The Recruiter Blacklist: A Company-Wide Process to Combat Recruiter Spam

Working at an early-staged startup is bananas. It’s terrifying and fun and exhausting. It’s a lot like riding a unicycle for the first time. Blindfolded.

At my previous startup, I was in charge of hiring. Every time I wrote a job post, I’d get external technology recruiters banging down the door.

I’d let a few through the gates (or door, if it bothers you that I mix metaphors), only to find out that most of the time, I was being charged 20-30% to hire Johnny CTO.

When I tried to negotiate the fee, I’d always get one of two responses: (1) “I’m sorry, but that’s my firm’s policy,” or (2) “Fine, but you have to realize that a higher percentage helps me motivate my team to hire for you.”

That sucked, but I understood. The model was broken, and there was nothing I could do about it.

But, what sucked even more was finding out that the same recruiter had, two weeks prior, emailed one of our team members about an “amazing new opportunity!”

Standing firm on price I get. But attempting to break up my team and then trying to play nice with me now that you knew we had a need. Well, that felt dirty.

So, I created a company-wide blacklist. If a recruiter attempted to poach you, their name went on the blacklist. That way, anytime a recruiter hit us up about one of our openings, I’d cross-reference the list to make sure they weren’t trying to play both sides.

If you’re a recruiter, here’s what I’d tell you: you can attempt to poach my teammates. But, be aware that your name (and firm) goes on the blacklist. What’s more important to you?

Now, back to learning how to ride that unicycle.

-- This post was written by Josh, one of the three co-founders of It was originally posted on the blog. --

Views: 3258

Comment by Steve Levy on June 4, 2014 at 7:16am

How can I not chime in here...

Fact: Barrier to entry into our profession is about as high as seam in a sidewalk.

Fact: Way too many recruiters ARE douchebags and will sell snow to Eskimos and shit to flies.

Fact: Way too many recruiters have NO idea about the performance requirements of the jobs they're selling

Fact: Way too many recruiters believe they have ESP

Fact: Blah blah blah

In reality, we DO have a problem and there are a few responses here that highlight the arrogance of some recruiters in our profession. Instead of fixing the problem and rooting out those who line the cesspool that many believe is recruiting, many recruiters express righteous indignation at the temerity of those who dare to question the manner in which they provide services.

"If you're not a client, you're a source" does more to perpetuate the ills of our profession instead of asking, "So how can we fix the problem?"

Comment by Keith Halperin on June 4, 2014 at 1:54pm

I@ Steve: "In the 'Country of the Blind", the one-eyed man is king."

I LIKE the fact that there are so many sleazy, unethical, greedy, arrogant, fearful, ignorant/incompetent, or stupid recruiters out there (but not in here on RBC)- it makes those of us who aren't all those things look good by comparison! If someone isn't willing to use ANY recruiters because they've been burned, I can appreciate how they feel: "once burned, twice shy". At the same time, I"M not the one who burned you- I stand on my own reputation, for good or for ill, so "don't cut off your nose to spite your face".


Keith "Uses Too Many Aphorisms" Halperin

Comment by Paul Smith on June 4, 2014 at 7:54pm

I think the real problem with all this banter is Josh himself and his visions of dirt bags and fairyland.  Josh, your first bitch was that, as recruiters, we are too expensive.I have recruited for quite a few startups as well as businesses in trouble that didn't think I was too expensive, just that they could not afford my services. If I thought they had a chance of paying me, I often cut them a deal.  Not on my fee, but how they would pay it.  In twenty six years, I got stiffed once for 1500 dollars because the owner died.

Now, let's say I was recruiting for you, which I would not, for my fee, the one which you would pay, would you be happy if I avoided all businesses the same size as your's or smaller?  How about a little bigger?  How much bigger? If I find the right person and he makes a huge impact on your growth, am I still going to have to listen to you about how expensive I am and how unjust my fee is?

Next, why would I not recruit from you?  are you something special?  If you have the type of people I look for and you think I am a scum bag. I should give you a break?  Almost lastly, "Bring it on"????  Are you nuts.  In your wildest dreams do you think you can keep a professional recruiter away from your people if they wish to contact them?

