A taboo is a strong social prohibition (or ban) against words, objects, actions, discussions, or people that are considered undesirable by a group, culture, or society. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent. Some taboo activities or customs are prohibited under law and transgressions may lead to severe penalties. Other taboos result in embarrassment, shame and rudeness.

Last year I had a saucy little number of a discussion appear in my ASK Maureen group over on ERE that titillatingly titled itself "Illegal Sourcing". "Interesting," I thought. "We'll see where this one goes."

Alas, it was not to be. After a promising and riotous first post in which the author reported that he had spent four months working for two different recruiting firms that "taught employees how to ruse illegally for candidates" the string took a nosedive. It seems at both of these companies the heads of the firms, the "presidents", had both taught recruiters how to impersonate U.S. governmental officials in order to get very quick responses/source names from target companies. The author had left both firms because "their behavior was illegal and unethical".

It all sounded perfectly deliciously gossipy to me and just the perfect kind of discussion things can be learned from.

It wasn't 45 minutes later and an emphatic response came flying in that said, "It is illegal to impersonate anyone in the United States - it is considered fraud. This is based upon Federal AND State laws..." and the author went on to describe in detail reasons that included considerations of such things as identity theft, privacy laws and, always the whopper these days, "issues of Security of our Country". The author went on to mention importantly that a business domain name they owned had been "impersonated" and that "The D.A is currently working on this situation for me..."

Trying to put some damage control into what appeared to be headed towards one of those frightening and off-putting threads, I remarked that the first thing a sourcer should know is that it's illegal to impersonate a government official, and I further asked the original poster if anyone had pointed "this out to the heads of these firms and what was the response?"

The poor guy answered, telling us that he had informed one but that the rogue didn't care. He then contacted me a couple hours later asking me to take his response down, that he regretted his answer because after all, "that person's dealing with a District Attorney - all it takes is one person to make your life hell..."

A few other "Tsk, tsk, MY skirts are clean..." chimed in and it was enough to make this guy really uncomfortable. He sent me an email that same evening asking me to take the whole thread down because, in his words, "Few are going to admit they see illegal activities. And I put myself in an unpleasant situation. My kind of comments spark the wrong kind of interest. Thanks."

I did as he asked and took the whole thread down but as I did it I was reminded of a discussion we had recently on the Recruiting Animal's Radio Show. I bring this post to your attention once again as an example of a discussion that could have afforded meaningful and helpful information to a group but because of the way some people express themselves, conversations like this, that hold such promise, wither on the vine. Some people are intimidated against becoming a part of what could be a very valuable process.

I see this form of censorship as a virus running through our industry and I would like to see it stopped.

Are there "taboo" subjects in our industry nobody wants to talk about?
What are they?
Is intimidation a form of censorship?
Is it a healthy stance for the industry to tolerate?

"The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion." ~ Henry Steele Commager
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Wow, Maureen -- what an excellent post. And even better, you ended it with questions instead of a statement, something I love about your communication style.

Influence, control, intimidation, group dynamics...this is the stuff that causes adults to seek out psychologists. It is also the generic description of eighth grade social skills. Most outgrow this stage, some unfortunately do not.

I agree that what you described is an excellent example of viral censorship in action, and an insidious one at that. One way to vaccinate the virus is to address the communication style that drives it: to shift, as you did in your own post, from "telling" to "asking," and to create safe environments for those conversations to take place.

It's possible to have multiple, even conflicting opinions in the same room without a meltdown (although I confess that an occasional smackdown isn't a bad thing). It's also possible to have bad laws, although much more likely to have decent laws that are poorly understood or interpreted. Seems to me that radical anything-ism comes straight out of this pulpit. I'm delighted that you called out the behavior in this forum, and I hope I have the guts to do the same when I next see it.

So I'm with you: lets get juicy. As I used to say to my recruiting teams, there are always two parts to any story: the What, and the Why. NEVER be satisfied by just learning the What; the Why is ALWAYS more interesting, and defines your potential for impact.

Now...what do YOU think are some of the taboos in recruiting? and why do you think so?


