Job Hunt

How To Decode Recruiters

What hiring managers really consider when they meet job candidates.

4 min read

When Jerry Gardner left his office one late afternoon to interview for a new position, he thought he had everything going for him. His resume sported education from an elite college followed by a top business school. The experience he’d gained in the two years since graduating was with a blue-chip firm, and he was dressed in his best navy suit, to boot. He knew he looked good on paper and in person. He must be a shoe-in, he thought.

Turns out, a handful of factors were at work that actually made Gardner a long shot. For one, he went to college on the West Coast, and most of the people he met in the interviews were East Coast alums, making finding commonalities more difficult. He also didn’t know that the company already had someone in mind for the job before the interview even started. And it didn’t help that his interview was late in the day, when the interviewers had already churned through half a dozen or more applicants.

“Some companies really do have a consistent type of person they like to hire.”

Any job candidate faces long odds. After all, only one or two people get hired for every 100 applicants. The obvious obstacles—landing an interview, getting a good recommendation—are known, but there often are more unseen obstacles at play, from personal connections to data-driven candidate searches, which can stump even the most seasoned professional. “People tend to go with their base instincts,” says Lene Hansen, a veteran executive and founder of the UK youth advocacy organization The Glass Ceiling Project.

Outsmart the computers.

The first hurdle is to make it through the resume lottery, which increasingly means convincing a smart computer that you are worth considering. Two out of three executives believe artificial intelligence plays a crucial role in making HR decisions, according to a recent IBM report of 6,000 executives. And sifting through resumes has moved far beyond keyword searches. Now machines conduct cognitive analysis and grading of your qualifications. Resumes with the top ranks from the AI machines get the interviews.

After making it through the computer-assisted resume gauntlet, career consultants say it’s best to schedule a morning interview. Once an interviewer sees the right candidate, they will likely choose that person even if they see someone better later, Hansen says. “You are likely to do well if the people you meet are fresh,” she says.

Know their type.

Despite all the lines about wanting a variety of personalities, some companies really do have a consistent type of person that they like to hire. And this practice is more common than you may think, career experts say. One leading investment bank, for example, likes to hire people who are “quite bright, but quite beige,” Hansen says, noting that she could often tell which people were from which bank just by their appearance and demeanor.

Of course, success in an interview comes when you connect with the person you meet. Corporate psychologists say people tend to favor others with whom they have shared experiences, values or connections. If the people went to the same college or have children who go to the same school, then they have more proximity points, which can sway recruiters’ biases.

Omit your technical prowess.

While we’re all told to tout our technical skills, often they mean nothing to potential employers. What is increasingly important is emotional intelligence, and the ability to influence others and communicate effectively. “The technical abilities aren’t a differentiating factor,” says Amy-Louise Goldberg, head of coaching and talent management at Mandarin Consulting North America, a consulting firm in New York. Instead of spending time highlighting your number-crunching skills, like every other candidate, distinguish yourself by being able to explain those numbers clearly, she says.

Beware of the inside job.

Perhaps the biggest wall to scale with recruiters is one that’s often not seen: the inside job, or when a company already has someone in mind for the job before the interview starts. The process is surprisingly common, occurring around 30% of the time, Goldberg says. That’s all the more reason to try and research the position you’re going after, by speaking with current and former employees of the firm (when possible), to find out if there is an internal candidate. There’s always enough uncertainty, though, that an exceptional outside candidate could get picked. “You never know what’ll happen,” Goldberg says. “The good thing is that the process is still people-based.”

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