In Quest for Developers, LinkedIn Accidentally Breaks Its Own Rules

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career_opportunity.gifDeWitt Clinton reports on his blog about an accidental recruiting spam from LinkedIn. Apparently LinkedIn sent out an undisclosed number of invitations to software developers and possibly anyone who works or worked at a couple of large tech companies, including Google. The letters all began with the following (see the full message on DeWitt’s blog):

Dear ____,

From your LinkedIn Profile, we thought you may be a good fit for the LinkedIn Engineering team.

The New York Times quickly picked up on the story, attributing it to “desperation”:

How eager are Web companies to hire hard-to-find software developers? So eager that they are apparently willing to bombard their own users with recruiting spam.

LinkedIn was on the case, though, and quickly admitted that they made a mistake, with a comment from LinkedIn Community Evangelist Mario Sundar on DeWitt’s blog:

First off, sorry about the email that you received. This was accidentally sent out as a marketing email, to anyone who fit the target demographic rather than filtering through the “open to opportunities” filter, which would have prevented this from happening.

We are looking for great programmers as are most fast growing companies in the valley, but this should not have happened and will not happen again.

…and another from Director of Corporate Communications, Kay Luo on the NYT article:

We blew it. What happened was a recruiting email accidentally went out as a marketing email. Therefore the “open to opportunities” filter wasn’t applied and instead it was sent to anyone who fit the target demographic and was open to marketing emails. This was an egregious mistake on our part. To our knowledge, it hasn’t happened before and we plan to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The people responsible for the mistake feel especially bad since we take such a strong position against spam and untargeted email blasts. Hopefully you, your readers, and the recipients of the email can understand that this was an unintentional human error. We are indeed in a rush to hire good programmers and in our frenzy we made a mistake.

This seems to have quelled reactions, and most commenters seem to be understanding about it (note – these are not the complete comments, only excerpts relevant to my points):

Thank you for the kind note, and I appreciate and accept the apology. And I’m sorry for how this exploded and became a bigger issue than it probably deserved to be. (Stupid blogs…) If it helps other companies (mine included!) avoid this type of thing in the future, perhaps it was for the greater good.

— DeWitt (Clinton)

Everyone makes mistakes. Admitting them is a higher form of self-awareness than making them.

— sheree

Some of the NYT commenters, though, had a different take on it, even before the LinkedIn apologies:

How annoying it must be to have precocious companies with tremendous upside bother you about working for them.

— Mateo

Only in America……do people actually complain about being recruited for well paid jobs.

— Jimmy

Quit whining about getting recruited. Far too many talented technical professionals are either laid-off, outsourced, under-employed, or just plain fired. Enjoy the few moments when you are wanted (whether or not want to be). This demand too shall pass, all to quickly.

— Jim Finkel

Here’s my take on it…

Yes, of course people make mistakes — especially when you put a powerful tool in their hands that allows them to much too easily do something inappropriate to a lot of people, all without any checks and balances before the message goes out, kind of like this.

What I want to know is… whose account gets suspended when five people report this message as spam?

Maybe, just maybe, having done something like this themselves, LinkedIn will realize that they have set up a situation for their users where it is all too easy to do exactly the same thing, but then are punishing them for it. Maybe, just maybe, LinkedIn will realize that they need to be a little more forgiving when people use their tool as LinkedIn seems to encourage you to do, i.e., inviting all your e-mail contacts.

People make mistakes, especially when you make it much too easy for them to do so.

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  1. A mistake was made and admitted to. Spinners from different sides of the opinion fence will make more or less of a big deal out of it.
    There are worse things in the world.

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