In the May 19, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss the e-mail habits of certain job seekers and recruiters. What a mess.

I couldn’t make this stuff up

telephone-pole-1Lately I’ve been railing against institutional failures in the job hunting and hiring process — job boards, HR departments, and vendors of automated recruiting stupidity. But that’s not where America’s employment problems begin and end. Employers are justifiably frustrated, too, by idiots who seek jobs, and by idiot recruiters who use spam to “find” job applicants for exorbitant fees.

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is so idiotic — I couldn’t make this stuff up to amuse you. It’s real. Two recent e-mails take the cake, perhaps because they make good bookends on the story about what’s wrong with America’s employment system.

The job seeker

The first message from the real world arrived last week from a job seeker. It included his resume. I’ll spare the poor sucker further shame by omitting his name.

Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 7:00 AM
Subject: Any Jobs?

Hey there!

I saw your website today Thu, 14 May 2015 and im really hoping there is a opening or other possibility to get a chance to prove my competence.

As you will see in my resume I have a broad experience and knowledge in this line of work and im confident it will be worth your time reading it. I am excited to hearing from you.

Please see my attached resume.
Best wishes,

My reply:

This is NOT the way to find a job. What you’re doing is embarrassing and makes you look really bad.

We might cut this guy and his many kindred spammers some slack, and I might not be so caustic in my criticism — but such a solicitation is akin to a dog peeing on every telephone pole hoping to find love.

telephone-pole-2“Hey there!… I’m really hoping there is a opening [sic] or other possibility” is just stupid, disrespectful, and a waste of my time and the writer’s.

If this is how you’re going about your job search, stop. There aren’t 400 jobs for you. Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Be your own headhunter.

If you think that was a really stupid inquiry — it’s not at all unusual. I get these a lot. The next one’s far worse because it involves big fees and the transgressor is a retained executive search firm. (See What flavor of headhunter is this?)

The “exclusive” headhunter

I received this unsolicited query from a “retained headhunter” whose job is to find and home in on only the best, most appropriate candidates for his clients. Retained headhunters are usually paid in the vicinity of one-third of the salary of the job to be filled.

From: [omitted]
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:45 PM 
To: Nick Corcodilos
Subject: New Retained Executive Search

[Our firm] has recently been exclusively retained by our client [omitted] (circa $3B Global leader in furnishing the work experience in office environments) to conduct a search for a Chief Engineer (Global Product Engineering Team).

We’ve showcased this new retained executive search in the following search specific website: [The headhunter includes this note in his solicitation: “Please feel free to share the Steelcase Chief Engineer role with others.” I’m telephone-pole-2feeling free. Maybe you’re a great candidate, but I doubt I’ve got any subscribers who sniff telephone poles.]

If you are aware of a stellar candidate that would excel in this role based on the brief position description below please have them send their resume to me, [omitted], Managing Principal, [firm name omitted] (Quickest/Best Contact is by Email: [omitted], slowest contact method is by direct dial: [omitted].

The best headhunters search for candidates by talking quietly with industry insiders who know the very best people in their fields. Discretion and confidentiality are key. A good headhunter never broadcasts a search indiscriminately, in part because it would make him look bad. More important, broadcasting attracts all the wrong people and turns off the right ones. Employers also turn to retained recruiters to avoid putting out the word that they’ve got a weakness — that vacant, key position. What would a client who’s paying a $50,000 fee to fill a $150,000 position think if she learned the headhunter was spamming unknown people for leads — the equivalent of posting want ads on telephone poles and trees?

The employer could do that herself on Monster for a few bucks.

I don’t know this recruiter or his firm — but he’s been spamming me since at least 2012. I didn’t join his list. I’ve never responded.

Gimme a break

Now, why would I refer a “stellar candidate” to a guy I don’t know who doesn’t know me, and why would I trust that candidate’s resume to a spammer? This “headhunter’s” client might as well expect resumes to be gathered from a night of dumpster diving — for $50,000 fees!

