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Pants On Fire

(October 04, 2005) David Manaster, publisher of the Electronic Recruiting Exchange, owes our industry an apology. Publishers are, by law and by obligation, responsible for the things they publish and the consequences of those things published. In this case, Manaster has published an article by Lou Adler advocating practices which, at best are reprehensible and damaging to organizations that deploy them and at worst expose companies to the risk of fraud prosecution.  

By publishing material like the article we'll discuss here, Manaster sullies the reputation of our industry while encouraging and sanctioning behavior that is harmful to the those who follow his recommendations.

Apparently, Lou Adler can not tell the difference between using a phone book and telling a lie. Lou seems to think that making phone calls and lying is perfectly acceptable behavior that should be practiced throughout our industry. In Lou's eyes, people who will not lie are schmucks and losers. In his recent article for Manaster's publication, Adler taunts,

... once you've made the decision to poach another company's employees, you've already crossed the line. Other than misleading a candidate about the merits of the job, everything else a recruiter does to find and recruit top people in my opinion is fair game.

It's as if Adler doesn't understand that terms like stealing and poaching are metaphors. Since the abolition of slavery, no person has been the property of a company, partnership, non-profit or family. It is not possible to literally poach, steal, or swipe a person. Those are just ways of talking about the process of aggressive recruiting.

Here's how Lou rationalizes lying and intentional deception:

Once you've decided to poach, who really cares how you got the person's name? This is a subset of poaching. You are already an accessory, so don't try to self-righteously stand above the fray. How come no one is outraged that Fortune 500 companies are stealing other companies' recruiters at ERE's conferences or software developers at the .net users conference in Santa Clara? Of course, if you call it networking, then it's apparently okay. (ERExchange)

What Lou is doing is the time honored consultant's trick of recommending the easy way of doing things without looking at the consequences. He says that the ends justify the means. So did Richard Nixon and Ken Lay.

Calling a company posing as someone you are not and asking for information under false pretenses is lying. Meeting people at a conference is not. One approach is immoral and unhealthy for a corporate culture (remember Enron). The other involves being upfront about who you are and what your motives are. Deceit, plainly and simply, is bad for the business.

Any manager who sanctions Lou's advice must understand that all expense reports are subject to similar fraud from that point on. You can not sanction lying in one place and believe that will not permeate the organization.

In a culture, if lying is acceptable one place, it's acceptable in another. It's a contagious disease in a world where relationships depend on honesty in order for them to be effective. What executive wants lying to be a norm? Most of them already spend enough time in their day trying to distinguish the truth tellers from the smoke blowers. When dishonesty is the standard, no organization, small or large, can ever tell what the market reality is. This is the reason that dishonest companies fail.

Adler is suggesting that a policy of dishonesty is a good thing.

Lou makes the following suggestions in his article. All five involve dishonesty and deception:

If you want to find more passive candidates who haven't been scoured over yet by the Internet data-mining experts (whom I applaud), you might want to consider using some non-Internet CI techniques. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Attend the annual ball. This is the technique where you call up the department admin or secretary and ask for some names of people to invite to a workshop or conference. Of course, most people won't just give you the names without some convincing information. For one, you need to mention a real conference, e.g., the .net West Coast users group. There are some common objections you'll need to address when you try this. Here's one: "Just send me the information." The response to this is something like, "I get paid for actual names, and each conference brochure is personally mailed to a person. Our company has found out that the highest response rate is when a personal invitation has been sent." When the admin says she's not allowed to provide names, ask who the supervisor would likely send to such a conference, and say you'll just send the info directly to that person. Dropping a real name here is useful. "Would the supervisor send Bill Jones to the conference again?" is a great way to get the name of the best person in the group, since the admin now thinks you are legitimate. By the way, this is the method which conference marketing companies used to use to get names of potential attendees. They probably still do.
  2. "I'll remember the name." This is an old standby. First call up someone in the company who might know your target person. Then say something like, "I spoke last week to someone in accounting on the new accounting package, but can't remember the person's name. As soon as I hear it again I'll recognize it. Who would be in charge of Sarbanes Oxley reporting?" Then urge the person to run through a list of likely suspects.
  3. The ski bug technique. This is a variation of "I can't remember the name" and was one I actually used to get 20 rate clerks placed at Flying Tigers Airlines back in the early '80s. In those days, pre-Fedex, shipping international packages required some complex freight calculations. My former boss was the CFO, and he gave me 20 reqs to fill at $2,000 each. I started calling freight forwarders using the "I can't remember the name" technique, but I opened the door with, "I met a very nice woman last weekend who was looking at purchasing my VW bug and I can't remember her name. I'm sure I'll remember it if I hear it again. Does anyone at your firm match that description?" For every name, I asked for more information  how smart they are, what their appearance is, whether they were a skier or not, etc. Then I would end the call saying that no names sounded familiar and suggested she probably didn't work at that firm. I placed 14 people with Flying Tigers that month and placed an additional 6 managers at a 30% fee that same year.
  4. The back door approach. Call someone who works in another department for the name of someone they probably know. When calling the other person, say you must have gotten the wrong number and that you're looking for the person responsible for hardware design or product marketing or whatever. For example, call procurement and ask for someone in engineering, or call accounts payable and ask for anyone. The accounts payable supervisor person knows everyone, and the person handling incoming calls would always give you the name of the A/P person.
  5. Plus or minus one. The key here was to get the extension number of just one person in the department you were targeting. If you had the resume of someone who worked in the company, this was pretty easy. It's even easier today. Then just start calling other extensions and ask, "I got your name on a networking call as someone I should contact. Let me ask you, would you be open to exploring a situation if it was shown to be clearly superior to what you're doing today?"  (EREXchange)

We suggest passing this article around your organization as a way of protecting yourself against these unethical practices. Let your teams know what they might experience. You'd do the same with a PayPal phishing fraud.

The problem with calling someone a liar is the intensity with which they refute you. It takes time and energy to trap a liar in the inconsistencies that emerge from their compulsive behavior. It's usually much easier to just fire them than to rehabilitate them. In the case of published information online, it's easier to stop reading it than to try to change it.

Don't forget to check out the blogs on bert.

- John Sumser

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