I recently read this very interesting post (via twitter) about an age old issue that continues to pop its awkward head above the parapet in the world of recruitment.  The double submission - when two agencies submit the same candidate to the same job vacancy (and the subsequent squabbling over ownership that inevitably ensues).

The article provides some very handy hints and tips from a recruitment consultancy's perspective so I thought I would share a different view point.

Having worked both agency and client-side I've had first-hand experience of the multi-representation dispute from both sides of the fence on several occasions.  This enables me to completely understand how frustrating and aggravating it can be for a recruitment consultant, client and candidate when it happens.  Now, neither of these groups are always whiter than white.  As with most things the minority create a bad rep for the majority.  Allow me to share a process I adopt to resolve this sticky situation on the odd occasion it occurs.

A Couple of Questions for In-House Recruiters

  1. Do you work on a first come / first served basis with agencies working on your job vacancies? I.e. whoever submits the candidate first claims ownership.
  2. Do you expect your recruitment consultants to brief candidates fully before submitting their CVs through to you?

If you answer yes to question 1 I'm afraid you're asking for trouble and the chances of you achieving point 2 severely diminish.  A yes to question 1 only serves to encourage the recruitment consultant behaviours we so often bemoan as clients i.e. sending the CV first, calling the candidate later etc.  Yes, you can have speed of service and quality of candidate but there comes a tipping point when the increased urgency to fulfil the former has a significant negative impact on the latter.

The Consultants Perspective

Believe me, I've been there as a recruitment consultant.  I can't explain the utter frustration of spending significant  time briefing a candidate about a role, company, culture, team and department dynamics etc only to submit their CV and be told, "So sorry, we already have this resume from another agency."  You know for a fact you were the first to contact the applicant so,  feeling rather aggrieved, you call the candidate back.  They admit another recruitment firm had been in touch saying, "oh, we tried to contact you but couldn't get through.  We had this role we knew you'd be absolutely perfect for blah blah blah...  We had your best interests at heart and didn't want you to miss the boat so, hope you don't mind, but we took the liberty of sending your CV with the intention of calling you ASAP to brief you blah blah blah...." [*cringe here*]

In an ideal world the candidate would feel 100% committed and loyal to you and tell the other recruitment agency where to go (ideally a place where the sun infrequently makes an appearance). I mean why wouldn't they?  After all you've spent the last few weeks / months building a solid working relationship with them based on honest dialogue and transparency haven't you.

The Candidate Experience

Let’s face it, for numerous reason candidates rarely feel this allegiance to an agency / recruitment consultant.  Instead, they are placed in a very awkward position and don't know what to do.  After all, all they want is a new job or career.  Now they're being pulled in different directions by two consultants who they perceive will say and do anything if it means securing their commission.

A Possible Solution

As a client I would argue the onus is on you to stamp out the possibility of this scenario arising.  Forget the first come, first served approach when dealing with recruitment agencies.   Honestly, bin it as quickly as possible.  If, at the beginning of your partnership,  your consultant doesn't discuss how double submissions / multi-representations will be handled make sure you do.  Work together to apply a rule agreeing whoever fully briefs the candidate first can claim ownership.  This will enable your recruitment partners to apply a more consultative approach with their candidates.  A possible caveat to this approach is agencies may require permission to divulge the name of the client they're representing when briefing candidates about an opportunity.  For more sensitive roles, where strict confidentiality is imperative you could simply apply a unique reference number for the consultants to quote when discussing your job vacancy (or whatever works for you). Otherwise it could leave the door open for the argument, ”the candidate didn't know I was briefing them about your role as I couldn't tell them which company it was for," or something similar.

Applying this "first briefed, first served" rule won't eradicate the situation from ever happening again but if it's in place when it does occur, and neither agency will back down, simply request an email from the candidate confirming who they want to be represented by (based on who briefed them first).  Better still, take 5 minutes to call the candidate and ask them yourself.  If there isn't a level of trust in place where the agency is prepared to give you the candidate's number (having obtained their consent to do so first) then why are you "partnering" with that agency in the first place?

