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Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Talking To A Job Recruiter

5 mistakes to avoid at your job interview
Written by: Nina Mazurova

One day in the shoes of a recruiter will answer all of your questions as a candidate.

And then some.

It seems straightforward, but while recruiters and candidates work together, they are on opposite sides of the spectrum and different industries altogether.

Knowing how to work with recruiters is essential for PhDs looking to transfer into industry.

And it’s easy to make mistakes and miss out.

I know this from the challenges of finding my own career path and eventually landing a recruiter role.

As an accomplished undergraduate coming out of a four-year program three years ahead of her class, I had grandiose expectations of what I could accomplish with my degree in Psychology.

After sending out my resume, the returned silence made me rethink those expectations… a Master’s degree and the food industry appeared to be my only choice.

I had a lot of questions and Google was my best resource.

“How to Land a Job” was the first search… followed by “Top Interview Questions”, which was adjusted to “How to Get an Interview”.

The challenge of job-hunting is that it is a skill that our academic system is not set up to teach, especially at higher levels.

Many PhDs trade their dreams of an industry-level career for the comfort and certainty of a postdoc program, and I understand why!

Let’s face it — PhDs can have as much experience job-hunting as a fledgling, fresh out of high school… but I can tell you who has a higher hurdle to jump over.


Being well-prepared is the main key to a successful job search strategy

Why PhDs Struggle With Their Job Search Strategy

It is impossible to confidently navigate the hiring process without understanding it.

It’s akin to the researcher who understands the theory behind the assays they are running. They will consistently out-perform the one who simply follows the protocol — especially when they need to optimize the protocol when something goes awry.

Job-hunting is no different.

The Global Recruiting Trends Report indicated that it takes an average of 27 working days for a company to take on a new hire, which is an all-time high.

A successful job-search strategy relies on being well-prepared and knowing what to anticipate— not approaching it through uncertainty, hope, and the major momentum-killer: assumption.

Understanding your your job-hunt through the lens of a recruiter gives you valuable information.

The Global Recruiting Trends report revealed the following:

  • 39% of recruiters agree that the quality of the hire is the most important measure of their performance
  • 26% agree that employee referral programs are a continuing strong trend
  • 32% say employee retention is a top priority over the next 12 months
  • 46% agree that their biggest challenge is in finding the right person in areas where the talent in saturated

Also important is “time to fill”.

There are thousands of emails in a recruiter’s inbox a day and to be successful, they need to find the best one in a timely manner, within budget, and hope the hiring manager is satisfied and that it’s such a good fit that the new hire stays on.

To do this, they’re counting on employee referrals to help create some separation in the bunch.

From a recruitment lens, candidates receive offers just from their applications alone, while others see rejections after jumping through 99 of the 100 hoops in the process.

5 Mistakes Candidates Make When Speaking With Recruiters

With insight into the process, you can leverage your skills and set yourself aside from the competition that is still shooting blindfolded.

Like any journey, you can’t get anywhere without knowing point A, where you are, and point B, where you want to be.

And then having the strategy to get from A to B.

Let’s start with the basics…

Job recruiters have different roles and responsibilities

1. You don’t know who you’re speaking to.

Though they share the same end goal, not all recruiters are the same.

Recruiters have different roles and motivations that impact their interactions with candidates.

There is power in knowing whether the professional you are speaking with is just trying to hit their weekly metrics, or is truly invested in finding their team’s next best fit.

An agency recruiter’s goal, at the end of the month, is to get their candidates the offers.

At the end of the week, though, there are numbers we have to hit in order to keep our jobs.

This breeds two types of recruiters when searching for that ideal needle in the haystack — the type that burns down the haystack and sifts through the ash, and the type that becomes the magnet that attracts the talent.

This becomes very apparent in the recruiter’s day-to-day interactions with their candidates.

They aren’t full-time career consultants — they are driven to match clients with candidates and find the right fit.

The solution?

Be professional, but be yourself.

Ask about the individual’s company and role in order to know if you’re speaking with someone internal or external, and ask about their partnership and knowledge of the client in question.

You will very quickly be able to assess their genuineness and honesty, and whether you want them to be your representative in the first place.

Learn how your skills will transfer to the job before going to an interview

2. You don’t know your A to B.

In other words, you aren’t clear about where you’re at now and you’re even less clear about where you want to be.

A recruiter’s job is not to create your entire career strategy for you.

It’s your job to be able to sell yourself with specific highlights.

Have solid answers to these basic questions: “Tell me about your experience” and “What are you looking for?”

