWall blog explains, there are many factors to consider. One thing that recruiters and hiring managers alike do is collect the information of top candidates for future jobs. This is my favorite thing because recruiters will say they are working on “several jobs” to create a greater perceived value for job seekers. Quite the brilliant scam, really…

  8. Pingback: Baby, it’s just business » Why Recruiters Stink: Bad Biz, Identity Theft, and How to Protect Yourself

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