Well now, it's been a couple of years and my recruiting life is going along pretty good. Exceeding my numbers, gaining exclusive clients, having fun and thinking this is the best job and the best place I could ever work. We have monthly contests, quarterly contests, yearly contests; go on weekend retreats (with our spouses) to golf resorts and ski resorts (depending on the time of year) for morning training meetings and golf outings or skiing or even just laying around the pool in the afternoons, and, of course, making more money than I did selling those $1Million certificates of deposits! I’m in heaven – or so I thought.

My boss made a very creative deal in 1990 with a fairly new financial consulting firm in the area that was suddenly taking off in their specific industry – they became known as the experts in their industry and the owner wrote a book considered to be the “bible” for the industry. This firm is now worldwide and the founder sold the firm to equity investors – including his name. The deal our firm made was that for a retainer of $5,000 a month we (our firm) would give them first look at anyone we considered exceptional so they could consider them for the different practices they were developing – even if we had recruited the candidate for a specific search for another client. Plus if they hired anyone from us during this 5 year retainer program they would pay us 1/3 of the person’s annual salary including estimated bonus. The $5000 retainer was for the chance to look at the execeptional candidates. Sweet deal for the firm!

They also would come to us and tell us about specific needs they were looking to fill. That’s where my story really starts but I thought you might want some background.

We were looking for a Director level (Principal was the highest level and they owned part of the firm; Director was the next level down) to start a new business practice in the firm. We were looking for someone with a very specific skill set and there was not a very large market for who we were looking for. I say “we” because it was in the financial area and that was my specialty - Finance and Accounting – I knew everyone in town who was any good in the public accounting firms and in any finance and accounting role in any company. I had the lists from the firms on where everyone was ranked in relationship with their peers, I was the go to gal in Detroit and surrounding areas for the top CPAs. So my boss told me to draw up a list of who I would call for this position. Easy enough, I completed the list with my planning that evening and sat down to talk with him about it the next morning, knowing he would want to call some of the people on the list himself. (BTY, if he called someone from my list and recruited them they were considered his candidates and I would not get anything for the placement) He picked out 3 people he deemed special enough, from my notes, to warrant his calling them.

The next morning my boss called each candidate first thing in the morning, right after lunch and before he left for the day. After a few days two called back and after listening to the opportunity declined to want to move forward. The third guy was really the best for the position and the one I knew would be interested - funny, I believed what was good for our firm was good for me; not even realizing that I was giving away my BEST candidate for nothing, not even a portion of the fee!

For three weeks my boss called this guy three times a day; every morning when he came in, right after lunch and just before he left for the evening. Never did the guy call him back. Now, I had several times talked with this guy about this consulting firm and he had told me before that if the right opportunity for his skill set and where he wanted to take his career developed in the firm he would be very interested in talking with them. Maybe he didn’t want to talk with my boss? I asked if maybe I should call the potential candidate because I already had a relationship with him, but I was told ‘no’, he would take care of it.

We had an agreement that we would have weekly telephone calls with the administrator at the firm (use to be a Partner at Arthur Andersen) to update him on our progress with specific searches and discuss any exceptional candidates that we might want them to take a look at. On the call after three weeks working on this particular search we went through all the candidates we had for all specific positions and exceptional candidates and arranged initial interviews with appropriate Principals heading up the different practices in the firm.

As we were finishing up our client said “Hold on I want to ask you about someone. One of our Principals worked with this guy and thinks he would be a great asset for the new business practice we discussed. His name is John Smith and I wondered if you knew him.” I almost blurted out that we had been trying to contact him, but before I could get any words out of my mouth my boss said: “Yes I know John Smith, I know him very well and you will note that I did not refer him as a candidate.” I almost died when I heard him say that! The client said: “I had breakfast with John this morning and really liked him and thought he would be a great fit for the position and our firm but wanted to check with you first, I was afraid I might be missing something. Thanks”. The call ended.

I sat there shocked and said 'you have been trying to reach John for three weeks and you know he is a perfect fit for this position and this firm. Why did you say what you did'?

