All That Junk: The Diminishing Returns of Recruiting Spam.

If you’ve ever been a recruiter, you’ve probably received that “we need to talk about this req” e-mail. You know the one – the one that puts you on notice whenever you have an unhappy hiring manager (or HR Business Partner, depending).

Another frustration to what’s always already one of the most frustrating parts of recruiting: struggling with an open req, whether or not it’s your fault, just plain sucks. Period.

But you know the drill. You’ve got to justify the inevitably inexplicable, and prove you’re worth your paycheck.

So, you start gathering statistics as supporting evidence.

CYA Later, Suckers.

Whether that’s market data or activity-based metricswe’re paying x amount under average, here’s why we need to consider paying for relo, I’ve made this many phone calls or screened this many candidates, and whatever other numbers support your story that whatever it is keeping that job unfilled isn’t your fault.

You can’t argue with math, after all – and we all know that the bigger the numbers (generally speaking), the more likely you are to get some slack cut for you after the meeting. But if you can’t back up your math (and they’re likely to check), then don’t bother. Your numbers need to add up if your story about why you’re struggling has any hope of buying you a little more time or a little more leeway on minimum qualifications, or whatever action it is your analytics suggest.

Because we don’t have a seat at the table, we go into these meetings with a CYA mentality.  Spoiler alert: if every meeting requires you to continuously cover your ass in order to justify your existence, guess what? You’re not a partner. You’re a vendor at best – although often, you’re actually seen as an adversary instead of an advisor.

When that happens, you’re screwed. And that’s kind of the underlying goal of most of the clients at these meetings, this inherent assumption that you, the recruiter, must not have done your job. Hiring is our job. When it doesn’t happen, then, it must be our fault.

Which of course, is a complete load of crap.

Recruiting Spam: Shooting The Messenger.

Nevertheless, since they’re calling your competency into question, then you’ve got to directly address implicit, if unspoken, question they really want answered:

“What the hell is it you recruiters do all day, anyway?”

It’s a good question. And I get why sometimes, even the best recruiters can’t find meaningful metrics or substantive supporting evidence to prove why they just can’t fill the worst reqs and crappiest roles.

This is, I suppose, the closest you can come to justifying blasting SPAM to hundreds of candidates and connections for roles for which you already know none are an actual fit.

It’s a big old activity metric – look how many candidates I’ve contacted! – and active ammunition for ensuring that ass stays covered.

But CYA can’t cover the fact that these tactics are demonstrating increasingly diminishing returns. In fact, while you may (and that’s a big ‘if’) generate a small, short term personal gain, SPAM actually causes a huge amount of professional harm – to you, and to me, and every other recruiter out there – over the long term. Since we’ve long ago hit our saturation point for recruiter SPAM, I propose a different path forward.

Because SPAM needs to get canned, or else we will. Besides, sending SPAM just makes you look stupid. If you’re a recruiter, seriously.

Stop it already.

Recruiting Spam: The Canary In The Industry Coal Mine.

Now, I’m not here to try to inform your views on climate change or play canary in the coal mine, but basically, every time you send out a blast, you’re basically making the ozone hole in the talent acquisition atmosphere a little bigger.

These sends are the coal stoking our recruiting fires – dirty, non-renewable, and ultimately devastating to our overall environment.

Now, at one time, it might have made economic sense as the cheapest and most effective way to power our pipelines, but technology has advanced. There are better options out there.

And if you’re still burning the proverbial fossil fuels of recruiting technology by sticking with SPAM, you’re edging precipitously close to extinction.

So, here’s the fundamental problem. The more SPAM you send, the worse it works. Your emails will get ignored, your candidates will get agitated, and the amount of CYAing you have to do will increase exponentially. Sure, volume metrics may buy you some time, but ultimately there can only be two possible conclusions the business can come to once time’s running up on your req.

For you, the recruiter, both of these conclusions seriously suck. But if you’ve picked SPAM, then all that’s really left is to pick your poison between these two possibilities:

1. You are not accurately reporting your activities.

2. You are actively recruiting, but suck at converting contacts into candidates.

Either one of those conclusions will cost you your job. Sucks to suck.

