Why I Don't Talk To Third Party Recruiters

reading time 5 min

Here are the four most important reasons:

Reason #4: You’re incentives are wrong.

The third-party recruiter business is a race to the bottom. To do better than the other recruiters, you have to act unethically.

Here are two techniques that successful recruiters use:

  1. Bait and switch: Tell people you are trying to fill a job that sounds fantastic to get people to respond to their email. When they do reply, claim “oh, that position was just filled but look, I have this other position…”. That other position is never as good. The first position was at a big company that pays well and gives free massages to every employee each morning. The real job is a trash fire of a company with a toxic culture and managers that yelling at you during outages.

  2. Bait and switch Part II: To get a contract with an employer, take a random resume off the internet and claim to be representing that person. Promise to reveal the person’s name “if you sign an exclusive contract.” If the employer bites, suddenly that person has “found a job already” but wait… could it be true? You just happen to have this other applicant available! They’re not as good but… now you’re foot is in the door.

Look, I understand that you “can’t reveal the client’s name” because I might go to them directly, but don’t weaponize that and turn it into an excuse to lie to me.

Here’s the thing. The incentive for you is to lie and do all sorts of bad things. It’s not your fault. The industry is set up that way. If you don’t do those things, you will lose business to other third-party recruiters that do. You don’t have a choice. An economist explained why in The Market for Lemons. A great explanation is on Bruce Schneier’s blog.

Sadly no company has figured out a compensation scheme with better incentives… except putting you on salary instead of commission. They won’t do that because, gosh, then they’d have to know how to manage people.

Reason #3: There’s no penalty for lies

Here’s a true story: A friend of mine talks with a recruiter who sets up an interview. The friend shows up for the interview and the recruiter is waiting in the lobby. He tells my friend, “I’ve been telling these people how great you are! They’re super impressed! They’re not very technical, so just ‘wow them’ with cool stories.”

My friend is excited.

Then the surprise: One minute before the interview starts, the recruiter turns to my friend and says, “Oh, I told them you are an expert in [name of language].”

The friend replies, “I’ve never even used [name of language]!”

The recruiter replies, “Don’t worry. I’m sure you can learn it between when they hire you and your start date.”

Believe it or not, the friend did get a job offer. Why? Because the company was so badly managed they couldn’t perform an interview well enough to know when they were being lied to.

NOTE: He didn’t take the position. He also no longer uses third-party recruiters.

Another lie I’ve heard it that the recruiter claims to work for a particular company. When you ask “Are you an employee of that company or a third-party recruiter?” they go three rounds of shenanigans before admitting they aren’t an employee of that company. Why the subterfuge? Why not just be transparent?

Here’s another lie: “The VP of Engineering specifically asked me to contact you.” Ok, I’ve written some books and made a name for myself. I could believe that. However, every time that’s happened, I’ve asked them to have that person email me to verify this claim. In 100% of the cases the recruiter has disappeared.

Here’s a DM I got via Twitter that is full of lies: Hey Thomas! Wondering if you’ve come across some budding mid-senior systems engineers lately that would do well migrating Amazon’s entire payment infrastructure onto AWS? I’m helping them hire engineers, and while they don’t need to be Principal/Expert level yet, the sheer scale and security makes it a little more unique. I would really value your recommendations that would shine and enjoy the challenge of a role like this.

Let’s unpack that:

  1. Amazon doesn’t use third-party recruiters. They have so many in-house recruiters that they have their own annual conference!
  2. Amazon wouldn’t be moving their entire “entire payment infrastructure onto AWS”. If they were, they’d have senior people do that, and hire noobs to back-fill. Plus, what would that even mean?
  3. “I’m helping them hire engineers” Not exactly a lie, but certainly trying to look like an Amazon employee. To be honest, I bet this job would evaporate the moment I replied.
  4. Oh, don’t be coy and pretend you want help recruiting people when you are really trying to recruit me. That’s so fake.

Why all the lies? Because they work. There is no penalty for getting caught, they don’t usually get caught, and if they do get caught it isn’t like they’ll be taken to court.

Reason #2: I only work for companies with in-house recruiters

If a company doesn’t have enough need for in-house recruiters, I’m probably not interested in that company.

This is a sign that the company hasn’t realized that “software is eating the world” and they must not only develop in-house software competency, but they must also develop in-house recruiting competency.

If you don’t know what “software is eating the world” means, I also don’t want to talk with you.


To summarize:

  1. I am not looking for a new job.
  2. As a policy I do not work with third-party recruiters.
  3. As a policy I do not work for companies that use third-party recruiters.
  4. Nothing in your email indicated it wasn’t a generic form letter. You put zero effort into it, which is rather insulting. You’re asking me to uproot my entire life but not willing to do any work.

How do I deal with recruiters?

  1. I ignore their email. I don’t reply… it just encourages them.
  2. If they nag me, I keep ignoring them. It saves me time, and probably saves them time too.
  3. If they get any more aggressive, I send them a link to this blog post. Sometimes I blog or tweet about them.

Reason #1:

I’m not looking to change jobs. Really. I’m not lying.

The end.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

Recent Posts

  1. Usenix LISA is no more. Here’s my retrospective
  2. My new ACM Queue column: Operations and Life
  3. In memory of Dr. Erwin False
  4. George Mack’s Razors
  5. Have a f***ing sales person call me!




I agree that this website may store my data to personalize my journey in accordance with their Terms & conditions

Powered by Hugo | Theme - YesThatTheme © 2017 - 2023 Tom Limoncelli