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: 1071

Comment by Bill Schultz on October 31, 2011 at 4:52pm

I don't see why candidates feel it benefits them to go around a recruiter in the first place?  The fee is approved, otherwise we wouldn't be calling you.  So really what you are doing is throwing yourself in the pile.

Instead of having a chance to stand out, be presented directly to the hiring manager, and have an ally throughout the process.  Really smart, candidate.  I would pass on you for poor judgement.  

Comment by Sandra McCartt on October 31, 2011 at 5:11pm

@Bill I have had a couple do that over the years.  Client asked me about one i had sent an email to about a position.  He figured out who it was with and went direct.  When i sent them the email they asked me to call him and tell him that they wanted to interview him but i would need to confirm the interview as it was obvious that he had logged on to their career site within an hour of my email.  He called me to confirm the interview so i asked him why he tried to go around me when i obviously would not have told him position details if i were not retained for the search.  He said that he had been told that if he went through a recruiter that the company had to pay a big fee so he thought if  he contacted them direct he might get a better offer since they didn't have to pay the fee.

Company interviewed him and asked him the same question.  When he told them what he told me they passed on him.  They felt that while his interest in saving them money was admirable what might he do in the future that he might justify by "trying to save the company money".

Cora's story is a bit different, her boss just lied.  Wonder if he had said he had been trying to contact this fellow and had not heard back, they might have told him to call the guy again and say they were familiar with him and wanted to speak with him. 

A lot of us went out on our own due to lies both black and little white lies.  A lie is a lie in my book no matter what color it is.  If that's what it takes i would have been a short timer in the recruiting sector.  I'm still here and the liars aren't.  So there!

Comment by pam claughton on October 31, 2011 at 6:18pm


The first red flag that jumped out at me in your post was when you said your boss would review your list of people you were planning to call, along with your notes, cherry pick the ones he would call and if he placed them give you nothing.


That's not how it's supposed to go. Sadly, if he'd let you call the guy, odds are you may have placed him at this company. Your boss knew he was good, so when the clien brought his name up what he did was just gross. It's not typical. You did the right thing to leave.


Wishing you great success!


Comment by Bill Schultz on October 31, 2011 at 6:27pm

@ sandra- yes, It's happened to me a few times.  one guy who did it turned into a friend after i was done chastising him. and i've placed him since.  i know what cora's boss did was  wrong.  he may have told the truth, considering he had a good relationship with the HM.  And then point out the benefits of having a 3rd party in the entire hiring process.  

i was merely ranting that it's dumb in the first place.  

Comment by Raphael Fang on October 31, 2011 at 7:38pm

Although John Smith never talked to your boss, but he knew that your firm called him and wanted to talk about a position.  John Smith can easily put it together that a firm is looking for some one like him.   The bottom is that your boss didn't do the right thing.


Comment by Keith Plesha on November 1, 2011 at 10:20am

That was a long story for what the point ended up being.  It sounds far more shady on the part of the candidate...ignoring calls to end up interviewing with the same group you had been calling about on his own.  How did the candidate find the company?  Your boss saying he didn't recommend him is not officially saying that he wouldn't recommend the person.  I wouldn't recommend someone I hadn't talked to either though he framed it in a way that says he did know John well.  A company that makes their hiring decision solely on the advice of a recruiter is a foolish one.  There are plenty of recruiters out there that will tell you whatever you want to hear (both to clients and candidates).  The flip side is there are plenty of recruiters that foolishly think they know everything about their niche.  You can infer things from what other people have said, but you rarely see it firsthand.  So the guy didn't go through your firm and the only way your boss still had a shot at the opening was by trying to get them to look at other candidates.  In this case had he said great things about John Smith, he would have lost a potential future placement of John Smith and the current opening at this firm.

Comment by Brian C Hayes on November 1, 2011 at 10:34am

I pride myself and being a ethical recruiter and business person. I treat my candidates career development and clients hiring decisions with equal measure of seriousness. Too many recruiters focus on the fee and not getting the best possible candidate in the role. Unfortunately clients continue to support dodgy recruiting practices by working with companies with known reputations for not for filling retainers, body shopping etc. One of the many benefits of working independently is the ability to make ethical decisions over margin decisions

Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on November 1, 2011 at 11:08am

Thanks so much for actually reading my blog and commenting.  I appreciate all of them.

FYI: john Smith 's breakfast was arranged by one of the principals of the firm before we ever called him.  I found this out several months later when I made a point of meeting with him and finding out more about him.  I placed him with one of my other clients after I opened my firm.  He was a great candidate.


I agree that the client relied to heavily on the recruiter's comments -  naive to the recruiting world.


Comment by Joe Battinieri on November 1, 2011 at 12:04pm



a couple thoughts...


First it's not that you're too ethical but that you're boss is too unethtical as is the client.

Two you say you're boss is a good recruiter because he can negotiate, etc and outperform others, but he misses the mark with the very the core of our trade- RELATIONSHIPS!  We are trusted advisors which means we need to be objective with the information we're providing.  Your boss could have easily put things in the right context with his client.  In the end he was only looking out for himself, which tio someone else's point if the client found out what do you think would happen.



Comment by Samantha Lacey on November 1, 2011 at 12:12pm

Not sure if everyone has picked up on the fact that this is part of a series about how Cora became a recruiter and what led her to set up on her own. This is not a current situation but a historical one. It's still interesting though and I enjoy the series. 


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