How Top Candidates Really Feel About Recruiters: 5 Brutally Honest Lessons

Two weeks ago, I attended my first SourceCon. Built as a conference that attracts massive groups of recruiters and sourcers varying in experience, industry and roles, it was held in one of the West Coast’s most vibrant tech communities — Seattle.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but dove in over the course of two days, attending six-plus workshops in addition to keynote presentations and networking. I’ll save all the trade secrets I learned for another time, but did want to share takeaways from the presentation that turned out to be the highlight of the conference for me.

On Day 2, Glen Cathey, SVP of Talent Acquisition Strategy and Innovation at Kforce, led a panel of five “ideal” candidates in different market segments who are constantly barraged by InMails, phone calls, and emails from recruiters across the country. The title was “Top Candidates Share What They Like and What They Don’t Like about Recruiters.”

Pretty bold considering there were 600 of us in attendance.

Over the next hour, the panelists gave it to us straight: what we do right, what we’re terrible at, what they wish we’d stop and what they wish we’d do more of.

It was eye-opening. Every recruiter in the room was knowingly guilty of something.

Whether in the interest of time, or — let’s just be honest — being a bit lazy, we recruiters have a tendency to put the interests of candidates on the back burner. I’m hoping that after you read this, you’ll reconsider some of your recruiting methods (I know I did), and start to treat candidates like, well, people.

1) Change your messaging…seriously

Think of how many InMails/emails/calls you’re making to any given candidate. Now imagine that, in all likelihood, that candidate is receiving 10, 20, 30+ messages every week from other recruiters just like you.

That templated message you’re sending them with the bare-minimum personalization? It’s nothing they haven’t seen before. No, they don’t sit there eagerly watching their inbox, waiting for it to appear. No, they don’t see you as someone who’s going to swoop in and change their life with the perfect, unique opportunity.

At best, they probably see you as a nuisance. At worst, they may even see you as the enemy (that’s how one panelist admitted he felt — he even avoids recruiters when he’s actively looking for a job).

The truth is volume isn’t the name of the game anymore.

The best way to get responses from candidates is if they feel you’ve done more than the bare minimum. Tailor your subject lines, change the message, talk about how opportunities will benefit THEM.

Think about it in the context of a dating scenario: If you’re on a first date and the person you’re with only talks about themselves and never asks you a single question, how likely are you to go out with them again?

Candidates are smarter than you give them credit for. How many of us have sent out a message asking for a networking call or for a referral when we’re really after them for a very specific job? Yes, we’ve all tried it. And yes, candidates can see right through it.

If you want to talk to someone about a job be direct. Tell them what it is. If you’re interested in someone in their network, tell them who it is. Don’t skirt the discussion and waste their time. It’s as valuable as yours and you want to make sure you’re both getting what you need!

2) Recruiters aren’t the #1 go-to when candidates look for new jobs (or the #2, or the #3)

When panelists were asked how they begin their own job searches they all said they begin with their network — friends, family, past colleagues, etc. Notice that recruiters and job postings don’t make that list.

Recruiting is getting more and more difficult. In order to succeed we need to change not only how we recruit, but who is recruiting.

Hiring managers and their teams need to get engaged in the process. They need to be building their network so when an account executive or an engineer or a PM looks for a new job, they’re already tapped into that person’s network.

It’s all in who you know, and if your hiring managers don’t know anyone, it’s going to be continuously difficult to hire.

3) Tap into networks, not just opportunities

When we’re reaching out to candidates, we’re often so narrow in our focus. We’re searching for candidates who fit our job description and have a skill set that matches the job spec. What we’re often not doing is looking into the networks of really great candidates to see if they can make intros and connections.

Ex: One panelist wasn’t just an amazing candidate, he was a teacher who revealed that “never once has a recruiter reached out to say ‘I see you teach here, I’d love the opportunity to meet some of your students and see where I can help them out.'” (By the way, he said he’d respond to a message like that within 24 hours!)

When someone gives you access to their network treat it with respect. How you treat that candidate, or that network, will effect how likely (or unlikely) those candidates are to come to you next time. People value their networks because they’ve worked hard to build them, and if we’re not valuing those people as if we worked hard to find them, we lose access not only to that candidate, but those networks, as well.

4) Do your homework

Recruiters spend a large part of their day looking for information about people. We’re scouring LinkedIn, social media, GitHubs, StackOverflows, etc, searching for anything that might help us gain access to a candidate.

Again, one thing we’re not doing, however, is using that information to make some kind of personal connection with candidates. What’s the use of discovering that candidates attend hackathons if we never actually attend one? More importantly, if there’s information on all of these public accounts that will help us catch their attention, why are we not using that to be more personal? It will show we’ve done our homework outside of listing “Well, I see you use Java.”

Additionally, look at mutual connections. If you’re both connected to someone at the company you’re recruiting for, not mentioning it demonstrates that you’re a recruiter who doesn’t do his or her homework.

5) Treat candidates like…people!

The last question posed to panelists was to offer rapid-fire reactions to the following: “One thing you want [recruiters] to know how they can effectively reach out to people who aren’t looking.”

The responses:

  • Treat us like people
  • I second that
  • I third that
  • I’m a person, just remember that
  • Same

Sounds pretty basic right? That’s what the panelists all thought.

As recruiters, we’re worried about our multiple openings, the number of candidates we’re reaching out to in a given week, the number of positions we’re closing every quarter. We often forget to take a step back and realize the candidates we’re reaching out to are real people (smart people). They value follow up. They want to know where they stand in the process. They want to know that you value their time as much as yours. They want to trust that when they engage with you, you’re able to utilize discretion and take their search seriously.

As one panelist said, “I’m betting my life and my career, so I need you to treat this as such.”

Bottom Line

Candidates know the recruitment game. They know you’re a great resource when they need you and they’re more than willing to help you when they’re ready. However, at the end of the day, just like you, they’re people. They want to go through sourcing, screening, and interview processes feeling like you care about what happens to them (not just what happens to your job posting).

Remember, this year, the competition for talent is steep. In fact, that will be one of the most difficult challenges we face. It’s time to start treating candidates how they expect to be treated.

Photo by: Josh Hadley

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Katelyn LaGarde
Katelyn LaGarde
Recruiter, Sales & Marketing

Katelyn Lagarde is a recruiter at CloudHealth. She was previously a Talent Specialist at OpenView.
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