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

Apr 14, 2015
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

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.

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)
This article is part of a series called Opinion.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!