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 Pete Radloff on June 2, 2014 at 12:00pm

Not really. So if a candidate submits a resume to you and they work for a current client of yours, theoretically, you shouldn't be helping them since that would be poaching. Not sure where (if you do in fact help these folks) where you draw the line with your blacklist. 

Comment by Josh Goldstein on June 2, 2014 at 12:03pm

I guess our definition of poaching is different. In our mind, if a candidate reaches out to a recruiter and says, I'm interested in finding out what else is out there, that is different than a recruiter sending a cold email/lI message to that person.

If you think of us more like an awesome job board, maybe that would help.

Comment by David Wells on June 2, 2014 at 12:09pm

Josh how do candidates find your resume portal that connects them to start ups?

Do you advertise in any way?  Go to trade shows or conferences?  Isn't advertising a form of poaching?  I am sure you are guys are not just sitting on your hands hoping candidates find your portal.  

So how is that different from me putting up an advertisement and a candidate from a current client responding to my ad?  In my case if that were to happen I would tell the candidate I am obligated not to work with them because of the client relationship I have in place.  Yet you would happily work with that candidate and allow them to be connected to other companies?  

Sorry man but that is a razor thin line and in frank language makes you look like a bit of a hypocrite.

Comment by Pete Radloff on June 2, 2014 at 12:24pm

I guess I'm with David on this. So as long as they come to you, and they work for a client, they are fair game? That is WAY hypocritical. So if an agency places someone (your employee that reached out to them) is that agency on the blacklist if they later want to place people for you? That's a big double standard. Not that it's wrong, but with you touting how much poaching sucks, and recruiters suck, you're essentially doing the same thing.  Just my .02. 

Comment by David Wells on June 2, 2014 at 12:31pm

Josh now that I have thought about this for a few more minutes I realized your whole business model depends on having a large candidate subscriber base.  Since companies are paying a monthly fee for a possibility of acquiring zero talent you need to have a huge influx of candidates in order for the company to have a good ROI on their monthly fee.  

So where do you find these candidates?  How do you attract them?  What is your process to draw them in?  Are you soliciting candidates via phone calls or emails?  If you are, then aren't you actively recruiting? Actively recruiting from people who could soon be your clients?

Comment by PAUL FOREL on June 2, 2014 at 5:50pm

Josh, it is important you understand the nature of our business and the 'rules' we [are supposed to] follow:

That recruiter of whom you speak did nothing wrong at all.

Until you have a verbal or signed/emailed agreement with a search firm, we are free to recruit from you.

Once we do engage with you to do a search, then we are no longer able to ethically recruit from you.

What you described is that there was no contact between yourself and that recruiter when he had solicited your people. So, there was nothing incorrect about his actions.

Like I said, once we agree to terms, then it is no longer acceptable to go behind your back and solicit your people.

This is more about how much you don't understand our business than it is about Executive Search.

And, so you know, there is a loose 'rule of thumb' that if there has been no contact between yourself and a previously engaged search consultant/recruiter who has done work for you, then after twelve months of no contact between you, that recruiter is free to recruit from you.

Many of us would suggest that recruiter solicit more search business from you instead but again, just so you know....

Comment by Derdiver on June 2, 2014 at 5:59pm
Well stated Paul!
Comment by PAUL FOREL on June 2, 2014 at 6:02pm


One more point- insofar as recruitment fees are concerned, Josh, no, the 'model' is not broken, you were simply trying to get a deal.

Both reasons that recruiter gave you for not wanting to reduce his fees were realistic and acceptable.

And as he said, why should he put a max effort on your [contingency] search while he has other companies for whom he is recruiting at full fee?

Next time, let the recruiter know you will do business with that person at a reduced fee assuming you give him continuous business or better said, multiple search assignments.

Comment by Josh Goldstein on June 2, 2014 at 6:11pm

I understand how it works. My point is that from the company's perspective, it feels dirty (morally) as soon as you solicit your services. It may be totally 'legal' or 'how things are done' or 'the nature of the business.' That's still not really the point.

'Nothing is wrong,' given your unspoken 'rules.' But, given that a startup is your customer, I'm trying to shed light on how it feels from the customer side.

Comment by Josh Goldstein on June 2, 2014 at 6:14pm

@david @pete They find us. I'm not going to explain our marketing strategy in a public forum, but we aren't soliciting candidates.


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