Dec 30

Go Forth and Spam No More

The debate rages on at conferences, meetings, online media, and in just plain gossip. Why does everyone say they hate spam and then engage in the same practices they deplore? This is especially puzzling when the spaminator is a recruiter who is not only supposed to know better, but also needs to woo a target audience… not turn them off. Is it the fault of the individual generating the spam or the people that encourage them to do it? Probably a little of both, but it’s complicated. We live in an age where people record TV shows so they can skip commercials, screen caller IDs to blow off telemarketers, and have email filters to prevent all but the chosen few to reach us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be aware of this environment, so either spaminators are misled by the people who manage them or they are simply flailing about in totally ignorant bliss. Which is it? Many factors are in play.

  • Ironically, the prerequisite for being a recruiting manager doesn’t necessarily include prior experience working in the trenches of recruitment. Without first-hand knowledge, it can be flying by the seat of the pants… making it up as they do it. Part of their job should be discovering innovative approaches for the acquisition of talent, but often it becomes a matter of trial and error using their subordinates as the guinea pigs. Blame like other smelly stuff rolls downhill. Giving these bosses the benefit of the doubt, they are between a rock and a hard place. The measure of their success means they must measure recruiters’ performance using some made-up rule. It’s easier to measure quantity than quality and autospamming helps with the bottom line. It becomes worse when they assign quotas to recruiters and plant the seed that people are just numbers.
  • There is often an overall management mentality that encourages short term profit before relationship building. Success may be only a small percentage of the total number of robotic attempts to hire, but measured against nothing it is still misinterpreted as success. Casting a wide net to catch a few fish is better than no fish at all. There are often no real benchmarks for the quality of people hired through mass marketing methods, so the easier measure of short-term income is accepted as the norm. Organizations that figure out how to measure quality of hires are less likely to resort to spam sourcing. Unfortunately for spam haters, things like turnover rate, time to productivity, cultural fit, engagement level, and error rate can be elements totally independent of the recruiting function. Training recruiters and hiring managers to recognize future potential would seem to be a better way.  
  • Without arguing either side of the argument about locating the corporate recruiting function under the HR umbrella, some human resources managers are more involved with internal people problems without thinking about how those could have been prevented through better recruitment. Dealing with a recruiting function that needs real data and metrics to satisfy their customers’ needs is not seen as a big priority. It would be easy to be cynical about the competence of the HR professionals, but for the most part they belong to organizations that do not see the value of budgeting for their inclusion. They will supply the caliber of support requested by upper management because they are empowered by them. Without pools of data and expensive software, the humble spreadsheet rules. Justification of applicant tracking is based on cost reduction rather than efficiency and capturing defensive EEO data rather than developing a viable talent market.
  • Companies that refuse to acknowledge the value of candidate experience don’t invest in its success. Quick turnaround and speed of hire become the prime factors in recruitment. Auto-hiring, AKA spamming, is used to lure and reel in prospects to achieve short-term results. Satisfying instant gratification in hiring is like a sugar rush that fades with time. Long term success in achieving company goals requires something else. Choosing to switch the focus to initial relationship management and long-term employee development reduces push back, improves quality of hire, protects the recruiting brand, and eliminates the need for spamming. Measuring the value of the candidate experience can be difficult to do, so many just choose to ignore it. Incorporating a reliable NPS metric can show value and justify positive investment in resources.

While we believe that people are not all stupid, the fact remains that many are willing to settle for the easy way out instead of doing the work necessary to do it correctly. It is easier to email blast without regard for a correct credentials match than to fine tune a human dialog methodology to engage according to skills and interest. When the objective is to nail a hire rather than ensure the right person is in the job, cultural fit and competency rules become less important than a quick fix. Maybe the question we should really be asking is “What’s so bad about spam anyway?” What if tolerance for robotic unthinking monolog is a matter of personal taste instead of some abhorrent practice? If the ultimate goal is to achieve mediocrity, it works just fine. If we set a standard that is a bit higher, it calls the practice into question. Ask any recruiter forced to defend the reputation of an entire profession because of the bad apples what they think… if you believe that there really are bad apples in the barrel.      

Image Credit: ©doctorblack / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Lee

    Great article. As a recruiter I find your article very interesting. I still get many emails from the ‘cast a wide net’ recruiters who seem to think this still works: I know you did x in a role but here is job y (insert tenuous logic) so I think (hope/pray/beg) you will be a good fit. If you are not (which I already know) please (please please please) pass this onto someone (anyone! ) who you know will be a good fit (as you will do more research than I obviously have)

    I see so many ‘spam’ emails from recruiters who simply perform a large CV grab from their subscribed job board dB’s in the hope that 200 emails will yield 3 or 4 suitable candidates. It’s no wonder the recruitment industry has such a bad name with these joker’s allowed to roam free. Personal investment into the candidate will always trump email blasting but in today’s world where speed triumphs care I fear we will still see this practice for some time to come

    1. Tom Bolt

      Thanks for your comment, Lee. If it were not so serious it would be laughable, but as a recruiter I get emails for jobs that I have recruited for. When they are looking for a PhD in chemistry, I seem to be a good candidate… my chem prof in college would be laughing at this concept!

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