Dear Recruiter: This Is What I Discovered Interviewing for a Job (and It’s Ugly)

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 2.10.36 PMI have been baffled, frustrated, amused, and downright depressed by my attempts to re-enter the workforce. Before I share my experiences with you, dear recruiter, you should know that I purposely chose to be unemployed (insert gasp, roll of the eyes, you brought this on yourself statements, etc. here) for personal growth for a little over a year.

Perhaps I wrote this to vent or rage at the universe for my perceived misfortune of not finding a new job.  Maybe it is a way to seek feedback from others to validate that I am not alone in my angst to find a position or maybe it is to provide a cathartic release for those individuals who are also unemployed (for whatever reason).

Maybe I am going through this exasperating job search as a comeuppance for wronging a candidate when I was a recruiter many years ago. Maybe by sharing my experiences, it will cause others to rise up and lead a crusade to ensure that corporations treat all candidates with dignity and respect. Maybe a corporation will read this and revaluate and improve their talent acquisition processes. Maybe it is to challenge the stigma that it’s better to be employed and miserable than to be unemployed but open, excited, rested, motivated, and ready to do something you love.

I’ve searched for employment for about nine months, and based on my experience so far, my quest for gainful employment (whatever that means) is going to take much longer than I thought. Did I mention I left my former position completely of my own free will?

Going MIA

While not true for every company, I have discovered during my job search that an overwhelming number of employers seem to fall into the “no news is good news” approach to recruiting.

While sometimes helpful, I am not referring to the type of feedback received from a potential employer about what I could have done better during the interview (like not mentioning that I left my last position to better myself) or other specifics as to why I was not selected.

I’m referring to the total lack of news of any kind. Oddly (at least to me) this strategic approach to filling critical positions seems to happen more often when you have had not only one, but multiple, interviews with a company. I have received more feedback from organizations for which I was simply one of the hundreds of candidates who nobody deemed were qualified enough for a live contact in the first place.

This scenario has been even more startling when corresponding with recruiters who used terms such as “you will hear back from me within three to five business days of your status,” “you are the top candidate for the position,” or, my personal favorite, “you are a perfect fit.”

I have to ask, dear recruiter, did I not hear back from you because the company shut down? Did the entire staffing department get laid off? Did I wear the wrong tie to my interview? Perhaps you discovered my love for all things Disney on my Facebook page and you secretly know that the head of your human resources department dislikes the idea of costumed characters bringing happiness to millions. Maybe being a “perfect fit” is really code for you are not even remotely qualified for the position, but I enjoyed our conversation anyway. I or any other candidate could infer anything by not receiving any feedback at all.

I know some of the things you are thinking as you curse me under your breath.  “Do you know how many candidates have applied for my open position?” “Do you know how many times this position has been cancelled and reopened over the course of a month?” “Do you know I am just filling in for the “real” recruiter?” “Have you ever been a recruiter?” Yes, for much of my career as a matter of fact.

Just a couple of more thoughts, dear recruiter, and I will let you get back to not getting back to anyone.  When you have developed a recruiting relationship with a candidate, you owe them at the very least the professionally pleasant “thank you but no thank you email.” Scratch that. If you have had more than one formal interview with a candidate, you own them a professional phone call. Is there anyone out there?

Your Life Story, or Mine?

I have been surprised at how many recruiting professionals have shared at length their personal opinions on anything from childcare concerns, the state of the housing market, or their favorite prime-time television programs (and yes I too am a fan of The Walking Dead), during the limited time they have to determine my qualifications.

One recruiter discussed her intense dislike for the “bleeding liberals” who were intent on causing her and her team unnecessary compliance headaches. I found her rant fascinating as 95 percent of her company’s continued business success relies on government contracts. Just a thought: some of the things you said are probably the very reason we have compliance mandates in the first place.

One interviewer spent much of our hour together discussing his love for hunting, specifically bears. I fear I let him down when I mentioned that I was not a bear hunter or a hunter of anything else (except for a job). To be fair, he did work for a company that specializes in outdoor equipment. He would have been a great fit for a park ranger. Maybe I could help him network and take his role. I never heard from him again.

