10 Things Recruiters Used to Believe — But Don't Anymore

August 12, 2020

Man standing on road with arrow sign pointing behind him

In any profession, your perspective on your work will change as your career advances. In a field like recruiting, which is surrounded by myths and misconceptions, that change can be akin to coming out of the Matrix and realizing that the world is very different from what you believed.

For proof, just look at the comments on a recent LinkedIn post by John Vlastelica, founder and managing director of Recruiting Toolbox. John posed recruiting professionals a simple question: “What's something you believed to be true 10 years ago about recruiting, that you don't believe to be true now?”

Here are some of the highlights. (You can read the full thread here.)

1. Extroversion is an essential trait for recruiters

One of the biggest misconceptions that persists about recruiting concerns the type of people who make good recruiters.

“[I believed] recruiters need to be extroverts to be successful,” writes Grant Clough, director of talent acquisition at AARP

Isis Abreu, a technical recruiter at Uber, also believed this when she entered the HR field back in 2014.

“Fast forward, I discovered that recruiting is such a data-driven area that you don’t need to be a good talker, but a good listener and a good collector of facts,” she says. “I had a colleague that is an introvert and she was probably one of the most efficient and innovative recruiters I've ever worked with. I think challenging [that] bias could bring a lot of innovation to the recruiting role.”

2. Recruiters shouldn’t challenge hiring managers on requirements

Algirdas Zalatoris, lead tech recruiter for backend engineering at Revolut, once believed that to be a “superstar recruiter,” he’d have to find candidates who” ideally match all 32+ requirements that [hiring managers] come up with initially.” Now he knows this is rarely possible, and he’s more willing to push back against unreasonably stringent requirements.

“[It’s] all about mutual alignment and reasonable compromises,” he says.

Colleen Donovan, a senior technical recruiter and talent acquisition leader, says she’s also learned to have tough conversations with her hiring managers upfront, rather than setting out on a wild goose chase.

“Early in my career, I was afraid to challenge requirements,” she says. "Now I understand how to get to the real business challenge and align that with requirements. It’s not about telling managers that what they are seeking just doesn’t exist, it’s about helping them to open their minds to all of the possible ways they can fill their talent needs and solve business challenges.”

3. The strongest interviewees always make the best hires

Some people are naturally better at interviewing than others. The more experience a recruiter gains, the more obvious this fact is likely to become. But early in their career, many talent professionals admit they may have mistaken confidence for capability. 

“The candidate with the strongest interview might not be the right choice,” says Joey Shirely, manager of global talent acquisition at nonprofit organization Compassion International. “An interview isn't always a strong predictor of performance, and it's not always the candidate's fault if they can't properly articulate their past experience.”

“A lot of candidates don’t interview well, often because the interviewer isn’t good at interviewing,” John Vlastelica adds.

4. If a candidate’s resume has typos, you should automatically reject them

Unless you’re hiring for a proofreader or similarly detail-oriented role, a perfectly written resume isn’t always a good indicator of a candidate’s suitability. Despite this, typos and grammatical errors remain a common reason for resumes ending up on the rejection pile. 

“[I believed] a small typo or a poorly designed resume was indicative of a person who was lazy, careless, and did not pay attention to detail,” recalls Libby Jones, a recruiting professional with more than 15 years of experience under her belt. “Now I am more forgiving for certain positions. If ‘spelling/grammar’ do not make the list of the top ten things the candidate should bring to the table for a position, I'm not going to let a typo stand between me and a great candidate!”

5. Unemployment, job changes, and gaps in the resume are indicators of poor performance

Another common misconception that is thankfully on its way out is that gaps on a candidate’s resume are a bad sign. This mistaken belief particularly hurt women returning to the workforce after starting a family, while also ignoring many common reasons why people need to take a break in their career, like pursuing higher education.

“I would always look negatively at gaps in employment and even on people who were unemployed, thinking that people who were employed were ‘better candidates,’” admits Dustin Carper, VP of strategy at recruitment advertising agency TMP Worldwide. “None of it is my business and doesn't affect performance.”

Talent acquisition consultant Lou Barron Melendez has also come to view career gaps in a different light than she once did. 

“Colleagues and I used to give a candidate more credit for being focused on a more straight upward career trajectory,” she says. “Now, I realize that the most engaging leaders are storytellers. Where do they get a lot of their stories? From side hustles, gap years, peace corps, sabbaticals, workaway programs, volunteering, etc. That year ‘off’ prepares leaders to listen more, to be nimble, and to recognize when to make exceptions for exceptional people.”

