Recruiters: Stop playing God

Sometimes it is the small things that remind you of a bigger issue.  I was in my hotel room in Berlin on Wednesday night when I saw a tweet from Katie McNab, Recruiter for PepsiCo about women who use their partner’s email addresses on job applications. In her words,

“It makes them look like children who can’t be trusted with their own comms”

We had a bit of back and forth over the subject and I think it is fair to say that there was little or no common ground (you can see some of the conversation here).  Katie was firm to her view that this was “inappropriate” and given that she is a recruiter, speaks at conferences and well regarded, I guess I have to bow to her superior knowledge – again in her words,

“placing judgment on people is part of the job”

and according to Katie, I was in the minority (although looking through the timeline there was only one person who agreed and one who didn’t – which is a kind of soviet democracy!).

But it has been niggling away at me. I did a little interview with DriveThru HR where we talked about the skills gaps that we are facing in the global economy.  Manpower, BCG and the CIPD have recently reported that managers were finding it more difficult to attract the right talent.  Good candidates are staying put and have a world of opportunities at their feet should they wish to move. Put simply, recruiting “talent” is going to get harder.

If you listened to the twittersphere and blogosphere you’d understandably be mistaken for believing that the answer is to “go social” and of course that is an element of changing attraction strategies.  But it seems to me we also need to challenge some of the institutional slothfulness of in-house recruiters. Katie is right, we all make assumptions about people, that is human, but we need to be challenging these and minimising them – not celebrating them in public.

Recruitment isn’t about judging people, it is about discovering people.

And recruiters need to stop playing God.

As well as being quasi-discriminatory (although I am sure not in intent) diminishing an application because of a candidate’s CHOSEN means of communication is either naïve, arrogant or idiotic in the extreme – I really can’t decide which.  There is absolutely no legal, morale, organisational or rational argument behind doing so. There could be a million reasons that an individual chooses to include a partner’s email on an application but that is their choice.

Increasingly we will need to be searching for talent, lifting up rocks, thinking creatively about how we bring people in, how we train them, how we help them to meet the requirements of the job and leave our own prejudices and judgments at the door.  The good companies and recruiters will get this and make a name or career for themselves. The bad ones? Well they’ll keep talking the talk in public, but failing to walk the walk where it really matters.

Which, let’s be honest, is no bad thing really.

It just makes it easier for the rest of us.


  1. RecruitGal · July 1, 2011

    Wow, Neil.

    Did you also clock me saying:

    “It’s not a select in/out thing. It’s just weird and (I’d argue) inappropriate.”

    Or see the responses from other recruiters agreeing with me, and mentioning some of their own CV pet peeves? (Hard as it may be to believe, not everyone who responded to my original tweet copied you in on their response)

    I think you are blowing this way out of proportion… But I’m not going to get into a fight with you about it. I’ll just ask you to consider the irony about you making these kinds of judgments about me. And your choice to make them publicly.

    • Neil · July 1, 2011

      Hi Katie and thanks for commenting. The tweets on that list are responses to your original tweet, not ones that “copied me in” but that is irrelevant. And yes, I used the word “diminsh” in reference to the CV not “rejected” because I did clock you saying that it wasn’t an in out thing (it is included in the tweets that are on the link).

      I would apply this argument to any recruiters with their pet peeves, it isn’t a personal thing, as I say it was a small thing that reminded me of a bigger issue.

      Finally I’m not making a judgment about you, but about a position that you openly stated and is in the public domain. I think that is fair game, if you want to live in the public glow you need to also accept the questioning that comes from that.

      The irony here, if there is one, is that you seem to support your position by saying that other people do it to, rather than addressing the real issues around bias in selection and recruitment.

      I’d love to hear a proper justification for your approach if you’d like to share?

    • Neil · July 2, 2011

      Thanks Katie, I’ve responded over there too!

  2. Stephen O'Donnell · July 1, 2011

    As a young recruiter, I often found random items of prejudice would creep into my thinking. I would catch myself binning CV’s of candidates for many reasons that weren’t actually relevant to the job I’d be recruiting for. It could have been their weight, spelling and grammar skills, town they came from, or the green ink they used on their cover letter. I had a real aversion to those who went out of their way to tell me about their religion or the names of their kids. This was and is wrong, and counter productive.

    Choosing against someone because of their chosen method of application is just as wrong. Imagine the scenario when a hiring manager thought more highly of candidates who had applied via his new whizz-bang iPhone App, than those who sent an old-fashioned CV by post. Only in very few instances could you make a connection between the candidate suitability and their application route.

