*This article was written and shared by Nina Mazurova on Linkedin*
The Perfect Candidate: 5 Mistakes Candidates Make When Speaking With Recruiters
Published on March 7, 2017
Talent Partner | Career Consultant | LION
One month in the shoes of a recruiter will answer all of your questions as a candidate. And then some.
As an accomplished undergraduate coming out of a four-year program three years ahead of my class, I had grandiose expectations of what I could accomplish with my degree in Psychology. After sending out my resume, the returned silence made me recheck those expectations… a Master’s program and the food industry appeared to be my only options. I had a lot of questions and, like for many, Google was my best resource.
“How to Land a Job” was the first search… followed by “Top Interview Questions” which was adjusted to “How to Get an Interview”… The challenge of job hunting is that it is a skill that our academic system is not set up to teach, especially at higher levels.
Many PhD’s trade their dreams of an industry-level career for the comfort and certainty of a postdoc program, and I understand why! Let’s face it – even our PhD’s can have as much experience job-hunting as a fledgling fresh out of high school… but I can tell you which one has a higher hurdle to jump over. You.
It is impossible to confidently navigate the hiring process without understanding it – let’s take bench-work for this analogy. The researcher who understands the assays they are running will consistently out-perform the one who simply follows test procedures - especially if they need to adjust their process in order to achieve the results they are looking for. Job hunting is no different.
A successful job hunt relies on being well-prepared and knowing what to anticipate – not approaching it through uncertainty, hope, and the major momentum-killer: assumption.
I’ve seen candidates receive offers just from their applications, and I’ve seen rejections come through at step 99 of 100. If that wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, toss in the fact that timing is everything… and that personal referral is the reason you’re best friends with step 99.
With insight into the process, each of you can leverage your advantages and set yourself aside from the competition that is still shooting blindfolded.
Like any journey, you can’t get anywhere without knowing point A, where you are, and point B, where you want to be. And of course… knowing how to get there. Let’s start with the basics -
5 mistakes candidates make when speaking with recruiters:
1. You have no idea who you’re speaking with.
With a click of a few links, you can connect with agency recruiters, internal recruiters, hiring managers, or the network connections that would personally refer you to their opportunities - we all share the same online tools with the goal of finding the perfect candidate. As a candidate, I had received calls directly from CEO’s! Imagine if I had spoken with them as some do with overseas agencies…
Though we share the same goal, our different roles affect our interactions with candidates. There is power in knowing whether the professional you are speaking with is just trying to hit their weekly metrics, or is truly invested in finding their team’s next best fit.
Let me clarify something: an agency recruiter’s goal, at the end of the month, is to get their candidates the offers. At the end of the week, though, we have numbers we have to hit in order to keep our jobs. This breeds two types of recruiters in the context of the search for that needle in the haystack – the type that burns down the haystack and sifts through the ash, and the type that becomes the magnet that attracts the talent. This becomes very apparent in the recruiter’s day-to-day interactions with their candidates. Unfortunately, our roles do not allow us to be full-time career consultants.
The solution? Be professional, but be yourself – ask about the individual’s company and role in order to know if you’re speaking with someone internal or external, and ask about their partnership and knowledge of the client in question. You will very quickly be able to assess their genuineness and honesty, and whether you want them to be your representative in the first place.
2. You don’t know what your Point A and Point B are.
Keep researching until you have solid answers to both basic questions: ‘Tell me about your experience’ and ‘what are you looking for?’ Take the time to understand the needs of the industry, and learn to sell yourself – when you have a wide array of skills, only a portion of them will be utilized in any one role. When each role has its top requirements for a qualified candidate, your profile will have to be uniquely aligned to highlight the parallels. Pretty straightforward. Why highlight what the manager is not looking for, or dilute the spotlight by adding 57 other things you are proud of but the manager does not need? *cough* publications *cough*
Small note: social media is becoming an increasingly more prevalent hiring tool. Anticipate that the manager may ‘stumble’ upon your social media and decide what you want them to find.
