Digital Herpes: Content, Cowardice & Owning Your Voice

I’ll confess: I’m a troll.  And not because I’m so damn short.  It’s because, to cite my favored definition, a troll – in online parlance, at least – is someone who enjoys experimenting with the emotions and passions about things that seem, to any reasonable person, silly, superficial and specious.  Take sourcing, for example.

Now, your average person would not have an opinion on, say, the irrelevance of Boolean logic as applied to a search engine algorithm for the purposes of researching an individual’s digital footprint.

But here in this weird little outpost of the blogosphere, well, them’s fighting words.  Or corporate culture.  

We write reams about how essential it is to retaining top talent, while the rest of the world just goes to their crappy jobs in crappy offices.

My contrarianism stems from nothing more than the idea that this recruiting industry has become unnecessarily complex (there are harder things to sell than jobs, all things being equal) and that it’s just one part of the sum of the system of interpersonal interaction meets technological innovation.  And stuff like cool hacks and killer apps is kind of cool to even the most garden variety of geeks – only we’ve got Twitter instead of Tolkein to nerd out on.

I’m often told, and I’m actually not entirely sure what this means, that I “keep it real.”  While I think that phrase was fresh about the same time as the Prince of Bel Air, I also participated in a panel called “Keeping It Real in HR” at an annual SHRM Young Professionals national conference a few years back, so I’ll pour one out for Uncle Phil and own it.  I hate taking a compliment, particularly since most of what I do is predicated on pissing people off, which makes me feel way more comfortable (and, frankly, fulfilled) than when people say nice stuff.  Which might be why I rarely do, myself.

I was contacted by a friend and fellow recruiting industry observer the other day, who was offended by an anonymous Twitter account which, by all accounts, existed primarily for the purposes of flooding the back channel of an event with vitriolic attacks that, back before social media, used to be called libel.  I won’t do the dignity of acknowledging that account, or the specific circumstances behind it, but it directly addressed perhaps the fundamental problem, and my biggest pet peeve, with this whole social thing, particularly in an industry as insular as online recruiting and HR.  It’s the antithesis of keeping it real; it’s more or less content cowardice.

Own your voice.

Don’t hide behind some silly avatar or snarky handle that only pops up once in a while, like digital herpes, to wreck havoc and disappear until the next hashtag rolls around.  If you won’t put your name on it, then don’t put it out there on social.  Period.

Here are the basic rules of engagement for participating in the online HR and recruiting conversation:

1. Don’t sell your products or services without first adding value.

2. Disclose any or all agendas, and clearly identify whether or not you’re speaking as yourself or on behalf of a company.

3. Don’t make personal attacks – attacking products and sweeping archetypes like, “agency recruiters” or “HR generalists,” however, is OK.  But if you ever actually call someone out, make sure you can back it up.

4. Don’t make noise for the sake of being heard.

5. Own everything you do.

That’s not hard.  But when you choose to eschew a real byline for some silly persona (which, by the way, I can tell you can be done using an actual identify), then you’re not being a troll.  You’re being a douche bag.  And for an audience that mostly deals with candidates and hiring managers all day, there’s no need for more of that in this corner of the world of work.

I can think of a dozen people I know who do this crap off the top of my head, and the justification across the board is, “this way, I can say stuff I’d never be allowed to say if I revealed myself.”  That should be your first tip off right there – sure, you can spill the dirt about recruiting in a way that would be highly illegal if you didn’t hide behind an avatar, but if it’s a violation of what your professional ethics – which is implicit in anonymity – then you should probably stop right there.  Because when you go after people who have the cajones to actually use their real identity, you’re not only hurting feelings, you’re hurting livelihoods.  I know of another instance where a completely separate fake account on a hashtag being monitored by a potential employer ended up in a candidate not getting a job offer because of what was likely intended as a joke.

But if you think jobs are a joke, and hide in fear of being found out instead of found online and in person, I’d suggest you’re likely in the wrong line of work.  You should really consider going into a career in finance.


