A Code of Ethics for Headhunters

Whether you call them “executive recruiters” or “headhunters”, they are all engaged in a fierce competition to recruit the ideal candidate to fill out executive or professional positions for their clients.

With a labour shortage that is bound to rise dramatically as baby-boomers begin retiring, headhunting has become increasingly important for the future development of companies and for people seeking new employment. However, the industry has faced challenges. It has been reported that several headhunters have run afoul ethically by, for example, requesting money directly from potential candidates (in exchange for a better recommendation) or revealing confidential information related to their mandates.

One problem stems from the fact that the process of actually becoming a headhunter has yet to be standardized. There is no university degree requirement or certification process that ensures that a headhunter is competent to handle or sensitized to the ethical issues he or she is bound to encounter. In Quebec, the closest thing to a professional order of headhunters is membership in the Ordre des Conseillers en Ressources Humaines Agréés (OCRHA) – which is entirely voluntary. This organization has approximately 8500 members. In a recent interview, its president, Florent Francoeur, estimated that approximately only 30% of its members are currently involved in the hiring process, and not all as headhunters (Interview with Florent Francoeur et Michel Pauzé, La mauvaise réputation des chasseurs de têtes, broadcasted October 13th, 2011 on L’après-midi porte conseil, Radio-Canada’s radio).

The issue of the behavior of headhunters has however become pressing enough for the OCRHA to issue a Code of Ethics for the Recruitment of Executives. Largely based on the principles enunciated in the Code of conduct for OCRHA Members, it sets out basic ethical guidelines so as to ensure the protection of the public. Developed in consultation with several headhunters, the Code only applies to members of the OCRHA. Members of the Order who do not comply may receive a reprimand from the organization, but non-members are free to do as they please. In the above-mentioned interview, Mr. Francoeur points out that, in her view, employers should require mandatory compliance with the Code when handing out mandates, regardless of whether the headhunter is a member of the OCRHA or not.

Headhunters have been increasingly called upon to play a key role in filling vacancies and ensuring that the best candidate is chosen for a position. Hiring the right people is vital to the success of a company. While it might be difficult in the foreseeable future to control the actions of every single headhunter, the creation of the Code appears to be a step in the right direction and employers should consider making compliance a condition of hiring a headhunter.

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