How to Turn a Job Interview From Exploration to Exploitation

By Paul Slezak - Nov. 13, 2012
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How to destroy your employer brandAs a career recruiter, I’ve seen my share of ‘shifty business’. And sometimes from employers themselves! It usually involved a client contacting my candidate directly so as to avoid having to pay a recruitment fee.

Such shady dealings have unfortunately always taken place behind recruiters’ backs. It’s a way for desperate clients to use a recruiter for his or her expertise (not to mention their contacts) but then do whatever they can to avoid having to pay for it.

I had never come across any reputable businesses engaging in such ‘dirty tricks’ – until recently.

‘Interviewing’ candidates for free creative and strategic advice

Whenever this internationally renowned ad agency posts a new vacancy, or uploads a new job to their careers page, they are inundated with applications. The agency is a highly sought-after place to work in the industry, with the ‘best of the best’ always keeping an eye out for any new opportunities.

The agency recently posted a role for a Group Account Director to take over a global account. Half a dozen of Australia’s most qualified ‘G.A.Ds’ immediately applied. A good friend of mine was one of them.

All six of them had a first round interview and the ‘shortlist’ was quickly reduced to three – including my friend.

After the second interview she was told that she was one of only two candidates being asked to research and present their strategy to completely reposition their client’s iconic brand. The presentation (third and final stage in the recruitment process) would take place the following week.

After spending an entire weekend preparing for her presentation, she received glowing feedback and it was clear that she had left a great impression with the agency’s upper echelon.

Then things went cold and she didn’t hear anything from the agency for a few weeks.

When someone finally took her call, she was told that whilst her presentation had been ‘outstanding’, they wouldn’t be taking her application any further.

People in the advertising industry talk, and it didn’t take long for my friend to find out that the panel had also told the second candidate that his presentation was ‘outstanding’, but that they weren’t pursuing his application either.

However as it turns out, what the agency did do, was take the best creative and strategic elements from both ‘outstanding’ presentations, pitch the combined concepts to their client and secure the work on the global repositioning (a million dollar piece of business).

Employers taking advantage of recruiters while still having every intention to make a hire is one thing.
Abusing a ‘shortlist’ of top candidates when an organisation is under resourced and where there is no real vacancy in sight is nothing short of exploitative.

‘Headhunting’ dirty tricks

A former client of mine has been a Business Development Manager within the legal industry for the last 15 years. He recently shared the following story with me.

Although very comfortable in his current role with a mid-tier firm, he was recently ‘tapped on the shoulder’ by a global top-tier firm.

First a coffee, then a lunch with two of the partners. He was flattered and was seriously considering the potential move as it would be great for his career and would also give him international exposure. They even asked him if he’d be happy for them to start to contact a few referees.

However alarm bells started ringing when they asked him to come back a week later and present a full business plan, together with a list of clients that he’d be able bring across, as well as a some examples of tenders he’d recently won.

As part of his own due diligence, he made a call to the firm’s HR Department only to be told that they were completely unaware of any Business Development Manager vacancy and that they were under a total headcount freeze. Some more quick research revealed that the firm was in fact in the process of making redundancies.

Needless to say he politely withdrew his candidature.

Clearly a manipulative way for a ‘leading’ firm to potentially get their hands on some quick new business in tough times.

What constitutes taking the ‘interview’ process too far?

For any employer or recruitment manager, the interview process is meant to be a chance to assess a candidate’s skills and core competencies. It’s a time to determine a candidate’s suitability to the culture and work environment and also a chance for the candidate to learn more about the job on offer (assuming the job actually exists).

It’s unethical for any business to advertise a vacancy, and to ‘shortlist candidates’ under the proviso that there is a real job on the table, when their only objective is to pump high calibre candidates for information, or milk them for leads or free strategic advice.

Exploiting talent and leading them down a mythical path is a sure way to tarnish your employer brand or ruin any chance of being regarded as an employer of choice in your industry.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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