LinkedIn Spam (?) and Recruiters: A Guide for Geeks

LinkedIn accept

Recruiters take quite a bit of heat from those in the tech community based on what many refer to as LinkedIn spam, and the definition of spam within LinkedIn’s context seems to be fairly wide. Recruiter shaming in public forums and blog posts about making ridiculous demands or nasty responses when being presented a potential opportunity are usually popular among a certain set.

Some potential recruits are a bit more creative, like making the Contact Me on their blog a puzzle that most recruiters will be unable or unwilling to solve. I for one truly admire his creativity and think this is a great way to keep recruiters from knocking based on your desire to have a web presence. +1 for allowing both a Python and Haskell option, which just makes me want to hire him more!

As I’ve said before, when the shaming and mockery of recruiters is deserved I’m not against it – I’ll grab my popcorn and watch. Although I probably use LinkedIn much less than others in my industry I am cautious to try and keep my use appropriate. Bashing recruiters is becoming a bit cliché, and I think the backlash related to LinkedIn in many cases seems unwarranted for a few reasons.

Many technologists use their LinkedIn profile as a way to attract employers – If you go to a publicized networking event and I approach you with a quick, “I’m Dave!  Nice to meet you.”, punching Dave in the face is probably not an appropriate response. The environment you place yourself in (a networking event) should create the expectation that someone may try to engage you. Independent contractors, unemployed tech pros, and recent graduates often use LinkedIn specifically as their preferred method (over say Monster or Dice postings) of exposing their experience to recruiters and potential employers. If you are not using LinkedIn for this purpose, it might be useful for you to include that information on your profile.

It can be pretty confusing for a recruiter to get a nasty response from some LinkedIn users and a warm response from others, particularly when both profiles could be virtually identical. LinkedIn has products specifically targeted to recruiters and hiring entities. Being contacted about jobs on LinkedIn shouldn’t be considered a surprise or an infringement on your rights. LinkedIn is pretty clearly trying to allow people to find and contact you for this purpose.

LinkedIn limits how many characters you can include in an invite – If you’ve been complaining that the recruiter who pitched you a job through a LinkedIn invite gave you vague information, I’d encourage you to try pitching someone a job at your company through two tweets (and no URLs). Not to mention, you of course want to know why this recruiter feels you might be a good fit for the job. And you want to know about the job itself.  Funding status?  Tell me about the founders at least?? Chances are you will have to leave out something the potential hire would find important if you are limited to about 300 characters.

If a recruiter finds you on LinkedIn, the only way to contact you may be an invitation to connect – Most recruiters don’t expect that you will want to connect to them (as if connecting has some sort of implied relationship, which in most cases it clearly doesn’t) after a single relatively anonymous interaction on the internet. The majority of LinkedIn profiles for technologists don’t include an alternative contact method for those they are not connected to already. If the recruiter is unable to find other contact information the invitation to connect may be the only way to reach you, even if the recruiter feels that connecting is somewhat premature based on the lack of a prior relationship.

What to do when a recruiter sends you a LinkedIn invitation to connect, and how to prevent it?

Some thoughts

Remember that you are fortunate – You have a job that people are falling over themselves to hire you to do. The inconvenience of clicking Accept or Ignore is about as first world as a first world problem gets.

Don’t respond – Simply deleting the request takes hardly any time at all. If you get a lot of these requests and deleting them takes a bit more time, please see the point above.

Respond, but don’t connect – If it is something you might want to discuss but you aren’t ready for the whole level of commitment that a LinkedIn connection surely brings, just send a response and take the conversation to email. No harm done.

Create a canned response – Write a few sentences that you can cut/paste into a quick reply, explaining if/why you were offended and what (if any) type of opportunities you might want to hear about in the future. Recruiters who value their reputation will try and take your recommendations to heart (for the minority that have one) and be more courteous in the future.

Clarify on your LinkedIn profile that you don’t want to talk to any recruiters –  Why is this necessary? Because you are on LinkedIn. If recruiters disobey this request, shame away.

CONCLUSION: You have every right to complain if you are approached for a job that is not at all appropriate to what you do, and you can certainly shame recruiters that ignore any notices you posted on your profile to try and prevent such contact. But let’s not call every LinkedIn contact about a job LinkedIn spam – for most, that is exactly what LinkedIn is there for.

Like my writing(s)?  I wrote a book.


  1. Mike S.

    I respond with a polite greeting and an indication that I’m not currently interested in new opportunities and a specific time I will revisit my career position (next spring, this fall, one year from now, etc…). It never hurts to keep options open.

    I can’t imagine getting annoyed with recruiters unless maybe one person or one company repeatedly ignores requests to be left alone. Maybe that happens, but I have not seen it.