He looked at me calmly and replied “rule number one in recruiting: the candidate goes through you or he doesn’t go”.

WOW! I’d been in recruiting for a few years and never heard that line before. I didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, my boss said he had to leave to meet someone for lunch and left. I got up from the chair in his office and slowly walked back to my cubicle thinking that I might be too ethical for this industry or I might not have the balls I need to be as ruthless or maybe he was too greedy. I left for lunch and to ponder the situation.

I thought a lot about what happened on my drive home (it was an hour and a half drive) and discussed everything with my husband when I got home and he asked me what bothered me most about what my boss did/said. All I could say was that it was as if he lied. Maybe he didn’t actually lie but the lie was implied and that really bothered me.

I wondered if I had spent too much time in banking and was too ethical for this business. I didn’t want to leave recruiting but I wanted my practice to represent more honest and up front relationships with my clients and candidates. I did know that I was not comfortable working within an environment that promoted an implied lie.

Now, I know there are many recruiters that will jump on the band wagon and say ‘hey, that’s recruiting at its finest! The candidate goes through you or they don’t go”. I get that – my boss was a recruiter’s recruiter. He was known for his negotiation skills and his ability to outperform everyone at every aspect in the recruiting process. He was a GREAT recruiter, but I wasn’t sure that was how I wanted to be known. I knew I had to take the high road whenever I could.

Sure, I might not make the number of placements that I could by being like him but I would perhaps build a closer, more honest working relationship with my clients and candidates. I thought that would be worth something in the long run. It turns out that it worked well for me when I finally left the firm.

Views: 1253

Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 29, 2011 at 5:37pm

Recruiting, banking, the Catholic Church, etc.  You name the entity, and the work environment, and you'll discover that ethical behavior comes down to which way you chose to go when you reach that fork-in-the-road.  Some go one way.  Some go the other.  If you have to ask...flip a coin.

Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 29, 2011 at 5:50pm

...Naturally, if you hit a real FORK on the-road...it may flatten your tire.


Comment by Bill Schultz on October 30, 2011 at 12:58am

or as yogi says.  when you get to the fork in the road, take it.

Comment by Samantha Lacey on October 31, 2011 at 9:44am

I think you made the correct decision Cora. Sounds like you have the best interests of your candidates and clients art heart. Well done. There's plenty of room for ethical recruiters in this world, especially now as HR and hiring managers are using their feet to do the talking and walking away from the agencies who don't do business the right way. 

Comment by Dan Hunter on October 31, 2011 at 11:00am

Banking, ethical?!

Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on October 31, 2011 at 12:09pm

Yeah, I know Dan.  Bankers are not percieved as ethical!  Thankfully I worked at state sized and community banks (due to banking laws at that time in Michigan) that truly had their customers best interests in mind - of course this was in the late 1970s to late 1980s! 

Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on October 31, 2011 at 12:10pm

Thanks everyone for your comments. 

Comment by Raphael Fang on October 31, 2011 at 1:03pm

Being dishonest to a client is bad for business.  


In this situation, the client may be testing your firm's ethic with that question.  He may already knew that John Smith have spoken to your firm already.    I hope everything works out for your firm.

Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on October 31, 2011 at 1:07pm

But John Smith never returned any of my bosses' calls so he never talked with us.  And he was never hired by the company that he was a perfect match for because they totally were taken in by my boss and his influence over them. 

Thanks for your comments.


Comment by Gary White on October 31, 2011 at 3:46pm

I'm pretty new to this recruiting stuff but I have been in the IT industry for 20 years and have been a hiring manager who worked with several different recruiters.  I can tell you that in that capacity had I found out one of the companies I worked with did this to me, not only would I not work with them again but I would make sure every other IT manager that I met at an industry event, meeting, BoF group whatever, heard the story and would then be unlikely to work with them as well.


I am a staunch fan of the high road.  The high road is the one that will pay off in the long run.  Don't get swayed by the short term gain.


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