But there’s another way to CYA without having to rely on SPAM. I know, it sounds too good to be true, right? But real recruiting results take real work – and high touch beats high tech any day of the week. So if you want to cover your ass and convert candidates, never, ever send SPAM. Just don’t do it. Instead, take the time to source a personal email (if not, at least find their most up to date work email so you know that your message is at least getting delivered).

Then be human. Don’t use a template. Use your voice, and tell the candidate why they should want to consider your opportunity and your company.

That’s it.

Why Recruiting Spam Doesn’t Work (And What To Do About It).

It takes time, but so too does everything worth doing. Which is why SPAM is the crutch so many lazy recruiters erroneously rely on to cover their asses. But if anyone can do what you’re doing, you won’t be doing it very long – the more depersonalized a recruiter is, the less that person is required. Any idiot (or intern) out there can send out a shitty template to a mailing list.

OK. So, you already know SPAM sucks – this is not news to anyone with an inbox, and you already know it’s a real issue for real recruiters. But one thing that we should probably discuss is why SPAM doesn’t work anymore.

Well, the reason that even those crap results have probably dropped all the way down to “snowball’s chance in hell” is that spam filters have gotten way more sophisticated, even over the past year.

Here are some examples of what happens after you send out those SPAM recruiting emails.

1. It’s almost always marked by a corporate firewall or VPN as having “come from an external source.” This is particularly true of business email addresses (and therefore, the overwhelming majority of recruiting related records).

2. It will be identified with a readily visible label identifying whether or not it comes from a recognized list of “safe” senders. As an example, I subscribe to RecruitingDaily.com – and you should, too (Editor’s Note: Word.) – but when I receive an automated email from them, it’s plainly marked as [Marketing].

This means even if you’re sending to subscribers who actually want to read your content, your message could get flagged and sent straight to the SPAM folder.

Point is, even the best mailing lists still have pretty crap results these days. Hell, even the way you format an email can cause a filter to flag it.

Do you put punctuation in your subject line? Or rhetorical questions?

DO YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPS?

Do E-Mails From This Domain Have a Low Open Rate?

If so, you’re really just wasting everyone’s time – including yours.

For example, let’s say your roles regularly require you to recruit out of the Big 4. Let’s say you e-mail one of those firms all the time, since you’re targeting their candidates with multiple recruiting campaigns. Only let’s say that you’ve seen a couple of those have really low open rates, and the number keeps falling with every send. Guess what?

The reason your open rate sucks is because it’s been flagged as spam by that firm’s firewall. And you’re pretty much SOL – as are any recruiters sending email from your domain to theirs. Their program has a rule that if an email from a certain sender (or company) doesn’t meet a certain open rate, it’s SPAM – even when it’s not.

You’ve ruined it for everyone – although let’s face it, chances are pretty good any shot you had at not getting filtered out probably died a long time ago. This is why SPAM doesn’t work for recruiting – and never will.

The sooner you can accept that, the better off we’ll all be.

Stop The Insanity: How To Kill Recruiting Spam Forever.

So there it is.

There have been a ton of people out there sermonizing on SPAM, but obviously the message (like your blasts) isn’t getting through – at least judging from my inbox. Now, I’m not telling you not to SPAM, necessarily – I’m just telling you why it doesn’t work, and in fact, if we’re being honest, never really did.

Not only does spamming generate absolutely no return on recruiting investment, but it actually impedes our collective efforts.We’re the cause of these problems – we’re the ones who sent so many InMails to candidates that getting any sort of response these days feels like a miracle worth celebrating.

That it’s a big deal when our message actually gets through serves as pretty readily apparent proof that we’ve polluted our environment, and that we’re left paying the costs we incurred sending so much spam that we completely damaged the already fragile recruiting ecosystem – and soon, our networks will stop working altogether.

If we don’t make real change today, there may not be a tomorrow for recruiters. Now, I get why you keep doing it (even though you know you shouldn’t), and admit that I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve sent my fair share of SPAM, but just like those CYA stats you collect before one of those CTJ meetings, you can’t really argue with hard math.

