I've been asked to recruit for two positions for which we do not have "real" openings for. The two people whom we will potentially be replacing are not aware of their pending demise although dicussions about poor performance have happened and performance improvement plans are in place. I'm all for strategic recruiting and pipeline building but this seems shady to me. I'd appreciate your thoughts and experiences with this issue.

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Everyone's answers are great. Sounds like you need to keep in close contact with the HM about your professional dilemma-- conduct searches for qualified candidates (no postings-- because more than likely, these "poor perfomers" are looking for other positions-- unless they're just dumb)-- and wait for the shoe to drop.
I would never bring into light the deficiencies of the current employee doing the job with a potential candidate. That feels very unprofessional and junior to me. There are better ways to shed light. Some of the other posts have given good suggestions in that arena.

pam claughton said:
I'm in this situation now, as a third party recruiter working on a confidential replacement for someone who is not working out. The approach I'm taking is just being honest as I think it will help find the right person. I'm saying something like this, "This is a very critical and busy position and unfortunately the individual in the role doesn't prioritize well. Instead of doing work that he is behind on, he's been chatting with his friends on the phone for extended periods of time, discussing their favorite TV shows."

This helps screen for the role, and make sure someone is hard-working and knows how to focus and prioritize.

Graciela Lopez said:
That being said, do you have any tips for me? The hardest part I forsee is responding to the "Why is this job open?" question.

Rayanne said:
I, like Peter, have had to do this, as well. It did not feel unethical to me though it was extremely difficult. It is part of the job as the in-house recruiter. It was extremely difficult when I had to replace a friend - one that I ate lunch with everyday!

Your devotion and work is for the company/person that pays you. While it may be a tough part of the job, it is also a growing experience and each time you will learn a better, easier, more discreet way to handle it. If this job were easy, they wouldn't need us. So I will take the difficult part every now and again.
Peter,
Each situation is different, and in this current situation, it's what the client wants emphasized so that is what we are doing. The point being simply that this kind of behavior is not what they are seeking in this role. By pointing out where this person is falling short, it makes it clear what the expectation is. Also, as you mentioned it is a more junior role as well, but I wouldn't agree that being honest and direct is unprofessional.
No! Things are not slow on the hiring front. We have plenty of work to do which is part of my frustration with this request.

Paul Winston said:
My first thought after reading your post Graciela was that it must be slow on the internal hiring front for you to have to source potential candidates for positions that are not even vacant... yet. I agree with the previous poster that they should term the employees as soon as possible. It sounds like the HM is sitting on the fence...
What next, they assign another recruiter in your department to start sourcing for internal recruiters because the dept is expanding?? Or are preparing to let you go but do not want to broadcast it.
Thanks Sandra - this is honest without sharing too much information.

Sandra McCartt said:
Is there anything wrong with simply saying, "managment has decided to make some internal changes". I am working on one now that is a replacement. The decision has not been made as to whether the existing employee will be terminated or moved to another position. I agree with Peter that it's not necessary to go into who shot John. Sometimes i just say , "this is a replacement position so is being handled on a confidential basis from our office, it is certainly fine for you to ask the HM what problems they have had in the past with others in this position to determine if it is a fit for you".

I think most people over the age of 15 realize that people get fired or replaced every day for all kinds of reasons, they may have even been in a situation themselves where it just didn't work.
Thanks for all your replies. Its been very insightful and helpful.
But you didn't state that was what the client asked you to say. Even so, that type of client statement to a prospective candidate feels like they don't have a grip on performance management and if I were the candidate I would see that as a red flag. At the end of the day managers/supervisors are paid to manage their employees and hold them accountable to the policies of the company as outlined in their employee handbooks. And the example you used is text book and typically unacceptable at any company, so it should be easily managed. Most of us don't slack at work......and if we do and aren't called out on it, or are called out on it but continue to behavior, then ulitimately it's the company that is held accountable for correcting behavior and performance.

pam claughton said:
Peter,
Each situation is different, and in this current situation, it's what the client wants emphasized so that is what we are doing. The point being simply that this kind of behavior is not what they are seeking in this role. By pointing out where this person is falling short, it makes it clear what the expectation is. Also, as you mentioned it is a more junior role as well, but I wouldn't agree that being honest and direct is unprofessional.
That's correct, I didn't mention it previously. The point of my initial post was just giving an example of a current situation that we're dealing with to show that these types of confidential searches are common. I was somewhat vague because this is an active search and for a great client I've been working with for ten years, which is why I didn't want to be overly specific. What the person actually did was much worse than the example I mentioned. Trust me that anything said was not innappropriate. They simply made a bad hire, and are now trying to ensure that they do a better job in refilling the role.

