I always wondered if a Headhunter with a christian or any other faith background find themselves questioning their morals when pursuing a high profile candidate using unethical headhunting techniques like 'lying through their teeth' when getting past the gatekeeper and then subsequently probing the company until you find your target?

What are your thoughts...is headhunting ethical?

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I find this question a tough one to really answer to be honest... I'm not sure why? Depends on the level of lying through one's teeth I suppose. I think it is the bringing of religion into it which concerns me. It is an interesting angle, and not something I would feel comfortable commenting on, it almost seems to be wanting to classify good v evil or that those with a religious faith have a naturally higher moral ground than others. Is saying to a gatekeeper that you are returning a certain person's call unethical, or getting a number by asking if someone can confirm an old number you had an unethical lie? Pretending to be someone you're not, and offering things you cannot deliver maybe? Is it more ethical if it is a not so high profile candidate? hmmmmmmm
Is all fair in love and war? Are we all held accountable for our actions in the end? Did everyone read Craig Silverman's post "The Man In The Mirror"? here is is for those that did not.......I printed it and put it in my middle schoolers homework binder, to me it was like a prayer for him.

Being ethical and moral isn't about religion, can you live with what you see in the mirror at the end of the day. Everyone has their own idea of right and wrong, is it a sin if you don't truly believe it is a sin? You could go back and forth all day, at the end of it, you must like what you see in the mirror or you are in trouble.
Of course it is.
Good call .... each of us should take a look in the mirror when we get home tonight...then each will have answered their own question..
Interesting question. While I understand where the question comes from and am a Christian myself, I am going to leave religious beliefs out of my answer. To me it boils down to personal integrity. Think of it: You are targeting a high profile candidate and lie as you mentioned. You are successful and achieve your goal. You think "that was easy", and continue doing the same thing because, well, it is easy and becomes easier. You quickly fall into a bad habit, a bad habit that could spill over into other aspects of your life.

I have learned and seen that things like this inevitably come back full circle to haunt you. To me, repairing a damaged impression on one's integrity is harder than trying to reach a high profile candidate.
I don't see where lying even comes into play in the current recruiting world. With so much info freely available online, why lie? What's wrong with actually networking? What's wrong with actually finding the person's name online and then calling up and simply asking to speak with them? I don't think gatekeepers are as big an issue as in the past. If you can't find the right person's name, then find someone's name and call them. Most people will actually give you the name you are seeking during a conversation. They are mature enough to realize that you, as a recruiter, can't force someone to take a position with someone else. Besides, with the world's economy the way it is, they may need you themselves one day.

As a side note, a lie is a lie and sin is sin whether a person believes in it or not. Absolutes still exist in the realm of right and wrong regardless of the fact that the world tries to bring more and more into the "gray" area to justify their actions.
Letting individuals know about an opportunity is completely ethical....now the means by which one identifies a passive candidate I think can be evaluated and judged on their merits. With resources like LinkedIn and other social networking sites, name gathering has become much easier as technology has advanced. Take some steps back in time, when gatekeepers truly kept the company directory sacred and I would certainly argue some tactics are unethical.
Let's first look at the title of your question, "Is Headhunting ethical?" First of all, the behavior of lying to gate keepers, or anyone else for that matter, is not directly related to the morality or ethical nature of the profession of executive recruitment. Lying is not a moral behavior. Good recruiters can find people and even get past gatekeepers without lying. So just to make one thing perfectly clear, it is improper to imply that by it's nature alone, that the making available of career opportunities to those who do not know of them yet is unethical, is just plain wrong. As an ex-therapist of 7 years and executive recruiter of 30 years, I can say that I am involved in an honorable profession. I help human beings realize their potential. Since the ratification of the 13th amendment making it illegal for anyone (or company) to force another person into indentured servitude, we should never feel guilty offering a person a chance to work in a place they may choose as a better place for themselves. We should however understand, that we have a responsibility to conduct our professional practice in ethical manner.
I am a devout Catholic and I have no problem embellishing to the gatekeeper to get through to a potential candidate. It is what you do after obtaining said candidate that counts...
We are a tool utilized by corporate America for a number of factors;
1. Corporate HR will not raid companies directly
2. Corporate HR cannot as well, either they lack the skills required to be effective or they lack the time associated with the task of conducting an appropriate search.
I never have lied to a candidate (nor a client for that matter) regarding a position.
There are times where the truth has cost me a fee, however I am cannot play with their lives nor do I want a fall-off!
Actually getting by the gatekeeper is sport for me and I do not consider it unethical...
When my wifes asks, "do I look fat in this dress", "do these shoes make my ankles look big" and similar questions I always answer (without reservation or hesitation), "of course not". Does this make me unethical? I think not.
So relax and do what ti takes to get through the gatekeeper and have fun doing it...
Happy Holidays
I belive that Headhunting is very ethical and a very essential service. All too often companies get stuck in a rut finding the right candidates for those hard-to-fill positions and need the help of a true-headhunter. Companies need our help. We are an extension their recruitment efforts & we help them meet their business goals and objectives.

I think that the question should be why to people feel that they have to lie to anyone when doing headhunting? It is so much easier and believable to tell & sell the truth than to lie. I see newby's try to sell a lie or mislead & that will probably wear heavy on their conscience & eventually they don't stay in the industry very long. Furthermore, for those of us that make a living in this business we are always trying to establish long-term relationships. Why would we do something unethical with anyone we want to continue to work with, get leads from, share leads with, and help out long term?

Why not tell the gatekeeper if they are asking why you are calling that, "the nature of my call to XXXX person is sensative in nature, and after my conversation with that person they wish to share with you the details of that conversation then that will be at their discretion".

Another thing that I see recruiters do when cold calling or trying to lie to people as to why they are calling is to sell them on an opportunity rather than just ask them that they are a recruiter & what would it take for them to leave their current job/company? It's honest, upfront, and you both get to the chase very quickly. Chances are if that potential candidate gives you an answer for what it would take for them to leave the job does not align with what you are recruiting for, then it's not a match, move onto someone that does fit.

I come back to the original question again about Ethics, do headhunting with the truth and the ethics should follow.
Well said Dan and Tina. Not to mention that before the Internet "headhunting" was the only way to do the business. If one has a problem with it (because of faith or otherwise) then they should not be in the Industry.
And we dont have to lie to get to the right person we seek. For instance if I already have a name (and it's pretty easily attainable these days thanks to the internet's wealth of information) when calling in and the gate keeper asks "what is the reason for the call" I simply say, "its related to the network and software issues"...And it is because I'm an IT Recruiter. I tell them who I am and where Im calling from and phrase my words in a way that merits the attention of the person Im seeking.
Ever wonder why most religions have the processes that allow for one to repent for their sins?

“There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” [Proverb 6:16-19 NIV]

Yet when you "sin" you are allowed to confess your sins, say a few words in repentance, and move on.

In Judaism we have Yom Kippur on which to confess our sins from the past year.

The immorality of headhunting - if you believe it exists - is countered by the morality of enabling another human to achieve greater professional stature. Is it the net win or net loss that determines the immorality here?

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