The Darker Side of Recruitment

Though recruitment has various dark sides to it, the biggest for me is dirty old men! (Let’s not be ageist now, men can be inappropriate at any age!)

In my (main) job, I work almost exclusively with men; a large percentage of whom are between 50 and 60. Generally I like this demographic – they’re a flirty bunch, but with values. And by that I mean that they’re mostly happily married, respect that I too am married, and are just having a bit of harmless fun if and when they say something risqué. If at any stage I was to give them the impression they’d made me feel uncomfortable they would totally mortified, stop instantly and apologise profusely. But that never happens because they know the difference between cheeky and inappropriate. They consider themselves to be charming and, on the whole, I agree… Though I concede my feminist values may be a little lax compared to some!

There is, however, a very small percentage of men who really make my skin crawl. They don’t know when to stop and have no mental filter which tells them not to make totally inappropriate comments. You know the type, I’m sure – the planet’s still riddled with them, sadly. They give good men everywhere a bad name!

I’ve encountered a few of these types over the years, but last year I had a real corker. A gentleman we’d registered some time before (with no issues) contacted us looking for work so I gave him a call to update his details and speak to him about a couple of relevant roles. Well. What can I say! I’ve got a fairly unshakeable disposition and am not easily lost for words, but this fella left me speechless! I was asked, amongst other things, my height, weight, what I was wearing, whether I was single, how I’d feel about a dirty weekend on the continent… The list goes on! He even sent me an email starting “Hi Sexy”! Thankfully I got him off the phone reasonably quickly and had a good laugh about it afterwards. What did upset me though was that, while I can take it on the chin and see the funny side, there are a lot of people more vulnerable than me, and that call could have seriously upset someone. Now he may be from a different generation (he was a little older than the demographic mentioned earlier), but my Grandad is 92 and even he knows stuff like that is downright wrong.

The sad thing is, we can choose not to call him again, but he’s still out there somewhere upsetting the female population. And really, who can stop him?! The best we can do is tell it like it is, so these are my tips for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation:

  • Be firm, not submissive. You need to make it quite clear that the behaviour is inappropriate. Your marital status or anything else brought up is irrelevant.
  • Say what they’re doing out loud to them – call it what it is: Sexual harassment. Be blunt about how you perceive their actions.
  • Don’t laugh it off or try not to hurt their feelings.
  • Don’t be drawn in to the conversation. Stick to your guns and be repetitive if you need to.
  • Talk to your colleagues / manager about the incident afterwards. Others need to be aware.

NB. I hope any men reading don’t think that this is a sexist post because it isn’t meant to be. I’m well aware that the female of the species is equally capable of being inappropriate; I’m just posting from my personal experience.


26 Responses to “The Darker Side of Recruitment”

  1. 1 MBauer January 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    It’s possible he suffers from some personality disorder that doesn’t allow him to see boundaries in human relationships (like Asperger’s). These people exist in greater numbers than previously suspected and people are only now beginning to recognize causations like these.

    Or he could just be an asshole. These people also exist in greater numbers than previously expected.

    • 2 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 10:04 pm

      It’s possible he has something like Asperger’s… But I think it’s most likely that he was the latter! He told me he’d won the lottery (not so much money though really) as if that would lure me away from the lovely Mr J!

      Though maybe I wouldn’t have been so hasty in declining had he mentioned a seven figure sum! 😉

  2. 3 Karla Porter January 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm


    This was a very nice way to discuss a difficult and still prevalent issue that we all(men and women)need reminding about from time to time. I do think your disclaimer at the end about it not being a sexist post is unnecessarily apologetic though I understand you don’t want to alienate your male readers.

    XO – Karla

    • 4 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 10:10 pm

      Thanks Karla. I’m not so hot on covering serious topics as a rule – usually I have to cover them with either humour or tears… Both of which are usually inappropriate.

      You’re probably right about the disclaimer at the end but I just wanted to make sure it was clear. When you’re talking to someone it’s easy to convey what you mean, but sometimes with writing it gets lost in translation.

  3. 5 @HRMargo January 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    There’s nothing more annoying, and even frightening about sexual harrassment in the workplace. Good post, you handled this well.

    • 6 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks Margo; you’re right – frightening is actually the word. I can laugh off things that happen on the phone but if it were something that happened face to face I think I’d have been downright scared.

  4. 7 recruitingunblog January 24, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    This is a very good post from a personal perspective that I think highlights what can become a real problem in corporate culture, being acceptable boundaries. I don’t think it is a matter of solely sex. We all hear things from time to time that make us feel uncomfortable whether we are the intended target or not. This could be on the grounds of sex, race, looks or any other sensitive area. Some people understand the boundaries, where as others fail to see the clear line of decency. I think we all have a duty to speak out when we witness ANY form of bullying, and that is what this is.
    Having had to investigate quite a few cases of potential harassment in the past, it has never ceased to amaze me how companies tend to have 2 sets of rules. A feeling that some people can say what they like and it’s “just them, their funny and didn’t mean anything by it” while others are considered to be wrong and creepy.
    I don’t want to come over all moralistic on this, I’ve always worked in sales environments where terrostorone runs high, but if more people spoke out and said “actually, I’m unhappy with that!” and when they did speak out it was treated sympathetically rather than as being trouble, we would create a far better work place.
    Final thought, you mentioned this was from a candidate. I would guess that the worst comments you have had have probably come from clients. I’ve witnessed this many times and the measure of how serious an organisation really is about equal opportunities is really tested when there is cash at stake.
    Thanks for sharing your own experience however unpleasant,all bullying should be unacceptable whoever is delivering it.
    Keep being an ambassador,

    • 8 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks for your comments Bill. You’re so right – anyone, of any age or sex, can make someone else feel uncomfortable with inappropriate behaviour. And, whether it’s meant or not, it needs to be brought to attention because, what’s amusing to someone, may be offensive to someone else and yet the vast majority of us would be mortified to think that we’d offended anyone with a misjudged joke or throw-away comment.