And the bottom line is, there’s plenty of evidence out there that recruiting SPAM simply doesn’t work at all. While you can choose to ignore it, if you can’t evolve with the recruiting times, you’re probably going to go extinct. The good news is it’s not too late to change. You just have to do the only thing that’s ever actually worked in recruiting, technology or tools be damned.

The secret: Don’t blast “people.” Talk to a person – and remember that every person you talk to is an individual with unique wants, needs and aspirations.

No template can ever speak directly to those things and other intangibles that successfully convert potential candidates into actual hires.

Only recruiters can.

About the Author:

Mike Wolford has over 10 years of recruiting experience in staffing agency, contract and in house corporate environments. He has worked with such companies as Allstate, Capital One, and National Public Radio.

Mike also published a book titled “Becoming the Silver Bullet: Recruiting Strategies for connecting with Top Talent” and “How to Find and Land your Dream Job: Insider tips from a Recruiter” he also founded Recruit Tampa. Mike currently serves as the Sourcing Manager at Hudson RPO.

An active member of the Recruiting community, Mike has spoken publicly in an effort to help elevate the level of professional skill.

Follow Mike on Twitter @Mike1178 or connect with him on LinkedIn.



  • Generally-agreed upon facts: (1) The monetary value of ALL spam in the world per year is about $200 million ; (2) the monetary value of Executive Search/Headhunting is about $20 billion per year ; (3) Email that is valuable and well-targeted is not SPAM.

    You are asking me to believe that email is not an effective recruiting technique because (1) you fail to define spam accurately, (2) have no idea of the value of recruiting email, which is many many times more valuable than actual spam, and (3) insist that it is worthless to readers and recipients.

    I totally disagree. Email is a great tool in any recruiter’s kit. Whereas, what you are falsely implying is that viagra ads and so forth are the literary equivalent of job ads for Post-Doc students who will be earning $120K per year starting salary.

    The volume of “spam” generated by recruiters (which is not spam, but even if it were) is about 0.01% of all purported spam — but has a value 100x the value of ALL the spam in the world combined. This means that the average recruiter email is worth 100,000x what a typical piece of “spam” email is worth.

    Calling a recruiting email “spam” is seriously similar to calling a diamond “a piece of carbon” — superficially true, but neglecting the value of diamonds vs. other types of carbon. True, a diamond is carbon, but, by weight, is worth about the same as the ratio of the value of recruiter email to that of actual spam. For instance, a ton of coal is worth about $50, while a diamond is worth about $1400 per carat (a carat is a fifth of a gram). A pound is 453.6 grams, so a gram of coal would be worth 0.005 cents. The ratio of the value of a diamond to an equal weight of coal is 1400 divided by 0.001 or 1,400,000 to 1. So, yes, if you want to compare diamonds to coal; but isn’t that really poor salesmanship?

    This whole recruiting spam conversation is nonsense, if merely because there is no precision in your use of words. Meanwhile, I’ve found email recruiting to be highly effective, and receive many compliments on my emails from extremely distinguished candidates, even when they are not interested in the jobs discussed in the email, but because they find my emails extremely informative. I’ve won multiple awards for my recruiting, and I’ve billed $5 million by now, with much success and acclaim. I guess I’m not buying your story, mostly because it isn’t true.

    Maybe you just aren’t any good at email recruiting…. I’ve certainly received a lot of ‘crap’ recruiter email myself, and I know what I don’t like about it. But, my email is not like that, because I only represent the most interesting and exciting opportunities.

    • Mike Wolford

      I’m not calling all recruiting email spam. I hoped I had made that clear. Doing mail merge emails to candidates, bulk inmailing any time you find someone and just send a template, that is Spam. Talk to a person that isn’t a recruiter about how many emails they get when about jobs that are outside of their field of expertise.

      I get emails from IT recruiters all the time about job opportunities to be an iPhone developer. Now on my profile it does say i recruited those types of professionals, however I’m not actually one and when I get an email like that, I clearly know that the recruiter didn’t bother to look at my resume or profile they simply emailed everyone that came back in the key word search result.

      Google recruiters and see what the auto fill suggests at the next words in your search. I train about 100 recruiters in my current role and I can tell you that it bulk inmailing and BCC emailing and mail merge emailing are common practice among recruiters today.