I also had several recruiters from one company mention that if I was selected, I would probably regret the decision of accepting the job for at least the first six months of my employment. One recruiter from the same company said the being a fighter pilot in the armed forces was less stressful. By the way, several of you mentioned how difficult a time you were having filling the role. I bet!

While I do believe there is value in providing a realistic job preview (for example, you may have to stand eight hours a day, or that you may interact with frustrated customers on the phone) to help a candidate make an informed decision, do you really need to scare them? On a positive note, I did receive a “thank but, no thank you email” from the company with the stressed out former fighter pilot; thank you very much.

Making a personal connection can ease a candidate’s nervousness, but there is something to be said about oversharing. A candidate could walk away believing you and/or the company do not like certain groups of people that are stereotypically referred to as “bleeding liberals” or otherwise. Do all males hunt, or only certain types of males (I am sure you didn’t mean anything by that comment) and more importantly, do people even hunt bears? Since people seem so willing to share with me, maybe I should consider being a life coach for recruiters.

Ethics and Innovation

One of the first interviews I had after entering the job market was with a recruiter who emphatically pointed out how sophisticated her company was compared to one of my previous employers. I wasn’t sure how to defend or even agree, since she didn’t provide specific examples of said sophistication. Her feedback was interesting since she was the one who contacted me in the first place.

One recruiter seem to spend an endless amount of time talking about her company’s commitment to working in an open office environment (loosely translated, no assigned offices but work cubes) and how this produced employees who were willing to “roll up their sleeves.” Are people “rolling up their sleeves” because it is hot? When she asked me if I had an assigned office at my last place of employment, I was afraid to answer honestly, but I did. I never heard from her again.

In another instance, a recruiter chastised me for not providing data that one of my pervious employers would have deemed proprietary. After explaining various times that I could not provide her with the requested information, she still was not deterred. She then proceeded to tell me I could obtain the proprietary data by simply asking someone else to get it for me, while reassuring me that I technically didn’t work for this employer anymore so I had nothing to worry about.

While providing examples of a previous company’s process for handling difficult employee situations, one recruiter exclaimed, “We would never do that here!” and indicated that perhaps I might not be a good fit.  He further went on to state that working at his company was so unique that I would have to completely unlearn everything that I already knew.

I was not clear on how I would have been able provide sufficient enough examples that would have met his expectations, especially since his company’s procedures were so unique.

One recruiter who deemed that neither me nor one of my previous employers was innovative enough. I am going to go out on a limb here, but I don’t believe your manual tracking techniques via an excel spreadsheet is a good example of innovation. In the spirit of giving and just between you and me, there are a number of robust applicant tracking systems that have been developed that will do all of the tracking for you.

One of the positive outcomes in hiring a candidate from the outside is that they can often bring new and fresh ideas to a corporation, but again what do I know? I am the one unemployed.

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Recruiter Heal Thyself

I interviewed with several recruiters who stressed to me the importance of promptness, organization, and responsiveness, which I must agree are all good qualities. These same recruiters were all late for our scheduled interviews. One recruiter spent several minutes explaining why she was late; our actual interview lasted about 10 minutes. One recruiter even stated that she did not have time for any questions and seemed genuinely shocked that I thought she did, but I was probably being unfair as she was only 30 minutes late for our one-hour interview. One interviewer was not able to obtain a current description or any job description for that matter; one was not sure who the hiring manager was; and two could not explain the expectations of the job. You can probably guess the response rate of each of the above after the interview process.

During one of my face-to-face interviews a hiring manager discussed the importance of being energetic during business hours. He nodded off twice during the interview but did tell me I was a “perfect fit.” Was I, or maybe you just dreamed it?

Company acronyms! This is a fascinating one to me. I mean the following question with all due respect and sincerity. How on earth dear recruiter, would I know about your company’s specific acronyms before I worked there? Can I not learn them when I get there? Can I Google it? If it is a requirement before I can be considered for employment, could you have provided me with some handy study materials?

I chuckled (I believe out loud) when I asked an interviewer about the specific skills she was looking for as it related to a leadership role within the staffing department. Her response was “I don’t know anything about staffing.” Indeed!

The old adage of “practice what you preach” should be considered when interviewing every candidate. If for example, integrity is one of your core business values you continually repeat during the interview, it seems counterintuitive to me to ask me for proprietary information.

