How To Handle Recruiter Calls

Unsolicited calls from a tech recruiter are one of the banes of existence of a technologist with a LinkedIn and/or GitHub profile that has been anything close to meaningfully filled out. Or a startup founder. Both sides get hammered with calls. And emails. All. The. Time. If you haven’t been on the receiving side of these, it may be difficult to explain why these calls are so infuriating. After all, isn’t it nice to hear that someone thinks you’re employable or on the other side that someone has smart people who might be interested in working for you?

The thing is, most recruiters do not come from the field for which they are recruiting. They don’t know whether or not you are a good fit for a given job because they don’t know what a high-concurrency Erlang WebSocket specialist is. So they try and find those words on people’s resumes, even resumes that say “please don’t contact me” and they plow right ahead on and call if they find them. Why? Contingency recruiters will typically earn 20% or more of a placed engineer’s first year salary as their commission. So for, say, a $100k mid-level engineer, they would get paid a $20,000 earn-out!

These economics make them unstoppable: If they do 200 phone calls of half an hour each to find one engineering candidate willing to work with them and 200 phone calls of half an hour each to find one company willing to place that engineer, they are still earning $100/hour, less a dollar or two for their phone bill. Like spammers, recruiters are not charged money for wasting other people’s time, like those 199 engineers and 199 companies who were not a good fit. The possibility that you might be interested is just too tempting. So they call. And call. And call.

It’s not atypical for a good engineer in a hot area – perhaps a senior iOS developer in Silicon Valley – to get several phone calls and emails a day. I’ve seen recruiters try calling with blocked numbers or from local area codes. And when they connect, the quality of the calls is, by definition, pretty terrible. A contract recruiter can’t name the company they’re hiring for, lest you just apply directly and circumvent the recruiter. So they’ll wax on with vague aphorisms like “The Next Facebook”, “totally on fire right now”, and other equally meaningless terms without telling you about what the company is or does.

On the employer side, it’s no better, with recruiters assuring you that they have an engineer who is “very experienced, great stuff” who is “very excited to work with your company” while providing no validatable details, lest you reach out to the candidate yourself directly. This is akin to playing telephone between two Russian speakers via someone who does not speak Russian. Neither party can meaningfully vet the other through a recruiter who does not understand the work the company performs nor what the candidate actually does for a living.

Now, while I am not a lawyer – and this doesn’t constitute legal advice – in recruiters’  reckless pursuit of placement, they may overlook the law. They make unsolicited commercial calls placed to individuals’ mobile phones in likely violation of federal law. Many don’t check the Federal Do Not Call registry, a further and separate violation of federal law. If they don’t respect requests to be removed from their call lists, as many fail to do, it is yet another violation of law.

So what can you do about this?

  • Make a note of the time and date of the recruiter’s phone call. Make sure you record their caller ID and write down any information concerning their firm’s name and the caller’s name. During every call, clearly communicate that you would like to be removed from the recruiter’s call list. Keep a record somewhere, like Google Docs.
  • If you’re not already, join the Do Not Call Registry. If you are already in DNCR, any telemarketing call you receive can be reported to the federal registry as a violation.
  • Additionally, whether or not you are on the Do Not Call list, any unsolicited commercial call to your mobile device may be reported to the FCC electronically.
  • If you want to get really aggressive, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 allows you to sue for up to $1,500 per violation, which you could file for in small claims court. There are some fun stories of people finding success in this approach.

There are good guides out there, like How to Sue Telemarketers in Small Claims Court. Be bold! If only a small fraction of recipients of unwanted recruiter calls “strike back”, it will make it substantially less economically desirable for recruiters to mass-call without checking Do-Not-Call lists.

If you’re less of the lawsuit-wielding type but still want to do the world some good, instead of filing claims against the unwanted recruiter, you can point them at places like the Hacker Dojo‘s page explaining the right way to find awesome developer talent. These sponsorships have been critical in helping us build the world’s largest non-profit hackerspace. (You should come by! We’re open 24/7!)

