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Is It Unethical for Recruiters to Call Candidates at Work?

by Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS

The VET Recruiter®

Spoiler Alert: The answer to the question posed in the title of this article is “No!”

I wanted to get that out of the way, lest someone believe there should be debate as to whether or not a recruiter calling a candidate at work is ethical. The problem, of course, is that there are people in the employment marketplace who believe there should be a debate. In fact, they are of the opinion that it’s an unethical practice and that it should be stopped. This is unfortunate, and when I say unfortunate, I mean that it’s unfortunate for them.

It’s not unfortunate for me. I’m an Animal Health recruiter and Veterinary recruiter. I help my clients fill their most important job openings. I have access to great employment opportunities, and I contact candidates to let them know about those opportunities. Sometimes, I must initially contact these individuals at work because that is the only contact information I have for them. If they are offended because I contacted them at work, if they believe that it’s unethical for me to do so, or both . . . then it is unfortunate.

It’s unfortunate for them because they’re basically ignoring what could be a great employment opportunity that has the potential to change their life for the better. Now, I’m not saying the opportunity will absolutely change their life. I’m saying it has the potential to do so. They just have to be willing to hear about it and potentially explore it to find out.

The reason that I’m writing this article is not because I feel badly because some Veterinary professionals have told me they’re offended that a recruiter has contacted them at work. I’m also not writing this article because some professionals have told me they believe it’s unethical for a recruiter to contact them at work. I am writing this article to educate everyone about the reality of the employment marketplace, including how it has operated in the past, how it operates now, and how it will continue to operate into the future.

The recruiting profession has been in existence for about 75 years. Ever since the profession began, recruiters have been calling candidates at work to let them know about other employment opportunities. Recruiters in every industry all over the world have been doing this for decades.

  • The practice was not illegal nor unethical in 1979.
  • It was not illegal nor unethical in 1989.
  • It was not illegal nor unethical in 1999.
  • It was not illegal nor unethical in 2009.
  • It is not illegal nor unethical in 2019.

That, in a nutshell, is the reality of the current employment marketplace. One of the reasons I can say this is personal experience. I’ve been an Animal Health recruiter and Veterinary recruiter for more than 20 years. I’ve worked with small organizations and I’ve worked with big ones. In fact, I’ve conducted numerous successful searches for Fortune 500 Companies, at a variety of different levels especially at the executive level and during the course of those searches, I contacted candidates at their current place of employment.

There are three other things that I can say, without a doubt, regarding this topic:

  1. I have some stories involving professionals who were offended that a recruiter contacted them at work about an employment opportunity.
  2. This situation has been happening with more frequency during the past couple of years.
  3. This has never happened in my experience at the executive level. It typically happens with lower levels of employees (individual contributors and not those in leadership) or newer graduates who don’t know better. Executives are usually very receptive to taking my call.

First, let me say that just because more people have become offended recently does NOT mean this practice is “all of a sudden” unethical. I think some would agree that more people have become offended about more things with greater frequency during the past few years. This is hardly an isolated incident.

Second, I know for a fact that for some people, fear is at the heart of their belief that being contacted at work by a recruiter is unethical. These professionals believe that if they talk with a recruiter at work, their current employer is going to find out, that employer is going to think they’re disloyal, and then they will be fired. That’s not likely going to happen.

Just because you speak with a recruiter does NOT mean you are a disloyal person. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get fired. All it means is that you are open to hearing about another opportunity.

And when I say this is an accepted practice, I’m not alone. Those professionals who are accustomed to being contacted by recruiters on a regular basis would agree this is an accepted practice. This includes professionals who work at some of the largest employers in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. We’re talking about senior-level executives. They expect to be contacted by recruiters about employment opportunities, and when they are contacted, they do not tell the recruiter that they’re offended or that the recruiter is unethical. And the fact they respond in the correct fashion to recruiters is one of the reasons that these professionals are senior-level executives. One executive told me that he got to the VP level at his company because he always took a call from a recruiter. He said the best career advice someone gave him was to always talk with recruiters when they called. He also said that most every senior level position he obtained was because a recruiter called him about a better opportunity.

What is the correct way to respond when a recruiter contacts you? I answered this question in a previous article titled, “The Correct Way to Respond When a Recruiter Reaches Out to You.” In that article, I listed six steps for responding in the correct fashion:

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Be willing to listen to what the recruiter has to say.
  3. Tell the recruiter either yes, you’re interested in exploring the opportunity or no, you’re not interested in exploring the opportunity.
  4. Answer any follow-up questions that the recruiter might have to the best of your ability.
  5. If you’re not interested in exploring this particular opportunity, communicate to the recruiter the opportunity that you would be interested in exploring.
  6. If you’re not interested in exploring the opportunity and you know someone who might be, pass that person’s name along to the recruiter. The recruiter will remember that you did this and will be more likely to call you about opportunities again in the future. Recruiters tend to remember the people first who have helped them in the past.

And keep in mind that it’s certainly appropriate to tell the recruiter you’d rather speak with them during non-working hours. However, you will have to supply them with your personal phone number or another number. You’ll also have to set up an appropriate time to talk.

It’s at this point that I would like to present one of my favorite quotes regarding the recruiting profession. It’s from a book titled The Recruiter is Your Friend: This Ain’t Your Granddaddy’s Job Search by Kristen M. Hallows. The passage is as follows:

“Unlike a military raid, recruiters don’t take hostages; they simply offer better opportunities for potential candidates to consider. Employees are not owned; they choose what is best for them and their families. If they opt to take advantage of a new opportunity, the shame should not be on the recruiter, but rather on the former employer for taking them for granted and not insuring that the best opportunity was being delivered!”

I’ve paraphrased this passage many times before, including during tradeshows and webinars. Simply put, no one steals employees. No one walks into an organization, knocks an employee unconscious, stuffs that employee into a large duffel bag, and then drags them across the street to work for another employer. I use this extreme example not to be funny, but to illustrate how absurd it is to believe that someone can force you to work for another employer. A recruiter does not force you to do anything. All they do is present you with an opportunity.

The bottom line is that you should not be concerned about recruiters contacting you, at work or anywhere else. What you should be worried about is recruiters NOT contacting you. That’s because if a recruiter is contacting you, then you’re considered a top candidate in the employment marketplace. On a certain level, you should be pleased that a recruiter is reaching out. It means that you’re providing a tremendous amount of value and your services are in demand.  I’m a recruiter and recruiters call me at work. A recruiter called me at work about a CEO position at another recruiting firm. If I wasn’t getting calls from recruiters I would be wondering why not.

And this is why it’s unfortunate that some Veterinary professionals believe that a recruiter contacting them at work is an unethical practice. Not only are they not recognizing that they’re considered a top candidate in the marketplace, but they’re also shunning the opportunity to leverage their value and worth to change their life and situation for the better. They will miss out on opportunities and why would anyone not want to hear about potentially better opportunities?

Getting calls from recruiters is not something about which to be offended. This is something about which to be excited.

Just ask the many senior-level executives who expect calls from recruiters and know exactly how to handle them.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1.By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2.By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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