Once upon a time, and a beri-beri good time it was, there was a poorly-researched article about e-recruiters in The Atlantic magazine recently, which prominently featured me, without acknowledgment, and without any effort at journalistic integrity or any effort to determine the truth of the situation: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/02/imagine-getti... 

This article refers to my recruiting emails as 'unwanted' spam, which is interesting, since they are referring to my emails to software engineers, which are actually twice as popular as any other industry I recruit in (and I generally have pretty low complaint rates ranging from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 125,000).

If you check out the online version (the 'comments' section appended to the article for online readers), you will see that I thrashed about quite a bit in an effort to dissuade some erstwhile 'experts' (really misinformed people who had developed a bigotry towards, and hatred of, recruiters in general).  One needs only look at the claims of one individual who insisted that all recruiters are 'conman pimps' to discern that some of the participants in the general discussion (the 'comments' section) had problems with dissociation from reality, and hate-related issues.

This article cited me multiple times (without attribution), and made reference to a statistical website which labeled me as The "wily" "top recruiter" in the High-Tech space.  This was a follow-on to another very poorly researched article published in the Frodyce Letter: http://www.fordyceletter.com/2013/11/01/memo-to-tech-recruiters-the...  The editor of this rag is prone to making factual errors and major gaffes in his own writing, so I discount almost everything that they have to say.

Neither of the two authors of these articles listened to my explanations, and both misquoted me severely. Accusations of journalistic fraud were impossible to dispel, despite my repeated efforts to find some common ground of agreement with these 'authors'. One of them claimed to have tried to contact me, but clearly had not.  She also plagiarized my writing (my marketing material), quoting it without attribution, even claiming I came from a different locality than where I really live (which I cannot consider to be an instance of 'fair use', according to copyright law, IP law, or general practice).  In any case, the basis of the article was that software engineers complain about how many 'horrible' job offers they get (30 a month, for instance).  As a recruiter who has worked very successfully in many fields, I happen to know that Healthcare workers, like RNs, also get as much or more solicitation for job opportunities (and often higher salaries), but rarely complain, so I was immediately suspicious.

It seems like it is a big ego-booster among a small segment of the population of software engineers to brag about how inaccurate, talentless and mindless recruiters are for mistargeting their unsolicited recruitment emails.  "You haven't ever read my resume and you don't know what I do" is a common complaint (although I've heard the same complaint from people with extremely rare skill sets who perfectly fit the job requirements.... sometimes, I've even been able to persuade those people to interview for the position that they thought was a spectacular mismatch, and they have returned from the interview saying what an amazing match it actually was).  Another popular complaint is "all you recruiters do is match buzzwords, etc."  which I find annoying and insulting, since I do have an Engineering degree myself, and studied Boolean Logic and Advanced Logic at Princeton University...  which (I think) makes me substantially less 'mindless' or 'talentless' than those whiney complainers...

The facts about 'Recruiterspam' are somewhat different than those opinions expressed by a tiny minority (0.01%) of petulant software engineers who feel that their extravagant and egomaniacal whims aren't being catered to sufficiently.  Www.recruiterspam.com is run by a Ruby on Rails expert named Aaron Patterson, who has gathered up thousands of emails sent by recruiters to hundreds of software engineers.  He has carefully plotted and analyzed who had sent the most 'spam' to his very elite 'target audience'.  I won/lost that competition pretty handily, even though I monitor my complaint rates very carefully, and have never exceeded 1 complaint per 2,000 emails.  Industry standard is that anything below 1 complaint per 1,000 is acceptable.  From my perspective, their data (while inadequate, certainly) may indicate that I am the most accurate and least 'spammy' e-recruiter in the World. 

My average complaint rate (across multiple industries) ranges from 1 per 10,000 to 1 per 125,000.  These rates of complaint are 10x and 125x lower, respectively, than what is deemed satisfactory or allowable, according to industry standards... It's worth noting that www.recruiterspam.com also records hundreds of instances where a recruiter was listed as a 'spammer' even when the recruiter had sent only one email to one recipient.  In my opinion, this is purely frivolous, and is very clearly not 'spam', since SPAM is, by legal definition, NOT unsubscribable, and usually involves multiple sends to the recipient, typically on a daily basis.  Realistically, I get more spam in a week than all of the collectors involved have received over a period of two years.  I can't really determine how many recipients there actually are collecting the data, but it must be at least 59:  http://www.recruiterspam.com/recruiters/460

In any case, the fact that I receive the same amount of spam in a typical week as received by at least 59 people combined over a period of two years leads me to believe that perhaps the complaints are unwarranted.  Granted, not all spam I receive (about 450 per day) is 'jobspam', but I do get about 5 or 6 job solicitations per day (about 5x the rate experienced by these people making complaints).  Statistics show that software engineers (God love 'em!) complain more than any other industry sector -- a rate of 0.27% (or 27 complaints per 10,000 emails) is empirically confirmed as cited in the following publication:   http://www.silverpop.com/Documents/Whitepapers/2013/WP_EmailMarketi...

