Mornin’ Cup: Where has Courtesy Gone?

coffee.gifCommon wisdom dictates professional courtesy; or does it? It used to. At least I thought it did.

I got a call recently from a recruiter here in Atlanta. I won’t mention her name, or the firm she was with. Even though I’ve had my doubts about this firm for some time now, it really isn’t important who they are. As this is already starting to sound like YARS (Yet-Another Recruiting Story), you may be wondering why I’m filing this in the “Business Networking” category here at The Pothole. Read on – I promise this has to do with networking!

This gal called me in a bit of a panic. She went on and on about a wonderful CIO-level opportunity that she had with one of their clients, and how she was convinced that I was absolutely, unequivocally the right person for the job. Listening to her describing it, the role certainly sounded interesting, so I told her to move forward with presenting me to the client. I routinely get calls from recruiters, and while most of the time I decline to move forward for one reason or another (relocation, too much travel required, not a good fit, etc.), she did a fairly convincing job of selling the role to me. She called me a half hour later and told me she would be FAXing over some important candidate paperwork, and that I should complete this as soon as possible (i.e. now) and FAX it back to her so that we could move forward.

I dropped everything I was doing (which happened to be quite a lot that day – I was negotiating the terms of a major asset sale to an international company). I filled out the paperwork, which was no casual affair – it must have been 15-20 pages long, and really got down into the nitty gritty. Nevertheless, I clamped down on my bit and hacked my way through it. I FAX’d it back to her, anxious to go to the next level, as this role really sounded like something worth exploring. At the time, I felt that the distraction was probably worth the expenditure of time and effort. She phoned back and confirmed receipt of the FAX and promised to keep me posted.

I then proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. One day became two, which became a week, which became two weeks. All along the way I kept telling myself that she was probably busy, or trying to lock the client down for an interview time. By the end of the 2nd week, I decided to call her back and see what the holdup was.

After finally tracking her down, and asking her very directly, she responded with “Oh, I’m sorry, I should have told you this, but the client decided to put the position on hold for the foreseeable future.”

Ya think?

I dropped everything I was doing that day, and made time for her urgency, and she didn’t have the common courtesy to at least phone or email me when the situation took a turn in a different direction. As business professionals, we are all taught, and indeed expected, to follow common etiquette when dealing with one another. When I expressed my frustration to her, she essentially blew it off and dismissed me. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but when she blew me off, all bets were off.

Note: Before you post a comment or send me a flame email exclaiming how recruiters are inundated with resumes and candidates, you should know that I agree with you! I fully realize that recruiters cannot possibly respond to each and every candidate with the same level of attention (I should know, I personally hired over 200 people one year). But when you are well into the pipeline for an opportunity, things change – or at least, they should. Busy is no excuse.

I have several good friends that are retained executive recruiters. They will be the first to tell you that recruiters these days get inundated with resumes and emails, and will rarely respond to bulk job applications, unsolicited resumes, and even normal responses to job openings. They simply don’t have the bandwidth. I understand this completely. However, they called me. They made me their customer.

As a third-party recruiter (nice way of saying “headhunter”), she has two customers in every deal – the hiring manager and the candidate she is presenting. SOme would argue that she only had one customer, and that was the hiring company (who is paying the bill), however, I disagree. I feel that as a broker, recruiters have to work both sides of the equation. Sell the candidate on the company, sell the company on the candidate.

Apparently, one of her customers (me, in this case) didn’t matter to her in the end. Candidates, executive-level or otherwise, should not be treated as “commodities”, yet many recruiters seem to fall into this trap these days. If you are right for the deal in front of them at that particular moment, you are the best thing since sliced bread. Otherwise, you are merely a number to them. A simple email or phone call would have changed the entire complexion of the situation.

Since that time, (and due partially to some lesser, previous offenses by this firm), I have made it a point to not recommend their services to my colleagues (many of whom are active hiring managers within Atlanta firms). I know of several instances where this firm more than likely lost out on business because of the way they treated their customer. I would never recommend them to an associate of mine, only to run the risk of having them be treated in a similar fashion. I value my contacts (and their time) more than that.

There is a lesson here – probably more than one. By not mentioning their name in this article, I’ve already shown them more professional courtesy than they showed me.

I want to reiterate that not all executive recruiters conduct themselves in such a manner. Most recruiters realize the importance of working both sides of a deal. The good ones realize that clients become candidates and candidates become clients. As Jerry Recht said in his recent guest blog spot here at The Pothole:

You should have several good quality recruiters in your tool belt and leverage them often. There is no substitute for quality!

There is also a flip side to this debate. For every horror story that exists about a recruiter, there exists another story about uncourteous candidates. Too many candidates think that the recruiters “work for them”, and oddly enough, there are many candidates who don’t return the phone calls of recruiters if they are not actively seeking something (or if the opportunity being presented does not interest them). This tells the recruiters that you are self-focused, and not trying to build solid relationships within the recruiting side of your industry.

It takes both sides of the equation to reach a successful conclusion for each deal. Irrespective of which side of the equation you are on, remember to be courteous. Whatever your actions are, they will come back to you – and they will either help you, or haunt you.

Cheers.

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