It’s quite a few years since I worked a desk as a recruiter. But I did, for many years.

This was in London in the early 1980s, and the market was starting to boom after a severe recession. I was placing accountants from a pokey office behind Oxford Circus, and frankly the whole industry was a bit of a circus in those days. It was largely unregulated. It was tough. It was fast. It was brutal actually, but it was exhilarating too.

We interviewed people at our desks. We had job orders circulated from office to office by motorbike to get the information around the business faster. That’s right. No email and no fax. A good recruiter often placed three or four people a week. In those days, the process of recruitment was undefined, and certainly at the fast end of the market, you simply referred candidates to jobs you thought would suit them, based on the interview you had conducted with them.

Looking back I am amazed that at the time it was routine to refer candidates to roles without their specific permission on that role or that client. It was all too fast. Yes, that was the standard practice in accounting recruitment, London circa 1982.

As a result, we often placed people on the day they came in to see us. In fact that was our preferred modus operandi, as many clients would interview candidates based on our ‘telephone sell’ of their background. Often a resume was not needed at all!

But, often, the only way to secure an interview for our candidates was to send the client ‘CVs’ as we called them at that time. And it was a bun-fight to get your candidates included on the ‘shortlist’. It was truly a case of the quick and the dead, because you were competing against many other recruitment firms of course, but you were also in earnest competition to get CVs to the client before other offices of your company, and also before colleagues in your own office! (Did I mention the environment was competitive?).

But all this is no excuse for what I did. There is no easy way to say this, so here goes …..

I sent the resume of a qualified accountant, a delightful young woman, to her own employer!

There it is. I did the unthinkable. I was moving so fast, that I quickly matched a job description with a candidate and put the two together.

And it was a good match too. It was HER job!

Did I realise my blunder? No. I found out by the client calling me. “Did you send me the resume of Mary Candidate? “ he said in a quiet monotone. “Oh yes sir, I certainly did” I gushed, still unaware of the horror about to unfold. “ Well this is just to inform you that I am her boss and until now I was unaware she was looking for a new job. Thank you for this information.”

“Click”

The horror. The shame. The guilt.

I phoned her. Many times. She never took my calls. Never called back. In fact I have never spoken to her again.

And to be honest I don’t know what happened to her or what the consequences for her were. Labour law was not nearly as supportive of the employee in those days, and she could easily have lost her job. At the very least, I put her in an awful position.

But in the long run the whole diabolical episode did me a lot of good. For a start, it brought me down a peg or two. Made me realise that there was a major flaw in the way we were doing things. (I was only in my early 20s and we were being told, ‘This is how it’s done’.)

It also taught me the importance of care and process, and it reminded me of our duty to candidates and how attention to detail counts.

My darkest recruiting hour. I never made a mistake like that again.

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Greg
It was exactly the same in Texas in the early 80's. I had to laugh at this as I did almost the same thing only I did it on the phone. At the end of my wonderful,fast phone presentation there was a long pause, the hiring manager said, "lady, the only problem you have is you can't read, however, I am going to interview him, his office is right down the hall". "THat is the person I am going to replace if you can find me someone who doesn't already work for me"

The only thing I could think of to say was, "well it looks like the two of you at least agree that he needs to be somewhere else". Those deals will certainly knock us hotshots out of the air fast. To this day I remember the feeling I had when it hit me what I had done. Humility is earned along with experience.

Funny Sandra! But has you say, humbling too, regards Greg

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