Similar to the career break, short stints at companies can sometimes lead candidates to be written off as people who aren’t in it for the long haul. 

“There can sometimes be a very justifiable reason why a candidate has worked for a company for a short period of time,” says Missy Dailey, senior manager of recruitment for Disney Cruise Line. “It may very well be the (last) company was the problem, not the candidate. Sure it’s important to ask probing questions, but meaningful conversation can uncover some amazing talent!”

6. Passive candidates in your pipeline will jump on a position when it’s available

The concept of talent “pipelining” can be a little murky, so it’s unsurprising that some recruiters say their understanding of how to pipeline has changed a lot over the years.

“I believed it was possible to build robust pipelines of passive candidates that are ready to begin working at the hiring firm’s convenience,” recalls Christopher Stabile, senior recruiter for project and development services at professional services firm JLL. “It is unrealistic to expect a candidate to wait until the time is right for us, but we can work on nourishing and growing our relationships with our network, and this will increase our chances of things working out when the time arises.”

“I still have discussions with people who think proactive recruiting is about building pipelines for jobs that don't exist, just in case that role does open!” agrees Allison O’Brien, head of people at Kin Insurance. “Proactive recruiting is having a solid, transparent process, with alignment on what we need for all involved in the process, so we can find talent quickly. It's not building magical lists of people we can call when a job opens.” 

7. A recruiter’s job is to “win” the right candidate for the company

An unfortunate truth about recruiting is that sometimes, a candidate can be perfect for a role but the company isn’t perfect for the candidate. Aaron Kier, a strategic talent advisor and consultant, says he no longer tries to force a square peg into a round hole in these situations. 

“I believed our role was doing what was right for the company and trying to ‘win’ the candidate,” he says. “Now I'm a staunch and outspoken believer that our job is to do what's right for the candidate, period (with integrity and transparency), and that the result of that approach will ultimately serve the company well.”

As part of his new approach, Aaron emphasizes salary transparency wherever possible. He also tries to be open and honest about what day-to-day life at a company will be like. 

“Speaking honestly about culture, development potential, the role/team/expectations,” he says, “rather than putting too much gloss on the picture feels more important than ever.” 

8. Compensation is the biggest barrier to hiring great talent

While salary transparency can give candidates confidence that a company is compensating them fairly, compensation itself isn’t always as big a factor in a candidate’s decision-making as some recruiters initially assume. 

“Granted I was early in my career, but I thought compensation was the absolute most important thing that determined if someone was interested in a job,” says Jason Crigger, talent acquisition manager at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “Many candidate conversations later, compensation is important, but not the end-all-be-all for the majority of the candidates I chat with.”

Annie Boneta, senior talent engagement partner at fitness company Zwift, also views salary negotiations differently than she once did. 

“I used to believe compensation was the biggest barrier to hiring great talent,” she says. “Especially now with [COVID-19], people value a more balanced approach: culture, remote opportunities, leadership, work they will do, potential opportunities.”

9. You shouldn’t make an offer until you’re 100% sure it will be accepted

Amy Miller, a senior technical recruiter at Amazon Lab126, used to believe she should only extend a job offer if she was absolutely positive it would be accepted. While she still takes steps to pre-close candidates, she’s no longer so afraid of rejection. For one thing, it’s a good way to gauge whether the company’s compensation is competitive or if there are issues in the recruiting process that need to be addressed. 

“I learn so much from offer declines,” Amy says. “We're NOT going to win them all and it's the only way to really create significant change.”

10. Recruiting and HR are purely support functions

Today, Somer Hackley is the founder and CEO of executive recruitment firm Distinguished Search. But when she started her career, she had a completely different view of the role of recruiting and HR.

“I used to believe that the hiring manager had all the answers, and that HR was more of a support function,” she recalls. “I can’t believe I’m even writing this now!”

As a result, Somer used to try and shield hiring managers and clients from challenges she ran into during a search. She realizes now that working collaboratively to solve these issues is in everyone’s best interests.

“Years later I live by the fact that it’s a partnership,” she says, “and our role in search is to be consultative, realistic, transparent, and offer solutions vs. present problems (or deny they exist!). No search is easy. Let’s be honest and work on it together.”

John Vlastelica also believes recruiters should think of and position themselves as strategic talent advisors to businesses. Luckily, he says many leaders and hiring managers are warming up to this idea. 

“They want us to be more of an advisor, which is awesome,” he says.

Learn more about becoming a Talent Advisor on this free resource page from Recruiting Toolbox.

Photo by Smart on Unsplash

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.

Topics