Claudia Faust
Founding Partner, Products
Improved Experience
we are all Allowed that form of Speach, and expression, here in America, and to try to 'STOP' it because One doesn't like it.. well isn't that NOT too censorship?

I certainly can't speak for Maureen (nor would I want to), however I believe that you are responding to her comment in the post above, and not mine.

That said, I agreed with her because I read her statement as a call for behavior modification (i.e., how we speak to each other), and not censorship (what we have to say to each other).

Perhaps if our forums encourage a respectful exchange of ideas (like you and I are having now), every contributor can feel as confident as we do in saying what we think. And if we learn something from each another in the process, or come to appreciate a slightly different way of thinking about an issue -- all the better.

My grandmother (whom I loved dearly, rest her soul) used to tell me "you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar." Now why I'd want to attract flies is still a mystery to me today, but even in the 3rd grade I understood that she wanted me to speak in a way that didn't turn others off to what I had to say.

Sometimes the lesson is as simple as that, don't you think?


Of course you are right, Karen. Too much of anything is a bad thing, I couldn't agree more -- with the single exception of common sense. And it may show a decided lack of that on my part to engage further here, but what the heck. I'm enjoying it.

You stated above that open forum, or debate, is about "full form of expression, with regard of responsibility of not causing harm to another individual." So you do agree that there are some rules of engagement, some polite protocols that should be observed in the exchange.

How is that different than my saying that how we speak to each other is important?
Did the guy censor himself by asking for his own post to be removed? I have no idea at all, but just found the following on Wikipedia.

"Self-censorship is the act of censoring or classifying one's own work (blog, book(s), film(s), or other means of expression), out of fear or deference to the sensibilities of others without an authority directly pressuring one to do so. Self-censorship is often practiced by film producers, film directors, publishers, news anchors, journalists, musicians, and other kinds of authors."

People take on psuedonyms all the time to 'blow the whistle' on certain activities - it's pretty commonplace. Anyway, I just tried to find the original thread, to which I only found nearly this very same 'article'/post on 3/19/2007.

In my estimation, the reason most self-censor in our space is because they fear what the consequences could be on their personal brand (or more importantly, the brand of the company/firm they work for). There are many people out there who see things they know are wrong or weird, but if you could lose your job for pointing them out . . . jeez, that's a tough situation. In fact, I think big-time whistleblowers go Qui Tam to protect not only their careers, but their lives as well ("Michael Clayton" with George Clooney does a good job of dramatizing how this can go in the Big-Pharma world).

Anyway, since I report to myself and don't have that worry . . . here's what I see as Taboo . . . meaning we all know it but nobody wants to call it out:

a. Garbage in, Garbage out. If I have to sit through another run-of-the-mill, same-old/same-old stuff presentation again . . . I might wind up even going to less conferences than I already do! (Kennedy Info was awesome, but that's probably because we had new [or not new, but real & legitimate] faces keeping it real, like Joe Mcool, John Sumser, and Don Ramer.) You want progress? Then stop squashing our innovative thinkers the minute they challenge a blindly accepted Sacred Cow!

b. The Money Trail is vehemently protected, even if it's snake oil being sold. The minute I say the whole name-gen push is a hoax, I open myself up to people that will bash you personally for having the cajones to stand up for the truth.
[Please note I'm a huge believer and fan of firms that offer value-added competitive intel and candidate profiling (no, not 'pre-screening') . . . but commoditized name-gen is on its way out the door due to new technology, flat-out lack of results, and the fact we can hire someone in an emerging economy for pennies of what it costs on U.S. soil. Hey, I didn't make the global economy - I just benefit from it!]
[I don't know these guys personally, but by what I see them writing, I'd recommend contacting Jeff Weidner of HTC or Charles Hillman if you want exposure to winners who are redefining the game today.]

c. Most of our industry awards are a joke. Companies don't innovate; people do. Departments don't come up with game-changers; people do. Most of the companies that are really kicking *ss and taking names don't even remotely know who the judges are for these 'awards' . . . so they never have a shot. I see more awards going to the Colonels of the department instead of the recruiters that are in the trenches battling each day. Remember Leaders: Without our troops, we are nothing. Perhaps Recruiting Leaders could nominate their top performers instead of themselves - call me crazy, but that would be progress.