    I treat every application as a compliment, and appreciate each one, no matter their form. I select candidates for their competence, ability and initiative.

    • Neil · July 1, 2011

      Stephen thanks for commenting and making such a balanced contribution. I think we have all had moments of aversion to one thing or another, my argument is that we should be challenging those not openly celebrating them.

      Your last paragraph should be the mantra for anyone involved in recruitment.

    • employee record keeping · September 2, 2011

      Being able to spell is a big thing in our recruitment process, we have a website that sells employee record keeping forms. Since we cater to the HR industry we need to make sure we are on top of things such as this. I am not sure what industry you are in but it is defiantly important to our organization.

      • Neil · September 6, 2011

        I was going to bin this as blatant promotion of your product, but the fact that you say that spelling is so important and then wrote “defiantly” rather than “definitely” just made me chuckle enough to include it.

  3. Katherine · July 1, 2011

    Wow some intereresting thoughts and as a person who will soon be dipping a toe into the job seeking world this will make me triple check what I’m sending and hope I’m judged on my merit.

    Any recruiters, just a note that if it drops onto your desk I’m not obese, using husbands email or green ink 🙂


    • Neil · July 1, 2011

      Katherine, thanks for the comment. You should be judged on your merit and your merit alone – I think we would all agree on that one. And any company that doesn’t, probably doesn’t deserve you.

  4. Peter Hetherington · July 1, 2011

    I can see a fundamental divide going on here, and want to maybe clear up something.

    Recruitment is about Discovering people AND Judging them. My role, just like most full lifecycle corporate recruiters, is to attract and then select the best people to work at my company. You can’t just discover them and then palm them off to the business to do all the selection, just as you can’t put in place rigourous selection processes without a pipe of candidates to go through that funnel. So Neil, I think you’re right to highlight ‘discovery’, but wrong to harpoon the judgement aspect in the same breath.

    On the specifics you raised – I don’t think Katie is suggesting for one moment that people who apply using a partner’s email address are routed directly to ‘reject’. I DO share her sentiments, however, that it feels a little inapporpriate… After all, when I am communicating with someone aboout the extremely sensitive topic of their career, I would usually like to feel like it is them on the end of the email, not their partner (who I have no knowledge about, and don’t know – for example – whether they work for a competitor, have the candidate’s blessing to be intimately involved with things like salary, etc. etc.). I’d be wrong to auto-reject on the basis that I feel their own judgement in choosing that way to communicate is perhaps flawed, but can anyone claim I am wrong to feel a little uncomfortable about it? Seriously? I give seminars to school leavers on employability, and I unashamedly talk to them on what is appropriate in communication, including what types of email address (and easily by extension, who it belongs to!). They’re tips, not rules, but again – am I wrong to provide my opinion on them?

    It feels like you’ve come down fairly heavily on this . I think to summarise, recruiters have a shared responsibility to listen and be responsive to the candidate market, but also to help drive standards and educate job seekers as to what is effective/appropriate. As long as it is balanced and fair, I fully support Katie and others who take that dual approach.

    • Neil · July 1, 2011

      Thanks for the comment Peter and the measured and balanced contribution. I don’t want to get into semantics here (because we could be here for the rest of our lives) but there is a subtle and important difference between “judging” and selecting”. Yes there is the need for selection, but judgment is more about opinion and less about fact.

      On your second point, you are slightly contradictory. If the candidate has provided you with the address, then they would be happy for it to be used in relation to the job – that is the point. And who are you or I to argue with that? Their judgment is flawed feels like quite a patronising assertion. Who wrote the rulebook?

      That said, it is each to their own but applicants are adult human beings and can choose how they wish to be communicated with. There is a big difference between using and choosing to use a life partner’s email address. This isn’t about driving standards at all, it doesn’t improve anything for anyone, it is just about personal views and as I say, we should be trying to remove those wherever possible.

  5. Sue · July 1, 2011

    Neil, you’ve the nail on the head. Recruitment isn’t about judging people, it is about discovering people. And recruiters need to stop playing God.

    I appreciate that recruiters do not work for the candidate and are paid by the client, however MOST seem to use a search engine to scan CVs or get some junior to skim read them. I’ve seen many remarks on LinkedIn that say recruiters have hundreds of CVs to read through for some positions. This doesn’t help the ones like me who want to be ‘discovered’!
    I’ve given up updating my CV to job boards as all it generates is calls and emails from recruiters saying they will look for suitable positions only to never hear from them again.
    If my CV doesn’t fit then I would appreciate feedback on the reasons why. With many years of work experience I don’t /can’t list it all!
    A better description of the required skills would help when they are advertising the roles.

