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Ethics in Recruiting

December 1st 2009 - our first Blog posting - and the topic was Ethics in the Search Field.  This continues to be a topic of interest - and one that continues to surprise HR professionals when it sneaks up on them.  It is often a reactive topic - it comes up when encountering a search firm's practice that was 'surprising' or a candidate that did not tell you the full truth.

SHRM and other professional associations 'guidelines' on Ethics

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) has a Code of Ethics.  This is its core principal:
  • HR professionals are expected to exhibit individual leadership as a role model for maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct.
Not too specific - but we are paid to make decisions, not simply follow a recipe.  SHRM continues with Guidelines (among other things).  The first of these guidelines left me a bit uncertain:
  • Be ethical; act ethically in every professional interaction.
Well - that cleared it up for me! The AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants) was no better.  They have a Code of Ethics as well.  An example was under the heading of Competence:
  • AESC members will perform all search consulting assignments competently, and with an appropriate degree of knowledge, thoroughness and urgency.
Again, not a great amount of clarity.  The IACPR (International Association for Corporate and Professional Recruitment) is a bit more specific in my opinion.  They don't tell you what to do, but are more specific in their language (i.e. - Reference checking without the knowledge and permission of the candidate, while sometimes expedient, is nevertheless a disservice to the candidate, unprofessional and is also unlawful.).

Defining Ethics

Academically, there are multiple ways to approach this topic.  Two possible trains of thought (among many) are:
  • Consequentialism – the consequences of an action form the basis for any valid moral judgment:  The ends justify the means
  • Deontology – you determine the goodness or badness from examining acts
    • An act may be considered the right thing to do even if it produces a bad consequence – “truth telling”
These two approaches can lead to opposite conclusions.

Is there one answer?

This past week, I facilitated a discussion for a company's Talent Acquisition department on Ethics in Recruiting.  We covered a multitude of topics - more as an introduction to the possibilities AND to also see where they wanted to engage in discussion. While there was relative agreement on some of the topics (the need to pre-discuss off-limits issues), there was also some great discussion around dual-processing of candidates as well as a retained firm's ability to take on conflicting searches.  There also seemed to be clear agreement on one interesting item (a sad conclusion by the way) - there is almost an expectation and acceptance of less-than-ethical behavior from some Contingent firms.  (I am thankful that we only do Retained work; that said - shouldn't we all be held to a high standard?)

The next topic to watch?

That will be case law as it relates to use of Social Media in recruiting . . . . . are my contacts, as an employee, my contacts - or are they public because of my LinkedIn (or other) connections?  This will play out in the courts - if cases ever make it that far (many of the cases are being settled prior to a public trial). Stay tuned!