I critique bad HR practices with relish, but there’s nothing worse than a bad-boy headhunter. (They come in female, too, of course.) The worst is a headhunter who brushes you off, then torpedoes a job you found for yourself. The lesson: Beware what you tell a headhunter. A reader brings the scenario into clear focus:
After an interview, I asked the headhunter if I was in the running. I explained that I was expecting a formal offer for another position (that I found on my own) and that my time-frame was tight — I had to make a decision quickly. The headhunter said he would not be taking me forward as I did not have enough management experience. He advised me to take the other job. But here’s the rub. I found out that the headhunter personally called the company where I was getting an offer and told them I was totally incompetent, would not be worthy for any position, and that they not hire me. He suggested that the company instead let the headhunter find them a truly worthy candidate. This is outrageous! Do I have any legal recourse?
Arrrggghhh. Lesson #1 about job offers: Never divulge to anyone where you are going until the deal is signed, sealed, delivered, and you are on board at the new company. Including your current employer, your co-workers, and headhunters.
Yah, this is a cynical view of the world. But it’s based on this greater rule: Tiny risks are not worth taking if the potential bad consequences are huge. While friends you tell about your new job are not likely to screw it up for you, the magnitude of the bad consequences — the senseless loss of a job opportunity — should make you keep your mouth shut, no matter how excited you are.
The risk grows if you tell your current employer where you are going next.
A V.P. who accepted an offer from one of my clients was ready to move his family from Florida to California. The deal was signed. Then the veep’s current employer had someone anonymously contact the CEO — my client — to say the veep “has some affiliations you should know about.” For a week the deal teetered while an investigation revealed the claim was hogwash. It was malicious sour grapes. But it never should have happened. The veep should not have divulged where he was going. It almost cost him his future. Learn how to resign right.
Headhunters? Headhunters you don’t know? Never reveal to a strange headhunter any identifying information about another offer you have pending. Since 95% of “headhunters” aren’t worth spit, there is a significant chance that one will use the information against you and to his or her advantage.
What about a good headhunter? Use your judgment. Know how to judge a headhunter. Remember that no headhunter works for you. Headhunters work for employers, and even then, they are hired guns. The best ones know where the line is. The bad boys are actually competing with you. Don’t give them a lead.
Your recourse might require a lawyer — and I don’t pretend to give legal advice. For a few bucks, you should be able to find out whether you have a case against a headhunter who intentionally and, possibly, maliciously interfered with your business. I’d find a good employment attorney and spend the money to find out.