Why Companies Block Recruiter Calls and Emails
Companies block recruiter calls and emails to prevent headhunters from poaching talent. The puppetmaster’s impulse is understandable. Most enterprises invest a small fortune to recruit, train, and onboard senior executives and technologists. In fact, it may cost a company in excess of $100,000 in search firm fees just to get a senior executive in the door.
Moreover, company fortunes are made by that talent. The very best CEOs spot the blue sky, set the strategy, and lead companies to massive multi-billion dollar valuations. Chief Revenue Officers capture millions in sales. Chief Technology Officers and Chief Architects deliver technologies and devices that create markets where none existed before.
That’s why we call it human capital. Attempting to protect that investment seems like a reasonable thing to do. In a Machiavellian eat-or-be-eaten business world, losing a key executive or genius technologist to a competitor can do serious damage to a company’s bottom line. In some circumstances, it can take a company down. So, it’s no wonder companies try to hang on as long as possible to the best talent that they have.
Employers don’t own you.
One way companies try to own top executives and engineers is by cutting off recruiter access. Some employers instruct switchboard operators to screen heavily and refuse to forward calls to a prospective candidate’s extension. Some companies monitor emails and set up filters to keep recruiter emails from landing in executive inboxes.
In fact, some corporations go to great lengths to wall off every mode of communication with their employees. While recruiters have ways of reaching out through other means to ensure discretion — in fact, we prefer it — that sometimes doesn’t work. Prospective candidates don’t always check their social media inboxes. They may ignore texts from people they don’t know. Mobile voicemail may be turned off or full. So if those target candidates also have employers who block recruiter calls and emails, those people are out of luck. The better opportunities pass them by.
Cutting off communications is what cults and abusive partners do.
After cutting off communications, the next thing controlling companies do is keep your talent hidden under a bushel. Some refuse to feature executives on their website, in press releases, or to make them discoverable on the internet. Others don’t give leaders opportunities to speak at conferences or raise their profiles among their peers. They don’t want them getting credit or public acclaim for all their accomplishments for fear of attracting a swarm of recruiters to all that honey.
The problem with companies that attempt to control the destiny of their top talent is they never asked for your permission. You never opted in. They do this while at the same time claiming to want the best for you. They say you’re a member of the company “family.” They dazzle you with corporate events and shiny promises as a way of keeping you under their thumb.
While building a moat around your talent is common, I would argue the practice treats employees as if they were possessions that the companies don’t want to have stolen. Yet, senior executives and brilliant technologists are not property. They are people.
At last check, one cannot own another human. That is why companies need to stop treating their most gifted workers like chattel. You wouldn’t want a loved one or a friend to lose a shot at a better job just because their employer made him or her impossible to reach. You wouldn’t want a company to do that to you. How is it okay to turn around and do it to everyone that works for you?
Blocking recruiters is a bad idea. It does real harm.
When a company prevents someone from getting a better job elsewhere, it actively harms that person. First, there’s the financial harm that has life-long implications. That individual, in all likelihood, will make less in every job from that point forward. Since most people make more money when they join a new employer, you are suppressing that person’s wages into perpetuity. The cost of reduced income adds up. So maybe that worker puts off buying their dream home for half a decade or more. They steer their kids to the local community college because that’s all they can afford. They don’t save for a rainy day or retirement. Maybe they can’t afford certain life-sustaining medications. Employers need to think about the long-term impact that their recruiter-blocking practices are having.
You disempower diverse talent.
By treating their top employees like chattel, suppressing their wages, and blocking career advancement, employers are disempowering diverse talent. So companies who claim to encourage the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities are proving themselves either hypocritical, insincere, or both when they prevent their best workers from grasping hold of the brass ring. When you consider the impact on women, particularly those in technology, the practice could be viewed as a form of unconscious gender bias.
When you consider the impact on underrepresented minorities — Black/African-American and Latino/Hispanic leaders — preventing recruiter access comes off as white privilege.
Blocking recruiter access to diverse talent does real damage to the advancement of their careers. The primarily white and male leadership has not paused long enough to consider the financial harm that controlling access to better opportunities does.
That harm is not to be underestimated. Frequently, the opportunities that I represent are once-in-a-lifetime, career-making, wealth-creating roles. There are times when compensation is in the millions and where the equity compensation holds the potential to make the executive a billionaire — as in three commas. Yes, in the technology industry in which we specialize, three commas are actually a thing.
The same companies that block recruitment of their employees often have hoards of talent acquisition professionals actively poaching from competitors, partners, and even clients. That’s because companies have to recruit talent to grow. With all that recruiter outreach, gifted executives and engineers soon realize that they’re in demand and many leverage their market value to earn what they are worth. Poaching candidates from a competitor is common practice — a longstanding game of cat and mouse. Target companies hide the mice as a defensive move. To win, poaching companies simply offer more cheese.
I recruit top-performing executives and technologists into pretty extraordinary opportunities because clients require leaders of that caliber. The candidates are considered the best-of-the-best because they earned it. Most got there by working harder and longer than their peers — clocking more hours the same way Michael Jordan put in more time practicing. So from where I sit, it just isn’t fair or right to punish deserving leaders by holding them back. You wouldn’t want someone doing that to a loved one, so why actively fend off approaches by recruiters in an effort that may very well be crushing dreams.
If you build it, they will stay.
The simple truth is if you are an employer-of-choice that recruits the right executives and technologists and treats them well, for the most part, they will stay. They stick around not simply for the job, but for the work environment, the corporate culture, the scope of the role, and the opportunities to thrive.
They stay because they have developed a sense of community with co-workers, some of whom now are friends. In fact, if you recruit the right people and treat your team well they will stick with you through the tough times. It doesn’t matter what kinds of opportunities are dangled in front of them. They stay put. So becoming Big Brother by monitoring and blocking outreach to your team is focusing on the wrong thing. You need to focus on the things that keep your best people engaged.
When a leader leaves, it is an opportunity.
The simple truth is if an executive does leave, chances are he or she was halfway out the door already. Exiting leaders whose hearts are no longer in their work often invest less and effort in serving their current company as they focus on the shiny objects at prospective next employers. Their productivity suffers. That stresses out other team members. So enabling less committed leaders to leave may be a strategy worth considering. It sets up an opportunity to replace an underperforming executive with a leader who will be more successful in the role.
Big Brother is a bad idea. Pay it forward instead.
So what’s a company to do? Stop playing Big Brother by blocking calls and monitoring email. It is wasted effort focused on the wrong things to retain talent and makes you look bad. Make sure you are treating your talent right. Make sure you’re paying your people what they are worth, but also understand that great talent thrives on opportunities to grow and learn, to lead, and to building relationships and community with team members. Make sure you are growing a bench of succession talent.
And if one of your best people tells you they are leaving for an amazing opportunity at another company, be happy for that person. Congratulate them. Foster goodwill. Life is far too short. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a path to doing business together again. Companies are stronger when they foster a culture of trust and community. If you are in it for the long play, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There’s a reason the golden rule is golden. Paying it forward has its rewards.
Of course, I wonder what you think and what you’ve observed in your own career.