Epilogue: Lest I be perceived as hating on a whole industry uniformly, there are some good recruiters out there who have a good understanding of the market for which they are hiring and know how to not harass potential recruits or businesses. These recruiters will often work in a full-time position at a company for a period of time to help them spool up a team. They reach out through social networks with carefully researched individually-specific messages showing thoughtfulness and an understanding of a match between the candidate and the company. These people are great, and they convert really well. Treasure them.

Discuss on Hacker News and season to taste.

Author: dweekly

I like to start things. :)

2 thoughts on “How To Handle Recruiter Calls”

  1. Hello, Great article. Many, many right on points. I am not replying to defend Recruiters far from it. Many Recruiters get into the business of Recruitment and just charge on…attacking each job order with enthusiasm and
    good intentions. Sometimes successfully and sometimes leaving rooms for lessons learned.

    I have been doing Recruiting for 20 + years and have been both an Agency Recruiter and a Corporate Recruiter. I have help positions from Recruiter to Director of Human Resources. I have a passion for and continue to focus on the one area that I get the most satisfaction in, Recruiting.

    Many of the people I Recruit and choose to work with “seek me out” through all the Social Media and Technology avenues available to them. I have built relationships with many , many Engineers, Doctors, Nurses over my Career and have helped them find new positions, spend time with them helping them identify opportunities, resume reviews, review and research Companies, Company Cultures, research their potential ‘new manager or Colleagues and often get and expect no no remuneration for those services. Why do I do that? Relationships..Recruiting is about building relationships. Those relationships often started with a ‘phone call’ because the Internet way back when, was not available. From the beginning of my Career, I learned that building relationships was in every part of my life was key to understanding how I can help others. Not easy to do, but I try.

    I am still am In touch with the first Mechanical Engineer I placed 20 + years ago when he Graduated from Worcester Poly Tech and is now a Sr. Executive VP or Engineering with a fortune 50 Company and he call on me as needed both to staff his Engineering Groups and or to simply get my perspective on things. Relationships and paying it forward.

    I believe I can recruit in any discipline. Why do I say this? I say this because I spend the time getting to know what is needed to properly identify the talent needed, education, years of experience, personality, cultural fit. I spend time with every hiring Manager, talking with team members and getting an understanding for what this new staff member will do. Further research into the discipline, various other skill sets that compliment and or can be substituted are asked about and usually after a 2-3 hour prep time, I have a decent understanding of the position.

    I appreciate the fact that you did not ‘condemn’ every Recruiter in your comments. The reason I did reply is to offer a different perspective on what some Recruiters really do. I get several emails, calls and requests every day from people I do not know, seeking new opportunities and my assistance. I try, sometimes not very successfully, to respond to everyone and always try to help when I can, even if it is referring to someone who is better equipped to help them than myself.

    In every field, not just recruiting, there are abusive , unprofessional jerks, so full of themselves who are irritating and condescending that their unhappiness can be felt in their communication. No one wants to deal with people like that.

    However, no matter how good you are at your trade it behooves you to network with professions, yes even Recruiters, as you never know when you may hear that your fired, laid off or simply get a new boss you cannot stand and it is time to find a new opportunity. Build a relationship with someone you feel comfortable with, even if you are not actively on the market . Believe me, I hear from people every day who are glad to have such relationships as the world of work is certainly not as secure as it was years ago.By building a relationship with a Recruiter you may find that they can get you introductions to great opportunities that even no matter how good you are in your discipline, you would not be asked to interview even if you applied. The recruiters relationship with that employer may be valued more when it comes to introductions.

    Once again, I sincerely feel and her your frustration with recruiters and your points are well taken. I am on LinkedIn and if you ever need some help in a career search, simply need a perspective on a Company or Manager or just want to connect, I can be found at www.

    Be well!


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