Black Hat Recruiter Tactics

Since starting Hirelite, where we get companies and software people talking directly, I've heard a lot of horror stories about working with recruiting agencies. When I hear these stories, I can't help but think of black hat vs. white hat hacking and SEO, so I call recruiters who engage in unethical practices "black hat recruiters". Black hat recruiters resort to the tactics below because they're too lazy to confront the real challenges involved in finding and matching good people and good companies. Please note that not all recruiters are bad, and some provide a lot of value, but this post is not about those recruiters. This post is about black hat recruiting where tactics range from lies to ethically gray practices to illegal activity (in approximate order of how common they are):

Posting misleading job descriptions - This is by far the most common form of abuse. Recruiters will post a job description for a legitimate position for a client, but falsify some of the information to entice candidates. For example, a recruiter will inflate the salary/compensation portion of the job description or inflate the job responsibilities while dumbing down the job requirements.

Posting bait-and-switch job descriptions - Black hat recruiters will advertise a job that does not exist or is already filled just to receive resumes from job seekers that they can contact about other job opportunities. This is very similar to a tactic that black hat apartment brokers use (mentioned in Rent Hop's comparison of headhunters and apartment brokers).

Surreptitiously modifying a job seeker's resume - Black hat recruiters often request a resume in a format they can modify. They will make modifications to job seekers resumes without telling job seekers and then give the modified resume to their clients. Modifications range from obscuring contact information so that the recruiter is always in the loop to more liberal modifications like inflating experience and skills. Nothing's worse than getting to an interview and finding out that you know COBOL from the hiring manager reading it off your resume.

Approaching other companies job seekers interview with - Recruiters often ask job seekers what other companies they are interviewing with under the guise of tailoring their search to the job seeker. Some recruiters will go as far as to ask who specifically the job seeker is in contact with. Armed with that information, a recruiter will contact the other companies and try to send competing job seekers. I've spoken to one job seeker who suspected this was happening and caught their recruiter in the act. This job seeker told the recruiter a friend's name and had the friend wait for the recruiter's call. The friend didn't have to wait long. Only 10 minutes after the initial call ended, the recruiter called the job seeker's friend. The recruiter denied everything.

Cold calling and pressuring low level employees - Black hat recruiters will call low level employees at a company and threaten termination and legal repercussions unless the employee passes the recruiter along to a hiring manager at the company.

Buying resumes from hiring companies - Black hat recruiters will give discounts to companies that will pass all the resumes for a particular position along to the recruiter. These resumes could be from other recruiters or from candidates who contacted a company directly.

Pressuring job seekers into interviews - Black hat recruiters will pressure job seekers into interviews that they don't want to go on. Sure, job seekers should stand up to them and say, "I don't want that job," but when a recruiter responds, "I'm not going to put you in front of <company> unless you go to this interview," job seekers may give in.

Promising exclusivity to job seekers - Black hat recruiters will promise a job seeker that they will not submit other job seekers for the same position as long as the job seeker agrees not to talk to any other recruiters. The recruiter then submits multiple competing job seekers for a position. If one is rejected, he tells that job seeker that the company decided there wasn't a fit and continues to send him to other companies.

Recruiting the references of a job seeker - Black hat recruiters request references from job seekers and recruit those references. Later, job seekers hear from their references that their recruiter pressured them for resumes to send to clients, sometimes for the exact job the original job seeker was up for!

Faking a relationship - Black hat recruiters will hear that Dunder Mifflin, a company they have no relationship with, is hiring. Instead of approaching Dunder Mifflin about working for them, the recruiter will solicit resumes from potential job seekers for exciting new openings at Dunder Mifflin. The recruiter will then approach Dunder Mifflin with the resumes they have. If Dunder Mifflin rejects the recruiter, the recruiter will tell the job seekers that Dunder Mifflin said there wasn't a fit for them.

Discrediting an employee's current company
- Black hat recruiters will contact an employed potential candidate and tell them that their current company is in a precarious financial state and offer to find the employee another job. Black hat recruiters will even do this to employees of their own clients.

Simulating expiring offers - When a company sends an offer to a job seeker, black hat recruiters will tell the job seeker that they only have X days (where X is usually 1 or 2) to accept the offer; otherwise, it will be rescinded. This practice is a bit more rare because job seekers and companies know each others' contact information by this point, but I've heard of this happening to at least one company and one job seeker (separate events).

Sending false offer letters - Black hat recruiters will send out fake offer letters to job seekers for companies they're having trouble getting interviews for. Black hat recruiters rely on job seekers requesting to interview with the company before accepting the offer. The recruiter then arranges an interview with the company. If the company like the job seeker, the recruiter makes sure to process and negotiate the offer, sometimes issuing a "revised" offer to the job seeker. If there is not a fit for the job seeker at the company, the recruiter is no worse off than they started, and they just drop all contact with a job seeker.

If you're thinking that any of these practices might work for you, think again. Seriously. They may work in the short term, but you will do irreparable harm to your reputation, the reputation of job seekers, and the reputation of companies you represent in addition to possibly opening yourself up to legal problems.

If you're a company or a software engineer who's tired of dealing with these tactics, check out Hirelite: Speed Dating for the Hiring Process. We have another event next Tuesday.

Got any more horror stories? Leave them in the comments.