      Perhaps controversially, I do think that some people can be over-sensitive though. Not that that I in any way condone exploiting this sensitivity, but this is the real world we live in and I think you need a little bit of a shell if you’re to make it through life in one piece.

      Interestingly (and perhaps this is just the industry I work in) it has always, without fail, been candidates who have behaved most inappropriately towards me. Sometimes I think they’re just trying to be chummy in a bid to help them find a job or something, but it ends up getting out of control. To date, however; the clients I’ve dealt with have been exemplary, it has to be said. But perhaps I’ve just been lucky?

  5. 9 Alconcalcia January 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Wendy it’s not any way, shape or form a sexist post. There are too many creeps about who get away with behaving like this and the sooner they are pulled up for their behaviour, hopefully the sooner they stop acting like slimeballs.

  6. 11 michellefischer January 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Totally hear what you’re saying here Wendy. Thanks for raising it.

    • 12 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks Michelle! I’m sure we all have similar stories to tell, sadly.

      • 13 michellefischer January 26, 2010 at 8:37 am

        You’re right – when I was a rec con I’d encounter the candidates that think it’s ok to stare at your chest whilst you interview them, generally alone in a small interview room. The one’s that hold your hand too long as you shake hands… The ones who find any reason to call you, no matter that it was unrelated to recruitment.

        Isn’t it a shame that when we put ourselves forwards in life, there are people who misinterpret this.

  7. 14 Roberta January 24, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Ive worked in male environments all my working life, and I have lost count of the times this has happened to me. In the old days when I was less assertive and worked for others I used to get around it with humour or ignoring out of line comments.

    Nowadays as I work for myself and I can choose who to do business with, and, I can smell this type a mile off anyway!

    Thankfully I am not forced to deal with them anymore and I can tell em direct just where to get off! Some blokes cannot see women as anything but ‘fair game.’ Unfortunately many are still in high ranking power positions work wise which can put the female at a seriuos disadvantage.

    Im no feminist, as I dont really feel that attitude does women any favours either, but it is annoying to STILL have to deal with this in the 21st century.

    • 15 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      I don’t really consider myself to be a feminist either. Obviously I’m pro equal treatment, equal pay and so on, but I think (the royal) we go too far the other way sometimes with women’s groups for this and women’s groups for that. Why can’t we just have a group that anyone can join?! Why is it that some people think only women can help other women?! But that’s a whoooole other debate! 😉

      Thanks for your comments!

  8. 16 radicalrecruit January 25, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Thanks for bringing up this topic, wouldn’t it be much better if we could all treat each other with the high level of respect that should be accorded to all beings. Alas some people don’t get it, however, I would respectfully submit that if they do not they are not worthy of your time.

  9. 18 Paul January 25, 2010 at 10:09 am

    No sexism in there Wendy, just an honest appraisal, Think Bill makes an interesting point on other types of discrimination, and from the client side. I once had a client shout down the phone that ‘they employed someone with AIDS, don’t you know’ thinking that meant they were an equal opportunity employer with a social conscience! The speed at which this comment was made and in the context of our conversation made it wholly inappropriate, needless to say I didn’t work with them again.
    As for some males letting the rest down, well that can work with both sexes, besides the other way to look at it, is the idiots make the genuine types look good – bonus!

    • 19 Wendy January 25, 2010 at 11:12 pm

      There are sooo many different types of discrimination and they’re all as bad as one another. As I say; I’ve been pretty lucky with regards to client discrimination (well, obvious client discrimination, anyway!) but how abhorrent about the AIDS story!

      And you’re right, of course, some women are quite capable of letting the rest of us down too. This is probably not the right place to tell this story, but in defence of the male of the species…! I went travelling for a couple of years when I was younger and at one point, when I was travelling round the northern part of Queensland, Australia, I was downright embarrassed to be a British woman. Such was (is?!) the reputation of backpacking British women in this part of the world at the time! A Canadian friend once said to me: “You British women, huh!? It’s like you leave the UK and your legs just flop open!” Suffice to say I was mortified, but you know what… He was 90% right! The behaviour of some of so many of those girls was truly shameful and there must be guys all over the world who think that’s what all British women are like! So I’ll never tar everyone with the same brush now because, maybe though it was just for a little while, I’ve been in the minority!

  10. 20 Paul January 26, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Well as you say an amusing episode for you could well have been the beginnings of something far worse for others. I was initially struck by your comments on “no mental filter” and “totally inappropriate comments” as these are two of the more common issues that adults deal with who have Aspeger’s Syndrome. But in the case of the man you describe I think it far more likely that he is just s pervert,

    • 21 Wendy February 3, 2010 at 9:50 pm

      I don’t really know an awful lot about Asperger’s Syndrome so, to be fair, it’s possible this guy has it. But you never can tell, can you… He was equally as inappropriate with my (female) boss who also spoke to him a couple of days later, and we were both gobsmacked! It was funny and we did laugh it off, but if he’d have said those things in person I’d have been really intimidated.

  11. 22 Nick January 26, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I’m a bit prone to sweeping generalisations, but whenever I see one of the men that you describe it’s not so much sexism as general prattishness that is expressing itself as sexism because they are in front of a woman. Put them in front of a water cooler and they’d find a different way of being a prat.

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About Me

Over ten years’ recruitment, employability, HR and sales experience in both the private and public sectors. I've worked in construction recruitment, FMCG headhunting, and in higher education on the employability agenda.

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