How To Be a Candidate Recruiters Will Notice

Woman Looks from CubicleBoth here and on the Dice Discussion Boards are filled with comments from people who can’t find work. At the same time, companies claim a dearth of talent and recruiters have trouble filling positions. Kind of a disconnect, don’t you think?

To figure out what’s behind it, I spoke with several recruiters. Part of the situation, they say, stems from their clients having to contend with certain common elements, while candidate brings individual circumstances to the table.

For one thing, the slack economy and transitions within IT have created a double-edged sword. Megan Slabinksy, District President of Robert Half Technology for the U.S. West Coast and Western Canada, sees some companies requiring too much of prospective applicants. “They’re asking for people with multiple skill sets, who are also highly specialized in one area,” she says. “Companies often have an employee, who over the years filled many roles and moved on. Instead of creating a job description based on need, companies create a job description based on that employee. We may have qualified applicants but the hiring manager will see that skill set, honed over years, as non-negotiable.”

Terri Davis, Director of Client Services at Decision Toolbox’s Dallas office, adds another rub: Some clients “aren’t willing to wait for a good candidate to meet the learning curve on new tech.”  That’s a byproduct of the industry’s climate — cautious growth — so excellent candidates are passed over, even if there’s ample evidence they could quickly acquire new skills.

“Candidates can’t fix the hiring managers, who are very picky right now,” adds JR Fent, managing partner at JR Fent Los Angeles. But, he says, while managers are looking for candidates who are spot on, “there are still ways to break in.”

And what are those ways, please?

First, move your job search away from the computer and invest considerable time to networking in-person. That means going to professional gatherings, joining groups and yes, going to lunch. All of these things will raise your profile. It’s not that someone in your network will hire you a week after meeting you. It’s that someone will connect you with a manager who has a position to fill.

Next: You may hate this term, but you’re your own best branding opportunity. Slabinsky and Davis advise candidates to create a carefully articulated “elevator speech” that emphasizes your precise strengths and the kind of position you’re looking for. Then memorize it. You want to be able to use use it at any time.

Then, of course, there’s research. All of the recruiters I spoke to bemoaned the lack of preparation among many job applicants. Sighing, Davis recounted the numerous phone calls she fielded for a specific listing. Few of the callers had bothered to look at the hiring company’s website.

Finally, pay careful attention to your resume, and be aware of how it’s used. Resumes used to showcase the complexity and diversity of your skills.  Today’s should focus on specialization, then demonstrate your breadth of experience. Even with this relatively recent shift, recruiters see many people who don’t want to update their resumes.

Some observations are more personal. For example, some great candidates have terrible interview skills. Fenton recently worked with a job seeker whom he knew had potential. Unfortunately he became antagonistic and blew an interview with the team that had initially wanted him. “He had been in the tech field for years and been at the same job for a long time. His world view was sort of set” says Fenton. “It was an awful conversation to have, but he got it.” The client began participating in practice interviews to smooth his rough edges.

The need for strong communication skills is also a common theme. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from here, or anywhere else in the world, you have to be able to interact and speak properly and a lot of people don’t,” Davis observes. “Your answers to questions, whether they are tech or behavioral, should have a beginning, middle and end. You have to be able to communicate effectively in both technical and layman’s terms. Companies are looking for a ‘whole package’ and that includes the ability to mix with some confidence at all levels of an organization.”

Slabinsky coaches job seekers to use, “yes” and “no but…” during interviews. The “yes” is not as simple as it seems. If you want the job, said Slabinsky, “You have to explain what that “yes” experience entailed and how it created a boost for your previous employer.”

The “no but…” can become a way to turn a negative into a positive. Slabinsky, Fenton and Davis all say applicants who don’t have a skill listed in a broad description should highlight a similar experience, describe what they learned, how long it took them to ramp up and what the outcome was. “If you’ve been training or attending XYZ user groups one night a week,” notes Slabinsky, “this will appeal to an employer if you don’t have actual on-the-ground experience.”

A job hunt is stressful and can be demoralizing. Fenton is sympathetic, yet has seen positive change in clients. “Don’t give up,” he said. “Take it as a learning experience. It will get better.”

25 Responses to “How To Be a Candidate Recruiters Will Notice”

  1. Fred Bosick

    ““Companies often have an employee, who over the years filled many roles and moved on. Instead of creating a job description based on need, companies create a job description based on that employee. We may have qualified applicants but the hiring manager will see that skill set, honed over years, as non-negotiable.””

