On Dealing With Sweaty Equity Requests

This entry isn’t specifically to do with Recruiters per se. Though the category of ‘client’ that I’m about to describe does sometimes manage to persuade a naïve recruiter to make an approach on their behalf.

I’m referring to individuals that do not have a job involving actual money to offer you. Instead, they have an idea that they ‘just’ need – you’ve guessed it – somebody to implement. So-called “sweat equity” deals.

One can only imagine these people have never seen an episode of Dragon’s Den. If they had, they’d realise that ideas in and of themselves are worth almost nothing. If it’s a truly ground-breaking idea that can be easily copied, especially so.

If you want a polite explanation why offering someone the wonderful opportunity to implement your idea for free is a truly dumb proposition, I suggest reading here or here. If you want the un- sugar-coated version, read on.

People who think their ideas have value in and of themselves are invariably – how can I put this? – fucking mental. Here is one such example. No money or indeed clue how to use apostrophes, but somehow you’re meant to believe that they have an idea that is worth you working on for free? There’s no shortage of other examples of this type of stupidity and wishful thinking, in real life and online.

Here’s the thing, Ideas Man: you can’t get a copyright or a patent on an idea alone. And for a good reason. Because if you could, somebody would already have ‘invented’ the idea of teleportation. Or the concept of generating energy from nothing. Or a time machine. Or a pill that reduced your chronological age by 5 years. Then all they’d have to do is sit back, wait for someone to invent an actual technology capable of realising their poorly-defined dreams, then claim ‘their’ cut for all the effort they put into coming up with the idea in the first place.

One thing I find again and again with such people is that they all have the following characteristics in common:

  • They can’t tell you what their idea is, because it’s super-secret. But they nonetheless want you to tell them how long it will take to implement working with no materials / software licences / money.
  • They invariably want you to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement that involves you “indemnifying” (read: “paying”) them if their idea leaks out. Which it probably will, because it’ll either have already been done, or will be so simple that someone else will be able to copy it as soon as they see any prototype you may produce. They are not, of course, offering to actually pay you for taking this substantial risk with their dodgy approach to information management. Even though they want you to pay them (with actual money!) if things don’t go as they naively expect.
  • They want to offer you equity rather than currency in exchange for your expertise in making their idea work. Translation: in exchange for you providing them with a black box that prints money, they will give you some of the money that gets printed. Brilliant.

I always tell such people that I will consider their proposal over the weekend, and will turn them down on Monday. I recommend you do the same. Either that or sign their NDA with an unintelligible squiggle, then piss off and copyright your implementation of their idea before they can say “Zuckerberg”.

On dealing pragmatically with Recruiters you don’t like

So, a given Recruiter that you dislike has posted a role that you are nonetheless interested in. The reason you dislike them (or they you) is largely irrelevant for the purposes of this scenario. Perhaps they have failed to get you several interviews despite your being amply qualified at some point in the past. Perhaps the roles themselves didn’t exist and they were only wasting your time, or they once stiffed you on a contractual arrangement. Maybe you just sent them an email once in an unwise moment of frustration, telling them to fuck off and perhaps questioning their mother’s moral virtue. (Which, coincidentally, would not be a relevant factor for most recruiters since this happens to them all the time. They probably wouldn’t even remember you especially, and would care even less should their candidate tracking system remind them of your previous encounter, provided you could make them a commission on this occasion.) Maybe they’re just Computer Futures.

As noted, the specific reason for your hesitation is not of importance. What is of utmost importance is that you wish to be considered for the role, just not through the slimy/useless bastard that has advertised it (and whom for some reason the hiring manager has seemingly-unwisely given exclusivity.)

So, what do you do? Well, fortunately you have several options available to you, that mostly concern using the weaknesses of the recruitment market as your strengths. Namely, that there are about a million competing recruiters out there for every role, and you’ll never need to physically meet most of them. Read on:

Approach 1) Use LinkedIn to data mine

Go on to Google (using a different browser to the one you normally use – e.g., if you usually use Chrome, use IE instead). Search for “Linked In, John Smith, Computer Futures*”.

* Names used for example purposes only. No similarity to any actual recruiter called John Smith or sleazy, incompetent recruitment agency that employs recruitment ‘consultants’ with precisely zero life experience is implied.

Whilst you’re on the recruiter’s public-facing LinkedIn profile page, have a look around at the ‘Viewers of this profile also viewed’ section. Around 30% of the time you will find the hiring manager’s face staring right back at you, because the recruiter will have visited that profile right before compulsively viewing their own**.

** As this trick is becoming better-known, some recruiters have got wise to how to tweak their LinkedIn preference settings to avoid revealing this information. But most of them aren’t that technical, particularly those whose only work experience was a six month stint at Top Shop earlier that same year, and who are consequently new to the game. That category of most clueless type of recruiter are the ones you’re most likely to be trying to avoid wasting your CV on. Consider this trick therefore to be self-selection.

Once you know who the hiring manager is, simply contact them directly. Or get a recruiter you trust more to make an approach on your behalf. Before you know it, you’ll be stealing the role out from under the slimy recruiter you wish to cut out of the deal, and their whore of a mother.

NB: The reason you use a different browser to your normal one is to completely remove the possibility of your visit to the Recruiter’s LinkedIn profile being associated with you in any way. You could alternatively use the various ‘private browsing’ features of your preferred browser if you wish. However, they’re always finding holes in browser security that will undoubtedly trip you up at some point if you do. My advice is to get into the habit of using IE for all such illicit interactions, since no serious technical professional ever uses IE for anything else. The only association that it will leave between you and the subject of your social manipulations is your IP address, which isn’t nearly enough to identify you individually. Besides, if you get into the habit of using your regular browser’s private browsing feature too often, you’ll only get sloppy some night when you intend to be discrete, and accidentally use a regular tab instead. It’s therefore safer and wiser to use the same distinct procedure every time, and to simply have an environment that you consider to be reserved exclusively for your nefarious activities.