    • fecak

      Thanks for the comment. Recruiters see it more often. I don’t see it much but I also don’t send a ton of LinkedIn messages.

      If you read certain websites that aggregate content (like Hacker News or Reddit), it seems that any recruiter message is immediately considered spam regardless of how appropriate the content is. It’s pretty widespread based on what I read, or at least common enough that it was worth a mention and clarification.

    • Simon O

      I get an average of 10 “connection requests” every week from recruiters, most of whom haven’t even bothered to understand the role I’m in, they’re just doing a keyword search, then blatting out emails.

      It seems that about 5% of the time, they’ve actually bothered to read my profile and make an informed decision. Those I respond to politely.

      The rest … As far as I’m concerned, they’re no better than people trying to sell me viagra or penis enlargement gadgets. It’s rude, it wastes an inordinate amount of my time trying to filter out the genuine ones, and frankly, I’d rather they all stopped wasting my time.

      If they can’t be bothered to write a tailored message to me, why should I waste my time writing a polite response?

      • fecak

        I agree. What is troubling is to be a recruiter in that 5% that does take the time. If you’ve got 50 emails and you assume only 2 of them are legitimate recruiters, would you just “delete all” or actually sift through?

      • Mike S.

        To be fair, Simon O, not long after I posted that comment I had a recruiter ask for my resume. I supplied it, and then the recruiter left me a voice mail thanking me for the resume and asked me for a phone chat. The phone chat was to inform them if I had any experience with five different technologies. For four of the five, I had my relevant experience listed on the top of the first page of my resume. Now if the person said, “I see you’ve used _, _, _, and _ but I’d like to discuss what kind of work you’ve done with each and if you’ve ever used _.” that would have been fine. But it was more like, “Can we have a phone conversation? I’d like to know if you ever used ….”

        I probably overreacted, but I was angry so I simply wrote a terse (but not obscene) dismissal and blocked their contact information. If this kind of thing happens to you often, then I respect the attitude you have taken.

  2. kdgregory

    I agree that it’s reasonable to get pitched via LinkedIn: it is, after all a place for professional networks (and for my pilot brother to endorse my database skills!). I’m surprised that there isn’t a means of contact other than a connection request; it would seem to be something that LI could market to recruiters. And finally, I generally don’t accept connect requests from recruiters (or anyone I don’t know) because that would allow them to see my connections; I don’t hand out friends’ names for the same reason.

    • fecak

      There should be a feature to contact without connecting, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t now (unless it is a feature in one of the premium packages).

      Regarding the ‘seeing connections’ problem, you do have the ability to hide your connections. This may be more common among recruiters that are own to connecting with other recruiters or their clients, who might try to contact the recruiter’s entire network instead of engaging the recruiter. Recruiters IMO provide much more value than an intro to a job seeker, but a recruiter’s network and relationships are of significant value which gives the incentive for a recruiter to choose the hidden option.

      The inspiration for this was the many complaints about recruiter spam, but usually defined by the act of a pitch rather than the relevance of the pitch. A relevant pitch isn’t spam on LinkedIn in the eyes of most, depending on whether the profile states a desire for no recruiter contact.

  3. Henrik Warne

    Good article Dave, I agree with you. I actually don’t mind being contacted once in a while, even if I’m very happy where I am. Mostly I’ll just say no (and not connect, I don’t want to be connected with random recruiters I don’t know), but sometimes I’ve asked what job it is. It’s pretty easy for me to say if I’m at all interested or not. It depends on a lot of factors: the product, the colleagues, the location etc. I actually wrote a whole blog post a while ago on what I think is important:

    Then I’ll get “OK, please send us your CV”. Why? Everything is in my LinkedIn profile already. Next, they want to set up a phone call. Not necessary, tell me what job it is, and I’ll tell you if I’m interested. If I am, then we can talk. The two times I’ve actually gone through and talked to somebody, they’ve both treated it as an interview (“Please list all the technologies you have worked with”), even though I am not particularly looking for anything, I’m just curious about this specific job. Somehow they think they are “helping me with my career” – but I don’t need their help. If I wanted a new job, I have tons of options of where to apply. I assume they would get paid if they fill the position, so I am doing them a favor by considering the job (if they could just tell me what it is). The more this happens, the less inclined I am to interact with recruiters that contact me (at least when there are no specifics except it’s a “fantastic opportunity”).

    Truth be told though, not all recruiters that have contacted me are like that. Several have been specific right from the start (e.g. are you interested in working as a developer at Skype), and that’s a lot better.

    • fecak

      Thanks for reading, and I think I actually read the blog post you referenced here (what do programmers want). You hit that one spot on, and that looks almost identical to some of the conversations I have with the hiring companies I work with. Great insight there.