The Fountain of Youth

One of the most common descriptions I have heard from recruiters when they describe their culture and what they are looking for in a candidate is the seemingly popular buzz term “youthful and energetic.” While that phrase does not necessarily sound negative to me, I don’t understand what it means from a business context.

I want to start with the term energetic.  When I hear that word I think of someone who might be applying for a position as a basketball coach, a personal trainer, or maybe someone who is auditioning for one of the entertainment acts with Cirque de Soleil. How do you measure a candidate for appropriate levels of energy anyway? Is it the use of a peppy voice tone during the initial phone screen? Maybe energetic means someone who is super friendly. Friendly is always good, I think, but hopefully a given. Is it someone who doesn’t yawn during the interview? Maybe it is someone with a bounce in their step, or perhaps it is a candidate who provides specific examples of enthusiastic clapping during business meetings.

Let’s discuss “youthful.” I can tell you what I think it means but can you, dear recruiter tell me what it means? I am in my mid 40s. Is that still youthful? Is there a cutoff date as far as age is concerned?  Perhaps you meant youthful in spirit. Since I didn’t receive a response after the interview and no, not even the “thank you, but no thank you” email, does it mean I didn’t meet the youthful requirement? Perhaps I was youthful enough, but not energetic. Are “youthful and energetic” synonymous with each other? Can you be “older and energetic”?

The absolute candidate “no-no” questions in recruiting have rarely been directly asked of me, which is a good thing. However, one recruiter told me how much my wife and I would enjoy the housing market in the city for which we would have to relocate. I can’t imagine you were asking me indirectly if I was married or not. My youthful and bleeding liberal self is not married, by the way, but I appreciate you thinking of the future us.

Oh, dearest recruiters, just one more tip here. I don’t have to say what could be inferred by using the term “youthful” with an older candidate such as myself. Promise me you will think about it.

Now What?

Dear recruiter, I didn’t write this in an attempt to land a position. Yes, I dodged the bullet with some of the companies for which I interviewed for but never heard back from. And yes, some of the companies made a good decision by not hiring me.

I hope sharing my job search experiences with others will help them not feel so isolated in their personal quest for job fulfillment.

Maybe dear recruiter, I should thank you. This experience may lead me down a career path that I would have never imagined or ever even considered. Becoming a tattoo artist who specializes in all things Disney (yes I would like to work there). Or, maybe an author. My first book will be entitled “10 Successful Ways to Avoid Filling a Position.” Maybe I will find a new career living out of the back of my car (it’s paid for) selling turnips along the side of the road.

What I really want, dear recruiter, is for this article to stir a renewed recruiting fervor within you to provide a positive candidate experience for those of us willingly unemployed or not. We have so much to offer, I promise!

Some of the Related Conference Sessions at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego:

  • Increasing Your Talent GPA, April 29, 3:15 p.m.
  • Hiring, Training and Managing Recruiters — April 28, 1:30 p.m. (think tank)

Jeremy Turner is a human resources professional residing in Atlanta, with more than 10 years of experience in talent acquisition. he holds a M.S. in Adult and Technical Education from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.


23 Comments on “Dear Recruiter: This Is What I Discovered Interviewing for a Job (and It’s Ugly)

  1. Well Jeremy ugly reading and findings indeed. What you are describing and what believe it or not apply in at least 2/3 of a l l recruitment be it via agents or directly with corporate in-house recruitment teams, play out hundreds of thousands times across much of the globe. One might think and have hoped for in line with human evolution that things improving and getting better, sadly it is mostly as it has always been or in some cases worse than it was 6 years ago. Many many clever people who are spending endless time on making a change, introducing solutions and preaching best practice are deeply frustrated as to why ohh why the wider recruitment industry so slow so generally uninterested and so blase about all they do and the candidate ‘clients’ All there is to say that you are far from alone in feeling like you do, and sadly there are no real signs of even with a more candidate led market things likely to change.

  2. I am also a recruitment professional at the beginning of my “return to paid work” campaign. Your humorous sharing of your experience is quite generous. I already don’t feel alone in the quirkiness I am to bump up against traveling down this road. I especially enjoyed your highlighting the negligence around “youthful and energetic.” Surprisingly, I recently visited a company website career page where the headline read, “We are looking for young and talented …..” Legal counsel?