    This is what happens when companies keep their staff at minimal levels. “That guy/gal” learned all that stuff but didn’t have an assistant who could move in and take over when he left. Maybe he left because he was overworked and underappreciated. And companies expect another one to just drop into their laps?

    *Many* DICE job ads have ridiculous requirements similar to this scenario. At least it’s finally becoming recognized. Thank you.

  2. Is there a way to get report from any jobsite like this : Skills demand Vs Skill shortage report ? So that job seekers can train themselves and be ready for ?

  3. Finally. An article that actually mentions the idea that maybe, just maybe there are unreasonable demands being made and the “skills shortage” is bogus. Now all that needs to happen is for the silly folks who want purple and striped squirrels to read this… and recognize themselves.

    • Indeed. I have NEVER landed a job through a recruiter. I get calls from recruiters who want me to apply for a job 60 miles away, who take random buzzwords from my resume out of context, who want me to apply for jobs I outgrew a decade ago, and who have no jobs but apparently want to show their bosses they have a big stable of candidates. I’ve jumped through many hoops for these people, and once they have failed to match me to the non-appropriate job, they don’t even bother taking my phone calls.

      Only the hiring managers (a) know what they really want and how to adjust unrealistic expectations against real applicants, and (b) have actual jobs. Recruiters have a sweet scam going, IMO.

  4. It’s been my recent experience that many tech recruiters have no actual tech experience. They are recent college grads who need work. They are scanning resumes for the buzz-words, and are not interested in working with a talented candidate; rather they are interested in placing a candidate whose resume lists the required skills. Even then, I have lost track of the recruiters who contacted me with an opportunity; upon reading the job description I asked why did they contact me when my resume does not list, for example, a Top Secret security clearance even though the position required the candidate to possess such a clearance.

    On the other hand it might be the fact that my IT/IS career includes experience in systems/software/network engineering, network and systems administration, technical support, project management and team leader; thereby presenting a potential “where do you fit in?” conundrum. That is to say, I cannot accurately state that I am a ‘x’ within the technical arena. Additionally, I have two business degrees rather than CS. So, to the business world I am “an IT guy” (based on my experience) but to the IT/IS world my business degrees seem to be problematic.

  5. Micro Engineer

    “An article that actually mentions the idea that maybe, just maybe there are unreasonable demands being made and the “skills shortage” is bogus.”

    Nominated for line of the day!

    • It’s all making sense now. A few years they were talking about importing nurses from India because of a nursing shortage. I’ll bet they placed unreasonable requirements for those jobs as well.

      Ridiculous! Why am I even trying anymore?

  6. Overworked and under appreciated with no help, I can relate. Also, I have seen tons and tons of job listings everywhere that require you to be an expert in several areas. I have been getting frustrated with the job searching because it seems the more I learn the more these companies require. I can’t seem to catchup. Driving me nuts.

    • Patrick

      Agree, that is why I coached my children to stay away from software. I spend all my time working on the computer on my own project now because nobody wants to hire me because I don’t know the latest buzzwords. Think about this, “the cloud” is nothing more than timeshare during the 60’s through the 80’s. Just another name. I get hit with technical interviews where they want the latest definitions for the current buzzwords. I have a Master’s in CS but that doesn’t matter, just keep going to school to learn the latest buzzwords. And god forbid, don’t get old because the interviewers think you’re over the hill.

  7. Usually unreasonable requirements are put in so that we can outsource. The outsource won’t meet the requirement, but that is irrelevant as for filing purposes the company can say it coudln’t find anybody that met that criteria.

    • Practically all the IT workers at State Farm Insurance headquarters are Indians with an H1B visa. A friend was laid off from her job there a couple years ago and just recently managed to get her old job back. But because of all of the H1B visa folk driving down wages, she had to take a 33% pay cut to do the same work in the same department with the same people she’d worked with before.

  8. Looks like we are being setup again for a request to increase the H1 visa or L1 visa quotas because of skill shortages even though so many people were laid-off because the jobs went overseas. If so many lay-offs took place then how do they justify increasing the quotas for the same skills that were let go.

    Its total baloney that people with degrees in computer science cannot pickup a new skill while on the job.

    Technical recruiters should be selected from people who have a background in the subject so they can do a better job for the companies they are recruiting for.

  9. Martin

    The issue are not the hiring managers, it is the noise level and preselection: 10-15 s + keyword search by an HR person does not provide you the best selection. Neither does social networking. If you want quality technical personnel that is. Why? Because the HR person is not really qualified to assess the skills, they can only rate the approval stamps popularly collected, and great tech people may not overdo the social networking aspects. So the industry has a lot of folks sitting on the bench an often takes second choice.
    Yes, personal networking is the only way around that, but it takes time. If you are in a job for 10 years and now on the streets reacquiring your “marketing” and “branding” skills, you are at the same time losing your technical edge. So the industry, possibly setting even more “psychological” checks up front misses out, they get the average but not the exceptional talent.
    Just 2 cents.

  10. I am 74 years old and in excellent health because of exercising all my adult life.
    I was a manufacturing planner, tool planner, lead planner,tooling process planner,
    engineering planner and many job in the fab shops in the aircraft business, however
    companies will not hire me because of my age. I have much to offer and could teach
    younger planners/engineers skills they do not have. It is a travisity that companies do
    not want the qualified employees. I would go as a job shopper and these companies
    could release me any time if I did not perform to expectations.

  11. Kelley

    So let me see if I’ve got this right. I need to be a specialized generalist or a generalized specialist with years of experience and be under the age of 25? Can you spell schizo?

  12. Richard Leddy

    So, I have been working on oDesk for a few years. I took as many tests without studying as I could. And, as a result, I can find a cross section of skills where I have almost no competition. In particular, it has to do with Artificial Intelligence with systems programming.

    But, it may be rare for a reason. One thing I notice is that a lot of AI programming on the numerical end is being done in MatLab, etc. But, it’s a stretch to put those programs into a systems programming setup. And, would I do kernel programming, embedded tricks, distributed tricks to get it going? Of course! But, few people are thinking about the need for that. Pie in the sky business developers don’t always like to face costly implementation details. Instead they start to act like spoiled children who are sure that a nice little foreigner guy will do it for $10,00 an hour. So, I should work for minimum wage and not bother them with reality.

    But, reality often involves facing forks in the road for implementation. So, a manager finds that he needs to speed up a process to save the company bacon, and someone tells him that maybe the programmers should pick up some packages that are not in Ruby (for example). So, the hiring managers go asking for guys who know the stuff that is to be picked up. But, that is senseless. The Ruby programmer needs to drop the Ruby and get with the tools that will do the job. And, good programmers change to meet the demand.

    I just went through this, where the hiring manager could not find someone on the planet with experience on a package that just came out. But, I read the code of the package and could see that it’s pretty good. I told the manager to just find someone who is flexible. But, he instead had some tantrum. And, what’s more he had Polish programmers lined up who could dive in easily enough. So, it was not a foreigner issue, but a price and sensibility issue. He was sure he could get a guy for $10.00 an hour in Malaysia. (More than he was paying me by the way.) But, these programmers were clearly tied to just one PHP code base. In the end the manager was ready to pay programmers specialized in PHP web programming to work on server systems programs in other languages because he heard the prices was low and because he does not know the difference between PHP, Ruby, and JavaScript. This guy didn’t know that nginx is not an operating system such as Linux. But, he is ready to throw his weight around.

    So, I am aware of many more polite versions of this dynamic. But, while I have met Indian placement people who seem to filter Americans for less than clear thinking managers, I am fairly sure that this problem is not just H1 visa related. I have also met good Indian placement people as well as those how are lost. And, the same is true of American placement people. The problem is the junior college graduates who are placing people as skilled as brain surgeons. The problem is that these placement people, who need the job, of course, start with questions indicating their lack of knowledge about what is a brain. Perhaps it’s a thing in the human body. But, if a buzz word was needed, like “Java Brain”, the worlds best neurosurgeon would be asking about what the stupid, unprofessional, pejorative was. But, brain surgeons worry about this less. Computer scientists are stuck with this all the time.

    Placement is like this. Someone invents a new technology 2 weeks ago. And, then someone wants to hire a person with ten years experience in that technology. The reasoning is like this: An astronomer has yet to find a planet around a certain star. So, the astronomer is not yet qualified to tell us about the new planet. A placement person for astronomers would then say that the astronomer is not qualified to go looking for new planets around stars, or new stars for that matter. Why should he even look into a telescope when he is so absolutely imbecilic? But, someone out there will put on his resume that he knows all about the yet to be discovered planet. He can even tell you the temperature of the water. So, the placement person will spend a chunk of time with that guy.

    They say that in the kingdom of the blind the one eyed is king. But, in the IT kingdom, the one eyed is the king over all the guys with twenty twenty vision. And, the kingdom is fairly dictatorial and draconian.

    In the end though, if we can find our sweet spot and stay fed long enough to get going with it, then we might find work. I said, “Might”. And, the staying fed is the reason we settle for less competitive jobs, which are what we are grousing about here. So, really, “Feed the programmers”.

  13. I do agree that there are a lot of bad recruiters out there. But there are a lot of “bad” employees in every field. There ARE people who get jobs through recruiters, or else staffing companies wouldn’t be in business! And many times we ARE the way to get directly to the hiring manager. A good recruiter can help you tailor your resume for the position that is open, and get it right on the hiring manager’s desk rather than in a pile in HR or on a corporate recruiters desk. In my opinion, right now there is a disconnect between hiring managers and the market. Hiring managers see “9% unemployment” on the news and think they will have a huge amount of applicants, so they can choose that candidate with every single skill under the sun. In reality, in IT, unemployment (at least in Denver) is much lower than that.

  14. Olga Brown

    I want to say:” Recruiters, please learn how to read between the lines and try to see what is behind that resume. Spend more than 10 seconds on each resume. Otherwise it’s easy to overlook a person, who could be a treasure for a company”.
    A recruiter should be a psychologist and be able to see a potential of the person. That’s what my boss did, when he gave me a job, and I am very thankful to him for that. I had no experience in transpostatin facilities design, but like he said, he was impressed by my previous experience in civil engineering, when he read my resume.He believed in me, and I did not disappointed him, learning quickly and being dedicated to my job.Now I feel like I can do much more, than checking somebody else’s reports and write my comments. I want to use that knowledge and experience I gained over the years and move on.

    It’s a shame, that experienced people are overlooked. They could train new graduates, who have no practical knowledge (I came to this conclusion working with young consultants). I have to train young folks; otherwise we will never finish any projects.
    I’ve been looking for a job for 5 years; still keep educating myself, reading, learning foreign languages, though I am already bilingual.
    I do believe that all my efforts will be paid off one day, I just need to be patient and that moment will come. I know that.
    So, guys, don’t give up, keep on trying!

    • Hi Jimmy –

      This isn’t a “blame the candidate” article and, though I’m sure I’m going to be jumped on for saying this, I never blame candidates. What we DO try to point out are areas where people can improve their job hunt, and a lot of that comes from talking to recruiters and HR and managers to try to get inside their heads.

      See, I think looking for a job is something like developing an app. The successful ones provide something users want to do in a way they want to do it. The ones that don’t do so well either approach something users don’t care about, or approach it in a way users don’t like. If you’re just sitting in a room deciding you’re going to force people to do things your way, your product’s just not going to be very popular.

      So, whether we like it or not, if managers prefer resumes that are customized, well, you’ve got to customize your resume. If they like people who walk into an interview knowing a lot about the company’s background, it’s not a good thing to show up knowing nothing. If the corporate dress code is back in the ’50s — ie, they like neckties for some reason — walking in wearing chinos and an open necked shirt isn’t going to play well. In this article, all Elisabeth did was ask recruiters what makes them like one candidate over another. She could have argued with them about it, but at the end of the day they’d still do what they’re going to do.

      So, really, no one’s blaming the candidate. But if we just posted articles all day about what sucks and what doesn’t, I don’t think we’d be doing anyone any good. Besides, you’d have to be really funny to make something like that work — remember F***ed Company? I’m just not that funny.

      B y the way, is it true you’re buried at the Meadowlands?


      • Jimmy Hoffa

        Hello Mark and thank you for your response,
        The reason people can’t find work is because of!.. a little law called “Supply and Demand”…. there is simply not enough jobs in supply to meet the demand right now. Not finding work has little to do with a candidate’s fit and finish. What happened to the time when a candidate could customize a opportunity to meet THEIR needs? So lighten up just a bit on the candidates, it’s not their fault they are not getting offers. Companies today all want something for nothing, it’s called being cheap.

        And it’s none of your business where I’m buried at.