      Some recruiters may be less willing than others to give too much detail right away, and that is generally based on fear. Once a recruiter mentions the client name, there is at least the possibility that the contact will contact the company directly and cut the recruiter out of the deal. This is a symptom of contingency recruiting, and having engaged or retained recruiting relationships eliminates some of this problem (I list my client names on my company website, because my clients pay me in advance). I can see how that would be frustrating to candidates, but I also do understand a recruiter’s fears in being circumvented in the process and losing a fee.

      Recruiters do need to do a better job of being more specific with candidates, and too many recruiters (from what I hear) do use just the ‘fantastic opportunity line’.

      As I mention in the article, one of the problems of LinkedIn is that you are limited by characters – so getting too specific is difficult. Ideally in a LinkedIn intro, I’d like to let you know who I am (my credentials, why I’m different than other recruiters), the reasons my client is great (like those things you mention in your blog post), and why I think you specifically would be a good fit (some element of your technical background, industry, common interests with the dev team perhaps, etc.). Try putting that into 300 characters and you’ll see why recruiters have a hard time on LinkedIn. I may tend to focus on bio more than the job, which might get you interested in working with me to a degree but you’ll still feel that I left some things out.

      It’s tricky for recruiters on LinkedIn, which is why sending an email to an address or cold calling (a whole different argument) are often better options.

      Thanks for reading, and again nice article.

  4. Pingback: LinkedIn – Good or Bad? | Henrik Warne's blog
    • fecak

      It does happen too often. Even though I’m a recruiter, I received an offer for a Java interview last week based on my LinkedIn profile – which is because I’ve run a Java Users’ Group for 13 years. I replied to the recruiter and told her to pay a bit more attention next time so we don’t worsen our reputation. She was new to the industry, as most who make these mistakes are. Thanks for reading.

      • RP

        She’ll be your manager by next month, based on the number of “successful contacts” she’ll have gleaned by throwing enough contact requests to the wall until one of them sticks. How much do you want to be she didn’t even read your email once she saw it didn’t have a CV attached?

  5. AB

    Ignore the advice herein. Simply click “I don’t know”, and forget about it. If enough people do the same, they’ll get thrown off LinkedIn.

    Whatever you do, don’t waste your time trying to make a bottom-feeder recruiter understand the utter stupidity of trying to recruit you to a job that doesn’t match your skills, that is hundreds/thousands of miles from where you live, or that it should be obvious from your profile is grossly too junior for your level of experience. Like That One Guy who just can’t take “no” for an answer, they’ll only care when it hurts their ability to keep on being a pest. Any and all protests that don’t hit them where it hurts are meaningless.

    • fecak

      Thanks for the comments. What advice exactly would you encourage people to ignore? I click “I don’t know” sometimes as well, and I wouldn’t encourage readers to accept random invitations from strangers (recruiters or anyone else). If there is a compelling message, dismissing it just because it’s from a recruiter is certainly an option, but you do miss out on gathering some information.

      If a recruiter sends you job info far from your location and experience, I’d probably just ignore it as well. But if I had some interest in improving the recruiting industry, I might reply to tell the recruiter to do his/her homework. Just like when I get a resume with an error on it, I’m likely to reply with a quick correction for their benefit – even if I won’t be able to help the person get a job.

      All recruiters aren’t as aggressive as they are made out to be. But clearly some recruiters are making it harder for those of us who don’t act that way.

      • AA

        “if I had some interest in improving the recruiting industry”

        The key work in that sentence is “if”. Most of tech pros couldn’t care less if the recruitment industry spontaneously combusted.

      • fecak

        I would agree that many tech pros wouldn’t care if agency recruiting went away, but I’m not sure that it’s “most”. Many candidates want to outsource much of the legwork in a job search, want some insight into companies without having to do research, appreciate the advice of an experienced recruiter, and prefer to leave the negotiations to someone who has done it hundreds of times (and often many times negotiated with the necessary hiring company). And to get all those services for free. Others don’t want or need all that. It isn’t for everybody.

  6. Dylan Thompson


    I really enjoy the perspective that you bring to the table from both the developer and recruiter. I come from the recruiting side and am well aware of the U.S. Congress-like approval numbers of our profession. I use every bit of this to strive to not be one of these recruiters. That being said, recruiter shaming and the attitude towards ALL recruiters that come from some developers hold is a bit pretentious to me. Sure their methods are lazy, sure they may have taken a few seconds or minutes of your time or cluttered your inbox with something completely irrelevant, but if you take a look at why they are doing this, you can get an insight into what a nasty world recruiting can be.

