Ethical Sourcing – Yes or No?

This fall, in Amsterdam, the SoSU Europe Sourcing conference took place. On the grapevine I heard about a “cool” presentation from an eastern European guy who showed the audience how to hack phone systems – and even did a live demo in the conference hall.

I’ve always been interested in ways of gathering data, from my days at way back in 2001, when we had Roy Everett as part of a Roadshow. Roy was a very early proponent of sourcing, showing the audience how to “cybersleuth” i.e. write search strings and find candidates on the “open web.” He opened up many eyes to breaking down barriers and finding the ‘right’ candidates. So I understand the value of innovation and doing things differently.

However … as co-founder of a global sourcing and resourcing operation based in Sarajevo, I’m part of a company that employs smart people to work for clients around the world. We encourage them to keep abreast of all the latest developments, including the ‘thought-leading’ practices discussed at conferences. So we face this ethical business dilemma: whether to source ethically or find the candidate at all costs. Where are the boundaries? And what does the industry think about these frankly worrying developments?

I say ‘worrying’ because unless I’m mistaken, the chap in Amsterdam was ‘hacking’ – or to put it another way, showing people how to access data illegally (or almost illegally, which is another debate in its own right). But it does raise the question that for an industry who’s prime goal is to find “people/talent”, what is acceptable at the sourcing stage? It’s at the very least a moral dilemma: should we source ethically to find candidates – or push every boundary to find the ‘right’ candidate for our client, at any cost?

I originally came from the publishing world, where editors and owners wanted reporters to find the stories at all costs. This did, as we all now know, include paying people to “nod you the wink” that person X was at location Y, or that an arrest was about to be made. This was deemed as ‘OK’ in the murky pursuit of ‘news’. Not ‘too’ illegal, with just a few pound paid here and there.

BUT as technology developed, this attitude subsequently led to phone tapping, hacking of data, spying and the rest. In our own way, Recruiting is experiencing a similar curve. Talent Mapping and Market Mapping, for example, can include benchmarking private company information such as Organisational Structures and employee data.

Now we are under scrutiny as an industry, the issues around data protection/security/privacy will become an increasingly bigger concern to both the public and politicians who see themselves as “protectors of the public”. And therefore I suspect that “hanging out our dirty washing in public” is not the smartest thing to do – not least for the candidates themselves. How would a sourced candidate feel if they knew that they’d been “sourced” illegally by having been hacked? How would that candidate perceive the company that had allowed this to happen in the name of Talent Acquisition? What would their Candidate Experience feel like? What would it say about the employer’s Employment Brand?

This whole situation is going to get worse as more data is held in the cloud, more people fail to understand the implications of this – and more reward is offered for finding candidates, without the threat or risk of legal penalties for bad practice.

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There is, of course, another side to this argument – a view that I suspect many people in the industry might hold: Does it really matter if we find our clients great candidates and these candidates have new career opportunities, better lifestyles, increased earnings potential etc, etc? Does the candidate particularly care how they are found?

My question still remains:

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Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

This article first appeared on Recruitment Buzz.

Keith Robinson has worked in the Publishing, Media and Recruiting industry for over 30 years. He was Founder of the UK HR magazine ’Personnel Today’ and from that founded the ’RADs’ recruitment industry awards. With 10 years as a Director of two major Recruitment Advertising Agencies and then six years in the Job Board and Technology world as COO of Totaljobs .com, Keith brings his multi channel approach and thinking to all client needs – including Central & Eastern European recruitment markets, where he has operated at Board-level since 2003, as Supervisory Board Director of the leading Job Board Group, CVO.

As Managing Partner and Candidate Experience Leader of 52˚N, Keith works closely with the team and client organisations to help them put the “candidate at the heart of their thinking”.


4 Comments on “Ethical Sourcing – Yes or No?

  1. Unless you can share exactly what was going on – it’s hard to comment on this. Your remarks are vague and leading – “almost illegally” and “Illegal” are juxtapositions. This article is asking for trouble and many here are willing to watch it happen but please clarify what happened.

    Most sourced candidates are tickled to death to be found if there opportunity appeals to them and benefits their families.

    1. I agree. I often worry about the content of articles on this site as it pertains to newer sourcers and recruiters. A lot of unfortunately bad information (from people so far removed from day-to-day sourcing) mixed in with really, really good insight. I’m not saying this article is either of the two, as it raises very important questions — but it’s important to note the audience of your articles.

  2. This is a tricky subject. There are things that we obviously should not be doing due to their legality (let alone their morality). I’m very open with candidates on how I get their information, whether it be from information openly available on the web that they aren’t aware is out there, to sneakier (but legal) tactics. If I look up who owns a domain, and they don’t have that information protected, that’s on them and I will let them know that.I like to be straight up with them. Keeping with this honest approach, I can’t imagine, “I hacked the phone systems and found your number” going over very well. I’ve had candidates freaked out that I got their information from tools like Connectifier. By all means, if some of you want to go out and do shadier stuff like this in the “war for talent,” go right ahead. Just know that what you do reflects what type of person you are. I just prefer not to be on the “Ambulance Chaser” side of recruiting. Which is why I don’t like agency (hehe –just kidding –maybe).

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