Interviews: spare a thought for the recruiters

I ran a workshop about preparing for job interviews, as part of the RDP, on Monday. Feedback from one participant reminded me that it is helpful to talk about the recruiters’ role and experience during these session.  There’s so much help available for candidates (see here, for example), but how much notice do candidates take of the person on the other side of the desk?

What’s it like to be a recruiter?

Have you ever done recruitment?  Perhaps as a researcher, you had to select participants for a research projects.  Or perhaps you’ve listened to presentations from would-be lecturers.  There’s pressure involved in both those situations: you’ve got a big decision to take about who would be the right person for your project, or you’re helping to ‘sell’ your university to someone who could well go and take their research elsewhere.

Recruitment is pretty similar.  Organisations are only recruiting if they have made the big decision to spend money on someone fulfilling a need (even if you’re applying for a voluntary role, it still costs the organisation money to hire you).  The direction, prestige, standards, quality and competence of the organisation depend on having the right staff in place.  Getting rid of staff, once hired, is a tricky thing to do: recruiters have to get it right.  And at the same time, they know that candidates could go and work elsewhere.  They have to do a good job of selling the firm to the candidates (how many candidates have pulled out of the application process because they didn’t like the place or the way they were interviewed?  I know I have [I was offered a glass of water, at the end of a long day, when the panel had a full tea trolley wheeled in]).

What’s it like to recruit all day long?

You’ve been told your interview time; you’ve prepared some answers to questions you’ve figured you might be asked; you’ve pressed your dress or found a clean tie.  How long will you be in there?  Maybe one hour?  Maybe two?  Possibly longer, if it’s a whole assessment day.

Think about the recruiters’ day, though.  They’ll have been sent a timetable by their HR department: seven or eight candidates to be seen.  An hour each.  All day long.  The questions are set and prepared (they really ought to ask all the candidates the same thing).  The competencies are memorised.  Pens for frantic verbatim scribbling of answers have been found.  Does the IT work for the presentations?  What is the number for the A/V guy? It is possible that the main highlight of the day will be lunch and a coffee break, which, if they let the interviews over run, will have to be curtailed.

Not much fun.

So, how can you actually help the recruiter?

  1. Be good.  Be really really good.
  2. Be prepared, structured and confident.  Take advantage of all the advice you have on hand to help practise your answers so that you come across as someone they want to spend time with.
  3. Be enthusiastic and let your excitement about working for them really show.
  4. Have a conversation with them: don’t just appear like a rabbit in the headlights!  Reframe their questions, check that you’ve provided sufficient detail but be aware of their time pressures, make sure they know you’re trying your best to give them what they want.
  5. Do your research about the role: flatter them that you know about the organisation, its structure and strategy.  They REALLY want to know about your commitment to and motivation for working for them – demonstrating the efforts you’ve gone to to find out will impress them.
  6. Make sure that you are still keeping going at the end of the interview.  Their attention span will change through the interview, and adrenalin will start to make you tired by the end.  But keep going, ask questions and leave them knowing you want the job.

So, spare a thought for what it’s like to be the other side of the desk, and when you become a recruiter yourself, remember what it’s like for candidates.

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