Take the time to understand the needs of the industry, and learn to sell yourself. When you have a wide array of skills, only a portion of them will be utilized in any one role.

When each role has its own top requirements for a qualified candidate, your profile will have to be uniquely aligned to highlight the essential parts.

Pretty straightforward.

Why highlight what the manager is not looking for, or dilute the spotlight, by adding 57 other things you are proud of but the manager does not need and does not care about (i.e publications)?

Also note that social media is becoming an increasingly more prevalent hiring tool.

Eye-tracking technology used by TheLadders revealed that recruiters spend an average of 19% of their time on your LinkedIn profile simply viewing your picture.

Anticipate that someone in the hiring chain will ‘stumble’ upon your social media accounts and make sure when they do, you control what they find and make sure it’s appropriate.

Then there’s the tricky question of pay negotiation.

Take the time to learn how your skills qualify for the industry, noting variation in market rates, so you know how competitively you line up.

If a recruiter asks what you’re looking for, don’t tell them how well you know the market rate, tell them what you’re looking for.

The experience and environment of your next opportunity should be your top priority, not the fact that you cannot afford your cost of living.

3. You’re one of the extremes.

Industry interviews are exhausting for everyone.

Every conversation with recruiters and managers is an evaluation.

Additionally, agency recruiters are sometimes the only ones that have access to roles which could be your entry into the industry or your dream job.

Let that sink in.

Recruiters get three extremes: overly-professional, over-appeasing, or irritable job applicants.

Overly-professional is by far the most common.

And often too stoic.

You need to show them your personality. (Or work on your personality until it’s something you’re proud to show.)

Genuineness is the trump in this card game.

An extremely professional candidate limits the manager’s ability to assess cultural fit with their team, which weighs heavily on their decision to hire.

If it’s not a fit and you take the job anyway, you’ll be searching to escape that environment within a month.

Over-appeasing is the most frustrating to recruiters.

They know exactly what to say to make recruiters excited to represent them, but when called with a phone interview request they will respond, “Oh, I’m actually not interested”.

Be sincere, and be diligent.

If you’re interested in a role, pursue it like it’s the last job on Earth.

If you have hesitations, voice them early on in order to initiate the conversation well before you get an ill-fitted offer or waste anyone’s time.

Irritable candidates just think all recruiters suck.

Because they have a terrible reputation.

But that cynicism can spill over onto well-meaning recruiters that actually want to help you get the job you deserve, outside of their commission or metrics, and ruin your chances completely.

Don’t forget that recruiters, whether you like them or not, are sometimes the only way to an opportunity.

They are masters in staffing and you need them.

Treat every conversation with value and build the partnership and working relationship to get the best outcome.

How to handle multiple job offers

4. You’re not transparent.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a recruiter who follows up with you and lets you know every step of the back-end process the moment it happens?

Recruiters wish the same from their candidates.

The more diligent you are in asking for follow-ups (within reason) the more likely you are to get some insight.

What you put in, you get out.

It’s also important to let them know if you are interviewing for other opportunities

They don’t care that you’re working with other recruiters — in fact, they know you are.

The job market is HOT and as much as you feel like there is infinite competition over jobs, they feel like there is infinite competition over candidates!

There is strategic benefit in this.

If you’re pursuing two roles and your #1 choice just invited you for a phone interview, but your backup just gave you an offer with limited time to respond — what do you do?

Rather than dodging both or playing games to buy time, keep your recruiter in the loop.

They can speed up the process on the slower opportunity so that you may get two offers in the same week with a weekend to consider each before making a decision that’s right for you.

This takes a great deal of stress off of you and your recruiters by staying transparent about where you’re at and staying on the same page to all work together.

5. You’re unavailable.

Timing is a major component of the hiring process, so make it work for you, not against you.

Some of my clients require submissions the day the role comes out.

If you are as serious about your job-hunting as you should be, keep an eye on your phone in order to respond within a half-business day.

Recruiters would rather work with you than have you miss the opportunity of a lifetime because of timing.

Similarly, a candidate that will do anything to make themselves available will be seen as more diligent and determined than one that requests to reschedule.

Have blocks of time available or easily made available so that when you get a call you’re the first one up and making an impression as prioritizing this process.

Managers will extend offers to the first available qualified candidate, without bothering to pursue another that was more difficult to get a hold of.

You have to make this easy on the recruiter and the hiring manager.

If you want the job you’ll be responsive and available.

Make this a priority and make the timing work for you.

