The Most Stupid Question in Recruitment

Written by Mark Pearce

Originally from the UK, Mark lives and works in Perth, Western Australia. He's spent the last 18 years building 4 recruitment businesses, and writes for various HR / Recruitment related publications as well as a blog for his company, Inverse. According to various industry sources, he isn't too bad a writer. When he takes off his serious pants, he’s an unashamed craft beer snob, occasionally wears a beard and is regularly arrested by fashion police for sporting lumberjack shirts.

Is this the most stupid question in recruitment?

The following conversation is based on a true story.

Employer: “Hi there. Do you have any CVs on your books?”

Recruiter: “What are you looking for?”

Employer: “Ah, you know, some good CVs for engineers.”

Now, depending on where you sit on the stupid/smart spectrum, you’ll either find some CVs and send them (stupid) or you’ll help an employer understand why their misguided question makes them look like a Nigerian prince asking for bank details (smart).


Do you have any CVs on your books?  


Well, if you’re a recruiter you’ll probably have hundreds. Maybe thousands of pieces of personal information people have shared with you – in confidence. People you’ve either approached for a job or they’ve approached you on spec.

Their information sits in your recruitment database, ATS or whatever you’ve named it.

I’m no expert in data protection but I know this. Globally there are various acts and laws in place to protect people’s personal data and how it can be used by companies. This applies to data stored in your database.

The same one you’ll have to pull someone’s CV from.

You’ve probably got a privacy policy that explains how you use someone’s info, in turn complying with these acts. So, the most natural thing you’d do before sharing someone’s personal info is you’d call them and ask if it’s OK.

Or you’ve been asleep at the wheel for the last century and missed the whole GDPR thing.

Employers and candidates also know there’s a data protection act in place. Don’t kid yourself otherwise.


A scenario

Assuming you’ve something ethical about you, let’s continue our earlier conversation:

Recruiter: “So we get things right and we’re not wasting anyone’s time, I’ll need to take a brief.”

Employer: “Well I don’t have any more info. I just want some good CVs.”

By now, you’ll realise this employer is yanking your plank. They just don’t know it yet. But it might help them to know they are.

From here, you’re welcome to try the following:


1)    Put the phone down

2)    Explain why their question doesn’t add up


I recommend option two. To help you, here are some viewpoints from each of the 3 parts in the recruitment process. The candidate. The employer. The recruiter.


The candidate

Any candidate worth their salt isn’t going to exchange information (their CV) with you unless you can part with as much meaningful detail as possible.

Detail like what work they’ll be doing and for who. Who they’ll be working with. Which project they’ll be on. What they’ll learn. Why they should bother considering it.

Basically, you have to outline what’s in it for them. If they can’t see themselves in the picture, guess what? It’s game over. For you and the empty-headed employer.

So, no. Refuse to send anyone’s CV if you’ve no meaningful info to share.


The employer

There’s a distinct possibility you won’t be able to dust off the cobwebs of ignorance and arrogance with some employers.

Most of the time when this question is asked, there’s no real commitment from them. At best, it’ll be a whimper of interest they’ve shared with a handful of other recruiters.

It’s an exercise to gather as many CVs as possible, because they know most recruiters think sending lots of CVs equals a better chance of them making a placement.

And it’s free IP for those employers who jump straight on LinkedIn and contact the candidates anyway.

If you’re lucky to gather enough detail, it’s likely the employer has a genuine need. Even if they’re putting a tender together, at least you’ll have something credible to talk to candidates about.

Alternatively, you can undo their million-dollar spend on brand with a simple: “Well, XYZ company want your CV for something. Don’t know what for. I’m the idiot they engaged to phone you.”

You get the picture.


The recruiter

If the signal hasn’t reached you yet, you may be out of range. Let’s pull you back in.

There aren’t many easy buttons available for looking misinformed, unreliable and a waste of time. Pumping out CVs like you run a production line is one of them.

Would you really rush into something that questions your ability to attract and assess people? You know, the reason you exist?

Know this; your brand will take a hammering, along with the employer’s. No candidate, employer or recruiter really wants a part in that.


So next time you’re asked for “CVs on your books,” maybe try asking the person calling if it’s alright to send their CV somewhere without any meaningful information.


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