Job Seekers – Don’t be Shy with Recruiters

Recruiter talking with job candidate
Rights paid to Istockphoto, a Getty company

When talking to a recruiter, job seekers should not be shy about asking clarifying questions.

Many job candidates are overly-deferential in their initial conversations with recruiters; that inclination can dilute the value of the conversation. Posturing in order to appear professional and in-the-know can cause you to nod “yes” without asking probing or clarifying questions. Glossing over key terms and job requirement descriptions can lead to misunderstandings or to missed opportunities. By asking clarifying questions candidates can glean information that can give them a competitive edge in the real interview.

I thought this was the ‘real’ interview.

The recruiter interview is just a screening interview. It’s “everyone in the pool unless you just can’t swim.” The hiring manager interview is the one wherein you need to demonstrate refined differentiators in experience, expertise, personality and business acumen.

Recruiters want to want you

To the recruiter you are money. External recruiters receive straight commissions for every candidate hired. In-house recruiters receive performance evaluations, which are translated into compensation and promotion decisions. So for any recruiter, the goal is to find the maximum number of candidates that meet the minimum skills requirement and to move them to the manager interview stage. That maximum number provides the maximum chance that the manager will actually identify one candidate in the bunch that he or she wants to hire.

Recruiters certainly attempt to pre-screen for the more refined factors in order to recommend the best matches for their clients’ corporate culture, but there is a war for qualified talent out there; recruiters are not going to turn down a willing soldier based on personality quirks. Incentives drive behaviors so where there is a close call, the recruiters’ incentives tell him to maximize the pool of candidates moving to the next step.

Managers seek the fastest path to carve away at the stone and find the one diamond at the core

Unlike recruiters who seek to maximize the number of qualified candidates they push forward in the process, hiring managers seek to find reasons to eliminate most of the candidates, to end with one chosen candidate that they feel confident was the best of the lot. To do this, hiring managers consider a complex set of variables, assessing the total spectrum of skills available within the pool of candidates, determining which candidates have a mastery of which skills, and then prioritizing candidates based on the strengths that would help the work team most. Managers also look at personalities; the personality and temperament of the candidate must fit well with the personalities that comprise the existing team the candidate will soon join.

Managers rarely find one candidate who satisfies the full list of desired attributes, but anyone who doesn’t come close gets checked off the list. It’s a game of elimination.

The recruiter interview is your relative safe place

Job candidate getting offer shaking hands in interviewSo when considering the two interview stages, the recruiter interview is the safest ground for asking seemingly dumb questions. This is the time to inquire about the basics to ensure you clearly understand the role, the requirements, and the culture of the hiring organization and more. Too many candidates realize the value of this critical opportunity.

While you should not make yourself look like a bumbling fool, you should ask any questions that will better prepare you for the manager interview. Don’t be afraid to say “When you say ‘manage system integration projects’ are they speaking of performing implementations for clients, or are they speaking of managing internal technology changes?” or “This may sound dumb, but I see this acronym XYZ; is that an internal company acronym? I’m not familiar with it in my field.”

If you’ve done the work that’s listed in your resume, and if you are qualified for the job, you will know any industry acronyms. A lot of company in-speak and acronyms gets passed through to public job descriptions. Remember, recruiters are like you; they don’t want to appear unintelligent to their client or employer. So sometimes recruiters will assume that an acronym is an industry acronym that they should know, but don’t. They might not ask the client to define a term for fear of appearing ignorant about the industry for which they recruit.

To save face, recruiters just post the client’s job description verbatim, as the company originally wrote it. So the company’s simple time-saving short-hand can become a huge mystery everyone dances around. A statement such as “candidate will meet regularly with SIC” becomes a source of anxiety. The recruiter and candidate start to imagine “SIC” must be some government auditing body that they should know about, but don’t. But the savvy candidate will probe to undress the mystery and discover it’s just the internal company acronym for “Systems Integration Committee.” If you have the confidence to decode these mysteries up front, you’ll feel utterly comfortable in the manager interview. Curiosity is a sought-after problem solving and communications-strengthening attribute. Don’t – be – shy.

Keep these pointers top of mind as you approach a discussion with a recruiter:

1. Clarify terms, acronyms and anything about the role description that you do not understand. The worst scenario is you and the recruiter quickly determine the job’s not right for you. This is a good thing; you save time and are protected from future embarrassing conversations. The best scenario is that you will better understand the company’s demands and culture and have a competitive edge over other candidates.

2. Let the recruiter drive. The recruiter has his preferred interview process that he repeats 10-12 times per day. Let him do it the way he knows best. The recruiter usually has 30 minutes allocated for your interview. His goal is to populate your responses in an interview form. While you are speaking the recruiter’s frantically typing your responses and his insights about you. He really just wants to get to the end and because he wants to move you forward in the process, he’ll work to gather whatever data he needs from you.

3. Less is more; respond, but don’t over-expound. Your goal is to supply your best answers to the recruiter’s questions while not offering up any screaming red flags.

  • Don’t be shy about sharing your most outstanding credentials and accomplishments, but no need to go deep into your hobby of raising pot-belly pigs and touring them around old-people’s homes as a morale booster. You might feel proud of your hobby, but some may interpret that you a) don’t know where to stop talking in a phone conversation or b) that you have a too-consuming hobby which may distract you from important “all weekend” business projects. You don’t know the recruiter’s assumptions; so minimize any possible negative red flags.
  • Don’t go long when explaining why you are leaving your current company. The standard logical and accepted answer is “I seek career growth.” Don’t add that a vendetta between you and a workmate is starting to get heated, or that the company has a dreary lunch room, or—worse—that the company has you working too much. Newsflash: your new employer will have long work days; any employer that doesn’t push for long work days or have overflowing demand is about to go out of business. Just give a clear, crisp, succinct response, then sit on your hands and duct tape your mouth shut.

4. Focus on giving the recruiter data, not personality. The best bon mot is the non-mot. Don’t try to show off the comedian in you. And don’t use the conversation to blow off steam or complain about past bosses or employers. Answer each question succinctly and robustly. Then pause to let the recruiter either probe more, or move on.

5. Ask questions intelligently. If you feel a question sounds too dumb, give a little background that shows you do know about the industry. For example, instead of saying “what are credentials?” you could say “could you explain why they are calling these credentials? In my experience these are called client success case studies. Are these credential write-ups being used for contract bids rather than for marketing purposes?” This at least tells the recruiter you are thinking, and that you’ve done analogous work, but that the description merely wasn’t replete and didn’t state the intended use of the content to be developed.

6. Turn the conversation around. Be respectful as you would be in any conversation. But remember, this recruiter is as much your tool for success as you are his.