The solicitation includes a sales pitch. (Why waste an e-mail, eh?)

We fill positions with top A-Player talent – we don’t throw stacks of resumes at our clients. If you, or any business colleagues, have similar search needs at -any- mission critical position level or functional discipline, we can help provide you with the same service as the recent clients below have commented on.


Gimme a break, Mr. Retained Headhunter. You throw spam at people you don’t know, solicit referrals to “stellar candidates” and suggest your service is of the highest quality? What’s the difference between spam recruiting and posting jobs on — except the fees and the “retained” firm moniker?

The job seeker highlighted in this column and the purported headhunter are examples of why employers try to automate recruiting and hiring. They’re tired of idiocy and telephone pole advertising. HR execs know they can dumpster dive for five bucks and come up with the same kinds of resumes. This is what’s led to the demise of our employment system. It’s why you can’t get hired.

Don’t sniff

Please try on these simple rules to avoid the pheromones being sprayed around the job market:

  • Don’t send your resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.
  • Whether you’re a job seeker or an employer, take the time to actually cultivate relationships with credible people who will refer you to the person you need to meet. (That’s how credible headhunters operate.)
  • Don’t hire headhunters indiscriminately — make sure you know how they recruit.
  • Don’t recruit indiscriminately — it’s stupid and it makes you look bad.
  • You never know where your foolhardy spam solicitations will turn up, especially when you include instructions to distribute them through social media.

telephone-pole-3Keep your standards high. If you really can’t recognize a micturating marauder from a good headhunter, learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. If you need a reality check about how to get hired, consult Fearless Job Hunting — and practice The Basics.

Idiocy. It’s what’s wrong with recruiting, hiring and job hunting. It’s not just HR, job boards and applicant tracking systems that corrupt our employment system. There’s plenty of idiocy emanating from all quarters — and it includes job seekers and headhunters. It’s a small world, and everyone can see anyone who pees on telephone poles.

What qualifies as legitimate job hunting and recruiting? Can you fill and find jobs with lots and lots of e-mail? Just how high does the stink rise — and why does anyone sniff along?

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  1. Oh my goodness…I died laughing after reading this one. Thanks, Nick!

  2. While perhaps a crude analogy, Nick, what is happening out here is crude! And RUDE. Why both internal and external recruiters are working with people who say, “how high” when they say, “jump” is beyond me.
    Whatever happened to the quality vs. quantity idiom? Candidates are not asking the right questions or enough questions when contacted about a job. And companies – don’t care who sends the resume. They just want some of us to shut up and send resumes, rather than answer some simple questions so those of us who are any good, can find the people they need. Everyone “wants it now” instead of “wanting it to be solid and right”. I could go on and on with the mediocrity component, but let me just say thank you for posting this.

  3. When you read management blogs; most would immediately reject a candidate who said “how high?” insteaad of jumping as high as they could. Before HR gets into the picture, many job posting are of the form “I’ll know it when I see it” because management hasn’t thought out what the job is.

  4. @ Claudia: I am not so sure it really is about candidates not asking the right questions. For many years staffing agencies and recruiters have contacted me for jobs that are almost entirely contract roles. This despite the fact that my profiles at both Monster and Careerbuilder stipulate FTE only.

    I believe, as a friend of mine does, that too many of the agency recruiters have quotas of phone calls and emails to send that when combined with really inferior ATS systems combine to create an environment where too many recruiters are chasing the same single position while also really annoying potential candidates.

    These same staffing agencies, many of which are owned, run and staffed with Indians with very poor communications skills and who are also geographically challenged have no clue as to what background is needed for a role and then, relyon the ATS system to mass mail JDs to candidates hoping one or two will respond.

    I know this isn’t a nice thing to say, but when Indian recruiters call me now, the minute I hear the accent, I hang up. They are so incompetent, so clueless, that attempting to speak with them or elicit any information is a complete time waster.