In these situations you just don't know what your candidate is being told so take control of protecting your employer brand and reach out to them personally.   Hell hath no fury like a recruitment consultant scorned.  I've observed very underhand tactics where consultants go back to candidates with exaggerations of the truth (read blatant lies) and put them off to such an extent they end up wanting to withdraw their application.

I fully appreciate candidates aren't all entirely innocent in this process. Yes, there are the minority that play games with agencies under the misguided belief it will somehow benefit them throughout the selection process.  If you are one of these people stop it.  It doesn't and it won't.  It's not big and it's not clever. (mother, is that you?)

Putting this small group to one side, as an internal recruiter you must have the mantra, "Candidate is King." You need to go out of your way to ensure the whole candidate experience is as positive and engaging as it can be at every stage of your selection process.  If this means taking 5 minutes to make a personal call to ensure they're being treated by the agencies in a way that's compatible with your employer brand then so be it.  5 minutes is a small price to pay when compared to the umpteen calls and emails of he said / she said BS.  Which let’s face it, in-house recruiters don’t want or need in their already overstretched under-resourced lives.


Hungry for more?  Check me out at www.trecknowledgy.com - training and coaching through recruitment complexities.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy


Thanks for your time.


Views: 1230

Comment by Thomas on April 6, 2011 at 11:25am
Ben, a couple of years ago we had a similar situation come up, but there was a twist.  We submitted a candidate that the client had passed on from another recruiter. [The candidate forgot to mention they had been previously submitted]. The other recruiter had told the candidate that the client had passed and then ceased any additional work on that job.  Here we come along and submit him and the client says, "Oh, we saw him and passed." I say, if you are really looking for what you have posted as the position, our candidate is perfect. After much cajolling, we get the client to take a closer look at the candidate and they agree with us and hire the candidate.  Now, along comes the first recruiter claiming the fee, but our agency did all of the work. Of course I know how it ended, but what is your reaction?
Comment by Mat von Kroeker on April 6, 2011 at 11:57am

Great post--!!  And not only have we been stung by the dubious agency submittal--- how about the clients applicant tracking system.  Who hasn't cringed at the words "That person's already in our database."

Comment by Ben on April 6, 2011 at 4:49pm

Hi Thomas.  Thanks for your comments.  It’s greatly appreciated to know someone out there is reading my stuff (other than my wife & mother!)


In answer to your query.  For me the answer is a simple one and I refer back to my mantra, "The Candidate is King".  


I appreciate your scenario is different to what I describe but for me the client could simply call the candidate and ask who they wish to be represented by.  If what you say is correct you would have nothing to fear.  The candidate should be wowed by the fact you got them all the way to offer stage when the rival firm couldn't even be bothered to challenge the original CV rejection (or they made a failed attempt at doing so).  In light of this I would also assume you’d manage to foster a great working relationship with the candidate and managed to build some loyalty for them not think twice about choosing you as their representation of choice.


And good for you for sticking by your guns.  As a client, one of my pet hates is when I decline all an agencies candidates and they don’t challenge me.  “Why did you submit them in the first place if you didn’t believe in their application enough to stand up for them?!” Apologies. Rant over


I don’t know what the laws are in the States but in the UK the candidate has freedom of choice.  If the candidate writes me a very brief email or we speak and they confirm they want a particular agency to represent them then the other consultancy would be laughed out of court if they made a legal challenge on ownership.


Is my reaction to you liking?



Comment by Ben on April 6, 2011 at 4:59pm
Hi Mat. Again, thanks for your contribution. I have had this situation. As a client I'm prepared to sign terms that have a ruling around this.

You'll have your own tolerances but if an agency supplied a CV who's sat on our ATS with no activity associated with them for a certain number of weeks then the client should concede ownership.
With the rise of Social Media recruitment you also need to ensure you have something in your Terms & Conditions that prevent clients from receiving your candidate and then approaching them directly on LinkedIn or Facebook etc. Be sure to draw the elements of your Ts & Cs to your client at the very beginning of your engagement. Make them read and sign each section to confirm their full understanding and acceptance.


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