      I appreciate your passion and would encourage you to write an article for RD, the community can always use another competent and passionate voice.

      • Thanks for your comments. Still, I insist I have many readers. Usually I have about 1000 or more in the first ten minutes after a send. I know, because I receive a tally of how many times the emails get opened up. I have hundreds and hundreds of people who open up my emails at least 3 or 4 times, on every send. Sometimes, I see people opening 200+ times (meaning that they forward it to lots of other people). Obviously, people enjoy getting job-related email, if it’s well-prepared. On the other hand, no one wants crap like this:

        Dear Recuriter,

        This is Nirup from MPRSoft Inc. We have Excellent Candidate available to join projects immediately across USA. Please reach for profiles and also add me to your distibution list for further requirements. My details are nirup@mprsoft.com & alternatively you can reach me on Direct contact: 571-481-0369 and Office 703.636.9300 Extn 292.

        Thanks in advance for your consideration.

        S.No
        Name Skill Set Experience Current Location Relocation Availability
        1 Sandeep Java/J2EE Develper 9 Yrs Monroe, Louisiana Yes Immediately
        2 Arun Java Develper 8 Yrs NJ Yes Immediately
        3 Avinash SalesForce BA 8+ Yrs NC Yes later to 2 weeks
        4 Ravi C Datastatege Developer 10+ Yrs NY Yes Immediately
        5 Navya Y Devops/CI/CD Engineer 8+ Yrs Norwalk, CT Yes Immediately
        6 Narender SAP FICO Tester 7+ Yrs New Jersey Yes Immediately
        7 Priyanka SAS Developer 7+ Yrs Chicago, IL Yes Later to 1 week
        8 Shanthi DevOps Engineer 8+ Yrs TX Yes Immediately
        9 Nirdesh Penetration Tester(Security Analyst) 5+ Yrs Raleigh, NC Yes Immediate
        10 Harish penetration Tester 5+ Yrs Indianapolis, IN Yes Later to 2 weeks
        11 Harish B DevOps Engineer Cloud 6+ Yrs Washington D.C Yes Immediately
        12 Param Guduri .Net Developer 8+ Yrs Rockville, MD. Yes Immediately
        13 Ramesh .Net Developer 8 Yrs Atlanta, GA Yes Immediately
        14 Jayanth SAP Tester 8+ Yrs Phoenix, AZ Yes Immediately
        15 Sujith Android Developer 8+ Yrs Schaumburg, IL Yes Immediately
        16 Vishnu SAS Developer 8+ Yrs Washington,DC Yes later to 2 weeks
        17 Srinivas SAS Developer 8+ Yrs Virginia Yes later to 1 week
        18 Manoj SAS Programmer 7+ Yrs Boston Yes Immediately
        19 Dileep DevOps-Build/Release Engineer 7+ Yrs Eagan,MN Yes Later to 2 weeks
        20 Vijay DevOps Engineer 5+ Yrs Virginia Yes Immediately
        21 Goutham S Penetration Tester 5+ Yrs Eagan,MN Yes Immediately
        22 sreekanth k selinium tester 6+ Yrs Sanfransisco Yes later to 2 weeks
        23 Nandini Tableau Developer 7+ Yrs New York Yes Immediately
        24 karthik Sivanandi UNIX System Build Engineer 7 Yrs Pennsylvania, PA Yes later to 2 weeks
        25 karhik V Pen Tester/ Security Analyst 6 Yrs Atlanta, GA Yes Immediately

  • Some more facts which might be helpful:
    My “bounce” rate is only 1%. This means my addresses are 7 to 10 times more accurate than the typical user of “Constant Contact” (which is frankly a very spammy service). My unsubscribe rate is below one per thousand (which is 10x or 20x lower than typical for “Constant Contact”). My delivery rate is 99%, which is pretty good. So spam filters aren’t stopping my high-quality email.

    The problem with email marketing is that most people are much too lazy to make it work, and they don’t collect and update addresses weekly, like they should. I’m always removing any suspect addresses. Content is extremely important, too!

    • Mike Wolford

      Exactly. The canned template emails are being blocked by newer spam filters and it doesn’t do you any good to send something that won’t be read.


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