    As someone who does IT and Telecom Sourcing, I see too many of these same Indian owned staffing and recruiting firms attempting to recruit for FT roles and failing miserably. It leaves me wondering why a Fortune 500, 200 or 100 company would trust critical recruting searches to such skeevy and unprofessional companies.

    Sadly, too many core functions, to include HR and staffinghave been outsourced to the scourge of American and global business, namely the bottom feeding Indian IT firms and their co-dependent staffing companies that prey on candidates and client companies alike.

  5. Thank you for this post! As a recruiter it really boggles my mind when I receive calls and emails from people in industries that I know nothing about. OR, even better, when I receive emails from “Retained Search Firms” asking ME to refer “stellar candidates” to THEM. (FYI I really hate the term “stellar candidates”)
    It is my job to go through my industry discretely. While I do post jobs to places like LinkedIn, Careerbuilder, etc. that is, and always will be, a secondary function.
    I do call a wide variety of people, because I work on a wide variety of positions. And its my goal to add value in each conversation, even if the job I’m recruiting on isn’t right for the person I’m speaking to at the time. I can at least find out what positions would interest them, even if they’re not ready to make a change at the moment – things change in the business world, sometimes quickly. If I have the pertinent information on an individual, chances are I can help them out – if they’re in my sphere of expertise. If they’re not, I’m happy to refer them to a different person that is in their area.

  6. Shameless plug: About a year and a half ago, I blogged about this same subject, from a different viewpoint:

    @Paul C

    I can’t tell you how many people will contact me with contract work, even though I’ve been with my current employer for nearly 12.5 years (I tell them this, they should have read this…). The response I usually get makes my blood boil and laugh at the same time – “Oh yeah, I saw that…” It’s like, why the &*)^ are you wasting your time to contact me then? Are you simply banking that I happen to be unemployed and didn’t update my information?

  7. Thanks for emphasizing the quality of each contact over the sheer desperation of many contacts.

  8. Amen, Nick. Loved the Dog looking for love on the phone pole. Let me know if you need a photo…I think I can find one.

  9. Does anyone else not buy the sincerity of the first letter? It’s written in the same poor English as much of the spam we receive. Although it could be a sincere attempt by some hopeful overseas job hunter or it’s some sort of solicitation (next, you receive the response, “Now, if you would please forward the fee to this account…”)

  10. @Kurt: :-)

    @Claudia: The great irony with recruiting today is that there is virtually no REAL filtering going on at the front end. That is, self-filtering or self-selection. E-mail, for example, makes it so easy to solicit employers and candidates that most people dispense with the pre-filtering. Note that the person who asked me for a job did not say a word about what the connection is – he wanted me to read his flippin’ resume when I did not ask for it. That’s not a query. It is – sorry for the crude analogy – like peeing on my doorstep to get attention. It doesn’t work. You nailed it: Quality matters more than quantity, but the system encourages quantity.

    @Dale: Management wants you to apply. They’ll figure out who you are later. The cost of this kind of recruiting is staggering.

    @Paul C: I agree that employers own the problem. But I talk about that a lot. Job hunters create their own part of the problem, too.

    @Kate B: Thanks for validating my story about highly paid recruiters spamming people for candidates. Would a 5-star chef mail strangers asking for recipes to put on tonight’s menu??? And thanks for taking a minute to describe what a good recruiter actually does, and that any substantive discussion you have with anyone is valuable, even if it doesn’t fill the job. The point is to learn about the people you reach out to; not to use them.

    @Dave: Thanks for sharing the link to your own story!

    @George: There were no dogs using phone poles on Google images. But I was reminded of a set of stickers included in a copy of Mad magazine when I was a kid – so I recreated them. Send the photo if you have it!

    @Ellen: The jury is still out on whether the job solicitation e-mail was truly spam intended for some purpose I can’t figure out. I had the same reaction you did to the language and orthographics.

  11. @Ellen: Here’s a corresponding spam mail that I just got. See the connection? “Hey”!


