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.

Why Networking Sucks for Introverts (and one way I'm trying to fix it for us)

Networking can really suck for introverts. I know because I'm one of them. You're probably thinking, "Of course! Introverts are shy and have trouble with social interactions." However, introversion is much more complex and encompasses an overlapping spectrum of feelings. Here's my take on it:

In general, the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" describe social preferences, not social capabilities, and it's important to remember that there's nothing wrong with tending toward one side or the other. Both have advantages and disadvantages (many that you can overcome with practice or adrenaline).

Problems that Introverts Have with Networking

These observations stem largely from the software-related meet-ups I've attended in NYC (Hackers & Founders, Hadoop, Android, etc), so they may only be applicable to technically-oriented introverts.

1. Making small talk

"The weather sure is ____." When introverts hear this, we immediately disengage. It's a struggle for us to realize that a little upfront investment in small talk can lead to a great conversation. Small talk is all about finding something to have a deeper conversation about, but often times, introverts get stuck in small talk ruts or completely blank on what to talk about, leading to awkward pauses.

2. Inducing awkward pauses

I've been a party to plenty of awkward pauses, both on the "caused" and the "affected" side. Awkward pauses happen for two reasons: struggling with turn taking or blanking on what to talk about. Blanking on what to talk about can happen because introverts have other interesting ideas we're mulling or we've run out of conversation topics. In the past, I've thought about keeping notes on conversation topics, but it's pretty weird to see someone whip out a notebook in the middle of a conversation, so I haven't done it.

3. Politely leaving conversations of no interest

If an introvert can't get out of the small talk stage or genuinely has no interest in the person they're talking to (imagine getting stuck talking to a someone from a recruitment agency that snuck in to a MySQL meetup), the conversation is over. Time to escape.

The polite introverts needlessly stick with the conversation, trying to think of a way to break it off nicely. From personal experience, these dreaded conversations can last up to half an hour. All the while, you're catching bits and pieces of interesting conversations all around you.

The less polite introverts either have "I don't care" plastered across their faces or just walk away. I have seen both. The latter is much more entertaining.

4. Having group discussions instead of 1-on-1 conversations

If there's a type of conversation that introverts love, it's 1-on-1 conversations. It's nerdy, but it's great to get into an intellectual property debate with one other person. However, at most "networking events" it's tough to get a 1-on-1 conversation. Often times you're stuck with a group.

Introverts have a lot of trouble with group conversations. We feel like we can't get a word in - other people are always talking! We feel like we have to keep up with the main conversation and all the little side conversations that keep splitting off. And a lot of times, it's hard to even join a group conversation.

Joining a group conversation is hard because everyone already involved is participating in the conversation. It's hard for them to include someone who has just popped in. It sounds strange, but I've seen people walk up to a group conversation, stand there for 10 minutes, and then walk away without ever saying anything.

What I'm doing about it

I've resolved to help fix these problems for a subset of introverts in a subset of networking situations. I want to help software engineers, who are definitely more introverted than the general population, network to find jobs and meet companies. To accomplish this goal (and others - a subject of another post), I'm introducing Speed Dating for the Hiring Process.

At a Hirelite event, software engineers will go on 5-minute "speed interviews" with companies. Making small talk and creating awkward pauses will be less of an issue because the conversations will be short and focused on how each party can help the other. Starting new conversations and politely leaving conversations of no interest will be of little concern due to the 5-minute time limit and rotation to the next conversation. And group conversations will be minimized: one company (possibly two people) speaking with one software engineer.

Hirelite is having its inaugural event on March 16th in New York City. For this event, there is only space for 20 companies and 20 software engineers, so let us know early if you would like to attend.