Both job ‘hunting’ and job ‘landing’ have core fundamentals that set the right candidates apart. When hunting, know your transferable skills, and take yourself through the exercise of bridging the gap between what skills you have, and the skills the role requires. Screen the recruiters you choose to build a career-long partnership with. When you are invited to interview, prime yourself to approach the conversation with excitement and curiosity.

To learn more about the 5 mistakes to avoid when talking to a job recruiter, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Nina Mazurova

Nina Mazurova

Nina is a subject matter expert in candidate-centered career consulting with an academic background in Psychology and professional expertise in Life Sciences staffing and recruiting. She actively pursues her own personal and professional development, and provides resources for those searching for breakthroughs in their careers. Currently, Nina works as a pro-bono career consultant for academic organizations and as a recruiting and business development consultant, and is actively developing her own business and entrepreneurial ventures.
Nina Mazurova
  • Shawn Lyons, PhD

    Nina, I feel that you’ve crammed a lot of great techniques into one article. I especially appreciated the one about transparency and what to do when the timing is tight between a job that you’re being offered and one that you prefer that hasn’t sent an offer yet. Really great, thank you.

    • Nina Mazurova

      Shawn, thank you for your feedback! I’m glad that one of the more eloquent points resonated with your search. Much of the process is simply timing, and though most of it is out of our control, a few variables remain to be leveraged for the advantage.

  • Sonja Luther

    The discussion about the extreme candidates really went home. I’m well acquainted with people who think that all recruiters are somehow out to get you, and it’s tough getting them to realize that recruiters are trying hard to find the right fit and don’t generally have it in for anyone. I also realize that trying to be too much of an appeaser might be shooting myself in the foot.

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    I agree that arranging blocks of time is a challenge but proves that you’re sincerely interested in making the search a priority.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    I’ve been thinking about what you said about pursuing the role that you want like it’s the last job on earth. It occurs to me that if you’re willing to put that kind of energy into the pursuit, and able to re-direct that energy if you don’t get that particular role, then you’re miles ahead of most candidates. After all, getting despondent and feeling terrible about not getting a position hardly puts you in the right mindset to get another great one.

  • Theo

    That is excellent advice on finding out what kind of recruiter you’re talking to by asking questions. I’ve met both kinds – those who seem like they’re willing to burn the whole haystack, and those who don’t need to burn anyone to find the right candidate.

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    It’s interesting that it’s important to prime yourself to be excited and curious when working with a recruiter. I suppose that one of the most valuable transferable skills to demonstrate is the ability to adjust to any situation and attack the day with a degree of enthusiasm.

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    Social media has overtaken a huge weight in preparing and executing a search. It’s fascinating that recruiters spend so much time just looking at the profile pictures. I suppose you can tell a lot about the person just by the expression in the picture, so it’s important to invest the time and money to get a terrific head shot. Mood is important, too, so the picture needs to reflect the best energy you can muster.

    • Nina Mazurova

      Fantastic point, Carlie. Aesthetic discrimination is a topic of legal taboo and a nightmare for any hiring manager. Though a part of the bias may be influenced by the quality of one’s picture or grooming, much of ‘social media’ includes posts, presence, etc. If I see that an individual is boasting about calling in ‘sick’ in order to make an event or skip work, my decision will most definitely be adjusted. Great comment!

  • Julian Holst

    Just like you’re assessing the recruiter’s genuineness and sincerity, they’re assessing yours as well, so keep it real and put your best foot forward. Easier said than done when you’re nervous, but I’m pretty sure with practice that should go away, too.

  • Kathy Azalea

    Such a simple concept when you think about it — make it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to work with you. I think that too often, we’re either afraid of the hiring manager or sure that he/she doesn’t care about us. But we forget that we have to give them something to work with! LOL

  • Harvey Delano

    I see you asking us to reexamine our answers to some normal recruiting questions with an ear for what they really need to know. When they ask you about yourself, they’re asking for a reason and not just shooting the breeze. I honestly believe that most candidates answer honestly and spontaneously, but probably not with any deep thought about what would be useful for the recruiter to know. For example, “Tell us about yourself,” has to have an answer that is a little more detailed than, “I love to vacation in Costa Rica.”

  • Vijayendra Agrawal

    Very important points from a recruiter point-of-view, presented eloquently. Thanks for sharing Nina!

  • AERC

    Very well said Nina, some of the valid key points are here. Very detailed and I am happy that I was able to read your blog while I am looking to some commands or techniques to apply from a recruitment agency. Keep on sharing good insights.

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