I Think My Client is Discriminatory. Now What?

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Recruiting JusticeIf you’ve spent any time in this business, chances are you’ve run into a picky client.  Dealing with picky clients is a challenge in and of itself, and there are all sorts of tricks, tips and conversations that can help you on your way to building a successful partnership.  But what do you do when you start to see a pattern to the candidates your client is turning down?  Or worse yet, what do you do when your client tells you what ‘types’ of candidates they don’t want to hire?

Before we get into the specifics about educating clients through bad situations, it is imperative to understand one basic fact. As professionals in the staffing industry, we are legally obligated not to engage in this type of practice, to say nothing of ethics.  If you’re starting to float into uncharted and dangerous territory with your client, get out while you can.  If you become involved in discrimination of any type; racial, sexual, gender based, religious etc, you have crossed into a situation much worse than unethical behavior, you have broken the law.

That said, as Recruiters, we specialize in being discriminating…not discriminatory.  While that may not seem like such a fine line to those of us in the business (indeed for us it’s a big, fat obvious electrified fence), the line might not always be so clear to the clients with whom we’re working.  Surprisingly enough, you may actually have a chance to defuse a dangerous situation before it really begins.  Here are some tips on navigating through difficult scenarios.

  1. You’re Seeing a Pattern:  In the course of working with Client A, you start to notice that all the candidates that they have passed on have something immutable in common.  Are they passing on all female candidates? Have they failed to interview anyone born outside the US?  In situations like this, you need to make a judgment call.  It takes some time and quantity to notice a pattern, but trust yourself.  If you feel like something is amiss, then you need to speak up.  Scheduling some time to speak with your client is a must.  Now this is never an easy topic to bring up, but there are some fool proof ways to steer a pleasant conversation where you need it to go.  “I want to make sure I’m giving you my best effort and my best product, but I may not understand the position as well I need to.  I thought Candidates A and B were fantastic fits.  Am I missing something?”  This is a quick an easy way to get your client to tell you more about the position and their need.  Asking some leading questions about where those particular candidates were missing or what would have made them a successful candidate will help lead in the direction you need to go. If indeed your client is being discriminatory, you need to tell them the truth.  “I’m sorry, I can send you the best candidate for the job.  But ethically and legally, I can’t reject people b/c of that characteristic.”  Not fun, but necessary.
  2. They’re Flat Out Discriminatory: So your client has told you flat out that they don’t want a certain ‘type’ of candidate.  First of all, wow, people still say that out loud in 2011? Surprisingly, yes, yes they do.  In this case, you have one of two options.  One, you can use the same language noted above and simply tell your client that you can find them the best person for the company/job, and that’s the only criteria you can or will use.  In some cases this might actually give you an opportunity to educate your client and get a better idea for why they don’t want to hire a certain candidate.  You actually have a chance to maintain the client, educate someone and make the world a better place all around.  Your second option is to simply tell the client you cannot/will not do that and walk from the client entirely.  A little revenue isn’t worth the risk, let alone the wounded conscience.

At the end of the day, we get paid to find our clients the best person for the job and that’s it.  Wandering away from that basic point can only lead to trouble.

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Marie is a writer for Recruiter.com covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.