Playing the Recruitment Game


Once upon a time getting a job was a relatively straightforward affair, you saw a job advertised in the local paper, you applied for it in writing, you got an interview and you got hired.

Know how to spot the warning signs that a consultant is being less than honest…

Sadly those days are gone for the most part. Today it is quite common to deal with Recruitment Agencies, which contrary to popular belief are not in the business of helping you get a job but are about making money! Now you may think that this statement is a bit harsh but it is nonetheless true. Modern employers typically do not have the resources (time, money etc) to advertise jobs, screen applications and conduct interviews, so they resort to using agencies to source staff to fill their vacancies.

In certain specialist fields there may be no choice but to use an agency on the strength of the fact that they have access to potentially thousands of qualified candidates. However, in the current economic climate with job vacancies in short supply, agencies are becoming more desperate in their attempts to generate business (not to mention attempting to look “busy” when they aren’t!). And that often means preying on the trusting nature of job seekers by the use of unethical practices.

Now you may ask how is this so when the majority of agencies in the UK are members of the REC? Well the REC is the regulatiory body of agencies in the UK, which is comprised of members from across the recruitment industry. Notice the parallels here when I mention another “regulatory” body… the Houses of Parliament and look the practices they’ve been allowed to get away with for years! In the previous paragraph I mentioned the use of “unethical” practices, well they are not just unethical but downright devious at times and it is imperative that job seekers know how to spot the warning signs that a consultant is being less than honest…

1. The Fake job Advert

There’s an old saying that goes “If something sounds too good to be true it most probably is…”. The practice of posting “fake” job advertisments online has been going on since the 1990’s. This is a sales gimmick whose primary purpose is to harvest potential candidates details for their database and secondly generate potential sales leads to exploit because the candidate is thinking of leaving. So how do you spot a “fake” job advert? Well there are a number of clues you can pick up on as you read through the advertisment. These are the use of words & phrases like;

A fantastic opportunity

Not to be missed

you get the general idea. The other type of advertisment is one which is written to sound hip, humourous etc. Below is an example of an actual job posting made via JobServe (an online jobs board here in the UK). What would you think of the agency if you saw this…

Humourous Job Ad

Personally I think that the person who wrote this should be sent back to school to learn proper grammar and not try to sound l33t innit as it makes their agency look unprofessional.

Lastly the true telltale sign of a “fake” job advertisement is that you keep on seeing the same one for weeks and weeks, sometimes with minor alterations but the same nonetheless. In reality a client will fill a vacancy within one month allowing for notice periods. So if you see the same vacancy several months later you’ve guessed its fake!


2. The initial phone conversation.

You’ve seen the dream job and call the agency only to be told that it’s just been filled. It’s a trick consultants use to get as much information they can get out of the candidate. When they are asking you why you want to leave, they are really trying to find out if there is an opening for them to pitch their services to your line manager. They say they will call you back when something comes up… like yeah right!


3. The “I’ll get the job spec sent over to you this afternoon…” line.

This is where the consultant calls you and mentions that they are recruiting for a position and have seen your CV on one of the job boards. So they’ve made their opening pitch and you promptly give them all the information they need. They finish with the “I’ll get the job spec sent over to you this afternoon” line. And guess what?, that’s the last you ever hear from them! Once again there’s a simple solution, just tell the consultant that you’re about to go into a meeting and get them to send the job spec before discussion. It isn’t foolproof but can save you some unecessary hassle.


4. The “Hello I’m from” line.

I’ve heard on some of the contractor forums that this is another shady practice that some consultants use… They call you and pose as someone from another (rival) agency and try and extract as much information as they can. The trick here is that when you call the agency they mentioned in the conversation and ask if ‘so-and-so’ works there you will probably find out that no one has heard of them… So be very careful how much information you divulge. A tell tale sign is when you receive a call on your mobile from an “unknown” number. My solution is quite simple as I put a bar all calls from unlisted numbers. If you want to contact me use my email address or make sure you display your number!


5. The “What’s your current position…” line.

Well to be perfectly frank here, if your CV is online than you are actively on the market for another job. This is another gimmick consultants use to try and get you to divulge information.


6. Have you had any recent interviews?

The purpose of this question is to try and find out where you’ve been, and possibly the names of the hiring managers. Remember once they have all the information they can get they have no use for you.


7. The “before I submit your CV I need two references” line.

No agency requires references prior to an appointment and don’t let them trick you into divulging your previous line managers names. THIS IS A TRAP!!! Do not fall for this BS. It is just another method they use to generate potential sales leads for themselves! Remember that your line manager may refuse to give out a reference without being consulted first!


8. The “are there any companies you’d like to work for” line.

I’ve been asked this by a consultant and I told them that if I knew of any companies I would approach them directly and not through an agency. Seriously consultants get paid to do a job like everyone else, so why should you do the work for them. That’s what they’re there for!


9. The client’s is only paying £xx per hour.

When a consultant tells you that the client is only paying £xx per hour what they don’t tell you is that they’re charging the client anything from £10 upwards extra per hour. I know this because on one of the contracts I worked on I found out that the client was paying £19 per hour and I was only being offered £11. Remember its all about margins, and at the end of the day you need to put food on the table and pay bills!


This article was called “Playing the Recruitment Game” for a reason, because that is exactly what it is! In order to get ahead you need to play the recruiter’s at their own game. So what can you do to ensure that you’re not being taken for a ride…?

1. Ask the consultant if they are currently recruiting for a position? You’re basically saying have you got a job for me or not!

2. Tell the consultant that before you proceed you are only interested in “genuine” positions. (You’d be amazed at some of the responses I’ve had to this! I once had a consultant who had called me several times over a number of years and said that the “was working on a position” and you’ve guessed it! Whenever I email him I never get a reply!)

3. Ask for a contact phone number and for them to send you a copy of the job spec by email. tell them once you’ve read it you’ll contact them! The reverse of the “Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You” line.

4. When discussing where you have worked if they ask for the name of your boss, or say “is ‘so-and-so’ still in charge..?” DO NOT GIVE ANYTHING AWAY!! If anything make up a false name and give it to them! if they really want to know they can simply call your employer’s reception and ask who is in charge of recruitment/department manager themselves!


For more information on the tricks they play on contractor’s look at the ContractorUK site. I would also advise visiting their forums and browsing the ‘Business/Contacts’ section as there are many tales of recruiter’s tricks.