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: 3272

Comment by Pete Radloff on May 29, 2014 at 3:29pm


Interesting post for sure. As a startup veteran recruiting in-house several times over, my first thought is "Sure, that's nice". But its cutting off your nose to spite your face. You may very well need that agency down the road. Maybe not, maybe they are a big-name pump and dump shop. BUT, His/Her job at that agency is to find people. And if the targets aren't already a client, well that's fair game, IMHO.

More importantly, WTF are people telling others about where they are being recruited to? Keep that stuff to yourself. It doesn't make you look wanted, it makes you look like someone who is a flight risk or has a majorly inflated ego. That's just my .02. Others might disagree.

I've been on the agency side as well as the corporate/startup side - Moral of the story is, when working with a startup, cut your fee a little in the beginning to get more business. Sales 101.

Comment by Josh Goldstein on May 29, 2014 at 3:46pm

Appreciate the comment Pete.

Like you said, you're assuming that the company will need external recruiters in the future.

We agree that the recruiters job is to source new talent. Honestly, your wording is a bit troubling. Our employees weren't a piece of meat and it wasn't a game. When you work at a startup, every single person is vital. If a recruiter wants to try to snag them, they can try. But, realize what's actually taking place. Realize what it looks like to the hiring manager/founder at that company.

Our devs were loyal. So, they didn't mind sharing who was trying to poach them. Interestingly, we could use this as a barometer for their happiness. The minute they stopped telling us that they were being contacted was the minute we knew they were unhappy.

We believe external recruiters are inherently too expensive for early-staged startups. But, that's another post for another day. :)

Comment by Pete Radloff on May 29, 2014 at 3:54pm

I agree with your sentiment that it gives you a happiness gage. I wasn't trying to make them sound like pieces of meat. And I agree that most firms don't understand pricing leverage (Probably why I left the agency side a long time ago).  But you could save yourself alot of that hassle by hiring an internal recruiter - assuming you don't already.  It puts you ahead of the curve before you get too big.

Best of luck with the growth. Nice to see that someone is taking talent seriously early on. 

Comment by Josh Goldstein on May 29, 2014 at 3:56pm

Sounds like we are in agreement. Internal recruiters are great!

Thanks Pete!

Comment by Keith Halperin on May 29, 2014 at 8:23pm

@ Josh: Until the moment when you begin negotiating an agreement with an agency, you should consider your firm a target. If you require exceptional recruiting services for which you're prepared to pay a 30% fee to  have done, you should use an external recruiter, and it's well worth the fee. If that's NOT the level of what you need, you can get very good (different kinds) of services for much, much less (and I'm NOT talking about bargain-basement agencies).. However, don't try and get excellence on the cheap. I say this not as a contingency/reatined recruiter, but as a contract recruiter.


Comment by Josh Goldstein on May 29, 2014 at 8:50pm

Hi Keith, thanks for the comment. :)

I've yet to see a justification for why it's OK for a recruiter to target my company up until the minute I open a negotiation with them, other than to say 'that's their job' or 'that's business as usual.' Do you have one?

Comment by Josh Goldstein on May 29, 2014 at 9:25pm

I should add, target my company and then turn around and try to recruit for us.

Comment by Jeremy Roberts, SPHR on May 29, 2014 at 10:40pm

In third party recruiting there are two types of comapnies.

1) a client company

2) a source company.

A client has active searches with the firm or paid a fee within the recent past. It's a very simple reality. Blacklists are actually pretty fun. Once you're on one it's extra motivation to pillage your company even more. The only way to protect your company is to take care of your employees and make them want to stay. I would say a black list is a good thing if someone is actually working searches for you. Creating a list of any company that called to recruit your people is just creating a list of firms that knows how to use the phone. It's probably a list of the people you should be working with. 

Comment by Jeremy Roberts, SPHR on May 29, 2014 at 11:06pm

On another note... a post about how recruiters should behave, in a recruiter forum, when you're not a recruiter, is a great way to get your company added to a lot of "target" lists :). 

Comment by Josh Goldstein on May 29, 2014 at 11:18pm

Bring it on! :D


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