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: 2872

Comment by Recruiting Animal on May 30, 2014 at 6:06am
Hi Josh, I can understand how you feel. You know the recruiter couldn't give a hoot about you so you don't want to let him make any money off of you.

However, I've had this same conversation many times with my good friend, the founder of Recruitingblogs, JD Jason Davis and he says that you should want to do business with the recruiter who not only tries to recruit your people but successfully does so because that's the person who is going to bring people to you.

I know that everyone is innovative these days and claims to be creating something very unique but my guess is that you guys at your startup are out to compete with other companies who are creating other unique innovative products of the same sort. You don't feel bad about trying to take business away from them. That's the name of the game. And the recruiter is playing the same game. If you can hold on to your people, fine. If not, too bad for you. He's a gun for hire so if he's good, as Jeremy says, it pays to hire him to help you. It's ironic I know but again I'm sure you're a nice guy trying to take business from someone else.

If you would like to discuss this issue and any other recruiting issues I would be happy to have you as a guest on The Recruiting Animal Show. See
Comment by Josh Goldstein on May 30, 2014 at 10:19am

I can respect the position you're taking. If a recruiter can hustle enough to hit my employees, then they are likely going to hustle when I hire them.

But, I have a problem with your assumption that reaching my employees makes you unique. Good tech talent get hit up constantly. It's relatively easy to find & spam people these days. 

If you successfully poach my employees, you have probably shown that you can hustle. Or, you've just demonstrated that I wasn't doing a good job of keeping them happy & motivated.

Sure, we compete with other companies. But, we don't also then ask them to pay us.

Appreciate the offer btw! We don't hate recruiters. We're not trying to pick a fight. Hopefully people appreciate the open discourse. We have the perspective of working on the startup side. Thought we'd share how it looks from our angle.

Comment by Derdiver on May 30, 2014 at 11:58am

Ah I love the arrogance and bravado!  Here is another "thought leader" being born in front of my eyes. Josh black lists go both ways. What makes you think that, with this post, I would ever want to work with you or for you??? I looked up your model. Its cute. I don't think you know what GOOD recruiters do. Actually after reading your post and comments there after I know you don't.

Comment by David Wells on May 30, 2014 at 12:06pm

Hi Josh,

"But, I have a problem with your assumption that reaching my employees makes you unique. Good tech talent get hit up constantly. It's relatively easy to find & spam people these days."

Reaching employees does not make someone unique.  You are correct.  But getting their attention, listening to what they want, offering an opportunity that fits their needs (in a highly saturated, volatile market) and then conditioning both sides and closing them on the opportunity, does take talent.  A fair amount of it.  

So with that being said I treat all companies that I am not working with as targets.  Especially when my clients want people out of said company.  After all they are the ones that pay my bills.  Once the door is even opened for them to be a client though all recruiting would stop and will remain stopped.  

I can understand your point of view in fact in speaking with non-clients who are transitioning into being clients we have discussed how we would poach out of their company and we do not apologize for it.  It's just part of the business.  

If you have good people and you black list every recruiter that tries to poach them aren't you basically black listing all possible external staffing partners?  And true you may not need them, ever, but you may some day right?  

Comment by Rob McIntosh on May 30, 2014 at 12:28pm
I have no dog in this fight Josh but with comments like this on your corporate site ..." The whole process sucks...even more so when recruiters are involved. We're hoping to make it easier"....,

It clearly would raise eyebrows in a forum like this
Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 30, 2014 at 1:26pm
The only question I have here josh is, when you decided to become a startup company, where did you get your current employees? Unless lightening struck a tree and they stepped out full grown you must have reached out to them in some form of fashion. They probably were working someplace. So it appears that you must have "poached " them from someplace.

Did you decide to take employees from your last company with you when you left?

I more than understand your irritation at being contacted by the same recruiter who was a party to you losing someone since he/she has inside knowledge that you have an opening. I would, in your position tell that recruiter that since they had already made your company a source it didn't make much sense to you to let them use you as a source as well as a paying client so you will use someone who has not been a party to creating a problem in order to be a party to solving it. That seems fair to me.

As to "blacklisting" any recruiter who contacts any of your employees. Why bother, if they were not successful in recruiting your people by sending spam or cold calling they probably couldn't do it for you anyway. It might make sense to ask your employees if any of the recruiters who contacted them sounded like they had any sense, represented any companies that you know have the type of people you might be interested in or sounded like they knew what they were talking about and might be the type of recruiter you would want to represent your company.

People have to come from some place. We don't make them out of spare parts in the back room. Nobody can recruit a happy employee whether you do it direct or I do it for you. :)
Comment by Matt Charney on May 30, 2014 at 2:11pm

This is good content - I am enjoying this comment string immensely. I do feel bad throwing Josh to the wolves, but I asked him to post here specifically to hear this kind of conversation, so please keep it going :)

Comment by Jeremy Spring on May 30, 2014 at 2:49pm

Good thread.  Josh, since it looks like your company is essentially providing a sourcing service, does it really make sense to antagonize a huge segment of your addressable market? I don't mean here on this blog. I'm referring to the rhetoric on your company website.   It's going to be terribly hard to maintain a balance between your customers and the candidates you source and to me (granted, I'm merely a lousy agency recruiter) that balance is going to be critical to your longterm success.  In other words, to get killer resumes delivered to your talent pool you need a lively and enthralled group of customers. And to keep your customer base growing, you'll have to continue to attract kickass talent.  If the balance is skewed in one direction for too long, you'll lose both parties and will be no more. Right?  Wrong?  So when the day comes when you need more customers, you might look to folks like us (the pain-causing recruiters) who might also be interested in paying for your services. Hell, I'll take some of those Google resumes off your hands right now.   Maybe I've found a better use for your blacklist.  At least you'll be able to find us in one place.   

Comment by Jeff Altman on May 30, 2014 at 4:41pm

Josh, if I understand correctly, what you expect a recruiter to do is maintain a hands off relationship with your firm, even if they are not recruiting for you. Is that correct?

Comment by Jeff Altman on May 30, 2014 at 4:47pm

And taking a quick look at your firm's homepage, the antagonism with recruiters is institutional. It appears that once you say the hiring process sucks, particularly when it includes recruiters, identifies your firm as having an institutional bias against recruiters. It suggests that this discussion is a smokescreen. After all, working with recruiters "sucks." Good luck.


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