In receiving a second cold email from a recruiter earlier today, I discovered I had missed the first among my usual sea of emails. The recruiter guilts me in the subject line, writing "I haven't heard back from you" and, unlike the first, the email is copied to every email account I think I've ever held, including an email at a previous university, and one from my childhood I now use for junk. The body of the email also thinly veils annoyance with such constructions as: "As I tried to communicate in my last email...", and "When I first reached out...", and so on.

I have no interest in the position, and I'm normally good at telling people that politely, but I'm wondering if I should (and, if so, how to) address the assumption that I owe them a response in the first place. I find both that assumption and their attempts to guilt me for not replying unprofessional.

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    @Snow - I've never worked with this person in the past. The emails were entirely unsolicited. They clearly did some deep Googling to find my old contact info. – ArnoldF Mar 7 at 6:56
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    Why do you want to reply at all? I only ever reply to those that have evidently read some profile of me, which is maybe 1% – PlasmaHH Mar 7 at 10:56
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    Do you return the calls of telemarketers who call while you're not by the phone? (How about if they leave annoyed voicemails?) – A C Mar 8 at 9:14
  • @PlasmaHH - The recruiter is actually familiar with my work. The position is similar to my current role, I just have no interest in the company. I might reply only because I make myself available in general. If people need a response from me, I try to provide it. Normally a "no thanks" suffices for this sort of thing and costs me nothing. – ArnoldF Mar 8 at 13:44
  • @Phill - no, I'm not concerned for my safety or anything. I was able to find this recruiter's LinkedIn, and they appear legit. The company they represent is well-known. I think their motivation is that I tick all the boxes for the position they're trying to fill. – ArnoldF Mar 8 at 13:46
up vote 79 down vote accepted

Just be straightforward.

Thank you for the interest, but I am not open for new roles at this time.

You could escalate this, or make a big deal about it, but it's probably not worth the effort.

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    Just be straight: "I am not open for new roles through your company at this time - and likely ever.". Then, if you are in erope demand they delete your data - there is a new law coming into effect nowish (next month) that they will really hate ;) – TomTom Mar 7 at 8:02
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    I wouldn't even give them the time of day. I'd hit the Junk button and move on. – mickburkejnr Mar 7 at 11:51
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    If that even works. In my experience, the more you engage with these recruiters, the more emails you get. You're basically proving you're "alive" and they'll send even more. Best to hit the junk button and move on. – Dan Mar 7 at 13:54
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    @Dan Normally yes, but this guy seems have gone through the trouble to research alternative email addresses - he needs to be told to quit. – Snow Mar 7 at 13:55
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    @TomTom At the very least, you can demand that they stop contacting you, and file a complaint with the FTC if they continue. See this page for more details. Your email client's "flag as spam" might even report it automatically, though that's not guaranteed. – Nic Hartley Mar 7 at 20:48

I receive like 5-10 messages / week from recruiters. I would say less than 5% even made the effort to read through my profile to check, if I would be a good fit.

I answer these messages, if I'm interested or not.

The remaining 95% are just ignored.

Recently many recruiters catch up after a couple of days with stuff like "I haven't heard back from you". Yeah, that's because you're cold calling for a position, which doesn't even remotely fit. One recruiter even sent me 4 messages (passive-aggressively escalating to finally "that's the last time I offer you this supergreat position"), but blantantly ignoring that the offered position was neither my capabilities/industry nor my area I stated in my profile.

For catch-up messages I apply the same algorithm from above: If they somehow read my profle I answer, if not I just ignore the messsages.

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    IKR, like they don't even bother spending less than a minute to actually open your resume before sending you an email. – wahab Mar 7 at 11:02
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    If you start marking these agressive cold emailers as spam they may end up being globally marked as spam, which may alter their behaviour. [I don't suggest this for all of them, just the really troublesome ones] – Richard Tingle Mar 7 at 12:26
  • Recently I had one send a fake followup, quoting a message I never received (and which presumably was never sent) asking why I hadn't gotten back to them yet. Strangely I still haven't. The fake original email was reasonable enough looking that if I'd gotten it I would've sent a brief response back stating I have no desire to move cross country. (I really wish there was a way I could indicate that on linked in; would notionally allow pre-filtering about 90% of what I'm sent now.) – Dan Neely Mar 7 at 15:32
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    Ditto, if the agent seems like they're doing their job (matching skillsets to roles) and not just bulk-mailing everyone based on keywords, or if I've had dealings with them in the past, I'll respond. Otherwise I just ignore them. No reason to be unpleasant in the majority of cases (you never know when you may need their services), but likewise they generally aren't expecting, or offended by a lack of, a response. If one of them did become aggressive/passive-aggressive, I'd add them to my junk mail list and carry on with my day. – delinear Mar 8 at 12:05

tl;dr

You are over-thinking this, ignore these emails.


The one thing which you need to understand is that those types of recruiters very rarely if ever take more than 2 seconds composing these emails.

You are under no obligation to answer unless you want to mark yourself as someone who wishes to get further emails about jobs that do not fit you very well.

Recruiting agencies either own or subscribe to systems in which they simply add your contact info (or more likely scrape from places such as LinkedIn) once, and then choose from several pre-built templates which seem to "escalate" their guilt tripping.

These systems can even be automated so they send an "escalated" email every 3-5 days or whatever they see fit.

Minimal effort and maximum result is the name of their fishing game.

The only recruiters I have ever taken seriously are local agencies with local positions whose job descriptions can be tracked down to a company's job posting, period.

