A Recruiter’s Red Flags + Recommendations
One way to conduct a smart, integrated job search is to learn how to work with recruiters who specialize in your industry or area of expertise. Joseph Wahl, principal, Wahl and Associates, who’s led several high-profile searches from nonprofits and governments to Fortune 500 companies, shares job seekers’ biggest misconceptions and opportunities in working with recruiters:
DB: What misconceptions do job seekers have about how to work with a recruiter?
JW: They don’t realize that 99 % of recruiters work on behalf of the employer. I often hear, ‘I’m considering hiring or using a recruiter,’ thinking that the recruiter is going to do the legwork, much like if they employed a career coach or a resume writer. It doesn’t work that way. Recruiters work for their client company or organization to fill a specific position and are paid a commission based on a percentage of the candidate’s first-year salary.
People often don’t know that the recruiter is the gateway to advancing in the employers’ hiring process and don’t treat the recruiter’s initial phone screen as an interview. You should present your best self to ensure I get the very best representation of you, from the quality of your resume and cover letter, to your responses and presentation during the phone interview and subsequent in-person interviews.
Candidates need to understand that each level or phase of the hiring process is more important than the next. It may not always seem that way. For instance, in the tech arena, you see interviews happening in very casual settings, maybe at a brew pub or coffee shop. Don’t let this fool you—thinking that you made it through the hard part and now you’re just socializing. At every level and stage, you need to be in performance mode.
DB: What are your pet peeves about job seekers?
JW: Being ghosted by candidates. I’ll contact someone, determine that they could be a great candidate, they express their interest, we have a phone interview, and I’m ready to present them to my client. Then they either don’t show up at the scheduled time with the employer, or I don’t hear from them again. That’s just bad form. If the position doesn’t feel right and they decide to withdraw from the process, all I need is a phone call and honesty.
Second, not being responsive in getting materials to me in a timely manner. My clients often are on a tight timeline to hire, so I need prospective candidates to be as responsive with me as they would be directly with an employer. Don’t hold up the process or jeopardize your candidacy by being late in getting your information to me.
Finally, not being honest on their resume regarding the type of position or job level. I don’t know why people continue to do this. It’s so easy for me to track stuff down on social media and get the facts during reference checks. Candidates should also be transparent about any skeletons in the closet, such as being fired for cause. I’d much rather work with someone who’d been fired and is honest about it than someone who hasn’t and is hiding information.
DB: When you’re screening prospective candidates, what are the top mistakes they’re making? Over the phone? In person?
JW: I’ve mentioned the biggest violations—being unresponsive, being dishonest, and misrepresenting their skills. Phone screens can be difficult because they’re so one-dimensional. You can’t read the person, so I’m paying close attention to communication skills and patterns. I want to get to know the candidate as a whole person so I can present my client with the candidate’s full picture and everything they bring.
It’s also a red flag if, after our initial conversation, the person hasn’t done the basic homework, the rudimentary due diligence. It’s like buying a house without a home inspection. Give the same type of attention and time to find out about the organization, the position, and have some good questions for me. When I work with someone, I’ll provide a lot of information including the job description, org chart, key challenges, and potential growth opportunities. But the candidate should do their own research as well, so the foundation is in place before meeting with the hiring manager.
DB: What are your top 3 non-negotiables when deciding to progress a candidate in the process?
JW: Pure honesty, responsiveness, and having a great, positive attitude. You can train or teach skills, but you can’t instill a positive attitude. That must come from within. I want to see someone who’s excited to come to the organization and says as much when (s)he interviews. I’m much less likely to present a negative-sounding candidate.
DB: What’s your biggest advice to job seekers, in terms of working with recruiters? In terms of interviewing effectively?
In terms of working with recruiters, the biggest things are to know yourself, be yourself, and be responsive. Know what you’re looking for in an opportunity and know your strengths. Be open to new opportunities even if you’re not actively looking. Always keep your resume updated and self-reflect to know what your dream job would be, so you can recognize a fitting opportunity when you see one.
In terms of interviewing effectively, when you have self-knowledge and know what you’re looking for, then you’ll present authentically. You don’t have to do extra work to evaluate a situation because you’ve already done it. Practice! If you haven’t interviewed in some time and are seeking a new position, it’s important to go through some mock interviews. That’s invaluable and it shows! Make sure you’re up to date with interview best practices so you’re ready when the time comes.
Any time you have an opportunity—at your current job, online, or in working with a career coach—take advantage of assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC Profile, Strong Interest Inventory, and Clifton StrengthsFinder. They change over time, so doing those periodically helps to inform you to define your own strengths and weaknesses, so that when you’re considering a new job, you’ll know about your ideal type of environment and team, so you can flourish in your career.
Take advantage of informational interviews. Everyone knows it’s a great idea to always be networking and setting up informational interviews. Put some thought into it and prepare questions about the person’s company, their career track, people they may know who you’d like to meet, so you can really leverage your time v. a casual, come-what-may approach.
Have you worked with recruiters as a part of your integrated job search? How do Joseph’s insights expand or change your perspective on how to work with recruiters?
I’m Dalena Bradley, job interview coach and career marketer dedicated to helping you communicate your value, stand out from the competition, and win the job!
Contact me to discuss how we can collaborate.