  3. Never argue with stupid people, they will
    drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

    ? Mark Twain

  4. Thanks Jeremy for having the courage to write this article. The tactics of recruiters mentioned in your post is a workforce wide problem of applicants not hearing back from organizations or HR professionals. The sad part is those tactics can create long term unemployment because the job applicant is not getting any feedback from their recruiter or HR professional. Recently, a HR Director blackballed a candidate because she called inquiring about the status of her application. The HR Director documented in the candidate’s file “XYZ candidate is aggressive/confrontational because she called inquiring about the status of her application, if we were interested to conduct a second interview we would have called her. Candidate is not a good fit for our organization.” A few weeks later the candidate called the HR office again because she noticed the position was still open. A new HR Assistant accidentally read to the candidate what was documented in her file, and asked the candidate to refrain from calling because they were not interested in hiring her for the position. We need employee advocates in the workforce because the stories of employees are not being heard which could be one of the reasons why we have millions of people nationwide unemployed.

    1. No one in unemployed because they haven’t heard back. It’s not like they were going to hire them, but then forgot to call them and let them know. And you are simply not going to get that level of feedback from any recruiter or company, and you never will so long as there’s a risk of getting sued for being honest. The HR people and managers you interview with are not your career coaches, you’re much better of asking for feedback from professional acquaintances.

    2. Thats because HR people are essentially clerks who have no people skills. Petty bureaucrats who think they can spot talent. Truth is, they are afraid of real talent, because real talent has confidence and a voice. When real talent walks in, the clerks knees tremble, and they see a candidate who is not a sheep, but is in fact an Alpha and that makes HR types wet their diapers.

      The new company I work with currently has a nasty habit of signing agreements with clients who will only accept resumes through their web portals. They hired me to come in and develop their search component. Currently we send resumes in, and get nothing back. But I am going to find us some new clients of a different sort. You guys do that, too. Find and deal with clients where you have a direct pipe to the hiring manager.

      Find them by recruiting them. Identify the hiring managers (upper level but not top level) and call them after you get a little background on them. Recruit them but very low key. Then turn them into clients. Turn the conversation into a “if I found a candidate that walked on water, raised the dead, turned water into wine and one time in public visibly ascended into Heaven, would you want to hear about him?”

      When you get the “Heck yes I would!” you just got yourself a real client. Let the resume vacuums go. Find real clients.

  5. I really enjoyed your article and commend you for sharing your experience and highlighting these issues. We sadly see and hear of far too many instances of the behaviours you shared. From what I see myself, few managers/recruiters seem to get meaningful training in how to interview. Or even get training on selection procedures and good practice. It also seems to be getting worse though that might just just be my own perspective. I do know however that some employers do do it well, and they seem to get better results too (they may also manage the whole process better too of course). These employers are the ones that we observe that take more of a marketing perspective. They see and think of candidates also as potential customers and not just as “human resource”. I also think it might be generational. For example I was taught back in the 80’s that anyone who interviewed for one of your vacancies got a personal email back thanking them for their time and advising results with, if appropriate, some feedback, others got a more standard thank you . This clearly not now common practice even though with email its actually quick quick to do. When you think of all the effort some companies make with social media and trying to engage candidates + the cost and time of candidate acquisition and selection a bit of notification and feedback does not seem like much effort. Do wish you all the best.

  6. Dear Jeremy,
    I left my last job of my own volition and for the sack of my declining mental health (the job was making me crazy). I am on month 9 without a “real” job, and its hard to get rejected, especially when you know it would have been a good fit. People who leave high end jobs without a next one are smart if you ask me. Recruiters should green flag those folks.

  7. “Oddly (at least to me) this strategic approach to filling critical positions seems to happen more often when you have had not only one, but multiple, interviews with a company.”

    Companies rarely value their employees, forget about applicants. The HR and recruiting departments usually have no clout, hiring managers get what they want, and if what they want is to sit on resumes for months on end without word or a decision, that’s the way it’ll be. And from the recruiter’s perspective, there’s only so many emails they can send and phones calls they can make giving the same news of nothing before they have to allocate time to dealing with immediate needs. It’s not a ‘recruiting’ thing, it’s a symptom of how almost all companies are managed these days. They have no problem working their employees to death, sometimes literally, and disgarding them when they burn out, why would they care about applicants?

