It's no secret that many agency recruiters behave unethically. As much as I enjoy getting paid to help companies grow and to assist job seekers in finding better opportunities, it is sometimes difficult to be enthusiastic about my industry. There is a segment of the technology population that assumes I must be unethical based on the industry I'm in, which is frustrating.
I'm optimistic that the industry's reputation will improve as more recruiters are exposed for behaving badly and eventually leave the industry. First we need to have a set of expectations for recruiters to follow.
I believe that every recruiter should agree to the following conditions, and I'd encourage readers to refrain from dealing with any recruiter unwilling to pledge to these guidelines.
Where the candidate stands — Candidates are entitled to know where they stand in the hiring process. This includes information on whether or not an offer has been made to another candidate, whether they are still in consideration, the length of the search, and some idea regarding the number of other candidates in competition (if known).
How the recruiter is paid — Candidates are entitled to know how the recruiter's fee is determined, which provides candidates at least some insight regarding the recruiter's personal incentives during the process and any negotiation. This includes information on whether the search is contingency or retained and whether the fee is flat or based on compensation. For fees tied to compensation, the recruiter should reveal which elements of compensation (salary, bonus, stock, signing bonus, etc.) are included in the fee determination and which are not included.
The recruiter's experience and relationship with a hiring company — Candidates are entitled to know how long the recruiter has been working with the hiring company and at least some details on the level of success (whether a placement has been made in the past).
Honest (and ideally actionable) feedback — Candidates are entitled to know how they performed in any interviews and what they could have done better. Keep in mind that both companies and agency recruiters have virtually no incentive (and actually may incur liability) beyond goodwill to provide interview feedback to rejected candidates, so agency recruiters may not always be privy to detailed feedback. Recruiters should make efforts to get detailed feedback whenever possible, and deliver that feedback in a timely manner.
Conflicts of interest — Candidates are entitled to whether any potential conflicts of interest for the recruiter, such as a recruiter representing multiple candidates for the same role (which is common and in itself breaches no ethics).
Salary — Candidates are entitled to know if their salary expectation is above any salary range provided by the hiring company (if one was provided).
Courtesy and Integrity
Timely response — Candidates are entitled to timely responses on any requests for feedback or updates on the hiring process. A successful job search depends on good timing to optimize both available opportunities and negotiations, and any delays in the sharing of information can have a detrimental effect.
Honesty — Candidates are entitled to the truth, whether it be about the companies the recruiter represents or the details of an offer. Whenever there is obvious room for interpretation, the recruiter should defer to the hiring company to relay information directly to the candidate in order to eliminate the possibility of inaccuracies or confusion.
Honoring of requests/information sharing — Candidates are entitled to have the recruiter serve as their liaison during the process, and requests from candidates to either share or withhold certain information with clients should be honored whenever possible.
Search confidentiality — Candidates are entitled to have their job search activities kept confidential and only shared with those that need to know. Situations that may breach that privacy, such as requests for references from a current employer, should be addressed with candidates in a way that describes any potential risks. Recruiters should not share a resume with anyone without the consent of the candidate.
Alterations of resume — Candidates are entitled to know about any proposed resume modifications that an agency recruiter may be required to make (such as adding recruiter contact information), and a recruiter should make no alterations to a resume's content without the consent of the candidate.
I'd encourage job seekers to share this post with any agency recruiters they are contacted by, and further ask those recruiters to pledge to these standards.