Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment

Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote about education agents in Vietnam for University World News (12 December 2014).  The original, and admittedly rather lengthy, title was Walking the Walk:  Ethical Business Practices in the Wild and Woolly World of Agency-Based Recruitment.  That’s what editors are for, right?

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.


UWN masthead

In Vietnam, where cheating runs rampant and ethical business practices are in short supply, the world of educational consulting is no exception. An unfortunate reality is that most education agents are sub-standard in terms of both quality and ethics.

Let’s face it – anyone can create a Google Sites website and a Facebook fanpage, hang out a sign and begin the frantic search for clients and partners. Unfortunately, not everyone has the requisite education, experience, standards and moral compass to do it the right way and succeed in the long-term.

As in other Asian countries, the reality is that most Vietnamese parents and students work with education agents instead of applying directly to United States and other foreign colleges and universities, EducationUSA fantasies notwithstanding.

Their challenge is to find an agent who provides quality service at a reasonable cost and whom they can trust to do what’s in the best interests of themselves and their children.

Whatever it takes?

In what has become an intensely competitive market – there are thousands of education agents in Vietnam – many companies attempt to secure some kind of competitive advantage, any kind of competitive advantage, by hook or by crook.

This runs the gamut from cheating one’s clients, facilitating fraud and involving their clients as co-conspirators – for example, encouraging the use of and even producing fraudulent documents such as fake bank statements and academic transcripts for the visa application process for less than stellar students for an extra charge, naturally – to copying other companies’ websites and services lock, stock and barrel.

In Vietnam, wholesale and shameless imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

Why create when you can copy?

The prevailing mentality is why invest elbow grease when you can copy and paste? Of course, copying and executing are two completely different things – just like saying something doesn’t make it so.

I’m reminded of a quote by Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame: “My attitude was that competition can try to steal my plans and copy my style. But they can’t read my mind; so I’ll leave them a mile and a half behind.” (From Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s)

In this February 2014 article entitled “Why copycats are the best thing to happen to your company”, Brian Wong, CEO and co-founder of Kiip, a mobile rewards network based in San Francisco, puts a positive spin on this trend – not unique to Vietnam – by noting that “what is a copycat business other than evidence that you’ve created a solution that taps into and services a real need?”

He also reminds trailblazers about “the importance of concentrating on the road ahead, not who’s lurking in your rearview mirror. Copycats have no visibility into the inner workings of your company or what you have in store. No matter what, you’ll be ahead of the curve because they can only replicate what you show them.”

While I like to see new companies created, especially those that have something new to offer the market and-or can improve existing practices, I’d prefer to see them do it the old-fashioned way by adhering to a set of ethical standards, not by cheating.

At the end of the day, ethical business practices translate into good business. In the field of education there are many opportunities to do well and do good, but too few companies keep their eyes on the prize, preferring to set their sights on short-term profit at any cost.


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