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 Josh Goldstein on June 2, 2014 at 6:18pm

@paul We think the pricing is too expensive for early-staged startups (and that's what's broken), but that's a debate for another day. :)

Thanks for the advice. I tried that with a number of recruiters and it still didn't work.

Comment by PAUL FOREL on June 2, 2014 at 6:35pm


Plainly said, it is quite likely you are underfunded if you cannot afford to hire an executive search consultant to assist you in your key staffing.

Also, not to rub salt in the appears your lack of understanding of our business is taking up a lot of your time needlessly.

You ought to be working on Retention vs wasting your time creating 'bad guy' lists.

And as was said already here- putting one or more of us on your 'list' will only exacerbate the issue of headhunters raiding your company. Putting us on your 'list' will only draw bees to the honey until there is no honey left in the cupboard.

You are coming at this conversation from behind and locking barn doors well after the fact.

Get wise! Instead of living in righteous indignation because we were walking the earth long before your company came along, stay friendly with the recruiters who call you (John Zerba at Hewitt Associates was a master at this) and work to make your company recruiter-proof by providing a company and environment in which your people know they would be giving up more than is reasonable by leaving you.

You've done your company a disservice by taking the bait offered you and posting this.

Believe me when I tell you there are recruiters who have read your tale of woe and are grinning broadly while they make new friends at your company.

Let Loose the Dogs of Recruitment!

LOL, Big Time!

Comment by David Wells on June 2, 2014 at 6:35pm

Josh, fair enough I do not expect you to give away your corporate strategy.  But in order for someone to "find you" you have to have some way of getting your message to the market.  However you want to dress it up it is what it is. Call it marketing, advertising, soliciting, whatever you want.

Bottom line you put a message out there that allows candidates to "find you." Once they do you add them to your database or "awesome job board" and allow companies to reach out to them.  You take in submissions from candidates that work at the companies who are paying a fee to you.  You play both sides and to me that seems much "dirtier" than a recruiter contacting candidates until we secure a contract.  

You can say "hey they contacted me all you want" but I turn away candidates that contact me. You do not.  That is actually a really important distinction.

Two final points.  If you are just completely passive in finding candidates then how are you differentiated from any other job board?  

More importantly if a candidate from company x signs up, and that company is also paying a fee to see your candidates, how do you ensure candidate confidentiality?

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on June 3, 2014 at 1:15am

"The kind of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament."  How can I get on your Blacklist, please?

Comment by Ellen Clark on June 3, 2014 at 10:08am

Rarely do I comment here, but this thread struck a nerve. After 20 years of recruiting, I have heard of many of these types of anti-recruiter comments. Basically is comes down to the thinking that recruiters are low-life scum. They should be tolerated only in desperate times when a company on their own can't find their talent( for lack of recruiting abilities themselves)

Such arrogance! It reminds me of a HR employee at a client where I had placed 5 people. I was going to be in the neighborhood and offered to take the HR person to lunch. This person said- and I will never forget the line: "oh , Ellen, I never meet with agencies". I was new to the business and devastated. I even cried when I got off the phone. But this made me wake up to the reality: there are good HR people and good recruiters, just as there are rotten apples on both sides. I went to that client and met with the hiring managers. The HR woman was there in her office and did not even come out to shake my hand! Oh well.

Recruiters are not doing evil just because they are sourcing from a company, until said company is a client.Once a company is a client everything changes. In fact, I placed so many people at one small startup( 14) that even though I haven't recruited for them in 10 years, I still to this day do not raid from them. I made enough from them and they treated me well. I like them. I won't ever steal their people. 

I agree with others that is seems ethically wrong to be taking submissions of candidates that are employed at your paying clients. Call it what you will but you are doing worse than simply poaching from a non-client company, as recruiters do.

But I won't try to change your mind. I know this can't be done. Been there, done that. The great thing about our business is that we can move on to greener pastures with much friendlier people who treat us with respect.

Comment by Derdiver on June 3, 2014 at 10:10am

Ladies and Gentleman, Ellen Clark for the win!!!

Comment by Pete Radloff on June 3, 2014 at 10:14am

Agreed - eloquently put Ellen. 

Comment by Ellen Clark on June 3, 2014 at 11:12am

Thank you!

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on June 3, 2014 at 4:11pm

I totally agree with Ellen.  But, she's talking about a very different situation.

Comment by Amber on June 3, 2014 at 4:47pm

I think Ellen's comment was exactly the true situation: " I agree with others that is seems ethically wrong to be taking submissions of candidates that are employed at your paying clients. Call it what you will but you are doing worse than simply poaching from a non-client company, as recruiters do."


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