Confessions Of A Former Corporate Recruiter

Let me start here. It’s not you. It’s me.

In a past life, I was a corporate recruiter for a few different global organizations. My team was housed under Human Resources, and I recruited for a variety of roles from administrative to senior line professionals in multiple functions. Like most corporate recruiters, I was assigned more job requisitions to fill than was humanly possible, wasn’t well-versed in what to look for in potential candidates other than key words, and relied on an applicant tracking system (ATS) to do the heavy lifting of feeding me the most “qualified” applicants.

Hiring managers were usually too busy to meet with me, even when stellar applicants were waiting to hear back and we risked losing them. Candidate inquiries went unanswered, and they accepted jobs with competitors, while I was criticized for not doing better.

My team was measured on the number of interviews and roles filled (not the quality of hires or length of tenure), so we weren’t incentivized to consider the bigger picture. Like many companies, we carried on about long-term strategy, but made decisions based on short-term targets. Why wouldn’t we when this was what our bonuses were based on?

I used outdated job descriptions that didn’t align to performance measures and often was encouraged to inflate the attractiveness of a posting to entice quality candidates, but then was rewarded for making compensation offers below market value. This was justified because of our company’s brand name, and unfortunately, many stellar performers simply accepted it.

Even after asking you to take an afternoon (or three) to interview with us, I’d still end up sending an uninspired form email to say you didn’t make the cut. Then, I promised to keep your resume on file in case there was a future match. There never was, because I never looked in the database of past applicants when posting a new opening. Not once.

I remember one candidate who shared that she’d changed clothes in the car because she was afraid her boss would suspect she was looking for a new job. Another confessed he told his current manager he had a funeral to attend because that was the only excuse he could muster about why he was dressed in a suit. But because I interviewed up to 10 applicants each day, it was easy to dismiss these sacrifices. Did either get hired? I have no idea.

It’s not you, it’s us.

We offered a stellar vacation package (four weeks starting on day one!), but knew that you’d never be able to take off that much time and still meet your billable hours goals. I’d ask your current salary, knowing we’d use this information later to offer you a compensation package that was just enough to persuade you accept the offer, but much lower than what we could afford to pay.

We didn’t train line managers to interview, so you likely had to answer questions like, “If you were an animal, which would you be?” or “How many tennis balls can fit into a school bus?” even if there was zero validity to how your response correlated to being qualified. These questions were more about the ego of the person who might become your future boss (be warned).

If you’re a job seeker reading this and finding yourself appalled and offended, you should be. But at least you finally understand that you’re not crazy, just subject to a system that’s content treating applicants like commodities.

It’s not you, it’s the hiring process. It’s broken. Companies proudly boast that people are their greatest asset, and then force applicants to jump through multiple time-consuming hoops without any guarantee they’ll even have the chance to speak to a live person about their qualifications.

It’s maddening, I get it. I was once an under-resourced, overworked recruiter without enough time or direction to do my job well. Rejection form letters enabled me to avoid the discomfort of delivering tough messages to hopeful applicants, or worse, being asked to explain why they weren’t hired. Fortunately, we weren’t permitted to share feedback with candidates due to liability reasons. This was an especially useful policy when the reason you were rejected was because we had a pre-identified candidate all along and only put you through the ringer to satisfy the legal requirements. Irony, to say the least.

So, fellow job seekers, it’s not you. Really, it isn’t. It’s misdirected resources, lack of a talent strategy, bias, ignorance, misinformation and a short-term focus. Are these real? Yes. And are they poor excuses? Absolutely.

We can do better. We can tie job descriptions to performance reviews to ensure you know how you’ll be measured as an employee. We can put our money where our mouth is, and treat people as our greatest asset, even if they’re in the applicant stage and it costs a little more (the cost of a bad hire is even greater). We can equip recruiters with the resources to treat candidates with respect, even if they aren’t ultimately hired (it’s a small world and our paths will cross again). We can make hiring a measurable part of a manager’s role, so they’re more invested.

As for job seekers, the best defense is to stop chasing fairness. The hiring process is anything but, so put your precious time and energy into proactively beating them at their own game by cultivating your network, building a visible brand and being creative to get past the broken systems.

Yes, it takes more effort, but beats sitting by the phone waiting for a message that never comes or one from a bot that diplomatically tells you they hired someone else after you’ve risked your current job (and possibly life) to change into a suit in your car.

You don’t have to accept this treatment. You’ve worked hard and deserve better. Do your homework, invest in others and believe in your ability. Sidestep the crowded online job boards, demand mutual respect during the hiring process, and find a company who values people as their greatest asset not just in words, but in actions.

Because it’s not you.

Happy hunting!

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