Page 11 of the above document is my factual source for the reported complaint rate made by software engineers about any and all unsolicited emails.  Notably, my complaint rate from software engineers has never exceeded 1 per 2,000.  Typically though, it is around 1 per 10,000.  This means that my complaint rates (a measure of 'spamminess') are from 27x to 270x lower than their typical unsolicited email.  Rather than seeing this as evidence of spam, I would interpret it as the opposite -- clearly indicating that my emails are unusually accurate and very well-targeted towards the recipients.        

The field wherein I have done most of my recruiting is that of Hardware (as opposed to software).  Hardware scientists and engineers have a typical complaint rate of 0.21% (or 21 complaints per 10,000 unsolicited emails about any subject), according to the "Silverpop" article cited above.  This means that software engineers complain 28.6% more often than the next-most complaint-prone industry sector (and I have been recruiting with email for 10 years, now, with a typical complaint rate in the hardware sector of 1 per 30,000 emails sent).

This number (28.6%) is important to consider.  There is no doubt that a sane person should have a right to complain about 'spam'.  It's annoying, time-wasting, insulting, impersonal, inappropriate, etc.  I've developed a pretty tough-skin myself from receiving so many; but since I am a speed-reader, I just breeze through them and delete them.  Still, if a certain market segment is 28.6% more likely to complain about unwanted email than the next-closest sector, it is well-worth noting.

Also worth noting is the fact that software engineering is one industry with perhaps the highest rates of serious mental illness.  According to a study from the website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 31% of software engineers have serious mental illness at some time in their lives (about 1 in 3). Here is the abstract from the 1990 study:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1974658. The general population has a serious mental illness rate of around 1 individual out of 17.  This would be 5.9% of the population.  Mathematically, the difference between 31% and 5.9% is 25.1%.  In other words, software engineers are 25.1% more often victims of a serious mental illness. 

I propose that there is a strong correlation (28.6% more likely to complain about  job-opportunity type of email vs. 25.1% more likely to have serious mental illness) between the frequency of complaints about receiving job-related email (i.e. "recruiterspam") and the actual rates of serious mental illness among software engineers.  I am fairly convinced that these data are accurate, since, in my own experience, I have usually determined that software engineers complain between 5x and 10x as often as anyone else (from my own collection of statistics over a data sampling of 500,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists).  This also corresponds with the increased reported rate of serious mental illness among the population of software engineers (i.e. the ratio of 31% to 5.9% is 5.2x ).  This would definitely correspond (once again) quite closely to the data obtained by the NIH regarding mental illness rates in software engineers.

Besides explaining the phenomenon of complaints by software engineers about being recruited (who would want to have a new job opportunity offered to them every day?  what torment!), this also absolves conscientious and accurate recruiters who do extensively research their candidate populations of any guilt in their recruitment efforts.  More importantly, though, it reaffirms the NIH's 1990 study that software engineers are far more prone to mental illness.  I'm certainly not saying that all software engineers are crazy -- far from it.  I have multiple friends who are amazingly kind, gifted, 'super-sane' people that are software engineers, and I enjoy knowing them greatly. I respect them immensely, and know them to often have superior skills to mine in a multiplicity of areas.

My suggestion, though, is that it appears that mental illness may be an 'occupational hazard' of software engineers, rather than suggesting that the mentally ill are drawn towards the profession.  The job of communicating and interacting with a computer for 8 or more hours a day might be the cause of the problem.  Perhaps there isn't enough human/human interaction for software engineers for some of them to maintain normal 'mental health' standards.  On the other hand, it might be that the software engineering field attracts 'anti-social' people, who would rather not engage with other humans.  But, what if serious mental illness is a by-product of being a software engineer, in a manner similar to the high incidence of 'Black lung' among coal-miners?  Doesn't this possibility deserve further investigation by Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and the medical field, in general?

In either case (and there may be too many other scenarios to consider, of course), the heightened rate of complaints by software engineers about email recruitment efforts does appear to be related to a mental health issue.  This is especially likely to be perceived as such by the general population, since most people would have lower incomes (perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of a software engineer's annual compensation, typically, in the USA) and would clearly find that people complaining about being over-solicited for career advancement was 'crazy'.  Nonetheless, I respect the right of any individual not to receive email if they wish not to receive it. 

