What Recruiters Do Wrong

I get a lot of email from recruiters. Some awful, some insulting and some merely terrible. Rarely do I get solicitations that I go “Wow! I am keen to pursue this”. So what do they do wrong?

Impersonal or personally wrong

The most likely thing to make me press the delete key is if they are on the edge of spam. This usually means that the email is not personally addressed to me. Or worse is clearly a form letter which they’ve fucked up the data mining for and put in the wrong name or addressed it to the ever-in-demand: {insert name here}.

Indirect and/or vague

The email doesn’t actually say why the role is relevant to you, what the role is or who the company is. Let’s cite a quick example:

Hi! We think you are the best fit for a position we are recruiting for CompanyX
in Aruba (Name of Division) which, trivialities aside, means that I am confident
that the project would be interesting for you.

So what’s wrong with this? Firstly, it tells me I am “best fit” for an unnamed role. Secondly, it not only doesn’t say why I am a best fit but it doesn’t even tell me what the role is. Without either piece of information I am left wondering:

  • If they can’t articulate one reason that I am a “best fit” then how hard did they look?
  • Without some idea of a role what exactly is a “best fit”? I am a really strong ‘Jewels’ player. I can match those gems like nothing else. Perhaps they mean that? Without any content I am highly unlikely to respond to their request.

In this case at least it tells me who the company is. I get about 3-4 emails a week from contract recruiters that say:

I came across your CV and our client, a blah blah social media gaming
metrics twitter-based startup, is interested in discussing a role
with you.

If you’re not prepared to name the company, which is an out-dated and meaningless withholding of information in this day and age when everyone is hiring, then I am going to assume you’re probably not the right recruiter for me. Additionally, it sends a clear message that you don’t feel I can be trusted with the company’s name. Way to start a relationship champ.

All of this comes down to: if you make me work to find out the information I need to assess whether I am interested in the role and/or the company then you fail. I am a busy guy. I don’t have time to go fishing for information that you could simply have provided up front.

Dated or out of touch

Every few months I get an email from a recruiter who clearly has an older version of my CV or who has done a keyword search. How do I know? They are asking if I am interested in roles with skills I have not used recently or at a level I was at professionally a number of years ago. A good recent example:

Hi! My client, a large investment bank based in London, is seeking
an experienced IBM Power Series - System i (AS/400) Senior Operator.

Now once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I might have been keenly interested in that role. These days it’s not really something I want to pursue. A quick review of the dates on my CV or a check on LinkedIn would have told the recruiter that. But instead I am clearly the recipient of an email generated by a database keyword search. Fail.

If not you, then perhaps a friend?

Another classic fail is the recruiter who provides this final paragraph kicker:

If you're not interested in this role perhaps there is someone in
your network who is and you can provide me with their contact

This sends a clear message to me that I am not actually that important and that I am largely inter-changeable with someone else in my network. Additionally, if I knew awesome people in my network who were looking for work? Guess what? I’d have hired them.


Recruiters also rarely tell you what the role pays. The phrase: “The role will pay a competitive salary with benefits and equity” is not actually very helpful. My quick review of my current collection of emails suggests it is about 20% of these emails that actually give a dollar figure for a role. Compensation is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people. Talking money can be hard. Often when discussing roles it’s the last topic covered. Then you’ve often wasted time following up with someone for a role whose compensation doesn’t fit your expectations.

So what looks good?

So after all that, what does a good email from a recruiter look like? This is an example I’ve seen recently with the details of the role changed:


I [found your CV on LinkedIn|saw your GitHub profile|was referred by
your good friend Arthur Dent]. I am recruiting for a VP of Silly
Walks for AwesomeStartup based in downtown San Francisco.

We think you might be a good fit for the role because of:

* Your open source background
* Your experience working at RapidlyGrowingStartup
* Your work on ProjectX at AnotherAwesomeStartup

The role involves:

* Leading a team of silly walkers
* Scaling out our Silly Walking Stack
* Growing the Silly Walking team as AwesomeStartup grows
* The role will pay between 150K and 200K with benefits

It’s not hard to write a good email like that. Sure it’s more effort but in this market you need every edge you can get to attract the right people. Indeed, without the right folks, success is going to be downright hard to find.