Jane (all names have been changed) wasn't looking for a job when a headhunter contacted her about an unnamed position. She'd been at her job for over five years and was thinking about moving on, so she was interested to talk. To her surprise, a couple of hours later a second recruiter contacted her! When it rains, it pours.
Taking this as a sign that it was time to move on Jane set up phone interviews with both. The first conversation with Bob went well. The job seemed exciting and right in her specialty. Then she met with the second headhunter, Steve, and found out that Bob and Steve were pitching the same position. Steve seemed to have a better relationship with the company and told her he could set up an interview right away.
Headhunters, like Bob and Steve, are paid when they place someone in the position. They aren't like in-house recruiters who receive a salary. And whichever headhunter presented Jane would be the one to receive the pay--if she got the job.
Jane knew this and agonized over what to do. She asked me for advice. I agonized with her. While Steve seemed more knowledgeable and capable, Bob had contacted her first. But neither had invested any time into her candidacy, other than finding her on LinkedIn and having a 30-minute phone conversation.
She told both Bob and Steve that the other person had contacted her and she needed to put her resume together and she would make a decision over who to work with.
A few minutes later, Bob emailed, "Great news! I found an old copy of your resume and submitted it to the client!"
Jane had worked with Bob's recruiting firm in her last job search--over 5 years ago--and it was, obviously, an out of date resume. Jane was furious that Bob would do such a thing, and that sealed her decision. She told Bob she wanted Steve to represent her and told the company explicitly that Bob was not to represent her.
Steve came through on his promise and she had an interview with the hiring manager a couple of days later.
Then Bob called back. Could Jane please speak to HR at the client company and advocate for him, as he deserved to be paid?
This is totally inappropriate and unprofessional on Bob's part. Jane's obligation is to her own career, not Bob's. Should she have gone with Bob on a first come, first serve basis? Perhaps that would have been polite, and she was seriously considering doing just that until Bob submitted an old resume without permission.
Look, we all understand it's a tough world out there, but this type of behavior gives all Headhunters a bad name. And by association, in-house recruiters, and the rest of Human Resources gets pulled in. Even though these outside recruiters will have no say over policy and procedure at this company, Jane's experience with them will forever taint her opinion of how this company operates.
Jane, like most people, probably won't stay in this next job forever, and she'll want to change companies in a few years. If Bob had stayed professional, she would have been happy to work with him in the future, but now? She doesn't want to deal with him ever again.
Yes, Bob can be angry that he didn't have an exclusive contract to fill this position. But that anger should be directed toward the company, not toward Jane.
HR departments, when you contract with a Headhunter, vet that person the way you'd vet an in-house recruiter. They represent you and your firm even more than they represent their own. You don't want people like Bob who turn candidates off by their eagerness to earn the commission.