Views: 368

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 6, 2014 at 7:14pm

Comment by Will Thomson on March 6, 2014 at 10:39pm

Dude, can I just say I love this post. Contrarianism, pissing people off, man- isn't that why we do what we do?  Rock on Matt.  You are no troll my friend, but something this industry really desperately needs  See you tomorrow in ATX.  

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 7, 2014 at 1:33pm

@ Kelly: I hear you. While I sometimes use a big hammer, I try not to publically personally attack someone. Furthermore, Matt brought to my attention a possible explanatory factor in that person's behavior, for which I now have some compassion. I still think that person is a pompous, arrogant, possibly mentally-ill jerk, but I now can understand what may have made that person that way...


Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on March 7, 2014 at 4:34pm

Ditto @Keith regarding your entire comment. 

Your input here and elsewhere is always constructive and relevant (IMHO) and you provide an essential service by asking questions and pointing things out that otherwise may not occur to other participants. 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 7, 2014 at 4:45pm

Thanks, Kelly. Much appreciated.


Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 7, 2014 at 4:58pm

@ Amy: My sister and I had the "Troll House":


and I still have  (though I haven't seen it lately)

a little tiny one about 1" tall including stiff plastic green hair that I can't find a picture of on Google that s probably worth somewhere between $0.10 and $10,000.


Keith "Old School Wishnik" Halperin

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 7, 2014 at 7:03pm

I love this post and agree with all the comments. It's one thing to call out crap content and own it - something else entirely to go after someone's character or make assumptions about them as a person based on a single post, picture, etc.

Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 7, 2014 at 7:23pm


"...Have you noticed a newer obnoxious person running around here recently, i.e., more recently than I've been running around here? You might think you know who I mean, but I couldn't possibly comment...

You can just come right out and say my name, you know.


Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 7, 2014 at 8:08pm

Paul, why do you think I meant you?



BTW, I looked at your LI Profile and I saw you were a Vietnam Veteran. Would you be interested in blogging about recruiting vets, or how your vet experienced has influenced your recruiting? I'd be interested in reading that...

Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 8, 2014 at 2:40am


Hi...I had overplayed my criticism recently here at a post by Kelly B and, as you know from my comments at ERE and here, I tend to speak straightforwardly which is not always, being a 'new guy' here and having been cream pied by a couple of people here ("Hello, Amy A!"), it occurred to me I must be that "...newer obnoxious person running around here recently...".

If I am not that person, I prolly should have been since as I said, I was a bit heavy-handed when I recently replied to Kelly B's blog.

I don't think Matt is too happy with me, either.


Frankly, having been a combat medic in Vietnam has zip to do with my being in the executive search business and in fact, I was, at the time, poised for medical school.

I had the medical knowledge of EMS and had garnered a deep expertise in minor surgical procedures, radiology, lab, etc. but while I was working for a physician group, managing their back office staff, it was about then HMO's came to Los Angeles.

Once I had the direct experience of being told I had to cut back on patient care in favor of expenses, I decided to jump ship and go into Industry, instead. HMO's are immoral in nature and although there are [infrequent] times when 'cut-throat' might apply to headhunters, it should never apply in the domain of medicine/healthcare.

It was because after six years of near-perfect hiring non-exempt staff for our production lines that when I left CSL I decided to jump from manufacturing management to HR. This was mostly because my ability to read people, anticipate events and track record for consistently making 'the right hire the first time' seemed like a 'clue' I should give HR a go.


Regarding the 'recruitment of vets', I feel I would have to have that experience to talk/blog about it and I don't.

Once I started in executive search -at the advice of some employment agencies I had visited- I specialized and have been recruiting in specialized niches ever since.

Since I stay in niches where industry is reasonably willing to pay recruitment fees for certain professionals, the issue of vets does not apply unless of course, a recruit happens to be a veteran....which is usually neither here nor there.

I did get into an 'energetic' conversation at the Bronze Star Medal Group at LinkedIn when an industry executive said he was discounting hiring senior NCO's in favor of new grad MBA's but otherwise, the veteran issue is not, for me and as I see it, applicable to much of anything I do as an executive search consultant.

There are recruitment firms that specialize in the recruitment and placement of former military and I believe they would be much more suited to your idea than I am.



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