Dishonest Headhunters

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1 July 2020

I've been interviewing for jobs for over two decades and hiring employees for the past eight years, but I have never encountered recruiters the likes of those at Beecher Madden in all those years. Maybe I've just been lucky, but it amazes me that such blatant dishonesty can exist. I suppose it's appropriate that their initials are BM, because they're full of it.

It all started a few weeks back when I was contacted by Ross via LinkedIn to see if I was interested in a job that he was headhunting for. I am currently looking for a job, so I replied in the affirmative and he sent me over the job description. For those not familiar with the headhunting industry, they are matchmatchers between employers and jobseekers. They spend there days searching for good employees for companies that have contracted with them. If they find a candidate that the company hires, then the headhunter is usually paid a fee related to the salary the new employee has been hired for. Often this is around 20%, so these headhunters only need to make 5 successful matches a year to earn a professional's salary. Usually they work for headhunting firms that take a pretty good chunk of that though so in practice they need more than 5 per year.

Ross was glad I was interested and set up an interview. Here's where the first hiccup comes. Ross is in the UK. I am in Norway. The job is also in Norway, although in a city on the other side of the country. Norway and the UK are in different time zones, which Ross manage to botch when scheduling the interview. This would be a theme of interviews going forward. Ross corrected the error beforehand, but I missed the first interview because of a conflict on my end. No worries. We rescheduled and I checked to verify that the new interview time was the time in Norway's timezone. Yes, Ross assured me, it's Norway time. When the interview time came, however, the company was a no show so I contacted Ross. Whoops, he said, and asked if I could attend an hour later when the company thought it was happening. I had another meeting scheduled in a different location halfway through that time so I said no. Ross replied that the company was ready to do the interview in half the time. At this point I thought that Ross was merely incompetent rather than dishonest, so I gently reiterated that I had a conflict with that time so we'd have to reschedule for another day.

Fast-forward two more interviews down the road, and I'm communicating with someone at the company directly to make sure the times are right. At this point Ross calls to tell me that the company would like to move forward with an onsite interview, and could I tell him flight times that worked for me. I did not realize it at the time, but Ross liked to have conversations on the phone because he didn't want a paper trail of what was about to transpire. I said I would look and email him after the call. He really wanted me to tell him on the call. I was not with my laptop (this was the evening), so I said it would really have to be via email. So I sent him flight times via email, and he replied with "Sounds good - what time can you be at the interview for do you think? Shouldn’t last anymore than an hour also." This struck me as odd. Why would the company fly me in for just an hour. I also didn't have the address, so I didn't know how far from the airport I'd be going. Again, I thought that this was just incompetence. Ross replied with the address though and I figured out the trains and gave him an estimate with sufficient time padding that I could afford to miss a couple of them. I talked to Ross on the phone again at this point and he puffed up my ego by telling me that I was the only candidate they were even considering. I have done hiring long enough to know that this is probably not true, but Ross claimed to be "new at this" so again I chalked it up to incompetence.

At this point you're probably wondering why I tolerated so much incompetence on the part of the headhunter recruiting me for the job. I shouldn't have. I. Should. Not. Have. This was definitely a mistake, although at the time the job itself seemed interesting so I was willing to tolerate a little incompetence to get it. I was letting Beecher Madden represent me to the company though, and so their incompetence was reflecting poorly on me. While Ross was managing the relationship with me, Ed was managing the relationship with the company that was looking to hire someone. This would come out later.

So, planning to fly across Norway for an interview at a company I was excited to work for later in the week, Monday morning I received an email from Ross: "The interview is confirmed for 11:45, please can you confirm you have booked flights?" Quite surprised, I replied saying that I had expected the company would have booked flights for me. It's important to note at this point that I received no further emails from anyone at Beecher Madden, only phonecalls. Ross was the first to call. He said that it was normal for the candidate to pay for the flights, but that if I was hired I could expense it. I've never heard of anything like this, and I told him so. I've flow a lot of places for a lot of interviews, and I've flown people to interview with me, and the candidate is never asked to pay. My experience was only in the US though, and Ross insisted that this was how things were done here but that he would ask the company if they were willing to pay. Thinking he was likely wrong, but also accepting that I might be I went to a Facebook group of people in Norway and asked for their experiences in this regard. Nearly all of the responses indicated that the employer paid for candidate flights in Norway.

When Ross called back and told me that the company was unwilling to pay for my flights, I was surprised and disappointed. Again he said they would pay if I was hired. I told him that this was a red flag for me. It was a young company and if they were unable or unwilling to pay for flights, how would the benefits be and how long would they be able to pay my salary? I told Ross that I wouldn't be buying tickets for myself, and he said he would have his manager, Ed, try to intervene. So when Ed called he initially apologized for Ross, but then pivoted to the hard sell. Why wouldn't I book tickets when I was the only candidate the company was considering? The company would reimburse me if I was hired, so was I not that interested? If I didn't do it then the interview process would end there. I told Ed the reasons I thought the company not paying for the flights was a red flag, and he said that Ross had forgotten to send me information about the company's benefits but they were great. Then he told me that the company thought I was going to be in town already, and they didn't want to pay to fly me there. At this point I realized that what I had hitherto thought was incompetence might be downright dishonest behavior. With Ed continuing on the hard sell to get me to book flights I knew I had to end the conversation. He told me that in that case they were ending the process. Again, this was odd because headhunters usually want to place you somewhere else if they can't get you in one place.

At this point I figured that the process was over, so I emailed my contact at the company apologizing for letting Beecher Madden represent me and telling him that I would be happy to do the final interview via videocall if they didn't want to fly me out. His response confirmed all of my trepidations about Beecher Madden and is worth reproducing here:

It's unfortunate how this process has evolved, and I can assure you that Beecher Madden have taken it upon themselves by telling you to fly in - we were happy to conduct the whole process through web meetings considering the times and different locations of us both. I was told that you were going to be in Oslo on Friday, and it would be good if we had time to meet you whilst you were here. Likewise, I am not very impressed with Beecher Madden.

He went on to tell me that they'd just made an offer to an equally qualified candidate who lived there already. Good thing I didn't buy tickets! He also said that he'd be talking to Ed about how things unfolded. I believe the company was also a victim here, so I haven't named them. The moral of the story is, I guess, be careful who you let act as an intermediary and speak on your behalf. They may be telling lies because their interests are not aligned with yours. Clearly Ross & Ed thought they stood a better chance of scoring a hire if I was available in person, and by making me pay for the flights they risked nothing but their integrity.

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