While many recruiters try and be reasonable, there are enough out there using underhand tactics to make life difficult and potentially jeopardise a good contract.
The tactics addressed below are:
- “Multiple submission”. This is where you end up with your CV landing on a client’s desk from two different recruitment companies. I gather this can be the nail in the coffin of a contract even if the client was keen - who wants to be stuck in the middle of two recruiters fighting over the commission?!
- Requiring “references” that are actually just lead generation.
The first step is simple, which is never agree verbally or otherwise to be put forward without first finding out who the client is, and make sure you keep track of who sent your CV where. I find Trello is a good tool for keeping on top of the fast moving and often fragmented information you get when hunting for contracts, particularly combining web view with the mobile apps for on-the go access to the information.
Recruiters are often hesitant to pass on the client’s name, and this is understandable as if you were to go round them then they’d lose their commission which is how they earn a living. Worse, if you let the name slip to another less scrupulous recruiter then they may try and get your CV in first themselves without asking and in doing so sour the deal for everyone. (They often fish for names with phrases like “I need to know who else you’ve been submitted to in order to avoid duplication” - this is a lie, you can manage this fine yourself.)
To tackle this I recommend the following:
- Never share their client’s name with anyone else, especially other recruiters; make it clear this is a point of principle.
- Prove your integrity by politely refusing to tell recruiters who ask, they might have liked the name, but they will be more likely to trust you in the future for respecting the wishes of other recruiters.
So that’s the easy bit which I’ve been doing for some time…
There are unfortunately a bunch of particularly unscrupulous recruiters out there like sharks in the water who will without your permission, or possibly without ever contacting you, send your CV to their “client” (or just some poor manager they’ve found to spam with CVs). You can’t tell them not to if they’ve never asked you, and it can still ruin a deal. So what to do about that?
If you’re looking for contract work, you really need good exposure, so having your CV all over the place like leaves in the wind is not a bad way of getting the word out there (bear in mind I’m looking for work for my contracting company, which is a different ball-game to finding that perfect permanent role). It’s actually pretty hard to control at all if you’re dealing with recruiters because as soon as you include your CV in a response to posting on JobServe it’ll be dropped straight into that recruiter’s pool of CVs, and some recruiters even pool CVs between them using services like iProfileUK.
To prevent that free-wheeling CV being used without permission, it contains the following text (as does my LinkedIn profile):
Recruiters: this CV is not authorised for distribution to your clients. Please contact me for permission to represent me and for a separate copy containing an authorisation code & gpg signature. Thanks. To prospective clients, if you receive my CV without these then I haven’t given permission to be represented.
Okay, so far so good, but any unscrupulous recruiter could just strip that out and send it anyway, and how would I be able to make a client comfortable that they can tell this scumbag to jog on?
So before I agree to be represented by a particular recruiter to a particular client (which I have no particular objection to if they’ve found work I otherwise couldn’t have found), I will be needing the client’s name. I will add this to a list of who has authorization to send my CV and who they are authorized to send it to. I will then generate a customised CV (via mail merge) with explicit permission to represent me to this specific client included in it, and a note that any CVs received without this are unauthorized by me.
To prevent a recruiter cottoning on and just generating this themselves I will then be GPG signing the result, which can then be checked against my public key, proving that it did indeed come from me (assuming my pc hasn’t been hacked of course but I haven’t heard of any recruiters going that far, if they could they’d probably be security consultants instead of recruiters!).
These in a way are redundant, but they are easier for the average person to check, and they add air of authority to the whole thing to help discourage those who would behave in bad faith.
Using libreoffice calc, codes are generated with the following:
A cell containing allowable characters in the codes as text:
for this example this is in cell
A row for each authorized representation containing this formula to generate a
unique authorisation code:
[repeat the “mid” clause once for each digit of the code to be generated] )
Generating auth text
There’s another concatenation cell to generate the message to add to the CV.
This is auth text is then copy-pasted into a file, and signed with gnupg on the command-line of my linux box.
Here you can see the signing happening, followed by verification that the file is signed properly (as the client might do if they suspect a recruiter is reusing my CV for without my permission).
gpg --clearsign authorization.txt
the contents of the signed file (output to
authorization.txt.asc) is then copy-pasted onto the end of a CV and
sent off to the recruiter to relay to their client. Along with a custom header with the client & recruiter name to make it absolutely clear who it’s solely intended for.
gpg --verify authorization.txt.asc gpg: Signature made Fri 07 Apr 2023 10:31:36 BST gpg: using RSA key 74D42A4C905507C54A7E3C9C26C6E08728CDF8EA gpg: Good signature from "Tim Abell <email@example.com>" [ultimate]
The important bit here is “Good signature”.
If you haven’t told gpg to trust my key then you’ll get a stern warning from gpg, but it still checks the signature. GPG (and PGP) do more than just sign files, they have a web-of-trust system that involves showing up in the real world with passports and signing each other’s keys. You can see why that hasn’t gone mainstream, but it is very good.
See https://yanhan.github.io/posts/2014-03-04-gpg-how-to-trust-imported-key/ for how to mark keys as trusted.
My public key
My current public key
28CD F8EA for
You can obtain the key for verifying from:
- My website: public-key.txt
- keyserver.ubuntu.com (synchronised with other key servers)
Full primary key fingerprint:
74D4 2A4C 9055 07C5 4A7E 3C9C 26C6 E087 28CD F8EA.
Learn more about the state of sharing gpg keys: https://superuser.com/questions/227991/where-to-upload-pgp-public-key-are-keyservers-still-surviving
I’ve uploaded a couple of files for you to try out verifying, one with the original message, and one with a forged message where the client’s name has been changed. See if you can figure out which is which:
Limiting the period of right to represent
It occurred to me more recently that there should be a time limit of say 3 months on the permission for a recruiter to represent you. As such my permission message currently reads:
“Tim Abell has given permission for ExampleRecruiter to pass on this CV to ExampleClient on 22 Jan 2022; auth code Q5GAYUEEH5. Any copies of my CV received without a valid gpg signature have not been authorized for distribution. Any express or implied right to represent will expire on 22 Apr 2022 Learn more: https://timwise.co.uk/recruiters “
Requests for “References”
Unfortunately the more unscrupulous recruiters will claim they need “references” pretty much on first contact before even making contact with the client for you. References should be a follow-up cross check once fit is agreed on. In the worst case these are no such thing, and are actually just mining you for contact details of potential new business that they can harass to find openings and contacts for their database. Worst case they will then spam that contact with unsolicited CVs in a hope of gaining an unearned commission. You owe it to your closest contacts (those who would do you the favour of writing a reference) to protect them from such approaches from the wild-west of the recruitment industry. They doubtless get enough fo this cold outreach without you allowing more of it. Worse they might even use your name without permission to try and gain credence with your contact.
- Don’t ever give out “reference” details until you know for certain that the end client has specifically requested them.
- Provide them only to the end client, not the recruitment firm.
- Provide them explicitly for the specific purpose fo reference checking, and forbid their use for any other purpose. Cite breach of GDPR.
It’s also important that you check with your contact that they are happy to be a reference for you and that they will be expecting contact from whichever recruiter or client you are in talks with. This way if your name or contact is spammed or abused by this firm then you will both know it has happened.
Do not allow yourself to be pressured into providing references inappropriately, early or carelessly on pain of losing a deal. With the shadiest of recruitment companies the deal may not even exist and may just be made up for the purpose of attracting CVs and filling in their database of prospects to spam.