    • Neil · July 1, 2011

      Sue, thanks for the contribution, you make some good points. I’m not sure about the search engine or skim reading – I’ve not seen that done, but I do think recruiters either in house or outsourced should treat candidates with respect and decency. Volume is no excuse.

  6. megP · July 2, 2011

    Interesting! I’m not convinced that if a recruiter is irritated by hobbies or personal details or they don’t like the email address etc on a CV that they aren’t going to select out based on that reaction.

    Based on anecdotal evidence and viewing discussions on LI and other on line communities, recruitment appears to be almost entirely one sided and judgmental.

    Most people write a CV once every few years, some once every 20. Recruiters may look at 100 a day; of course they will have a filtering system – wouldn’t it be fair to publish this? I could go so far as to ask why recruiters are still asking for CV’s – perhaps they’re outmoded/discriminatory/irrelevant, as there seems to be very set criteria that each recruiter applies based on individual preferences and prejudices about hobbies, email addresses, methods of presentation etc. Why not just have a checklist for candidates to complete, create a personal statement and providing they hit the benchmark – talk to them!

    • Neil · July 12, 2011

      Another great comment, and I have to agree that this idea that “these things don’t cloud my judgment” or words to that effect just don’t ring true. We know that humans are biased, psychological studies have shown this time and time again – and we should be looking to control these.

      As for changing the methodology for applications…’re on to something.

  7. John Rose · July 12, 2011

    Neil, great article! I would like to add my ‘five pennies worth!’ to the discussion string…

    An observation – more and more CV/Resume reviewers are not able to review each person’s written presentation as unique and individual. Sure there are going to be ‘things’ that irk the reader – bad choice in email nom de plume and/or service provider, or use of 1st person over 3rd person, or truncated work history, and the list goes on…

    Let me just say I am prejudice in all my screening and interview process, I do my very best in pushing for a ‘NO’, if by doing this I get all the way through my screening/recruitment process with no NO’s and a final ‘YES’ on both sides then the person is right and ready for the role. position, company, opportunity, etc… This approach garners respect from both sides and enables a better understanding of ‘fit for purpose, fit for use’ – old quality adage.

    Working both sides of the Atlantic, and both sides of the 49th North Parallel, I see first hand the challenges facing the recruitment/attraction market place is having, lots of it caused by misplaced presumption/assumption and technology.

    When you read a CV/Resume and the person does not layout a full road map of the journey taken – Does that mean they do not know all the turns, stops, diversions or does it mean they respect the readers intelligence?

    For Katie’s point “placing judgment on people is part of the job” – we all do it! some always negatively, but it should only be done after talking (notice I do not say communicating) with the person and not based solely on the CV/Resume contents.

    Thanks, John

    • Neil · July 12, 2011

      John thanks for taking the time to comment. And talking….remind me what that is again? I seem to remember it from my past!

  8. Andy M · August 19, 2011

    Firstly, although I am a recruiter myself I also on occasions, go to specialist recruiters for assistance – not because I can’t do it myself, but because I don’t have time and I don’t just want a ‘bum on seat’. I want and pay them to know the best person in the market for my team. And you know what? I WANT them to make judgements on suitability on my behalf.

    Now we could get all hung up about the detail on Katie’s point about email addresses and although I am sure Katie doesn’t need anyone to fight her battles, least of all me, my guess is that her point was an observation/irritation rather than something to use to assess someone’s suitability.

    But on the larger issue of people making judgements on CV’s, this is often what a recruiter is being paid for. I am paid to make judgements on behalf of clients because they expect me to make judgements on candidates suitability for a particular role and organisation. Whilst I often see on here a bit of a wedge being driven between in-house recruiters and external ones, largely the aim is exactly the same – its to deliver the best person for the role on behalf of the client, and where necessary, provide a selection of the best candidates available to choose from.

    That’s not playing god, that’s playing being a good recruiter. I may be being equally as semantic about it, but stating “RECRUITERS – you need to stop playing god”, are we assuming that companies directly wont make the same judgement?

    • Neil · September 6, 2011

      Andy, thanks for taking the time to comment. I guess I’ve tried to answer a number of your points in my replies to previous comments but I still maintain it isn’t about making judgments but instead about trying to asses individuals for their ability and minimising personal opinion or judgment.

