For at least 20 years—and much more frequently since I founded the Professional Speechwriters Association in 2014—I have been fielding your emails and LinkedIn messages—requests to pick my brain on potential candidates for the jobs you are being paid to fill.
I get about one of these requests per week, and never by the same recruiter twice. How many of you are there?
You won’t tell me the name of the hiring organization, usually. It’s always an “exciting role” for a Fortune 100 company in such and such an industry. You would very much appreciate a few minutes of my time, and any thoughts I have!
You won’t let me list the position in my regular newsletter to the speechwriting community—which would be a service to that community—because you have not been hired to advertise the job, but rather to find proper candidates through your own guile and connections.
So your idea of guile is turning to me, for my connections—without ever once (in 20 years) offering to compensate me a plug nickel for any help I might provide in your desperate search for a speechwriting needle in the corporate communications haystack.
I resent this more and more every year I live, and I always want to tell you what my dear, sweet wife tells people who try to take advantage of her: “You can just fuck right on off.” But for exactly one reason, I don’t: I always hope that maybe the job you have will be a perfect fit for one of the unemployed or unhappy speechwriters I’m always trying to steer into something better. But as we’ve also discussed here, often when you do interview my recommendations, you mistreat them.
And here’s why I despise you so much: You don’t have the first clue or the least care why I would allow my brain to be picked or my precious time be taken by your corporate mercenary self. You make your own living literally through transactional relationships, and yet you’re coming to me offering absolutely nothing—not a percentage of your kill, not sponsorship of the PSA World Conference, not an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship of any kind—and you’re expecting my help from the goodness of my heart.
Of all people, a professional people-swapper should understand my anger—no, my awe—at your gall.
There’s another way to do this, you know. A mutually beneficially way. A community-building way. A now-elderly recruiter named Jean Cardwell did it way back in the day. As I wrote a few years ago after she and I had lunch: “She prided herself, and still does, on her willingness to speak to any speechwriter who called. She would offer advice, counsel the speechwriter on a résumé … ‘I hope that even when I was at my very busiest that I was never too busy to take time to speak to people,’ she says.”
Another recruiter I know—Angee Linsey, of Linsey Careers—is that way today. And she’s valuable to me, because when a PSA member calls me in a career crisis, I can send them to her and know she’ll take their call and put them in her database—and at the very least, give them a little counsel and a sense of encouragement. Angee recently moved to Portugal; she’s still in business, and even six time zones over, she’s still more accessible in every way to me and my speechwriting flock than you.
Next time you want to pick my brain, tell me what’s in it for me. Otherwise, fill your own goddamn exciting role.
Neil Hrab says
Amen, amen, amen!
Brian Moriarty says
David, thanks for this excellent article!
Earlier this morning, I was reading Emerson’s essay on … compensation! No kidding–back in 1841, Emerson composed an 18-page discourse on this topic which he had dreamed of writing “ever since [he] was a boy.”
It’s Emerson’s sixth birthday. As the birthday boy blows out the candles, one of his cousins eagerly asks, “So what did you wish for Ralphie?” Imagine the expression on the faces of those gathered when little Ralphie replies wistfully, “To write a discourse on compensation.”
Despite the judgy looks of Ralphie’s cousins, it was a worthy wish. And like most of what Emerson wrote, his essay on compensation is simultaneously poetic and insightful.
Here is the bit of his discourse that resonates with your article:
“Crime and punishment grow out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected ripens within the flower of pleasure which concealed it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists the means, the fruit is in the seed.”
[Side note: No Grammarly, you are not allowed to correct Emerson. Not happening in this laptop!]
Likewise, in this vision, the fruits of generous and kind acts are also in the seed. The goodness of your heart is fruit and seed. In a world where too few are making “an effort to understand,” that feels like the opposite of nothing.
Still, there is everything right with telling clueless bloodsuckers to either change their way or bugger off. In fact, that’s the harvest their hands have sewn.
Len Vraniak says
Your observations about Jean Cardwell are spot on! I met Jean in 1998 and the PSA conference and we stayed (very) loosely in touch after that. When I called her in 2017 for advice after not speaking to her for years, Jean called me back within a couple hours and spent about 30 minutes advising me on next steps. She’s an incredible resource and an even more incredible human!
David Murray says
Thanks for these comments, all—especially you, Moriarty. Did NOT see Emerson coming into this. And I agree, there are many, many opportunities to do things out of the goodness of the heart—and I take them. But donating blood to Lampreys … that ain’t it!
Angee Linsey says
Thank you David! I just had one of those great conversations with someone you referred. Every conversation is valuable and I appreciate it (and you).
P.S. I absolutely HATE the expression, “pick your brain.” OUCH. Please don’t!
Gary Forman says
Thank you Angee for the “pick your brain” ouchie. Horrible expression, deeply embedded in our culture. The question is: can we generate a better phrase (that isn’t more than 3-4 words long)?
David Murray says
How about, “Get your thoughts,” or “Hear your ideas”?
Jeff Oddo says
The “pick your brain” line is shorthand for “I want something- your valuable time and insights- for nothing.” For their retainer or fee, THEY are supposed to find candidates; but instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the work themselves, they approach people like you and try to commit some pick-pocketing of relationships you have cultivated. It’s galling they do not recognize their should be mutual benefit.
I see this all the time of LinkedIn: a person I do not know sends me an invite to connect. Moments after I accept, I get a canned copy-and-paste sales pitch. I would use your wife’s wonderful response, but removing them as a connection is faster.
Bryan Rutberg says
So glad to see the ❤️ for Angee. She’s definitely one of the good ones. Otherwise, David, you are right on about the recruitment profession and it’s not at all limited to those searching for speechwriters. Speechwriting is a modest percentage of my business which also includes consulting and training, and I get hit up regularly by headhunters looking to tap into my network. They consistently disappoint in their execution when I do have a suggestion to make. Ugh.
David Murray says
That’s more enraging to me than wasting my time: Wasting my recommendations’ time. https://writing-boots.com/2021/03/a-note-to-everyone-who-never-got-back-to-someone-i-recommended-and-i-will-send-it/
Jeff Opperman says
OMG. David, you not only hit the nail on the head you drove it through and out the other side with one swing of the hammer.
Executive Recruiters are a breed unlike any other. Without fail, they would send me on an interview and in a follow up call they would pick my brain for my sense of the role, hiring manager, and the candidates he or she should be sending in. But then when I asked for feedback on my candidacy I got crickets in return.
Jean Cardwell was the exception. Thanks for giving her the recognition she deserves.