    I work for a fantastic company that bases everything on relationship recruiting, considerately working with candidates and clients to become that perfect match-maker. Most recruiters don’t work for the company I do. Most recruiters are cold calling and spamming to hold on to their job. Most recruiters work for people that don’t give second thoughts to firing them should they not hit a metric. It’s not an easy job and industry-wide, turnover rate is pretty ridiculous. Ultimately, it’s people trying to get by the best way they know how. Not in every case, but many of them.

    “Remember that you are fortunate – You have a job that people are falling over themselves to hire you to do. The inconvenience of clicking Accept or Ignore is about as first world as a first world problem gets.”

    Perspective is pretty refreshing…Go ahead and ignore communication, feelings aren’t being hurt. Better yet, send a polite “thanks, but no thanks”. But to publicly shame someone for not being good at their job or send nasty messages back to any recruiter communication you get? Overkill maybe? Obviously, I am bringing some bias to the equation, but those are my thoughts from the other side…Great blog!

    • fecak

      Dylan – Thanks for reading and glad you enjoy the content. I agree with the pretentiousness of some of the recruiter hate – it’s trendy, and part of it almost seems rooted in the belief that people who write code are somehow ‘better than’ people who recruit. The term ‘lowly recruiter’ is bandied about sometimes, and not sure if that is a reference to low morals, low status, or low income. I wish the relationship between recruiters and technologists were better, and I’m trying to be a voice to improve it.

      You say that “most recruiters are cold calling and spamming to hold on to their job”. I agree with you. Personally, I hope that those agencies go out of business, and those recruiters are hired by companies like yours who don’t encourage or condone that kind of behavior. I’ve written about recruiter incentives and metrics in the past (if you haven’t read this one, it might give more insight, and I think they are a major issue with the industry’s reputation. We can reach thousands of candidates in an instant and turn off a high percentage of them (both to our message and our industry as a whole), or we can take the more time-consuming approach of reaching out to individuals and have them respond favorably to use (again, individually and as an industry). I hope the metrics-based “numbers game” agencies fail, so the rest of us can continue without the stigma.

      As for shaming – I learned some valuable lessons about the industry from candidates, and sometimes the lessons came via nasty comments. The nastiness wasn’t necessary, but it definitely helped with lesson retention. Messages delivered in a colorful manner might be remembered better by the recipient. Public shaming to damage one’s career is a bit harsh for anyone in large public forums, but most recruiter shaming isn’t making the front page and won’t hurt in the long term. I’ve read many articles about bad recruiters (and written some), and I can sometimes remember the author’s name, but I can’t recall the name of one recruiter that was shamed.

      If you have recruited through different economic circumstances, you’ll find that the behavior will temper. I remember when I first got into the industry the market was incredibly competitive (1998) with dot coms, and engineers were getting bombarded with phone calls. This is before social media and LinkedIn, so you had to actually FIND people – usually by phone, and many chose to lie to get the info they needed. Once the recruiter noise reached a peak, they stopped answering the phone. Flash forward to 2002 and the bubble bursting, and many of these people who wouldn’t take your call/email were now knocking recruiters’ doors down trying to find work. That will likely happen again at some point, though I hope not.

      Thanks for the comments, thoughtful and well-written.

  7. RP

    “Remember that you are fortunate”

    Yeah, it was luck that got me my skills and my job. Nothing to do with those years spent tinkering with code before university, the degree itself, or being able to communicate my experience and knowledge at interview to both a technical and a non-technical audience. Do you really wonder why technical professionals don’t take recruiters seriously when you come out with self-serving guff like asking us to believe we’re fortunate to be the unlucky object of your unskilled interest? I guess pretty girls should feel fortunate to be ogled by ugly men too?

    • fecak

      RP – I don’t use the term ‘fortunate’ to indicate that anyone used pure luck to get where they are, but many do use the two words interchangeably. I use fortunate here as meaning ‘in an admirable position’, regardless of whether one earned that spot through hard work (as you say you did) or some other manner.

      Do I wonder why technical professionals don’t take recruiters seriously? Not at all really. Lots of recruiters aren’t good at their jobs, and when 7 out of 10 people in an industry are not good at their work it’s natural for people to presume that ALL people in that industry are unskilled. I’m trying to get the word out about the other 3.

      My reminder to tech pros that they are fortunate is simply to state that complaining about having jobs offered to them (regardless of who is doing the offering) comes across as petty to people in other lines of work that are trying to make a living. I’m fortunate that demand for tech talent is high, which allows me to do well also. I don’t get bombarded with job offers, but I do get asked for (usually free) advice quite a bit, which I guess I could complain about if I wanted – but it’s a side effect of my job. My comment on being fortunate isn’t self-serving at all – tech pros that acknowledge their admirable position aren’t any more inclined to respond positively to a recruiter’s pitch than another tech pro who complains about being popular with recruiters.

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