Talent Acquisition

My Biggest Ever Recruitment Stuff-Up

It’s quite a few years since I worked a desk as a recruiter. But I did, for many years. And I was a pretty good recruiter too. Not great, mind you. Just good enough to have a lot of fun, and make a bit of money.

Currently, as a consultant to the recruitment industry,  I am spending some time training and coaching. As a result I am telling a lot of stories from my time on the desk. And it reminded me that although I billed a fair bit in my youth, I also made some monumental stuff-ups. And I don’t mean the odd lapse of judgment. I mean gargantuan mistakes. Colossal gaffes that make me cringe to this very day.

A while ago, I wrote a blog about my biggest blunders as a manager of recruiters.  But they are mostly forgivable errors, as managing people is such a nuanced endeavor. But today I hope to to exorcise my demons by sharing what is probably the worst of several almighty balls-ups I made as a recruiter.

It was in London in the early 1980s, and the market was starting to boom after a severe recession. I was placing accountants from a pokey office behind Oxford Circus, and frankly the whole industry was a bit of a circus in those days. Don’t get me wrong. It was a real, thriving industry. But it was largely unregulated. It was tough. It was fast. It was brutal actually, but it was exhilarating too.

I loved the cut and thrust of it. We interviewed people at our desks. We had job orders circulated from office to office by motorbike to get the information around the business faster. That’s right. No email and no fax. A good recruiter often placed three or four people a week. In those days, the process of recruitment was undefined, and certainly at the fast end of the market, you simply referred candidates to jobs you thought would suit them, based on the interview you had conducted with them.

Looking back I am amazed that at the time it was routine to refer candidates to roles without their specific permission on that role or that client. It was all too fast. Yes, that was the standard practice in accounting recruitment, London circa 1982.

As a result, we often placed people on the day they came in to see us. In fact that was our preferred modus operandi, as many clients would interview candidates based on our ‘telephone sell’ of their background. Often a resume was not needed at all!

But, often, the only way to secure an interview for our candidates was to send the client ‘CVs’ as we called them at that time. And it was a bun-fight to get your candidates included on the ‘shortlist’. It was truly a case of the quick and the dead, because you were competing against many other recruitment firms of course, but you were also in earnest competition to get CVs to the client before other offices of your company, and also before colleagues in your own office! (Did I mention the environment was competitive?).

But all this is no excuse for what I did. There is no easy way to say this, so here goes …..

I sent the resume of a qualified accountant, a delightful young woman, to her own employer!

There it is. I did the unthinkable. I was moving so fast, that I quickly matched a job description with a candidate and put the two together.

And it was a good match too. It was HER job!

Did I realise my blunder? No. I found out by the client calling me. “Did you send me the resume of Mary Candidate? “ he said in a quiet monotone. “Oh yes sir, I certainly did” I gushed, still unaware of the horror about to unfold. “ Well this is just to inform you that I am her boss and until now I was unaware she was looking for a new job. Thank you for this information.”


The horror. The shame. The guilt.

I phoned her. Many times. She never took my calls. Never called back. In fact I have never spoken to her again.

And to be honest I don’t know what happened to her or what the consequences for her were. Labour law was not nearly as supportive of the employee in those days, and she could easily have lost her job. At the very least, I put her in an awful position.

But in the long run the whole diabolical episode did me a lot of good. For a start, it brought me down a peg or two. Made me realise that there was a major flaw in the way we were doing things. (I was only in my early 20s and we were being told, ‘This is how it’s done’.)

It also taught me the importance of care and process, and it reminded me of our duty to candidates and how attention to detail counts.

I never made a mistake like that again.

How about you? What is your biggest recruiting stuff-up? Your darkest recruiting hour?

Come on, please tell us. Tell us your tale in the comments section below. The secret you never wanted to share.

You will feel so much better! :)

By Greg Savage

Greg Savage is a sought-after speaker and presenter, as well as consultant and advisor to the industry. He has founded several highly successful recruitment companies and worked in recruitment all over the world. To contact Greg please email: