What Candidates Really Wish They Could Tell Recruiters (But Can’t).

Throughout the course of my career, I’ve found myself involved in a seemingly infinite amount of existential (and extraneous) coversations about just how stupid candidates thought recruiters really were, a sentiment those recruiters on the other side of the table seem to share when it comes to candidates. Recruiters can talk at length about how much they hate working with job seekers, as a rule; just as pervasive and problematic is that those job seekers treat recruiters as more of a necessary evil than anything else.

Let’s be honest – when it comes to hiring, neither side is ever completely honest with each other. The fact that both sides are given to hyperbole, factual omission and sometimes, outright lying is more the rule than the exception (at least by reputation), and the assumption of mistrust is a critical reason for some of the most persistent problems plaguing talent acquisition and inhibiting hiring success. You can’t build relationships without trust, and you simply can’t trust anyone on the other side of the recruiting process – or so conventional wisdom conventionally holds.

Candidates lie to get the job; recruiters lie about how amazing an “opportunity” is (the very use of this word is often a lie itself, since there’s no opportunity involved in dead end jobs). Candidates don’t believe career site copy or staged employee testimonials anymore than recruiters take a candidate’s resume at face value – which is the reason we have to screen everyone before we actually submit them.

Hey, whatever it takes to make a hire happen, right?

I think we all know that’s just wrong. I’ve written in the past about the concept of “recruiter experience,” which is what real TA pros really deal with when attracting and converting top talent. Most of us have a litany of complaints about candidates, a laundry list of stuff we wish we could say, but about which we must stay mum for myriad reasons, mostly because most of us want to keep our jobs – and this means staying silent, grinning and bearing the bullshit. But given the number of real conversations I’ve really had with candidates about their job search, and with recruiters about the candidates they work with, I thought it was finally time to come clean on what’s really not a pretty picture – and one that’s gotten progressively worse over the past few years.

Revealing What Candidates Really Think About Recruiters (But Never Say).

A warning: what you’re about to read may disturb you (if you’re in this business, it should). But it’s time that we face the brutal truths of recruiting reputation and candidate misperceptions that have become so endemic and problematic to our profession. We all know what happens when you Google “Recruiters are…” but the subsequent suggested searches really only touch the tip of the iceberg.

For all the talk about “recruiting is marketing” or emphasis on engagement and personalized communications, the truth is that candidates and recruiters rarely communicate like they wish they could.

I know I’ve written a lot about what recruiters really want, but here are some of the things candidates wish they could actually tell recruiters – and I wanted to share with you so that maybe, just maybe, we could all finally hear what candidates really think.

Here’s hoping that for once, recruiters actually hear the message in the madness. Here are five examples of what candidates wish they could tell recruiters (but never do).

Are you listening?

Candidate $1: The Technologist.

Hello Recruiter:

Congratulations, you finally found me – and yes, I am a professional coder who knows a lot of the esoteric technologies and  in-demand programming languages recruiters are always looking for. I’m not sure how you came across my name and information, but I do know an exhaustive amount about technology, software engineering and product management. I’ve worked with some of the coolest companies, hottest startups and biggest brands in technology, including many of the same software and systems that you’re currently using to contact me. I’ve collaborated with some of the greatest minds in the world, which is why I just can’t see myself working with a recruiter like you.

I mean, seriously. I just did a perfunctory search, found your profile and learned that you went to school for communications. So if you have an actual degree in this subject, why is it you suck so badly at actually, you know, communicating? Why do you blast generic emails without doing any sort of personalization or targeting or send over requisitions that have nothing to do with my experience or expertise?

Why would you ever think I’d take the time to respond to you when I get dozens of messages from recruiters like you every day with positions that aren’t even close to being relevant to anything I’ve ever done or will do.

I know I’m not easy to find, but since you did, I am not sure why you didn’t take the time to actually try to learn about what I do, what I care about or what I want out of a job. Nope. You just added me to some email distribution list, cut and pasted some crappy copy and attached a JD that doesn’t describe a job I’d be remotely interested in. And no, I don’t know anyone who would be interested, either – the thought that I’d refer my connections and colleagues to you, someone who I not only don’t know but who obviously doesn’t know the first thing about tech, is laughable, honestly.

But it’s OK. Every email you send from here on out is going straight into my spam folder, and because I have admin access, you’re never getting past the firewall to anyone at our company ever again, because you’re wasting everyone’s time. If you don’t get tech – which is pretty obvious from your message – then how are you going to get me the right job? It’s wrong, but I think we can make things right by ensuring you never, ever reach out or try to speak with me again.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and yours sucked. #JustSaying.

Candidate #2: The Registered Nurse. 

Hey there!

I’m not sure why you think I need your help finding a job, but guess what? I don’t have any use for any recruiter, since I can pretty much call my own shots (get it?) on where I want to work and with whom. Healthcare tends to be a smaller industry than you think, and we tend to talk to each other – nurses more than anyone, more than likely. And every one of my colleagues is aware that they’re in demand, since we’re inundated by recruiters nearly non-stop these days.

We have enough experience dealing with you people that we know what good recruiters look like – and that they’re few and far between. We tend to recommend the good ones to each other, which is why so many nursing placements come from referrals – something you already know, since you asked me who I knew in your message.

Well, I know enough people to know that I’m going to warn them not to work with you if you keep bombarding me with unsolicited messages, emails and text messages. Seriously, stop. My work is a matter of life and death, whereas your “work” indicates that you probably just need to get a life.

The open market is waiting for us with open arms, and we know recruiters make a lot of money off of us – and that we’re often exploited on offers, cheated on compensation or otherwise used by recruiters eager to do what it takes to make a placement. That short term success should prove short lived – once one of us figures out you’re screwing us over, then everyone in our industry is going to know.

There are more chatrooms, private Facebook groups, email strings and closed forums where nurses and healthcare professionals connect than you’ll ever know, and most of us use these and similar sites or specialty communities to give each other advice and support. Often, that means sounding the alarm about a sketchy or shady recruiter and the games they play. If you think the con is on, you need to back off – we’re already onto you.

So stop with the phone calls and the incessant emails telling me how great your positions are or how awesome you are to work with, because I don’t need you to find fulfillment in my job. After all, that’s why I went into nursing in the first place.

And since I have options, I don’t need to choose where (and how) I find my next opportunity. Suffice to say, it won’t be with you. So back off,  buddy.

Candidate #3: The Accountant.

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your phone call and your email. I had the opportunity to both listen to your voice message and look at the job description you attached to the email you sent over. Upon review, I would like to express my interest in figuring out whether or not you have any idea what the hell it is I actually do. You don’t have a clue, do you? You know that there’s a pretty big difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable (I don’t do either), and between consolidations and reporting, neither of which are actually my specialty. Accounting is really complex, and you clearly don’t know a P&L from a G/L. Spoiler alert: they’re completely different, just like the candidates required. Too bad you probably won’t get many, considering your obvious lack of accounting acumen or industry knowledge.

I am a CPA, and I handle SEC filings and IRFS compliance. The A/P job you contacted me about is kid’s stuff by comparison – yeah, I could do the work, but that’s not really the work I do – in fact, it’s pretty far beneath me at this point in my career. Not that you’d know, since you clearly didn’t bother to look at my resume or profile online, but if you did, you’d see that the only match between my experience and your job description is the word “accounting.” And there’s no accounting for stupid.

I must ask if you are actually being paid to send out this kind of complete crap or continually chase candidates in the hopes of connecting with them about opportunities they’d never consider to begin with? What the hell kind of job is this? If I were to crunch the numbers, I’m fairly certain that there’s no way your ROI can be worth the investment your employer is making for your recruiting efforts. Good thing we don’t work together, or I’d have already cleared up some cash flow by eliminating your position. But hey, we’re never gonna work together, so stop wasting your time sending me this stuff.

Just thought you should know why I always ignore you, and always will.

Candidate #4: The Blue Collar Worker.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am sorry that I did not spend $500 I didn’t have on a resume writer I can’t afford just to hopefully impress y’all enough to at least get a call back about that open job I applied for. I never hear from you, and no one else I really know does, either. So we sit around and wait for news that just never seems to come.

I know it’s hard to stand out from those stack of resumes when you’re not some white collar worker a whole lot of degrees, experience and the kinds of skills employers actually want these days. I dnn’t have any of those.

What I do have, though, is a family to feed and provide for, rent due and bills I gotta pay off. When you live paycheck to paycheck, that’s really what you need out of a job, and when you need a job in my position, chances are you’re scared, desperate and alone. There’s nothing that would make any of us feel better than maybe the occasional call back or acknowledgement that you actually considered us for that job we tried for, even if we didn’t get it. I just want to know I’m not wasting my time and somebody sees the damned things.

Because I’ve been waiting for a recruiter to call back for so long, I’m starting to really lose hope. Haven’t I already lost enough without your promises of open jobs and competitive compensation you post everywhere talking about “immediate need” and “urgent demand,” but never enough to actually call me back, because I’m looking for a job, and that’s not what jobs look for these days.

I just want anything, and the roles I applied for aren’t rocket science. They’re mostly menial labor for minimum wage, and anyone could probably do this sort of work – but I actually want it. This isn’t me settling, this is me paying my bills and taking care of my family. You could be the lifeline I’ve been praying for, but instead, you don’t even treat me like a human being instead of just another job applicant you can cast aside like garbage. There are a lot of other people out there like me who can’t get a call back if their life depended on it. So what is it about us you don’t like?

Please. Just give me a call, and give me a chance. I won’t let you down. Until then, I’ll be waiting, and praying. For something. Anything. All I know is I need a job, and you have jobs. I don’t know what the problem is, but it’s a big one. For me, my family and my sense of self worth.

Anyone Out There?

Here’s the thing. The three most stressful life events according to psychologists are, in order, getting married, buying a home and looking for a job. We don’t get much help with the first two, but the third? If you’re a recruiter, that’s your friggin’ job, man, and what you’re getting paid to do, period. As you can see from some of the stories above, though, that’s not worth a whole lot to the candidates out there who are the real currency that really runs recruiting. Without candidates, we wouldn’t have recruiters, and you’d be just another candidate desperately searching for a job instead of the person responsible for filling them.

Never forget: you are as dispensable as you treat the candidates you come into contact with. And if you can’t add value to the job seekers you support, then you can’t expect to extract any, either. It doesn’t work that way.

Look, candidates are a commodity – the most valuable commodity on the job market today. So it doesn’t make sense to treat them like shit – but shit rolls downhill, you know. And if you’re one of those craptastic recruiters who are part of the problem, not the solution, chances are that you’re not only at the bottom of that hill, but about to get hit by all the crap that’s coming your way. But if any of the above sound like they could be your candidates, you damn well know you deserve it.

Recruiters, we’re better than this. We really are.

Maybe it’s time we started proving it – to our clients, to our candidates and to our colleagues. They deserve better. And frankly, our profession does, too.

Derek ZellerAbout the Author:

Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. He is currently serves as Technical Recruiting Lead at Comscore.

He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.

You can read his thoughts on RecruitingDaily.com or Recruitingblogs.com or his own site Derdiver.com.  Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.



  • Dylan Teo

    I always get a feeling when recruiters call me is just to make up the numbers. Because after that they never call back. Big agencies don’t even bother to call back, like Michael Page, Salt, Hays. I got a Aussie recruitment agency boss who claims will help me but then disappear. In all honesty so far not many recruiters really treats you as a person more of a statistic.

    • derdiver

      Sad and frustrating, Dylan. Sorry for this.

      • Dylan Teo

        Yup. There are also racist recruiters, indian recruiters never selecting other race for management positions. They only look for me for low junior roles.

  • maureensharib

    The Democrats are teaching one another how to speak another language – how to speak to those who feel unheard in America.

    What you’re suggesting is maybe recruiters need to learn how to speak the same language to those who feel invisible before they’re (the recruiters) routed from their comfortable nests of plenty.

  • Pingback: What Candidates Really Wish They Could Tell Recruiters (But Can’t).()


Just add your e-mail!