I've increasingly been getting recruiter emails at my personal email address, and on occasion even my work address (!). As I've never personally reached out to these people or companies, and I'm not currently looking for a job, I ask them where they got my email address.

Some of them simply stop responding. But I've also gotten these two replies:

It showed up in a search in linkedin. I would love to chat if you are interested in hearing a bit more about what we do.


We have a research team that takes care of finding that information and maintains our database. To be honest, I’m not sure how they do it.

I'm fairly certain I have my LinkedIn account set to not show my personal email anywhere publicly (although if anybody has any tips on verifying this, it would be much appreciated!). Is it considered unethical to any degree for these recruiters to be lying about where they got my contact info?

  • I doubt they have to say much of anything. Many recruiters sport dubious ethics are are not above scraping contact details from any source they can find. Just be glad that all they have is your e-mail address. I once made the mistake of publishing a resume with my mobile number in it. It was years before the random phone calls stopped. Even though I pulled the listing less than 48 hours after posting it. – aroth Apr 22 '14 at 1:27
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    work address isn't too hard - many companies have a list of staff and roles on their corporate sites - guessing the convention for email addresses isn't too hard then (typically firstname.surname or isurname). – HorusKol Apr 22 '14 at 3:58
  • Seems to me that giving your resume to one head-hunter is like giving a charitable donation to one institution. Once the first guy's got you, everybody's got you... I change my email addresses a lot... and I have one that's personal and dedicated that I never give out to anybody except friends and family, etc. – Vector Apr 22 '14 at 9:50
  • Be sure you are not replying to what I am classified as "recruiter spam". Recruiter spam is, well email spam, that attempts to advertise a "job offer" when the job does not exist, and is simply a way, to generate working email addresses. If somebody cannot tell you where they got your information then they are not a legitimate operation. – Donald Apr 22 '14 at 11:36

No, they don't have to tell you.

I'm pretty sure lying, by definition, is unethical (with the possible exception of some moral grey areas) (although maybe I'm confusing ethics and morality). But whether it's unethical or not doesn't really change whether they will or have to tell you.

Unsolicited contact from recruiters is unfortunately part of professional life for many. If the request isn't specifically directly towards you, and you're not interested, you could consider just ignoring them - such e-mails are probably sent in bulk, so they're not going to care much / notice if you don't reply.

You're presumably not connected to them (on LinkedIn) directly, but any of your contacts, or really anyone you know, could provide them with these details. Most of the unsolicited contact I get from recruiters involve them asking me if I know of anyone else who might be interested, which I always just respond "no" to, but possibly some people you know provided some of your details here.

It could be publicly available somewhere. Open a private browsing tab (Ctrl-Shift-P in IE, Ctrl-Shift-N in Chrome) look for yourself and see if you can find it.

Side note - I'm pretty sure LinkedIn doesn't make your email address available to anyone but your (possibly 1st degree) contacts (which is presumably optional as well). But you can hover over the icon in the top-right, go to Privacy & Settings, and look for the applicable setting there.

Or you could attribute it to recruiters providing these details to each other. If you've ever provided access to these details to a recruiter, this is possible.

One way to address this is the unique address idea (possibly a bit late now though) - provide a unique address each time you provide an address and then you can instantly know where your contact details originated from (you may not know where they got it, and it doesn't help you stop it, and it might not work if they just BCC you (TBC), and, depending how you do it, they can just modify the address if they know and care, but it might be better than nothing). With Gmail, I believe you could just add + followed by anything to your email address and you'll still get the mail sent there, for example, if your address is example@gmail.com, you'll also get mail sent to example+bob@gmail.com.

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    The name+tag gmail trick is very neat to track who sells information about you. Also one should stop and think about what a first world problem this really is. We are working in a business where people are fighting to recruit you! :) – Fredrik Apr 22 '14 at 7:42
  • @Fredrik - fighting to recruit you - unfortunately, that's not necessarily so. A lot of these guys get paid just for finding people and making calls - it pumps up numbers their numbers, and their firm's numbers - nobody is really looking to hire you, and often the job is bogus or was filled long ago. If I had a dollar for every bogus job/recruiter I've encountered, then I actually wouldn't have to work! – Vector Apr 22 '14 at 9:47
  • When an email asks if I know anyone would be a good fit I simply delete the email because I have found in 99.99999999% of the cases the job doesn't even exist. – Donald Apr 22 '14 at 11:39
  • This is an awesome tip. Although anyone who knows the trick can just strip out everything after the plus when they are gathering email addresses. I've done much the same thing by getting a domain name and then creating a forwarding list (a friend hosts our domain for us so we have control) and just creating a different name each time I have to give out my email address. Then I just have all the addresses forwarded to one main address. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Apr 22 '14 at 15:53
  • IANAL, AFAIK: In germany, any company must give you the following information upon asking: 0) Where they got your data from 1) Why they store it 2) Whom they've passed it over – phresnel Apr 23 '14 at 11:51

I am an Executive Headhunter, my job requires filling executive roles and roles that are very difficult to fill - i.e. rare skills. Because the roles are so difficult to fill, the people with the right skills are usually, like yourself, not in the market for a new job. My Clients pays me an upfront fee to approach people with these skills, irrespective if they are in the job market or not. Its then up to them if they would consider the new challenge, new company or project. If I can not get hold of a person by telephone, I try to figure out their work email, which is not difficult. I can simply guess it, ask your receptionist or personal assistant, maybe I can use the receptionist's email address and just replace it with your name and surname.

The recruiter must tell you how they got access to your email address - its highly unprofessional not to. You have to ask yourself, is it really that bad to know what is happening in the job market, specifically within your sector or discipline. Maybe in 2 years you are looking for an opportunity and then you have access to jobs and to recruiters who knows the sector you work in well.

Either ignore them or ask them politely not to approach you. I approach my candidates with a full job description and a complete breakdown of the company I am recruiting for. This helps the head-hunted candidate to make an informed decision.

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    I tend to be very cooperative with recruiters in general. (You never know when a company will close, merge, or under go a change leaving you unemployed or in a position you can't wait to leave) While I'm perfectly happy with cold calls, emails, etc. Cold contacting a person to offer them a potential job opportunity at work especially by email is something very unprofessional. It can cost people promotions, jobs, create office drama. Remember email is like a post card. It's visible to everyone involved and many companies monitor email entering and leaving their company. – Eric J Fisher Apr 22 '14 at 13:31
  • Thank you for your professional insight. But I must agree with @RualStorge that sending a recruitment message to a person's work email (even if it's not hard to figure out what it is) strikes me as a serious faux pas. What if I am giving a presentation on my laptop and an Outlook toast pops up about a job opportunity? I can't imagine any upper management present would be too happy about that. – Norman Lee Apr 22 '14 at 22:32

There is no way to require that they give you this information. On the other hand, they have no way to require that you talk to them, so you can demand that answer as a precondition if you're willing to risk hanging up on an offer you would otherwise be interested in.

My own position is: If they claim they were pointed to me by a friend of mine, but are unwilling to name the friend, I conclude they're liars and not worth talking to. If they're willing to admit that it's a cold call, I may be willing to listen.


This is an answer for Germany. Note that I am not a lawyer.

We have the Recht auf Selbstauskunft, loosely a "Right of Self Disclosure", both with respect to public authorities and also companies. It states that you can require to get the following information:

  • Which data is stored and how they received it
  • Whom they passed over these data
  • Reason for storing these data

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