    “I also had several recruiters from one company mention that if I was selected, I would probably regret the decision of accepting the job for at least the first six months of my employment. One recruiter from the same company said the being a fighter pilot in the armed forces was less stressful. By the way, several of you mentioned how difficult a time you were having filling the role. I bet!”

    Good, at least they were honest. At my last job I tried to be as honest as possible with people too, because it was the only way to get the turnover rate down, and the owner was decidedly against changing his behavior, which included screaming at people, cursing at people, insulting them repeatedly, and occasionally attacking people, and all in public. The only reason I held the job is because my boss shielded me just enough and the economy was in a recession and my options were limited. Would you rather have found out you were working for a company like that after you got the job and showed up the first day? Every single interview I’ve been on in the last year or so, the recruiters always said working there, “required a thick skin,” which is recruiterese for, “the managers here suck, and generally tend to scream at people and treat them like crap.” Again, would you rather know now or later?

    “[W]hat they are looking for in a candidate is the seemingly popular buzz term ‘youthful and energetic.'”

    They want young people who are too naive or outright stupid to question low salaries, poor environments, draconian policies, and negative cultures. Young people can work 50, 60, 70, and 80 hour weeks, go out and party on the weekend, after working a little on Saturday as well, and still come in and function on Monday. Older people can’t, and would question the intelligence of any ‘manager’ who required such, and that makes them less desirable as employees in today’s market. Those are also unquantifiable buzz words which allow them to reject anyone for essentially no reason, hence, very useful to people who don’t know what they’re doing.

    You will stir no fervor with your article, people are treated badly because there is a massive surplus of labor on the market, and people desperate for jobs will do anything and put up with anything, so employers will do whatever they feel like doing, plain and simple. This is not a liberal or conservative situation, it’s merely the end result of a market managed into insolvency by what’s essentially a one party government hell bent on taking as much for themselves and their cronies as possible before regular people break out the pitchforks.

  8. Why? The cost of not doing it isn’t substantial, or at least isn’t judged as such by most, so why bother? The reality is, despite all the nonsense from recruiters about candidate driven markets, that the unemployment rate is still horrendously high and people are desperate for work. Companies can do anything they want, and so they do, and get away with it, so why change?

  9. I layed off recruiting for about six years and got into web development. One day I got a call from a local temp agency who wanted to develop a full-cycle desk and I was delighted to take it. And I love the work and always did. I quit before because my boss was a mean little tyrant who bullied me constantly. I learned well, but hated being there. When I walked, I walked a long way.

    Recruiting is still a people business. Finding good people is not easy. Finding good clients is not easy. But for hard-working, respectful and responsive recruiters, the job is golden.

    I use technical tools to speed up my gold mining, but I use the phone to make my money. It is relationship building that makes the difference, and the perpetual focus on getting the right person hired for the job.

    Its called “work”, and most recruiters fail because they waste too much time and run out of runway. HR departments are usually staffed with people who are mere clerks with zero ability to evaluate genuine talent and value.

    One last thing – the “bleeding heart liberal” stuff… I wouldn’t hire you either. I bet you whined constantly in your interviews about how no one gets back to you, that you just go from one dead end interview to another.

    1. “Finding good clients is not easy.”

      It’s even harder these days, especially with too many sales types running most agencies. I routinely get my sales team coming to me with a Great New Order From A Great Client, to which I almost always respond, “Isn’t that the same company that we sent over 30 resumes to with no response?” Or, “If they’re so great, why are they setting a salary of 35K for what is easily a 70K position?” Or, even more often, “Why is there no salary range given?” After which the inevitable process is, I send them people, I try and give them a range of salaries, and they pick the lowest one and cut it by at least 30%, and that’s my new target, and I get to tell the previous candidates I sent it’s a no-go, I get to appreciate all that time I wasted, and then I get to start over again. And this kind of things has been common and even endemic in every agency I’ve worked in, and every agency colleagues I’ve known have worked in, and admitted to by every recruiter I’ve ever known when they’re either drunk and/or don’t think their boss is listening.

  10. I haven’t read Matt Church’s article yet – thanks for mentioning it and thanks for the feedback.

  11. Excellent read. You have completely summarized my last four months! Thanks for making me not feel alone!

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