Talent Acquisition

Recruitment Taboos: Discussed and Exposed!

Taboos – the things we do not discuss, even in whispers but that we all know.

Sometimes, we’ll make jokes about it instead, as one way of getting there. I read an article last week that said 36 days is the amount of time needed to pass before mocking a tragedy. Louis CK has a bit on similar lines, however he’s a different act. I think that humor heals scars, and we should make fun of everything. Laughing is the cure for all that ills us and helps us to dialogue about the uncomfortable.

It is also the way we can avoid talking about things we do not want to talk about. How we avoid issues that might, if serious talk occurred, upset us. I am going to talk about some of the awkward recruiting taboos that we often don’t even discuss amongst ourselves. I don’t have answers to how to fix them but I am hope by bringing them up we can begin to talk about them. From there, maybe we can bring about change.

A few years ago I read an article here called The Headhunters Guide to National Stereotypes. I was alternatively amused, offended and nodding my head in agreement. I understood why Tony came to these conclusions and was ashamed that I often agreed.

So, without further ado, here are some things that we don’t talk about, we don’t talk about enough, and perhaps things we do that make us feel shame:

1) “Don’t send me any Indians/Chinese/Russians/Midgets/Jews/Scotsmen”:

I used to hear some version of this (in the past few years it’s been Indians) all the time. Some times it is given in code words: “Excellent communications/presentation skills are mandatory” or perhaps “The role is client facing”.

We all know what that means.

Then we answer: “I only will send you the best candidates for the role. I don’t look at race/creed/color/penis size when screening for you”.

Then, we send them only white people. We know who will get the role and we are in this for the commission not the kicks.

This disgusted me when I was agency. Then, I went and did what I had to do. I wish there was a way we could fire a client who says that, but again, who of us is in a position where we could make a stand? At 40k + commission, is that really something we can do? Like the Nazis said at Nuremberg, “I was just following orders”.

2) H1-Visas held by “Third Parties”:

I can only speak for the US on this but H1 visas are absolutely disgusting.

They add to the phrase ‘human capital’, as these human beings are treated like objects and not people. If you are on an H1, whoever holds the H1 controls you. (H1s) are sponsored by companies, who then use your services at their assorted clients. Sure, you technically can have it switched to another employer. Sure, you can always go back to India or China. The reality is a twenty first century version of indentured servitude.

If your goal is a Greencard/Citizenship, you don’t do anything to f*ck it up which includes making waves. I know what we bill the client. I know what we are paying the third party company. I am always shocked when I find out what pittance the actual human being is getting at the end. Profit isn’t a dirty word, but profits at the expense of people are always dirty. In my time, I have seen people being paid in rupees into bank accounts in India, and given stipends. I have seen people sent to places they never even heard of when they decided to leave their home country and try to make it in the US.

I once placed a junior developer at some company in downtown NYC. I met the candidate at Penn Station and as I walked him to the client, I said, “So, now that you’re in the US, what do you want to do?”. The gent had been in the country less than a week – a true FOB (Fresh Off the Boat). He told me he only wanted to see NYC and when I replied with, “Dude, you’re in NYC!” you could hear his jaw dropping. The company put him on a train, told him to go meet Newman at Penn Station… and that was all. He didn’t even know he was in NYC!

3) 3rd party companies who hold H1s do things beyond the poor way they treat their human chattel:

I have done interviews with people whose resume wasn’t the one I was looking at.

I have hired contractors and have a bait and switch done where someone else shows up.

I have gotten calls 6 months into contractor’s engagements from some guy I have never heard of saying: “Jeff, you need to increase the rate and pay me and not company X.”

Turns out they hold the visa, and not the company I have been paying, and now I am being squeezed to keep the guy on project as some middle man (who I thought held the visa) gets squeezed out. All I know is I have to keep the client happy, so I make it work, but it doesn’t help my soul! For that matter, it doesn’t help me with my ethics.

4) Telling lies without ever actually lying:

I always go back to Homer Simpson when this comes up. Homer has 2 great quotes with this: “It takes 2 to lie: 1 to lie and 1 to listen.” and “It’s not a lie if you believe it” Also known as it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it…

As recruiters, we’ll often leave out salient facts. We’ll shade things to our best advantage and sell, sell, and then SELL. I understand why we do it. Whenever I hear about behavior like this I’ll send this article to the person. It explains it better than I ever could. So yeah, most of us aren’t egregious liars – we are sales people. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, though.

5) Working with people, companies and candidates who are morally repugnant to us:

If the client is paying a fee, we do it. That is business. None of us are in a position to turn down a check. I know I am not. Man, did I hate doing business with Wall Street though. I once knew a salesperson who wouldn’t work with some guy named Veal, as she was a vegetarian. She was more than happy to do business with IBM, and we all know IBM was more than happy to do business with the Nazis (I think I got 2 Nazi references so far in this article!)

We cannot pick and choose as much as we’d like. Have you ever “sold” a candidate to a manager, even though she disgusted you for some reason? She had the skills and she wasn’t Indian (see number 1) but she was reading a book by Ayn Rand or about why vaccination is wrong?

The humor I mentioned above is how we deal with these issues internally. I remember contests such as saying iconic movie lines but with an Indian accent and syntax. “I am the Batman. I am here to do the needful”. Numerous threads in respective boards about your worst client experience or your candidate who showed up drunk and naked on their first day propagate the sites dedicated to what we do. Making up what are names would be, if we were Indian or mocking the weird names of universities… At the heart of the humor, at least for me, is a sense of shame. Business can be very unsavory.


Anyway, I think these just skim the surface. Some of this is about us, as recruiters and sales people. Some of these things are just business as usual in a day and age where Robber Barons from the turn of the century would look at us and say, “Dude, that is to far.”

I wish I had a better answer than take each day by itself and be the best YOU you can be. You and I will not be able to change these things, by talking about them, by wishing them away, or by whom we vote for. I really wish we could. I do feel that big changes start with the little world around us. If you have ways you deal with any of the above, or more things we’re not supposed to talk about, I’d love to hear them.

By Jeffrey Newman

Jeff Newman a.k.a. The People's Recruiter, has been a Full Life Cycle IT Recruiter and Full Desk Placement expert for over 14 years. He prides himself on always making sure that what he is offering a candidate is an Opportunity and not just another job. He is a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Mobiquity. Watch Jeff live on stage: "Recruiters: The Good, The Bad, and the Devious."