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the recruiter honeypot: The best recruitment post I have ever read

the recruiter honeypotElaine Wherry is the founder of Meebo. She’s just written the most damning, interesting and insightful post I’ve ever read on recruiters in the tech and startup space.

the recruiter honeypot

Elaine describes her dire struggle to find Javascipt engineers in Silicon Valley over the past 2 years. And how she created a fake persona – a self-described ninja – called Pete London in an elaborate 2 year experiment.

The goal: to attract most innovative recruiters. A ‘honey-pot’ manoeuvre, to find the best recruiters she would then engage for her company. In the process, she uncovered some damning (and extremely interesting) insights. She packages them as tips for any company recruiting in a competitive space.

It’s a long read, but well worth it.

Here’s a few of my favourite examples:

1. Recruiters only use LinkedIn (but it’s not the best channel for startups)

When Elaine (or ‘Pete’) created a profile on a personal website, she received no contact. Once she posted on LinkedIn, it was a deluge. Her ‘personal’ details were on her own website, but the majority of emails still came via LinkedIn. Insight? Recruiters look to LinkedIn first, and rarely beyond it.

However, she found a troubling contrast when comparing their actual hiring experience at Meebo. Only one tech hire (from 20+) in over 5 years came from LinkedIn. The rest came from guerilla techniques, networking and referrals. Insight? Get outside.

2. External recruiters, on average, can’t be trusted

Over 2 years Elaine had a unique experience as a potential candidate (Pete London), and the founder of the company he worked at. Some disturbing practices, I’m sure we’ve all seen too often:

Meebo employed lots of external recruiters when we were getting off the ground. We had standard 18-month no-poach restrictions with all of our contractors that specified that those recruiters were not allowed to contact Meebo employees within 18 months of our contract expiring. Most of those contracts expired in 2008-2009.

However, every recruiter and firm we’d worked with who was still in the recruiting business tried to poach Pete London.

Every single one!

In one case, a recruitment agency tried to poach Pete London, then wrote to Elaine as founder 15 minutes later offering their services!

3. The stiffest competition for startup talent comes from other startups.

The benefits of a startup often sound the same from one to another: Culture, learning, autonomy, impact. Many startup founders imagine they’re competing against Facebook and Google, and emphasise these points. But so is every other startup founder! And that’s +85% of other companies.

Insight? Use more imagination when pitching startup opportunities, than ‘fast-paced, innovative startup’.

4. Founders, managers and board members are the most effective recruiters

The emails that Pete received from managers, execs and founders (who presumably weren’t professional recruiters), outperformed those from any other professional recruiting segment. Metics included email quality, outreach technique, and word count.

Insight? If you’re leading a company, ABR (always be recruiting).

5. Pick up the phone!

The honeypot was only exposed when an ‘imaginative’ recruiter did the unthinkable: called someone who should have known Pete, looking to get his phone number.

Unfortunately, it was also a recruiter who’d served Meebo within the last 18months. Innovative, but conflicted!!

Insight? If your’e trying to hire the best, they’ll be in demand. Pick up the phone.


Elaine deserves an award for the innovative approach, and great write-up. Professional recruiters deserve some scrutiny.



Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. Previously with McKinsey. Passionate about startups, health and technology. Surf when I can; ride a bike most days. Follow me @mboverell.

  • Software engineer here.

    The article was interesting and informative, but please do NOT call me on the phone. I get this 2-3 times a week from random recruiters who dig up my phone number and call me while I’m at work in the middle of the day. It’s disruptive, I won’t answer, and I’ll think less of the recruiter for not being able to send an email instead.