Lastly, when all is said and done, your just pulling our leg, right?

Comment by Josh Goldstein on June 4, 2014 at 9:00pm

This is going to be my last post. I appreciate the feedback from many of you.

I tried my best to keep this civil. I changed the copy on our website, per @RobMcintosh's suggestion. But, clearly, my tone was too snarky, as many people chose to attack me. It's never easy to be a dissenter. But, I'm afraid many of you would rather point to flaws in my experience level or in my new company (which is 5 weeks old, btw) than trying to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is hiring at an early-staged company. That was the point of the post.

@derdiver mocked me for having (too much) 'arrogance and bravado.' He also mocked me for being a 'thought leader.' My newish venture ( was mocked by @tysonspring as the next big thing. He also assumed I wasn't the one doing the hiring at my last company (which is false), essentially claiming that I was too inexperienced to give my opinion from the startup side. @paulforel claimed that it was my lack of knowledge that made me have these feelings. If only I understood what people had been doing for years before, I'd understand that everything I was describing was totally OK. He also didn't do a whole lot of due diligence, as he said recruiters are 'making new friends' at my three person company (the perspective of my post was from hiring at my last company, which made me start this one). @ellen told me I was arrogant. Then, @paulsmith decided to end it by saying that the real problem with my post was that I 'bitched' initially about the cost of a recruiter and I had a general lack of understanding of how things are actually done...

My goal was to try to get some of you to empathize with the startup side. That was clearly a mistake.

I've said it before. I'm not against external recruiters. I've met many (including @SteveLevy weirdly enough, although I'm sure he doesn't remember me) that I thoroughly enjoyed and would work with. I'm against some practices that some (not all) external recruiters find commonplace specifically when they are approaching startups.

Separately, there was an interesting post on Hacker News today from 42Floors, a well-known startup in NYC. I found it particularly poignant, given the conversation we've had on here.

I wish everyone that has commented/read this post the best, even if he/she hated me.

Comment by Derdiver on June 5, 2014 at 10:59am

Oh my. I came on to a website full of recruiters and mocked them. Told them how pathetic and stupid they were and you are the victim? Classic. PS if you even did a little bit of homework you would have seen that I am a INTERNAL recruiter. I am also part of a start up. Instead of making a point here you just looked silly. #noapologies

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on June 10, 2014 at 11:36pm

Bottom line: Not to take it personally, but it's just a bad idea that doesn't work.  In 25 years of recruiting, most of my business came from contacting people at non-client companies who turned it around and said "I'm not interested, but we're looking for someone very similar here," and then gave me a retainer.  I would never recruit out of a client, unless they stiffed me on a fee or broke the contract, but that's totally different from the situation you're discussing.

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on June 10, 2014 at 11:41pm

You also might want to read my article on "Recruiter Spam".  There really is no such thing, and I prove it mathematically, but there is a much higher rate of mental illness in software engineers than in other technical professions, which might be why a small percentage of them call email contacts 'spam'.  Calling email job solicitations 'spam' is just another bad idea that doesn't work.  

Comment by Jeroen Frumau on June 25, 2014 at 12:05pm

Whow, what a perspectives.

In the time that I was hiring manager (at a multinational) and had to work with inhouse recruiters from a 'shared service centre' I noticed they were not always able to 'understand niche-requirements' so with success I engaged (them) with external recruiters who understood the sweet-spots I was looking for.

Result: short list of candidates instead long-lists of resume's. Little time for me to coach and guide internal recruiters and candidate could start within weeks (instead of months).


I also support the concerns and perspectives of Josh of working with an in-house recruiter (insourced?) that understand the ins and outs of a start-up. Myself are now working in this inspiring recruitment business of identifying suitable talent for larger and smaller organization. My credo: build true intimacy and understanding with the company serving and do not pursue individual vacancies (published online) - and adjust your pricing to the value you add (not just representing the cost-of-recruitment).

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on September 2, 2014 at 12:31am

Just in general, thinking back on American History, how did that McCarthy Blacklist thing work out?  When was the last time a "Blacklist" was ever regarded as a good thing for anyone but the kook who kept it?  


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