Sure, I could add more . . . but in my estimation, fix the above 3 problems and many of the remaining will largely melt away.
I find it interesting that you equate the word objective with "direct attacks and hits" to a person or their perspective. I was under the impression that objective means "factual" -- things not distorted by emotions or personal bias. If I may, I suggest that you consider replacing the word "objective" with "communication styles."

I also find it interesting that you equate subjective with being "nice." Nowhere in my responses have I suggested that we be nice, sugar-coat the truth, or avoid it altogether. Rather; I've used words like "respectful," "appreciate," "learn something from each other," and "create safe environments" for exchanges of ideas and opinions.

Perhaps what we have here is a vocabulary problem?

Underneath that, however, it sounds like you are also saying that you don't want anyone to decide for you what values and standards are appropriate for behavior in the forums. Have I understood you correctly?
Josh -- now you jumped right into the heart of the discussion I was hoping to have today!

I was thinking of taboos in recruiting as things like deciding to recruit a candidate from a client company. And then going back to the client with a new candidate for the replacement. And getting a fee for both placements.

Or manipulating the decision process in an offer to ensure that a more expensive candidate gets the job, so you get paid more.

Or directing candidates away from an open requisition to to get revenge on a hiring manager who fired one of your friends.

I've seen all 3 of these situations in the past. Nasty, nasty, nasty, IMHO.

Now my question is: is TABOO the behavior itself, or our desire to talk about it?

Claudia and Karen, looks like you 2 are the only people having a discussion here - I mean, I thought the post was to incite discussion about 'Taboos'. Karen, man you must be popular! I haven't heard that much from you in a while, but it looks like you still have a big bulls-eye on your back! Hey, take it as a compliment :)

Frankly, and I'm just keeping it real, this article looks more like a Karen-slam than an article really aimed to start discussion. I mean, hey, I only say that because it used to be commonplace on ERE . . . and Jeez, it's even a repost of a Karen slam from ERE. Wow, what a coinkidink!

I commend you both on an honest and interesting exchange, however look out for whatever other motives may be involved in reposting an article from 3/2007. Maybe there isn't one, but hey, watch your back. It sure looks like antother classic setup/trap to me. Make sure to get that glue off your feet, Ladies :)
Thanks for jumping in, Josh. And since it's just been Karen and me chatting so far, I feel pretty confident in saying that there's no bashing going on here. Karen, do you feel attacked by me? Maybe I should be more careful about how I express myself...

Seriously though, I agree with Karen that some conversations are important (and isn't that what discussing taboos is all about anyway?), and the spirit of this one for my part has been to better understand the differences in our perspectives and find some common ground in the middle. I'm hoping that Karen would say the same.


“When you are offended at any man's fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings.” ~ Epictetus
P.S. Claudia, no you're not 'attacking' anyone at all and I personally think you two are having a good discussion. I mean, it looks cool to me, but to be honest, it doesn't matter what I think anyway :) It's about how you two feel :)
Claudia, those are great discussions - perhaps we could move them to another forum or you can blog on them? I ask because the questions of the initial post were: Are there "taboo" subjects in our industry nobody wants to talk about? What are they? Is intimidation a form of censorship? Is it a healthy stance for the industry to tolerate?

And then when yourself, Karen, and I talk about these things as a result of the questions, we see a quote, “When you are offended at any man's fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings.”

This confuses me as I thought the point was to have a discussion here instead of a March 2007 repost. Call me crazy, but I didn't suspect the trap at first until us 3 got caught in it with an Epictetus quote :) Classic, truly classic :)

I'm curious how this may have changed over the years since the last comments.

I think  it's not really taboo, but what doesn't get much play: IMHO-

"Most of the problems in recruiting are caused not by those of us who actually do the work, but by the high-level  staffing heads who attend pricey conventions and hire self-proclaimed "Recruiting Thought Leaders" who tell them what they want to hear, without proof or verification.These same folks buy the crap we get stuck with (that they themselves don't have to use), and either didn't have to go through the dysfunctional hiring processes they oversee, or regard it as a perverse "right of package".

What do YOU think, Folks?


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