Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What's Going On When A Recruiter Rejects You....

Most of us have had the experience of contacting a recruiter and having them deny a request for an interview or not sending you on a job which you know they have and which you feel qualified to get.

Years ago I contacted one of the major search firms only to receive a letter of rejection telling me they did not accept unsolicited resumes.  Six months later they called me for an opportunity and told me my résumé was in their data base.  Ha!  So much for the big and sometimes phony search firms.

However, in fairness, occasionally recruiters justifiably reject potential candidates.  I believe that in the case of the big national search firms it is often done to protect their aura.  But they always keep the resumes, per the above.

With a single industry recruiter like me, I decline candidates when I honestly believe I cannot help them - ever.  When I agree to see people, it is because I see something “placeable” in their background.  Once I accept a candidate, I believe that there is no such thing as a wasted interview unless they turn out to be inappropriate for my practice.  Once I see people there is a good chance I can place them, even if not immediately.  Recruiting is like a jig saw puzzle:  The pieces have to fit just right.

Over time, I have helped people whom I could not place when I first saw them, but many years later had an appropriate opportunity for them.  I recently placed someone I met more than twenty years ago.   On the other hand, I do receive referrals and résumés from people whose backgrounds are inappropriate for me to help.  The problem is, when I say no I feel guilty and when I say yes, I hate myself (This line is courtesy of Manual J. Smith, Ph.D., who wrote a wonderful book about being assertive, with that as its title.  It is great reading for all.)  

This past week, I received a résumé from a person who has been in the advertising business for more than 25 years.  In fact he had his own ad agency.  Unfortunately, when he sent me the list of accounts he had worked on, they were not accounts that either I or my clients would or could relate to.  I am sure this gentleman is an excellent advertising person.  But his background is not what my clients are looking for from me.  I said that I would keep his résumé on file (I will) but that I would not see him.  My refusal generated a series of emails from him begging me give him a few minutes.  As guilty as I felt, I steadfastly refused.  It just would not be productive for either of us. 

Clients hire recruiters for two reasons:  First to expedite the hiring process and second to find people they cannot necessarily get to on their own.  Generally the people they are looking for have particular skill sets, experience in relevant categories and, a specific personality type which we know that the company hires.  When a client gives me job specs, they expect to see people who match those requirements.  Occasionally, when I know the client well, I can prevail upon them to see someone who is off-spec, so to speak, but who I believe can do the job. But this happens only rarely. 

A corollary issue is when I receive a call about a job I am working on.  A candidate may hear about a search I am conducting from friends who I have called.  Sometimes, the caller is, in my opinion, inappropriate for the job I am working on. It breaks my heart when a really good person hears about a job at an agency and asks me to submit them and, from experience, I know they will not fly either because of their background, personality or the specifics of the job spec.

Years ago, I got one of those calls.  The candidate’s résumé was perfect for an assignment I was working on.  However, he spoke with a deep New York accent and could not have been more wrong for the specifications I had for a mid-western personality.  Of course he was angry with me for not sending him, confronted me and told me so.  He had another recruiter submit him and, naturally, he did not make it past the first round of interviewing.  To this day he will not accept my calls.

I am very conservative in that way.  I believe my clients pay me to save them screening time and to find a selected few candidates who are appropriate.  (Of course, there are a number of HR managers and hiring managers who simply want volume.  I don’t recruit that way, but that is another blog posting.)

I am fully aware that people who are really unhappy or desperately out of work just want to get out there and interview. With anyone.  In my opinion, seeing a company for the wrong job may preclude the candidate from getting the right job at that firm.  What happens is this: say, to be obvious, a non-automotive person is sent to interview on a car account.  Somehow he or she gets seen.  But because they have no category experience, an inexperienced screener marks their résumé as, “inappropriate”.  Sometime later, they are submitted for something which would be appropriate for them at the company, but someone looks in the data base and sees the “inappropriate” comment and rejects the candidate without understanding the context of the comment.  It happens all the time.

The point is, if ever you are rejected by a recruiter, try to determine the reasons why.  It may save you time and be to your benefit in the long run.


  1. True story:

    A couple years ago the associate of a recruiter contacted me after I replied for a job board posting I thought was a fit. We talked for about an hour and he said he thought I would be a good fit for the agency and client. The next step was to talk to his boss for a final screening. That recruiter (the boss) spent about 10 minutes with me on the phone, basically putting me through an "inquisition," only to tell me that his associate was mistaken and that I, from both a resume and personality standpoint, couldn't be more of a mismatch for his client. He informed me that he would certainly know because he worked there for 15 years and even ran that particular account for 10 years of that time (although he is an account person and I'm a planner and he worked there prior to a merger they had). In fact, he also informed me that over 50% of his placements were with this agency and he got 50% of the agency's assignments exclusively so he would certainly know. Well that seemed like that with that agency.

    Until, 2 weeks ago a VP level HR person (from that agency) contacted me after finding my credentials on Linkedin. She said she would love to talk and about the same account I discussed with the recruiter (which of course she was not aware of). The only thing that changed, in those couple years, is I started working on an account that has zero, nada, ziltch to do with the category of the account in question.

    Well, to make a long story short...I ended talking to her, talking to the agency's head of the department and this Thursday they are flying me out to meet with the team (the actual job is in a different city). As a recruiter how do you explain that? Should instances like these maybe make a job seeker think they should sometimes push a recruiter a little bit?

  2. Dear Anonymous: You got me. However, go on your interviews and, if you get the job, call the associate and ask him what the issue was. if you don't get the job, call him or her anyway and tell them you got interviewed and find out why they would not submit you. Sometimes clients don't follow their own specs or they change specs. The recruiter should be able to tell you what the senior person's issues were at the time. Please let me know what happens.

  3. The blog is very much innovative. Nice info thanks for sharing!

    Job Specifications

  4. I came across your blog post on Twitter by doing a search for "recruiter" and "tweets near me" in a search for a recruiter. Without a doubt, you answered many questions that I wanted to ask a recruiter and have been unable to get a single response. With more than 10 years experience on both the client side and the agency side, I assumed moving to NYC from doing jobs in Miami and South America would be an easy transition. My personality is great, I'm fun, young and on the forefront of trends. So why hasn't a single recruiter e-mailed me back in two weeks? Directly connecting with open positions has given me many opportunities while the recruiters haven't returned a single one - not even an e-mail response. I believe my work is too broad. I need to narrow it down and send literally only the specific pieces I worked on directly related to the position the recruiters are filling. I assumed a broad portfolio meant I'd be a better candidate in the long run, but I'm finding that's not the case. Thank you for writing this and giving great insight to the recruiting world - I look forward to more posts.

  5. At this point, I don't honestly know if I can trust a recruiter. Maybe I'm missing something. A recruiter is hot for me one minute then cold the next.

    Not sure why this is or where to go. I'm starting to think of recruiters as car salesmen. They like you as long as you can put money in their pocket. This is getting really old.


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