What you need to know about ethics in recruitment - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

What you need to know about ethics in recruitment

Unethical practices within the recruitment industry are unfortunately rife and can result in job-seekers being disappointed, demotivated and even exploited.

In many cases, unethical behaviours are not illegal, but they do give the industry a bad reputation.

Ethics are the principles or standards that guide day-to-day business in accordance with established corporate values. Among ethical values are trust, honesty, respect and responsibility.

Unethical behaviours range from sharing confidential information without consent, to charging candidates for placement services.

As a recruiter, you are responsible for acting in the best interests of candidates, who are trusting you with their future career, as well as client companies who rely on you to find the very best person for the opportunity at hand.

Tell-tale signs of an unethical recruitment agency include those that share CV’s without the consent of candidates, ‘email jockeys’ who do not interview candidates but rather just obtain and share information via email, and those who have not joined a reputable professional body which holds members to a code of good practice and ethical standards.

Under no circumstances, should candidates pay for the services of a recruitment agency. The law forbids employment organisations from charging job-seekers to secure them employment and this should therefore never be the case when dealing with a reputable and compliant agency.

Below are some essential factors for businesses to consider for ethical recruiting:

Never place misleading job advertisements: This includes misrepresenting the requirements of a particular position. It also refers to working conditions and the current or projected state of the organisation.

Interview correctly to ensure proper matching: It is vital for agencies to interview candidates thoroughly to match them with the right job. This includes giving guidance to candidates and helping them understand the offer and its associated career implications.

Treat all candidates equally: An important ethical factor, it is essential not to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, origin, religion or political views. Always review candidates based on their merits. It is critical for HR professionals to be honest, consistent and objective throughout the recruiting process.

Solicit only information that is necessary: For instance, information like the city a candidate was born does not matter or have an impact when it comes to their ability to perform a certain role. Where they currently reside, however, does have implications of where they are able to commute to on a daily basis.

Maintain confidentiality on the use and storage of candidate information: Confidentiality is essential. This includes obtaining the candidate’s consent to release their details to a specific client or for a specific position. Conduct yourself in a transparent fashion, ensuring that a candidate fully understands the possible risks involved if going to work for a competitor to their current employer.

Never practice redirection: This is when a recruiter takes feedback from a hiring manager after a candidate’s interview and sends it to the candidate. If the candidate can address the hiring manager’s worries, it increases the likelihood that they’ll be chosen for the job and the recruiter will secure their fee. It may be effective, but it’s highly unethical.

Inform candidates appropriately of the selection decision: Always let a candidate know within a specified - and communicated - time-frame whether they got the job or not. Do not leave them hanging.

Candidates can also be unethical. For example, those that use agencies to obtain offers that they use as leverage in bargaining with their current employers. Another example would be those who try to circumvent the agency by going directly to the client once they have found out who the client is.

It is crucial that we are ethical in the recruitment process as we are facilitating life-changing decisions. People often make big decisions based on job offers; for example, buying a house. Human capital is regarded as one of a company’s most valuable assets, and the correct placement of crucially important staff will impact directly on their bottom line.

KC Makhubele is the President and Roly Boardman is the Chair of Ethics of the Federation of African Professional Staffing Organisations (APSO).


  1. Join our newsletter to receive all the latest news in the HR space!
  2. Email(*)
    Invalid Input

Contact us

If you have a question or would like to get in touch with us, contact us on +27 11 888 8914 or info@hrfuture.net

Business Hours

We are open:

  • Mon – Fri: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
  • Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays: closed