In my experience as a businessperson for the past decade (that is, since I graduated from college and started working) I've been a job-seeker only once. I got my first job through on-campus interviews, and I got my second job when I launched a job search after my first employer moved its headquarters out of town.
Right now, I am not clear on whether I am in the job market or not. I like my job, but when a headhunter called me a few months back to talk about an opportunity, I took his call. We spoke on the phone and met in person, and I gave him permission to send my résumé to his client. I was not chosen to be interviewed for that job, but recently I got a call from the same employer, making me wonder exactly how many people have my résumé. I also got a phone message recently from another search person, who said that the first recruiter (the one I met) gave him my name. Is this how the job market works nowadays?
A recruiter sharing your information with another recruiter, whether a colleague or someone at another firm, is not uncommon. So yes, it would be fair to say that the job market indeed works this way nowadays. People pass along names. Executive recruiters' candidate databases are their most valuable asset, so if "your" recruiter passed along your name to another, chances are either "your" recruiter owes the other recruiter a favor, or the two of them are splitting a recruiting fee.
Either way, the first recruiter should not have passed along your name and contact information without your permission. And the employer who received your information from the recruiter a few months back should have contacted you via the headhunter as well, rather than directly. It is likely that if you are hired to work for that employer, the headhunter who initially contacted you will be eligible for a recruiting fee, even if the position is different from the one that first put you in touch with the organization.
Slight breaches of etiquette took place in both of these contacts that flowed from your first encounter with the recruiter. Both the second headhunter and the employer should have respected your relationship with the one and only search person who received your permission to represent you in your job search.
However, overtures like those you've been getting are becoming more and more common. If you're concerned about confidentiality (because you are still happily employed), you can simply let your two callers know that you're not interested; or, you can take the opportunity to learn a bit about the job market by chatting with them and evaluating each job possibility to see whether it would be worth your time to pursue.
Do remind each of them that you're happy at your current job and unwilling to put it in jeopardy, and emphasize that your résumé and contact information are not to be shared with anyone without your express, written (e-mailed) permission.
Keep in mind though, Rudy, it's a social networking world out there. Almost anyone could get your name from LinkedIn or via Google (GOOG), or in 100 other ways, so don't be terribly miffed when these candidate-seeking calls (BusinessWeek.com, 10/25/07) come out of the blue. Many working people would be happy to be in your shoes!