Approach 2) Send a dummy CV to the recruiter

Yes, that’s right. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a cad. There is nothing to stop you creating an entirely fictional but brilliantly-qualified candidate CV in the space of ten minutes. Then ‘apply’ for the role using the persona you’ve created. Simply think up a name, making the description associated with the duties of the most recent role upon it a sincerely-flattering imitation of the job spec.


Create some previous experience in similar roles at large organisations with whom it will be hard to check facts with any particular individual quickly. Chances are you’ll already be proficient in the skill being sought, and will therefore be able to come up with convincing descriptions of previous roles that will have the subject of your ruse salivating at the thought of presenting you to ‘their’ client. But if not, simply use Google / LinkedIn to get ideas for descriptions of previous duties for these roles (e.g., if the role is a Sys Admin for Unix, then Google “LinkedIn, Unix, System Administrator, BigCo plc.) Don’t cut and paste directly from the results you obtain, but instead subtly re-word the descriptions. Stick to 3-4 previous roles, with long tenures. You want the recruiter to think that you are experienced in technology, but inexperienced at negotiating or dealing with pimps. They like those type of candidates the best, since they are who they can make the most commission out of.

Get a temporary phone number and email to put on the CV. Your options for doing so are myriad. E.g., get a burner SIM from any supermarket and use it for just that month. They cost very little indeed. Or, get a temporary Google Voice number and use it instead. Email is cheap to come by too. (And this is where using a separate browser that has cookies and tracking deliberately-disabled comes into its own – it will avoid any risk whatsoever of your real Google/TwitFace/LinkedIn profile becoming inadvertently-associated with the temporary email address and number that you create.)

Do not, needless to say, use any real number associated with you. Although recruiters are as thick as you always suspected, the simplistic CRM systems they use often associate telephone numbers with individuals. (If you’ve ever had the experience of a recruiter to whom you have sent your CV emailing you to ask you what your phone number is despite it being on page 1 of your CV because they are looking up an old number from some years previously instead of the one you just sent, you will have seen this phenomenon in action.)

When you speak with the recruiter, stay in character. Answer any questions they have competently (or as competently as it is possible to be with someone that announces they “need to assez yous” before launching into questions about “the java” that are clearly about “the java scripts” instead.) When they have satisfied themselves that the answers you have given to their questionable questions sounded as plausible as the average technobabble they remembered from Star Trek, proceed and find out who the role is for. To do this, simply ask. If they become difficult about revealing this information on the grounds of confidentiality, simply say that you need to know who the role is for, as you don’t send your details to people unless you know who they are and are able to confirm you would be happy to work there. (Once you’ve been doing this a while, you won’t even need to ask. A combination of the technologies being discussed and the general location will be enough for your razor-sharp instincts to home in upon.)

When the recruiter tells you the name of the company, adopt a sorrowful tone. Tell them that, unfortunately, you’ve already been put forward for that particular role. (Which will be true soon enough.) Invite them to keep you on file, and say that you hope one of you is fortunate enough to get the role. Anticipate possible belligerence at this point. They may try to insist that they are on the PSL (Preferred Supplier List), and that anybody else that has been claiming to know about this role must be lying. This may well be true, but I’ve yet to meet a hiring manager that would not consider a stellar candidate merely because they came through an unanticipated channel. The hiring manager probably doesn’t like this chap or his mother any more than you do. In any case, do not reciprocate their irritation in any way. Doing so would serve no purpose and would only be a sign of weakness. Irritation is the emotion that ineffective people use to communicate their frustration at their inferiority in managing expectations and ensuring desirable outcomes.


If any of the above advice bothers you, then perhaps the Machiavellian approach isn’t for you. Or maybe you just need to remember that recruiters have no qualms whatsoever about manipulating you to suit their ends. It’s well-known, for example, that they ask every candidate where else they have been interviewing purely so that they can call and offer their own candidates. Why, then, should any candidate feel guilty about calling a recruiters’s prospective client and offering the hiring manager their own preferred recruiter? And if creating a fake persona bothers you, why don’t you pull up that recruiters’s LinkedIn profile one more time? Marvel at the list of technologies they claim to be proficient at recruiting for, despite having less than a year’s experience (most of it spent at Carphone Warehouse.) Then pull up their supervisor’s CV and see where they cut and pasted that experience from. Moral relativism is a terrible vice. Ad hominem tu quoque and all that. But you can at least console yourself that you are only misrepresenting your name and history, not your actual ability. And you’re only doing so to someone that is themselves being deceitful.

If you’re feeling particularly mischievous, you may even choose to allow the first recruiter to put your alter ego forward. If your invented persona is offered an interview, you can always turn it down. Or, worse yet, fail to turn up then ditch that Google Voice number and disposable email address. When you really turn up as you via another recruiter, you can commiserate with the hiring manager about the lack of professionalism shown by some other candidates. It’s not only recruiters that can play those dirty tricks, dear gentle candidate, now is it?


Greetings, gentle reader.

This blog concerns the thorny subject of dealing with technical ‘recruiters’. Also known as “Agents”, or sometimes less kindly “Pimps”. The advice contained herein comes from dealing with such undesirable but occasionally-necessary encounters over a long career, both as a hiring manager and whilst looking for work. As a young professional, perhaps just starting out, I hope you will find the advice contained herein salutary.