Then there’s the tricky question of pay negotiation. Take the time to learn how your skills qualify for the industry – there will always be variation in market rates, but your task is to know how competitively you line up. If I ask what you’re looking for, I don’t want to hear how well you know the market rate, I want to know what you’re looking for. The experience and environment of your next opportunity should be your top priority, but not so much that you cannot afford your cost of living.
3. You’re being ingenuine; be ingenious.
Interviewing is exhausting – every conversation with recruiters and managers is an evaluation! Additionally, agency recruiters are sometimes the only ones that have access to roles which could be your way into the industry or closer to your dream job! Let that sink in.
I get three extremes:
Overly-professional: by far the most common. Show me your personality! (Or work on your personality until it’s something you’re proud to show). Genuineness is the trump in this card game.
An extremely professional candidate limits the manager’s ability to assess their cultural fit with their team – that’s a hiring wild-card and a risk they will never take. If it’s not a fit and you take the job anyway, then trust me when I say that you will be searching to escape that environment within a month.
Over-Appeasing: This one frustrates all recruiters. I’m tough to be fooled, but there are some candidates that know the game very well. They know exactly what to say to make recruiters excited to represent them – but when we call them with a phone interview request their response is “Oh I’m actually not interested”. Be sincere, and be diligent. If you’re interested in a role, pursue it like it’s the last job on earth. If you have hesitations, voice them early in order to initiate the conversation well before you get an ill-fitted offer.
Irritable: Recruiters suck. We have a terrible reputation. But let’s say a tiny fraction of us actually care about something outside of our commission or metrics – do you want your irritability with them to spill onto the one that was actually trying to help? On top of that, remember how we’re sometimes the only way into an opportunity?
We don’t have scientific PhD’s, but we’re masters in staffing – and if you were too, you wouldn’t be reading articles on how to land a job.
Treat every conversation like one with a coworker – build the partnership and working relationship and be surprised at where it will lead.
4. You’re not transparent.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a recruiter who follows up with you and lets you know every step of the back-end process the moment it happens? We wish the same from our candidates. The more diligent you are in asking for follow-ups (within reason) the more likely you are to get some insight.
Similarly, let us know if you are interviewing for other opportunities! We don’t care that you’re working with other recruiters – we know you are! The job market is HOT, and the same way you feel like there is infinite competition over jobs, we feel like there is infinite competition over candidates!
Here’s the benefit: say you’re pursuing two roles – your #1 choice just invited you for a phone interview, but your back-up just gave you an offer with limited time to respond. Do you take the bird in the hand, or try to go after that really pretty bird in the bush?
By keeping your recruiter in the loop – we can speed up the process on the slower opportunity as much as possible so that, in a perfect world, you get two offers in the same week and have a nice cozy weekend to consider both.
5. You’re unavailable.
Timing is a major component of the hiring process – make it work for you, not against you. Some of my clients require submissions the day the role comes out. If you are as serious about your job hunting as you should be, keep enough of an eye on your phone in order to respond within a half business day. We’d much rather work with you than have you miss the opportunity of a lifetime because of timing. Similarly, a candidate that will do anything to make themselves available will be seen as more diligent and determined than one that requests to reschedule. I’ve seen managers extend offers to the first available qualified candidate, without bothering to pursue another that was difficult to get a hold of. Control what is in your control, and make the timing work for you.
Each of these topics could be split into articles of their own, but job ‘hunting’ and job ‘landing’ have core fundamentals that set aside the candidates at step 99, and the candidates that are no longer searching. When hunting, know your transferable skills, and take yourself through the exercise of bridging the gap between what skills you have, and what skills the role requires. When you are invited to interview, prime yourself to approach the conversation with excitement and curiosity. Excitement gets the answers flowing, and curiosity does the same for the questions you’ll have for the team.
The same way you have a trusted go-to physician or dentist (sometimes after a few unpleasant experiences), screen the recruiters you choose to build a career-long partnership with. These are the areas you need the best specialists, and I hope you never keep them on speed-dial.
Since 2016, I have had the utmost pleasure working with the Cheeky Scientist Association as a career consultant and staffing resource for a wide range of academic masters and PhDs. Bridging academia and industry, CSA and I are excited to continue sharing additional job hunting resources for the public, our Associates, and academia.