    I was wondering if you generate any business from your website? I know exactly how to accomplish that using SEO to drive targeted traffic back to your site. If your interested in discussing, just reply back. Thanks,


  12. The last legitimate headhunter I responded to was from Robt Half in Mpls. MN 30 years ago. He was well-connected around the finance & banking sector and was referred to me by associates in the industry. A recent contact w/a Robt Half staffer told me I needed a better email address and had been promoted from her back room operations position. Obviously headhunters have been “clerkified” over time just like many other formerly professional positions.

  13. Pheromones huh? And here I thought the scent associated with recruiting in the 21st century was more more closely associated with the benjo ditch making its presence known.

    Disclaimer: My main resume is specific to project management. I have a second one, when necessary, which is s CV of my broadcast TV engineering experience.

    A sampling of recent email, which all started out with some flavor of “I recently found your resume …”:

    “Our company and job offerings may not be in the same vertical market as your current experience, but if you are looking for a change – your skills may be a perfect match for our company.” (Insurance Sales)

    “Customer Service Call Center Representatives – Pay is $12.37/hr” (Really?)

    “We’ve an urgent requirement with one of our client (sic) for Position in ” – (Something about me specifying the largest city in this state you did not understand?)

    I don’t have to ask if these online “recruiters” can read business English. I know the answer already. The core problem with recruiting is that these stone illiterates have paying positions, and there are no doubt as many recruiters who can read English as there are IT pros out of work, all looking for a job, all willing to do a professional job.

    There: Free business consulting!

  14. Another good one Nick. The best sentence in the whole article – “Discretion and cofindentiality are the key.” Perhaps you can do a follow up post sometime explaining why the dismal tools available do NOT attract candidates that already have a job and yet companies keep dumping money into the bottomless job board spigot and wonder why they are having problems attracting currently employed candidates.

  15. Nick,

    I just realized that things have ALREADY CHANGED since I last looked for a new job…back in 2010.

    I would definitely send my CV ONLY to maybe 1, maybe 2, head-hunters as the scammers/spammers are getting more intense here.

    OY VEY!

  16. Nick, I bought “How to Work with Headhunters” and found it immensly helpful for my most recent job search. The amount and depth of deception from cold-calling recruiters is staggering. Here are some of the guidelines I found most valuable in my case.

    1. If a recruiter cold calls you, ask who recommended them. Follow up on the reference. I had instances where recruiters simply said “a previous coworker” referred them to me and a one who actually named someone but lied about the reference when I checked. If a recruiter says they can’t tell you who referred them due to “confidentiality”, please, It’s a professional reference, not a junior-high secret admirer.

    2. Don’t share personal information with someone without a reference from them. I can’t tell you how many recruiting calls I got from people who in the first minute were asking for my salary history and what I wanted to make even before telling me what type of client they were working with. If they say they can’t more forward without knowing your salary history, thank them for their interest and wish them luck filling their position. Then hang up.

    3. Ask a recruiter if they have ever placed a candidate at that client before. When they say “yes”, ask for the candidates name. I got burned when I took a recruiters word and found out the day before the interview, that I was the first candidate they had ever placed in front of their client. I walked almost blind into 2 interviews and wasted my and the interviewers time.

    4. Follow Nick’s recommendation for not doing personality tests before an interview. I had my time wasted by not following that one. I passed the personality test, but during an onsite interview found out the hiring manager’s requirements were vastly higher than what was posted. A simple phone screening on my part would have kept from wasting both our times.

    As a job seeker, you’ll be spammed with job openings and cold calls. Do your due diligence and validate all claims they make.

  17. Are resumes obsolete now? I am wondering as I received a call from an internal company HR recruiter that saw my profile on LinkedIn and he doesn’t even want my resume. He told me about this new position he thinks I would be great for. After we spoke for a half hour with him talking for 95% of it (I am not even kidding as he didn’t ask me many questions), he set up a phone interview with the hiring manager.