      On your other point, I would say that this applies to anyone who recruits whether in-house or external, but those people that focus on recruitment as a profession should be leading the way.

  9. Anna · September 17, 2011

    I wish a lot of recruiters could read your article. English isn’t my first language so I hope you’ll excuse any syntax, typos or vocabulary mistakes I might do.

    I hate the “judging is part of the job” too because it is almost used as an excuse, most of the time, for what some may qualify bad recruiting practices. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been recruiting or to how many conferences you’ve been invited to, if most of the people you helped recruiting end up being incompetent at doing their jobs, it means there’s something wrong with your supposedly honed judging skills.

    Whenever I had to look for a job, I have always been amazed (now annoyed) by the look on people’s faces when they see me walking in. I have worked and lived on three different continents so far, have 5 university degrees earned in both Europe and North America, speak several languages and I’m not even 35. So usually, my CV almost always does the charm. Then I go to the interview and drum balls, I’m nothing the recruiter expects: I’m black, I look younger than my real age no matter how much make-up I put and I tend to speak my mind during the interview ie I’m not gonna say what the recruiter wants to hear if it isn’t my point of view. It is funny how you can already, from the first look on the face of the recruiter, sense that from your resume, he/she was expecting someone else. Then starts the series of question about my background, what I did and depending on how much assertive, scratch that, aggressive I am, I assuage whatever fears the recruiter have. The problem is that the recruiter tries to assess my personality through his own personal and cultural biases that he might think are the only right benchmarks.

    I have come across tons of truly incompetent people while working; the common feature of all these people is their ability to pretend to be what they aren’t. They tune to what they know people want to hear. And the whole recruitment process with recruiters saying “well, we have to judge you” is based on how good you are at telling or conveying what the recruiters want to hear or see.

    I’ve been raised in a (non-western) culture in which I think people are well balanced enough to know that you don’t have to brag about your achievements or disregard people’s feelings to prove that you’re someone valuable. In my culture, we have a saying which goes by: “Does the sun have to tell people that it has risen?”. I think it sums up the value of true confidence and humility is the value which is praised and respected where I come from. Make the mistake of being an immigrant from a non-western country and go to a job interview: the recruiter will immediately compare your reactions to what he thinks he’s the truth about “your” people. If by example, you’re an Arabic woman, speaking with a soft voice , the immediate judgement will be “Doesn’t seem assertive blah blah blah” and I won’t even imagine what it would be if you’re one who wears a scarf.

    Recruiters should stop playing God because they know squat about people’s lives. A resume is a tiny part of someone’s live and personality. A candidate isn’t only the result of its previous work experiences. You might find the soft-spoken Arabic woman frail, but if that person has survived refugees camps or whatever situation that you as a recruiter would never face in your life, trust me, she has resources you haven’t thought about it and that would be huge assets to your company or client. Yet, you’ll find most recruiters bask in the use of their now worn-out and inadequate recruiting techniques and say their defenses: “We discover people AND we judge them, that what we’re paid for.” There a huge difference between being proud of the job you’re doing and thinking that you know all about it because you’ve been doing it for a long time and only hiring the same kind of person over and over.

    As far as the women who use their hubbies’ email addresses go, it shouldn’t even matter because you’re supposed to assess people’s skills and people have their own reasons for not using their personal email addresses. I even have another explanation for you. I know married couples who use one common email address. It might seem over the top but some people do; most of the time, the account was opened by the husband. He chose the pseudo, the woman didn’t really care about it because it’s up to hubby to take care of these things. Then, what happens? Well, you find the (in)famous email address on a resume because it doesn’t bother wifey to share an emaiil box with her husband. At the end of the day, what bearing should it have during the skimming process, seriously, no matter how many resumes you have to read a day?

    • Neil · September 22, 2011


      Thank you so much, you so eloquently make the argument that I clumsily made above. This is by far and a way the best comment I’ve had on any of my blogs.

      Thanks again.


  10. Ade · September 22, 2011

    Great post.

    I agree with your main position.

    Personally l think great talents are like natural resources (like gold or diamond), you have to dig deep to discover them. Sometimes they don’t come across polished and savvy.

  11. Steve Antony Williams · October 4, 2011

    Like Ade says, sometimes you have to look hard and dig deep for the real treasures. All that glitters is not gold etc. There are 2 types of candidate:

    1) candidates are who good at getting a job
    2) candidates who are good at the job

    The 2 don’t necessarily overlap in my experience 🙂 And yes I’ve hired and fired people.

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