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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?

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  • 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, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 11:36
  • You might want to add the country in which you are located. Because especially in European countries there are laws which you could use to force them to tell you what data they have stored about you and where they got that data from. May 18 at 16:08

5 Answers 5

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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, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 11:39
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    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, 2014 at 11:51
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    @Mookuh: Indeed. To my defense: When I wrote that comment, GDPR was more than 4 years into the future :D
    – phresnel
    May 22 at 11:37
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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. Apr 22, 2014 at 13:31
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    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, 2014 at 22:32
  • I do appreciate your insight, but I feel that you aren't familiar with how most recruiters work (at least in the US). They will give you no information beyond a job description to start off - a lot of times not even that. It could be their interpretation of a job description. If you ask for the company name, they demand a phone call. I've not once had a recruiter just offer up all the details of a job throughout the hundreds or thousands of contacts I've had over the years (used to be a contractor). Because my information has obviously been sold a lot, I just mark it as spam and move on. May 19 at 14:51
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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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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.

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While your LinkedIn profile doesn't show contact details, it may have been public for a moment in the past, or even in other platforms. If you keep your phone number for years just like you keep your email, it's easy to do a little research and find more data without necessarily buying a database or getting recommended from someone else.

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