    I am not looking right now for a job but am interested so I took the phone interview coming up because I want to know why they are so interested in me! They aren’t a competitor. I like that they are a very large well known company. I went on glassdoor to read the reviews and they are highly rated. Given my past bad experiences on the hiring process, I am hesitant about this company. But who knows? they may want to hire me and pay me much more than I am making now. I was sent over the job description which I am qualified for.

  18. @Donna —

    Don’t take a “positive reputation” on Glassdoor too seriously. They run a scam similar to the BBB where companies pay for a special “package” that includes having negative reviews automatically rejected. I found this out when I posted a bad review of a former employer and this happened, it explained why this company’s rating on glassdoor was nearly a 5 but the threads about them on the Indeed forum said something completely different (and were very closely aligned with my own experience there).

  19. As always your column is timely Nick.I think it’s quota time for recruiters. For the last three months I’ve received the “I read your impressive profile on LinkedIn and thought this position would be prefect for you”……….followed by a LinkedIn invitation. The position is never a match and it’s contract. If they actually read my “impressive” profile, they’d know my skill-set and my full-time position status. They’re just emails that my delete key loves.

  20. @ER: Interesting trend, but I think it’s been going on a long time. I wonder if LinkedIn has an API that lets recruiters spam easily!

  21. Headhunters, staffing services, agencies, and recruiters all fit my analogy to the prostitution industry. They’re the pimp and i’m the hooker with great skills. Why should I become their product and jump through extra hoops and extra interviews for no added benefits. It’s best to find a company that’s hiring and apply directly.

  22. Nick, your comments about spam are thought-provoking. But let me show you the other side of the coin: My co-worker has made several hundred placements in the past 25 years with one client which is the world’s largest energy company. He always works on retainer. One time, he had a search he had been unable to fill for nine months, on a position that had been open for at least two years.

    He asked me to help him fill it. I used email to find a great candidate who was a quantum physicist and metallurgist with a PhD in only two weeks. After that, I helped him with several other searches in the same manner, achieving high client satisfaction.

    How about redefining the criteria for the term “spam”: i.e. If it works, it’s not spam. If it doesn’t, then it is. Otherwise, would you suggest that it was a position which should have been left unfilled?

    I think pragmatically speaking, email recruiting has a very legitimate place in the process. It’s the people who have no other recruiting skills than misusing poorly-targeted email who are the problem.

    As far as LinkedIn, they don’t have an API that allows easy emailing any more. They used to. They only allow 30 emails a month for an account that costs $1200.00 per year. They are clearly a scam in a number of ways, and also allow lots of fake profiles.

  23. …and if I’m an idiot peeing on telephone poles, at least I’ve read “The Idiot” twice and every other book by Dostoeyevsky…

  24. @Nicholas: You didn’t say how you used e-mail on these projects.

  25. Good point. I tried my best to use it judiciously and wisely. Spamming the wrong audience is pointless and a waste of time and money. Carefully targeting qualified people with a well-crafted email is an altogether different thing, although some will consider any unsolicited email as spam.

    The examples you gave are quite spammy and vague, etc. Clearly, such an email should not have been sent to you. One can only help that this poor recruiter does a better job of targeting his audience, usually.

    My goal is simply to contact ALL the people who might be interested in a great job, and if I do it correctly, it works. Moreover, so many companies are cutting back on voice-mail and phone contact with employees. There are many companies now that simply won’t even allow a recruiter to call in to contact employees. Email might be the only way to contact people in many cases.

    So, keep an open mind about skillful email use. “Real Spam”, I think, is a different thing, and usually is sent in batches of millions of addresses per day, many times the number of email a recruiter might contact in a year.

    Personalized email works best, of course.

  26. “One can only hope that this poor recruiter”… was what I intended.

  27. Currently, I’m receiving therapeutic injections of Hyaluronic Acid in my knee, which is a naturally-occurring polymer that has structure similar to urine. Somehow, after 26 years of fencing epee, which is hard on the knees, the fact that modern treatment involves a urine-like substance is somewhat amusing. So, there may be benefit to peeing on telephone poles, after all… at least it marks out a territory, and might help alleviate arthritis.

    Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a glycosaminoglycan, and it’s the largest known member of this class of polymers. It’s composed of repeating units of a particular disaccharide (a two-sugar molecule) in extremely long, unbranched chains. Each such disaccharide pair (a dimer) consists of glucuronic acid and N-acetylglucosamine.

    Glucuronic acid is a glucose derivative that reacts with many foreign chemicals as well as with the natural breakdown products of normal body constituents to form compounds called glucuronides, which are excreted in the urine (a-HA!). N-Acetylglucosamine is a derivative of glucosamine (which is a derivative of glucose) and is a constituent not only of HA but also of many members of the class of compounds called glycoproteins.

    A molecule of HA can contain up to a few tens of thousands of the disaccharide dimers. In human synovial fluid, the average molecular weight of the HA is about 3–4 million daltons (atomic mass units), representing about 7,700–10,300 dimers. (By comparison, the molecular weights of water and glucose molecules are 18 and 180 daltons, respectively.)

  28. “SPAM” is an interesting connotative word, used in a slang fashion for recruiting email fairly often. However, it might be wise to remember that SPAM is actually an acronym for Shoulder/Pork/Ham and is a foodstuff.

    My mother tells me, for example, that her whole family lived on spam much of the time during WWII. In other words, spam is nourishing and enables survival.

    Realistically ‘recruiterspam’ also is something that allows people to survive by enabling them to interview for jobs that they would not otherwise have heard about. Having a Harvard PhD tell me that my job descriptions are the best jobs on the market is gratifying to me, and it happens fairly often.

    Most email ‘spam’ is clearly not of any value. Unlike job discussions, it is usually for something quite valueless, or nearly so.

    I think that there is a huge difference between different types of ‘spam’. For one thing, it has been estimated by some journalists and researchers that all the ‘spam’ in the world only generates $100 million in revenues per year, worldwide. Recruiting, or headhunting, is at least a $12 billion industry, and HR itself is probably around $100 billion per year.

    So, the 99% of real spam is actually worth about 400,000 times less per email than the tiny percentage of ‘spam’ that comes from recruiters speaking purely from a revenue basis.

    It might be worth saying that diamonds are “only a piece of carbon” as well, but they actually do have very high intrinsic value based on their properties and the fact that most carbon is not like them…

    So, I am one of those who believes that the term “recruiterspam” is very slangish and rather demeaning, although I certainly received some poorly constructed recruiter spam myself today, which struck me as foolish and pointless.

    Four people in my office have over 20 years experience in recruiting and have billed millions of dollars in the industry. However, I out-billed all four of them combined last year (using a very targeted and polished emailing system I spent 10 years developing).

    So, what’s my point? Pragmatism. Filling positions. Collecting fees. Contacting people that might not otherwise have heard about a great opportunity.

    The thing about peeing on telephone polls is that, in my case, I fence epee (which is pronounced “ep-PAY”) which makes a lot of difference, I think.

  29. Following up on this very brilliant vein of thought, and many thanks to you, Nick C., for writing this clever column, I have calculated (based purely on revenues, and not even beginning to calculate based on values of benefits to companies, employees, or to Society and the Economy in general) that the value of diamonds (in weight) are 19,500x more valuable than an equal weight of pure carbon (much more valuable than just coal), while the value of my emails to candidates regarding job opportunities is 88,750x that of actual ‘spam’ (that fits the legal definitions of ‘spam’ as described in the CAN-SPAM Act).

    This appears to indicate that proportionately speaking, relative to the “lowest common denominator” classification of the subject at hand (‘recruiterspam’ vs. coal), my emails are worth 4.5x the ratio of the value of diamonds to coal.

    I think that (barring miscalculations) this requires a reinspection of the meaning of the word “recruiter spam”….

  30. “If you are aware of a stellar candidate that would excel in this role based on the brief position description below please have them send their resume to me”

    I.e. – “Please do my job”.