You get a call/email from an agency recruiter ($RECRUITER1) saying that they saw your resume/profile and there is an opportunity they would like to discuss with you. As either an active job seeker or someone who keeps an open ear to things, you agree to the call. Let the games begin...
$RECRUITER1 discusses $OPENJOB at $COMPANY and tells you a little about the technologies and the firm After a few minutes, $RECRUITER1 indicates that your resume will be sent to $COMPANY.
The next day, you get a call from $RECRUITER2, and you are again pitched $OPENJOB (or something very similar) at $COMPANY. You tell $RECRUITER2 that you've already been submitted to this job. $RECRUITER2 applies pressure to discover which firm submitted you, because recruiters like to know their competition, and it might be an opportunity to tell you how terrible $RECRUITER1 is and that $RECRUITER2 has a much better relationship with $COMPANY because they just sent the hiring manager hockey tickets. (It's always hockey)
No real problems so far. But here's where you get to choose your own adventure for what happens next...
$RECRUITER2 calls: "I spoke to the hiring manager today at $COMPANY, and they never got your resume from $RECRUITER1."
$RECRUITER2 calls: "I spoke to HR at $COMPANY today, and they've never heard of $RECRUITER1."
$RECRUITER1 calls: "I just got a call from $COMPANY and they said your resume was also sent by $RECRUITER2."
Both $RECRUITER1 and $RECRUITER2 call you to say you have an interview with $COMPANY, at different times.
Each of the scenarios above are examples of Recruiter Conflict, defined as a situation where two or more recruiters are contacting the same individual(s) about the same job opportunity. This is quite common with larger companies that use multiple recruiting or contracting agencies, and it's inherent to the contingency recruiting world.
These scenarios happen every day to perhaps thousands of job seekers. Those who post their resumes to sites like Monster or Dice are the most vulnerable victims and easiest targets, as they are clearly the most active (and often desperate) job seekers and more likely to be responsive to anything that resembles a job interview or interest from a company.
What is the Stupid Recruiter Trick here? There are a few possibilities based on each scenario.
In Scenarios 1 and 2 (if $RECRUITER2 is telling the truth) it appears $RECRUITER1 never had a relationship with $COMPANY but wanted to establish one. Waving a stellar candidate's resume to tempt a client prospect is one method to get the company to sign a recruiting contract. So $RECRUITER1...
Saw $COMPANY's ad for $OPENJOB.
Wanted to make $COMPANY a client.
Saw the resume of our victim and called pretending to be an agency for $COMPANY.
Called $COMPANY: "We've got a great candidate. Here is her resume. Can we be a vendor for $COMPANY?".
In Scenarios 3 and 4, $RECRUITER2 is the bad actor. Once you told $RECRUITER2 that you were already submitted, that firm should not have sent your resume. When two recruiters send your resume to the same company, it hurts you the most. Why? If the company hired you, they may get invoices from both recruiting firms seeking fees. HR would rather not deal with the legal headaches, so when a resume comes twice it may get deleted.
How To Protect Yourself
No recruiters! — One natural reaction for many would be simply to stop responding to recruiters entirely. That's an option, but for every five useless recruiters there is at least one who can take you to the front of the line and get your resume directly in the right hands.
Investigate — Ask a couple questions about the nature of the recruiter's relationship with their client. It's fair to ask them how long they have worked with the company, how long the job has been open, and how much success they have had in the past with placing candidates at the company. If you aren't satisfied with the answers, don't agree to work with the recruiter.
Right to represent — Some hiring companies now require recruiters to have candidates sign a right to represent document. This prevents recruiter conflict, as recruiters can send this document to clients as proof that the candidate granted the recruiter permission to send the resume.