Peter Ceccarelli said:
But you didn't state that was what the client asked you to say. Even so, that type of client statement to a prospective candidate feels like they don't have a grip on performance management and if I were the candidate I would see that as a red flag. At the end of the day managers/supervisors are paid to manage their employees and hold them accountable to the policies of the company as outlined in their employee handbooks. And the example you used is text book and typically unacceptable at any company, so it should be easily managed. Most of us don't slack at work......and if we do and aren't called out on it, or are called out on it but continue to behavior, then ulitimately it's the company that is held accountable for correcting behavior and performance.

pam claughton said:
Peter,
Each situation is different, and in this current situation, it's what the client wants emphasized so that is what we are doing. The point being simply that this kind of behavior is not what they are seeking in this role. By pointing out where this person is falling short, it makes it clear what the expectation is. Also, as you mentioned it is a more junior role as well, but I wouldn't agree that being honest and direct is unprofessional.
It is especially important in small and medium business. If the company employs less than 200 people then losing someone can make a critical difference. Then it has a lot to do with the industry. Some are easier to replace than others. For instance if you were in the Health Care industry you could say that a qualified Nurse could work just about anywhere and the same is true of a doctor. If you are speaking about a manager in Hollywood or a producer I might remind you that Oprah has 50 producers and I don't think she has had to fire many.
I see nothing shady about doing this but if you are at all concerned I think you should speak to your supervisor and understand how to divorce yourself from the people who may be terminated. I understand where you are coming from because in good economic times getting rid of someone just means they will move to another company. In the current economy it is more like a death sentence. If you have met either one of these people in the cafeteria etc., you are looking at them as part of your "family". So if that is the case you feel like you are divorcing one husband to find another. We all have emotions. Most women feel more attached at work than most men. You just need to be very objective about this and remember that the people who are being dismissed are being counseled toward better work performance. If the company is undergoing some changes then you must remember that some people resent the change and will sometimes sabotage the organization even when they do not realize what they are doing.
Very pragmatic. Thanks for your feedback.

Deborah J. Boyd said:
It is especially important in small and medium business. If the company employs less than 200 people then losing someone can make a critical difference. Then it has a lot to do with the industry. Some are easier to replace than others. For instance if you were in the Health Care industry you could say that a qualified Nurse could work just about anywhere and the same is true of a doctor. If you are speaking about a manager in Hollywood or a producer I might remind you that Oprah has 50 producers and I don't think she has had to fire many.
I see nothing shady about doing this but if you are at all concerned I think you should speak to your supervisor and understand how to divorce yourself from the people who may be terminated. I understand where you are coming from because in good economic times getting rid of someone just means they will move to another company. In the current economy it is more like a death sentence. If you have met either one of these people in the cafeteria etc., you are looking at them as part of your "family". So if that is the case you feel like you are divorcing one husband to find another. We all have emotions. Most women feel more attached at work than most men. You just need to be very objective about this and remember that the people who are being dismissed are being counseled toward better work performance. If the company is undergoing some changes then you must remember that some people resent the change and will sometimes sabotage the organization even when they do not realize what they are doing.
This seems pretty common place. I have seen it for many reasons, some I have agreed with and some I have found slightly shady. I think you have every right to ask why the person didn't work out (how else can you find someone who will succeed?) If you feel that your client is generally a good one, but perhaps you don't to do this, tell them you are just too busy for it.

You certainly have the right to refuse the work, but feel free to send it my way if you do.

Seriously, I don't see the ethical debate other than the company is looking out for it's own best interest, not their employees. I guess I gave up on that debate years ago, deciding that loyalty is rarely deemed of equal value to the companies and their employees.

Unethical conversations to me are more like "Julia, confidentially can I ask you to find a man for this position? I have had three women in the role and none of them were up to the task" or "Julia, what the manager really wants is a 20 something "girl" who will be there before I get in, make me coffee & wear short skirts all day and take dictation while sitting on the edge of my desk."

disclaimer: Of course these are fictitious characters who are not intended to represent any real or imagined people and any similarities to real or imagined people are completely a coincidence.
Good job Becky!! I agree w/ your commentary 100%. Excellent insight!

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Becky Metcalf said:
This is a time where the talent pipeline that you should be continually building and nurturing should come into play. If you can show your management that you have a qualified pool of potential candidates to draw upon when they pull the trigger they will be less stressed over the situation and less insistent about the need to actively recruit prematurely. Their concern is likely the time it will take to get someone in the door, if your proactive planning lends itself to a shorter time to fill, that concern is alleviated. Partnering with the hiring managers to get wind of these situations early will help in your pipeline planning.

It's never a pleasant project to recruit for a replacement due to imminent termination as it means that someone hasn't succeeded in your company, but it happens. This won't be the last time you are asked to do it, so developing a candidate pool for next time will only ease the burden for you.

Sandra also makes a good point - this type of search is the bread and butter of some third party firms so if it makes sense for your organization a TPR could be a good option.

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