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    Exactly. In fact the emails might even be generated by an automated system (including the followup email). It is absolutely OK to ignore these emails completely. I even have some recruiters in my spam list. OP is way overthinking it. – John Wu Mar 7 at 22:50
  • @JohnWu yes, usually they have an automated system to generate these, they just enter your data in their system and they try to get a fish to bite before putting human effort in. – CodeMonkey Mar 8 at 8:55
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    I have worked as a developer on email systems exactly like this (although not for a recruiter, and not used aggressively like this), so yes they definitely exist, and they are very easy to abuse. – Simba Mar 8 at 11:37
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    "unless you want to mark yourself as someone who wishes to get further emails" - exactly. As with any spam, all you will achieve by responding is to confirm that someone reads messages sent to that address. Don't even click "unsubscribe" links and similar (find some other way to block the messages if there are enough that just ignoring and deleting them is a pain), they also confirm to the spammer that your address is valid and actively monitored. – David Spillett Mar 9 at 12:55

Recruiters are there to work for you, they need you more than you need them (Unless you are unemployed). Another thing to remember, there are many recruiters out in the ocean of jobs.

It sounds like they are already being very aggressive just because they haven't had a response. If they didn't get the hint the first time (From your lack of response), I'm not sure they're really worth working with.

I would just carrying on ignoring it, what have you got to gain if you did respond? Unless this is a recruiter you've enjoyed working with before and they've done a good job, it's better to just leave it be and get on with your life.

If they keep on contacting you, don't forget there are ways to mute, ignore or remove their emails, without you needing to pay attention to them. If it really gets too much, it can be considered harassment, but that's a really extreme case and I'd doubt it would come to that.

  • I thought about just ignoring it, but I thought it a bit too passive-aggressive since I know that doing so would annoy them more. – ArnoldF Mar 7 at 7:01
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    And? Have you worked with this recruiter before? If it's a cold email, it sounds like you haven't. They're the one who contacted you unsolicited, that doesn't mean they deserve a response, especially when they are being rude already. – Draken Mar 7 at 7:04
  • No, we've had no past communication. – ArnoldF Mar 7 at 7:06
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    This is the approach I take. If I'm not looking for a new job, I usually don't even bother opening the email. If it sounds like a position I might consider even while I'm happy with my current job, then I may read the email, but unless I'm interested I just ignore it. You are under NO obligation to them just because they scraped your info off LinkedIn or some other site and sent you a couple of canned emails. – forgivenson Mar 7 at 13:27
  • It will probably annoy them about as much as it would annoy a spammer. They have a (probably huge) list, go through it, send everyone a (probably automated) email, repeat a few times if they don't hear back (three seems to be the common practice these days; again, the "don't hear back" part is probably automated). 99% of their targets won't respond; it's no skin off their back. Unlike you, they are getting paid for it. – Tgr Mar 9 at 7:41

Normally I simply ignore uninteresting / irrelevant recruiter emails (no, I do not want to run a steel plant; no, I am not interested in a PO position in the diaper industry; ...).

But in addition to not responding to this guy (under a "Don't feed the trolls" philosophy) I would mark his email as Spam. Arguably, this unsolicited, commercial, obnoxious email is just that, and marking it has spam is a small way to slap his wrist for his bad behavior because your email provider should take that into account in deciding whether or not to deliver future nag-mails from this guy.

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    That will just train your spam filter to throw out recruiter emails which is probably not in your long-term best interest. – Tgr Mar 9 at 7:38
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    Really? You really think your new C-level job is going to come from a random recruiter's cold email? – G. Ann - SonarSource Team Mar 9 at 11:01
  • Recruiters send cold emails because that's the way a lot of people end up being hired. If not many people found jobs that way, no one would bother to send those emails in the first place. – Tgr Mar 9 at 21:22
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    These kinds of emails are automated and sent to hundreds or thousands of potential candidates in a database. Sounds like spam to me. – 2rs2ts Mar 9 at 23:51

Given

I've never worked with this person in the past. The emails were entirely unsolicited. They clearly did some deep Googling to find my old contact info

posted in a clarifying comment this emails are a clear spam.

So the best way is to mark them as spam, what should

  • delete this email
  • block further emails from that person
  • increase chance that similar emails in future will be recognized as a spam
  • increase chance that emails send by this person will be recognized as a spam

(note, what exactly happens depends on your mail software and mail provider)

If they are particularly obnoxious I sometimes reply with a simple:

unsubscribe

  • Costs you minimal time
  • Clearly indicates your disinterest in further communications
  • Clearly states your desired outcome
  • Indicates that you consider their messages to be bulk, impersonal spam
  • Unsubscribe still confirms that the address is read. Instead, mark as spam, then throw it away. – S.L. Barth Mar 9 at 13:43
  • @S.L.Barth the problem with marking as spam is that you risk mails from other recruiters that you do want getting spammed too. Blocking their specific email address, or the domain of their company, is a bit more precise. – user Mar 9 at 22:47

Just be clear, and make your point. I tend to say something like this:

Dear [recruiter]

I'm not looking for work at this time, or for the forseeable future. Please do not contact me again.

Regards

As a bonus, if the footer of an unsolicited email contains some form of legal contract (usually about sharing the content of the unsolicited email). I tend to throw one of these in with it, just in case they feel like holding me to the conditions of their email footer:

I am not now, nor have I ever been, bound in law by conditions presented in the footer of communications from parties with whom I have no verbal, implied, literal or otherwise contract.

By opening this email you have agreed to provide [me] with your organisations contact database, tangible assets and outstanding shares free of charge and at your personal expense.

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