I simply ask, please let me know, so that I can remove you from my carefully-prepared lists that I have researched for months and months, often until midnight and on weekends.  The e-recruiter is not the 'lazy' recruiter that some people have libelously claimed.

Lastly, let's do some math with the 'data' provided on <Recruiterspam.com>:  

4424 "spam" email messages received by 460 software engineers over a period of about 900 days.

This averages out to 5 spam per day.  Today 'they' received 7, according to the site.  So, they are averaging 1 spam email from a recruiter every 93 man-days.  These guys are claiming to receive "so much spam email from recruiters" that they have to keep track of it (and claiming 30 job offers a month).  

The math shows that they are obviously just lying.  They are exaggerating by a factor of almost 100x the amount of spam they are receiving.  Keep this in mind next time a software engineer complains about spam.  He probably means he's badly in need of a lot more of it.  Starving.

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Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 7, 2014 at 1:00pm

Thanks, Nicholas.

As the saying goes: "The only thing woes than bad publicity, is NO publicity".

How can I get "The Atlantic" to trash me, too?

Looking forward to your TLC reality series: "I Recruit Mutants".


Happy Friday,


Comment by Nicholas Meyler on March 7, 2014 at 3:26pm

Smart!  Thank you.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 7, 2014 at 3:53pm

If you mean me, thank you- that's possibly true.

You're very welcome.

Please keep blogging.

Keith "Not Just Another Pretty Face" Halperin

Comment by Steve Jenkins on March 14, 2014 at 1:44pm

I read the Atlantic article and it simply made me chuckle.  The funny thing was, when I looked at the statistics from the website (that compiles the stats on recruiters), and looked at the background of the recruiter who was accused of sending the most emails, I was pretty impressed.  He's earned his stripes, is very well educated, and hustles!  I'll bet you all the marbles and chalk that his book list far surpasses the "candidate" who compiled the stats/spewed the vitriol.


After over 25 years in tech recruiting, one thing has become abundantly clear to me; with the rare exception, the higher you go in the ranks, the nicer, more professional the people are.  Yes, there are IT executives who are pretty hard to deal with, but for the most part, most executives have learned how to be professional.  They have left the prima donna attitude to those who, though "brilliant", are legends in their own minds. 


And the fellow who outwardly says on his Linked in profile that he does not talk to recruiters is such a rich example.  To me, his outwardly contemptible attitude saves me from mistakenly trying to place him with a top tier client; only to have him be a bother to others.  The poor guy will be rapidly passed by his peers who simply know how to be cordial to others.  The upside is that a guy like that would rarely be referred to me.  Birds of a feather......


Case in point.  Just yesterday I went through all the requirements my client had for the IT position they have asked me to help them with.  After all was said and done, the client very emphatically stated that the soft skills (communicating, being a team member, handling stress, etc.) would weigh very heavy on who they hire.


My guess is that most (good) companies would look at candidates who spend their time compiling statistics on recruiters they hate, and candidates who outwardly show disdain for others, and avoid them like the plague.  It is no wonder these candidates rarely attain, much less retain, executive status. 


Yet, here is the kicker.  Companies rely on us (and pay) to keep a list of these types of candidates.  And every good recruiter, even if they compete with you, let’s you know who burned them. Rancid candidates would cast this off as, "honor among thieves" perhaps.  We call it integrity.


Are about 90% of the candidates I talk to smarter than I am with regards to their specialty?  Survey says........yep!  And I will do anything I can to enhance their career.  I really get a kick out of it.  And have for many years.  What about the other 10%?....they are certainly no smarter than the others (outside of their own heads, of course); I just avoid them because they suck the air out of any space.


Are there bad recruiters out there?  Of course!  Deal with it.  And yet, in my career I have been constantly fascinated with the integrity, wisdom, creativity, and sheer brilliance of so many of my peers.  Most of who are also smarter than me in so many ways.  They have contributed to my happiness (and is that not what most of us are truly seeking?) in more ways than I can express.  Pretty much daily.  Even on weekends, sometimes.


Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 14, 2014 at 2:07pm

@ Steve. Thank you. You're fortunate in evidently been able to avoid the substantial numbers of arrogant, entitled jerks in high positions  many of my colleagues and I've run into over the years...

Happy Friday,


Comment by Nicholas Meyler on November 4, 2014 at 1:09am

@Steve Jenkins:  So well written and well thought-out.  Thank you for sharing.  I am reading and re-reading this months after you wrote it, but I am appreciating it even more now.  Excellent feedback!  Do I deserve it?  I hope so.


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