Recruiters may seem intimidating, but they genuinely want the best for both candidates and the company. Good recruiters want you to have the best experience possible during the application and interview process—but even though they want the best for you, there are some things that they just can’t share.
Salary bands, candidate competition, internal HR tactics—let’s just call them trade secrets. They are the confidential information that, unfortunately, recruiters cannot divulge.
To get to the truth, we reached out to Omer Molad, CEO and founder of Vervoe, a recruiting company that replaces face-to-face interviews with online simulations for small- and medium-sized businesses. Molad built his business on the premise that hiring is painful, and he has a unique perspective on the frustrations and insights of recruiters.
Here are a few of the secrets that Molad says recruiters won’t tell you but really want to.
1. “We could have gone higher if you had negotiated”
Salary negotiations are like a game of poker—both job seekers and recruiters are trying to maintain control and win the hand. “Very few (if any) recruiters will be so bold as to say, ‘We took advantage of you and we don’t value you highly,'” says Molad. In fact, there is often a salary band or range that recruiters in mind have for each role. Their initial salary offer is very rarely at the top of their salary band, so base pay—as well as benefits such as vacation days and work hours—can usually be negotiated.
2. “Don’t go overboard with buzzwords—we can tell”
It’s smart to include keywords in your résumé and to come off as knowledgeable about your particular industry. However, “don’t try to look smarter than you really are,” says Molad unabashedly. Authenticity is key. Recruiters and employers want your personality to shine—not your ability to throw out words and phrases such as “synergy,” “move the needle,” “ROI,” “feed the funnel,” etc.
“It’s not about specific questions or answers that stand out, but rather the candidates who display a great deal of passion about what they do that really stand above the rest,” says employer Academy Sports + Outdoors.
3. “You never had a chance after that bad first impression”
Your mother was right: First impressions are everything. And according to Molad, few recruiters can get past a bad first impression. Unreturned phone calls, poor manners, and clumsy interviews will all hurt your chances of moving on to the next round. Hiring managers and recruiters will bite their tongues, fighting back the desire to say, “We just don’t like you,” says Molad. However, take it from us: You must really dazzle if you’d like to make up for a rocky first impression.
“Interviewers often care more about the likability of entry-level candidates than whether or not they’re actually qualified for the job,” says career coach Peter Yang. “This is because the person interviewing you will often also be your future boss and mentor, so it makes perfect sense that they would want to hire someone whom they personally like and want to work with. A strong interview performance means establishing a strong connection with your interviewer. Try to show off your personality instead of just answering questions robotically. You can even get a bit personal if you’d like to.”
4. “Your references weren’t very flattering”
If a recruiter or hiring manager had doubts about you, they won’t let you know that unflattering references just confirmed their doubts, Molad says. “Your references should talk about your strengths in specific situations—not just basic information,” adds HR expert Jordan Perez. “[References] should be ready to provide examples of actual projects where you exceeded expectations. Your reference should easily cite one or two situations that highlight your strengths.”
“Bad references can ruin your candidacy as much as good ones can strengthen it,” says Sam Keefe, digital marketing manager at AVID Technical Resources. Her advice to ensure that only the good shines through? “Give only references who will say positive things about you. Work hard to build good working relationships with coworkers and bosses.”
5. “I back-channeled you and found out the truth”
Backdoor references, or back-channeling, are one of the sneaky ways hiring managers and recruiters gather more information about you. It refers to when employers reach out to mutual connections in order to get their honest opinion of you. “This phenomenon is even more prevalent in the last five years or so because of LinkedIn’s growing popularity,” says Keefe. “Even if you choose not to give anybody [at a previous company] as a reference, backdoor references can reveal the skeletons in your closet. Backdoor references can be especially common when you’re looking for a job in sectors like tech.”
6. “We already gave the job to an in-house employee”
Unfortunately, it’s perfectly legal to advertise a job that is almost certain to be filled by an insider. In fact, some research has shown that internal hires generally perform better than external ones. However, “phantom jobs” can be downright annoying when you’re looking for a new position. Even though federal labor rules don’t require employers to post openings, many HR departments require roles to be listed on a job board for some period of time to ensure a fair hiring process. Therefore, Molad says, don’t expect recruiters to come right out and say, “It was a beauty parade to show management we ran a process, but it was a sham and you were never really considered.”
Instead, shake it off and get back on the horse—there are plenty of opportunities out there, and the job that fits your life is just a few clicks away.
7. “Your last few social media posts were deal-breakers”
Roughly 80 percent of recruiters and hiring managers use social media to look for and vet job candidates, making it extremely important to have a professional presence on the internet.
“Hiring managers are reviewing social media pages to become educated about the background and brand the person is articulating and to look for red flags,” says Alan Weatherbee, senior vice president of talent search for Allison+Partners. “They aren’t using it to find ways not to hire someone who is qualified, but to make sure they present themselves in an accurate way.”
According to employment experts, you should make sure that your social media pages, whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, mesh with what you’re saying on your résumé, cover letter, and other application materials. After all, no one is going to hire someone who claims to be a head of marketing in their résumé while their Facebook page is full of complaints about their job answering phones at an advertising company.
Janet Elkin, chief executive of workplace staffing company Supplemental Health Care, says you want to make sure your social media pages are void of any political comments, inflammatory messages, or anything else that might offend the person who just might hold your future in their hands.
8. “The team is dragging its feet waiting for another candidate’s response”
Even the most direct recruiters and hiring managers will hesitate to tell you that you’re plan B, says Molad. So if an employer seems to be dragging its feet or delaying in giving you the green light to proceed—or the red light that you’re not right for the role—chances are they have another candidate in the pipeline.
Don’t take it too personally—being a runner-up isn’t a horrible thing. Oftentimes, other candidates fall out of the running because of personal circumstances or other job offers. Being number two still means you are in contention. If you feel like a recruiter is slowing your process down in order to accommodate a preferred candidate, use it as a challenge to convince the recruiter of your awesomeness and your true fit for the role.
No matter what, remember that the secrets recruiters keep are withheld with the business in mind, not because they are trying to be malicious. If you are faced with any of these, the right opportunity probably just hasn’t come your way yet. Don’t be afraid to be upfront with a recruiter and communicate both your concerns and your goals.